The hidden value behind a glass of Appleton Estate rum

Business editor

Sunday, December 09, 2018

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THE train line is still there, but these days the only way to get to the Appleton Rum Tour is to drive. One day, the popular train journey from Montego Bay to the Appleton Estate may get back on track, and the company is ready to welcome it once more, but for now, the only way to get there is to drive, which is quite an attraction in itself.

The drive from Kingston taking you zooming on Highway 2000 before a leisurely, long and winding road via Mile Gully, Balaclava, through Rahine and on to the factory is a beautiful one, past old churches while presenting beautiful views of the outskirts of the Cockpit Country and the heart of the Nassau Valley.

The rum tour – now officially the Joy Spence Appleton Estate Rum Experience – has recently been upgraded and is a world-class attraction.

After registration, guests can get an Appleton cocktail at the bar before heading to class in a number of tasting rooms. On a recent tour there, the class was led by Joy Spence herself, Appleton's master blender, and the first woman in the global spirits industry to hold that prestigious role.

Spence took the class through a tour of Appleton's history from its founding as a sugar estate in the 18th century, to its accidental discovery of rum via the fermentation of molasses, and through the development of the rum-making process. Patrons learn what it is that takes Jamaican rum and Appleton in particular to a higher level than other rums on the market.

Guests taste various expressions of Appleton, and once they come close to perfecting their tastebuds, actually create their own blend – in an effort to create a profile that highlights the more fruity aspects of the rum. The blender that most closely reaches that target wins a premier aged bottle of Appleton. Hint – don't go too heavy on the oldest rum with its stronger hints of vanilla, but neither go too heavy on the youngest, with its fruitier profile.

The tour then takes patrons around the distillery and into an ageing warehouse, where some 5,000 barrels of rum gently age, cooling the air around them. The warehouse also includes at least eight highly prized barrels representing Jamaica's leaders starting from Chief Minister Norman Manley up to today's Prime Minister Andrew Holness. The rum in those barrels are ageing in preparation for a very special expression that may excel the 50-year-old Independence edition of 2012.

While the tour is very thorough, notable by its absence was any reference to slavery, except perhaps for a man-powered cane crushing mill, which two tour members get a chance to experience for themselves.

Jamaican rum now has its own Geographical Indicator, meaning that only a select few rums can truly be called Jamaican. First the rum must be made in Jamaica, but another distinguishing feature is the ageing process – where, like Scotch, the age of rum is defined by the youngest rum in the blend. That means that the youngest rum in a bottle of 21-year-old Jamaican rum is 21 years old. There could be other rums in the blend that are even older. Whereas that might seem logical, it is not the case for many other rums, such as those from Latin American countries, where a 21-year-old rum means only that the oldest – not the youngest – rum in the bottle is 21 years old. And even then, it could be only a drop.

In addition, nothing can be added to Jamaican rum to develop its flavour profile other than rum itself. In fact, it takes a great degree of blending to create a bottle of Appleton rum, but this is blending of up to 20 different marques of Appleton rum which have been distilled either through the ancient copper pot distillation method or the more modern still column method. Each marque has a slightly different flavour profile due to the distillation and ageing processes.

That is not the case, however, for many other countries, particularly Latin American ones, where the manufacturer may add many different ingredients such as burnt sugar, vanilla and even prune juice to create a smoothe-tasting rum that has not been properly aged.

Appleton's flavour profile, with its hints of vanilla, coffee, orange rind, dark chocolate and more, comes only from its ageing process, which takes place in American white oak barrels. Those 'Grade A' barrels were first used in the ageing process for Jack Daniels bourbon in Kentucky in the United States, which is very useful for Appleton, as that process removes the tannin flavour from the wood – a desired flavour for the whisky, but not for rum.

But there is an argument that even though a 21-year-old Scotch and a 21-year-old Appleton rum might be of the same age; in fact the Appleton rum is up to six times older in its flavour profile. This is due to the faster ageing process in Jamaica's hot tropical climate compared to the mellow temperate climate of Scotland, Spence explained. In fact, because of faster evaporation, the barrels can lose up to six per cent of their content per year. Barrels are later replenished with rum from similarly aged barrels.

As a result of its pure ingredients and escalated ageing process, Spence says that Appleton rums offer one of the best values for money when compared to any comparable spirit.

That might seem a little difficult to believe for a recent rum lover who saw a bottle of Appleton's 30-year-old rum for sale in a gas station in St Ann. The bottle was on sale for tens of thousands of dollars. But then again, the rum in that bottle is at least 30 years old, and has a flavour profile that is perhaps six times older than a similarly aged Scotch.

Rum aficionados who don't manage to get their hands on a bottle of the limited edition shouldn't panic too much. Spence assures that another limited edition is already in the works. But that could be two years down a very attractive, long and winding road.

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