With the onset of warmer summer weather, it’s time to think about tropical drinks once again. Drinks like daquiris, or a good Dark and Stormy – both of which are best when made with a fruity and funky Jamaican rum. And when it comes to Jamaican rum, there is one brand that I keep hearing recommended: Appleton Estate.
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 the Appleton Estate Signature Blend, there is no age statement or other real way of knowing what else happened to this spirit on its way to the bottle… just that it was aged, had some caramel coloring added, and was then bottled and shipped out.
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 white 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.
It’s a really nice amber color, but I’m not sure if that’s more to do with the barrel aging or the potential addition of caramel coloring. In any case, the smell is fantastic — full of tropical fruits. It’s like I’m sitting on a Jamaican beach already. On the aroma, there’s a ton of banana, some mango, strawberry, apricot, and pineapple all melding together nicely. There’s also just a bit of “funk” — something like over ripe fruit that’s just starting to turn and a touch of sulfur, which gives it this interesting depth and character that I honestly wasn’t expecting from a “No Age Statement” rum. Layered into that aroma are also some of the barrel aged components you’d expect, like a bit of vanilla, some caramel, and then finally a bit of raw brown sugar.
That funk, which is sometimes referred to as “hogo”, is a hallmark of a traditional style Jamaican Rum.
While the aromas are amazing, I’m actually not getting as much of those tropical fruit notes in the flavor as I would have expected. The flavor starts out with more of the barrel aging components being prominent players, the caramel and vanilla coming through loudest and clearest. Then there’s a touch of bitterness that develops and makes me think of something like rich dark chocolate that peaks just before the fruit finally arrives. That’s where the banana, pineapple, and mango really shine — near the finish, with just a bit of that hogo funk we saw in the aroma. On the finish, it’s mainly just raw brown sugar and pineapple lingering for a few seconds.
The addition of a bit of ice has a nasty tendency to sap away the more interesting flavors from a spirit. And, unfortunately, in this case I think that’s exactly what has happened.
On the good news front, the little hit of bitterness that I saw when taken neat is completely gone. But the downside is that most of the fruit has vanished as well. I’m still getting a good bit of the caramel and vanilla, as well as that nice raw brown sugar component, but that fruitiness that I saw before is down to just a bit of pineapple. It’s still a good tasting and flavorful spirit, and that pineapple flavor should go very nicely in cocktails, but it doesn’t have quite the complexity that it had when taken neat.
Fizz (Dark & Stormy)
This was never going to be a traditional Dark & Stormy — the level of additive hijinks that goes on with a dark rum makes it impossible for the more traditionally aged stuff to keep up. So the question here is whether the rum still makes a difference in terms of the flavor profile of the cocktail, and whether that would be useful elsewhere.
What comes through clearest for me are the three main components we saw on the rocks: caramel, vanilla, and pineapple. Two of those flavors are pretty common in whiskey, but the third is something that is distinctive and unique to rum that absolutely adds something new to the cocktail. Even without the whole chorus of fruit we saw at the beginning, just that hint of pineapple is enough to make this cocktail have a distinctive tropical flavor profile compared to other spirits.
Putting this up against other Jamaican rums we’ve reviewed (such as Smith & Cross), there’s definitely a depth and a richness that is missing from the flavor profile. But for the price, that’s to be expected. This does seem like a less potent version of S&C, with a lot of the same flavors, but not with the same strength or staying power as we saw before. Which, honestly, makes sense given the difference in price point.
If I didn’t catch that bitterness up front I think, I would have given four and a half stars here… but I’m docking half a star for it. That said, this is still a four-star, fruity island rum that works both on the rocks or in a cocktail.
|Appleton Estate Signature Blend Rum|
Special Type: Jamaican Rum
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $17.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
All the good stuff about barrel aged spirits, with some fruity island pizazz. I only wish there was enough strength to that fruity flavor to edge it into the five star range.