Appleton is one of the most iconic and historic distillers of Jamaican rum, and the Signature Blend that we reviewed recently turned out to be a fruity, funky spirit that mixes well in cocktails. But it naturally raised the question, “what would happen if they put a smidge more effort into it?” Well, this Appleton Estate 12 Year Old Rare Casks Rum is the answer to that question.
The Appleton Estate was founded in the Nassau Valley of Jamaica, a location with rich soil, limestone hills, and plentiful underground water sources. The plantation started creating sugar cane, and in 1749 started to produce their own rum with that sugar.
While the Appleton Estate was cranking out rum, another Englishman named John Wray started his own business venture by founding The Shakespeare Tavern in 1825 in what was then the small village of Kingston, Jamaica. The town would eventually become the nation’s capitol, and the tavern a wild success. Wray was joined in 1860 by his nephew Charles James Ward, who proved to be an indispensable business partner, eventually earning his spot in the company name when it was changed to J. Wray and Nephew.
Wray retired in 1862, leaving the business to his nephew who expanded the business from just a tavern to a liquor distributor as well. He began by purchasing spirits from different manufacturers and exporting them often under the J. Wray & Nephew label. Within a few short years, the company became one of Jamaica’s largest exporters of spirits from the island. They also started purchasing distilleries such as the Monymusk Estate, one of the premiere rum manufacturers at the time.
In 1916, the company was itself purchased by Lindo Brothers & Co, a spirits company that had seen success in Puerto Rico before expanding their operations. The conglomerate renamed to J. Wray & Nephew Ltd., and turned right around and also purchased the Appleton Estate plantation and distillery.
The company would continue to see success over the years, with reportedly 90% of the Jamaican rum sales coming from this one company. They would eventually be purchased in 2012 by the Italian owned Campari Group, who continues to own it to this day.
- Learn More: What Is Rum?
The folks at Appleton put a lot of stock in the idea that their rum has a “terroir” — a word usually reserved for wine, which basically means that the flavors and aromas in your glass have some of the essence of the land where the raw materials were produced. And to that end, they seem to source as much of their raw materials from their estate in Jamaica as possible.
The distillery starts with sugar cane, which is grown locally on the estate in the Nassau Valley in Jamaica. The sugar cane is processed into raw sugar, which is exported and sold, leaving behind what’s referred to as “backstrap molasses” — a sugary waste product that is high in impurities. Those impurities are actually a good thing, though, since they actually add flavor to the resulting rum. The molasses is mixed with well water that comes from ponds and springs on the Appleton Estate grounds, as well as a proprietary strain of yeast for fermentation, creating a mildly alcoholic liquid.
As you would expect from a Jamaican rum distillery, Appleton uses traditional pot stills with a double retort system — essentially two additional distillation vessels added at the end which increase the alcohol content and allow additional time for flavor elements to make their way into the spirit. They also do use a traditional column still as well for mass production of spirits that will be added later during the blending process.
Once distilled, the spirit is placed into lightly charred American oak barrels where it rapidly ages in the hot Jamaican sun. When it has sat in the barrel for enough time, the spirit is blended together with other barrels to make a consistent end product for sale.
In the case of this Appleton Estate 12 Year Rare Cask edition, the distillery selects a range of casks that have been aged for a minimum of 12 years and blends those together to create the flavor profile we have here today.
This bottle has love handles and I’m kinda here for it.
It’s certainly a different shape compared to the normal liquor or rum bottle, with more of a “dad bod” inspired shape that I personally identify with. It’s roughly oval shaped, but with a distinct curve in the middle of the bottle, which makes it easier and more comfortable to hold. It makes sense, since there isn’t the usual long neck with a bulge in it to allow for easy pouring by bartenders. The short neck it does have is capped off with a wood and cork stopper.
I also appreciate that the labeling hasn’t gone overboard here. There’s are relatively plain black labels on the front and back with the required information on them, but those labels are fairly small and don’t impede the view of the rum in the bottle. Instead, they nicely highlight the true star of the show (the rum inside), display the Appleton logo in a bit of a faded and non-intrusive manner, and look good doing it.
There’s a ton of fruit coming off this glass; most prominently: pineapple, coconut, banana, and mango aromas that I can immediately pick up on. Behind that is a good bit of brown sugar and some toffee caramel adding a bit of depth and richness.
Unfortunately, not a lot of those fruit components seem to make it into the actual taste, though. The barrel aging notes are prominent and immediate, with vanilla, brown sugar, and a bit of dark chocolate being the first things that I taste. They are well saturated and smooth, without the hint of bitterness that I saw in the younger blend version of this rum. There’s also a flash of banana and a tiny bit of pineapple, but they are still in the background as the barrel aging flavors continue to dominate the profile with a caramel note near the end.
On the finish, I do finally get some of that pineapple and just a hair of Jamaican “hogo” funk, but not nearly to the level that we saw in the aforementioned younger expression of this rum.
Ice can sometimes diminish the lighter and fruitier flavors in a spirit, but in this case I think it actually gives them a little space to breathe.
The barrel aging components have been reduced significantly here, with pretty much just that dark chocolate note staying in prominence up front. Otherwise, the biggest flavor you get at this point is a delicious combination of banana, pineapple, and coconut, which rides that chocolatey richness very nicely and makes for a good flavor profile. I still get a flash of brown sugar around the middle of the experience, but otherwise this becomes really just a mixture of dark chocolate and tropical fruits.
Fizz (Dark & Stormy)
This works really well, and I think the key is exactly what we saw when we added some ice: that dark chocolate note blending well with the tropical fruits. Those two components are shining through and complementing each other nicely, making for a deliciously balanced and enjoyable tropical drink.
In this particular cocktail, one of the bigger challenges is usually taming the ginger beer. It’s a very loud and overpowering flavor, so there needs to be a comparable dark and rich note to balance it out. And that’s exactly where the dark chocolate aspect comes into play, which is also a really good indicator for how this will play out in other cocktails. You can add heavily sour and citrus mixers in and it should still do a good job providing some balance.
What really makes this a good tropical drink is that banana, pineapple, and coconut that still make their presence known despite all of the mixers we’re throwing at it here. Those fruity notes make you feel like you are on a tropical beach with this cocktail, which is exactly the intended effect.
Most people see long age statements (a decade or more) and think that it’s instantly a good thing. For Caribbean rum, it can be a bit of a double edged sword. That longer maturation period will let more esters and barrel flavors creep into the spirit, but things age much quicker in those tropical climates compared to places like Scotland or even Texas. And that’s what we’re seeing here: the barrel aging components are just starting to overtake the natural tropical fruits and other flavors of the spirit.
I think this version of the rum may be the right balance of things. It’s much smoother, with the flavors better incorporated together compared to the signature blend, and still retains some of the tropical island fruits. But those flavors are starting to fade as the barrel aging components gain prominence. You’re also missing most of that Jamaican hogo funk, something we saw in the signature blend but not here. There are trade-offs being made, and this seems to me to be the right balance of things for a better all-around experience.
In our catalog of reviews, the only thing in this price range and category that is comparable is the Smith & Cross Jamaican rum, which is a very hogo- and funk-forward flavor profile. I think, in comparison, this rum is a better all-around spirit, one that’s as delicious sipped neat as it is in a cocktail. But there’s a reason the Smith & Cross is a constant staple on my shelf — for cocktails, it can’t be beaten.
|Appleton Estate 12 Year Old Rare Casks Rum|
Special Type: Jamaican Rum
Aging: 12 Years
Proof: 43% ABV
Price: $29.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
A delicious Jamaican rum that brings some rich barrel aged components to a tropical and fruity spirit.