There seem to be more whisky drinkers exploring rum these days, for a lot of different reasons. They range from simple curiosity or being told of it by a friend to finding whisky too expensive or reading articles like “Rum Could Be the Next Big Thing.” Of course, with exploration comes questions. One of the questions that will be asked is where to start; many will agree with me that Appleton is one of the best places.
To be honest, one of the triggers that made me write this piece is news of Appleton rebranding. As an informed drinker, I’m often wary of a brand’s restyling; it commonly means the quality of the product is going down, while the grandeur of the marketing goes up. If that turns out true in this case, the opinion of Appleton presented here may soon change.
Appleton is a Jamaican sugar estate and rum distillery that has been open since 1749. Its parent company is J. Wray and Nephew, which has been under Campari since 2012. Campari seems to see the rising tides of rum, as they recently acquired French rhum brands Trois Rivieres and La Mauny, too.
Appleton makes a good beginner’s Jamaican rum because it’s not as funky as more estery brands like Hampden and Worthy Park. (Single Cask Rum wrote an informative article on this subject.) Fermentation is only one and a half days long; this is short compared to the five days to more than a week usually given to fermentation in Jamaica. The distillery uses a mix of pot and column stills, rendering this a single blended rum if one uses the Gargano Classification. Hampden, Long Pond and Worthy Park use only pot stills, which makes them pure single rum, although I’m told Long Pond still houses traditional column stills that could be functional after some repairs.
Appleton 12 is fully aged in ex-bourbon casks. Perhaps they’re being aged in ex-Wild Turkey casks, due to the Campari connection? This unsweetened 12-year-old Jamaican rum follows the same age statement rules as Scotch and bourbon. For the price of £36.75 on the Whisky Exchange, or£35.55 via Master of Malt: this is quite a steal. Being fully aged in Jamaica surely makes the duppy’s share quite high. We should be thankful that a huge company such as Campari respects the Jamaican GI; other brands are known to or want to cut corners for the sake of profit.
Appleton 21 seems to have spent some time in ex-sherry casks; unfortunately, the website does not confirm it. It costs £155 on the Whisky Exchange, or £139.99 via Master of Malt —a fair price considering the 21-year-olds from the big “Glens” are in the same range. In fact, I think that legally, rum aged in the Caribbean should be worth more, as there’s more duppy’s share occurring.
Appleton Estate 12 Year Old – review
On the nose: Slightly funky and simple. Some fermented bananas, nuts, anise, pimento dram, fennel and cloves. Some American-oak influences like caramel, sugar, vanilla and chocolate also come out.
In the mouth: Tastes like fermented bananas with hints of banana syrup infused with baking spices like fennel, anise and cloves. Some ex-bourbon flavor like vanilla, honey and muscovado syrup come out. There are hints of chocolate, caramel and toffee hiding in there as well.
Appleton Estate 21 Year Old Rum – review
On the nose: A wonderful concert of nutty, fruity and sweet wine-y scents. I get toffee, latte, coffee, muscovado sugar, figs, lavender, plums, chocolate raisins, raisin rum cake, oranges, hints of berries, baking spices and hints of PX sherry.
In the mouth: A little bitter greeting of sulfur and oak, but quickly made up by sweet and tart tastes of chocolate raisins, figs, dates, lattes, coffee, mandarin oranges, raspberry syrup, hints of PX sherry and sherry vinegar.
The 12 year is a well-made rum. The funk, while simple, lingers longer in the mouth compared to the 21 year. At times, that lingering funk makes me like the 21 year better—at least, whenever I am able to have it. I suppose a Jamaican rum’s funk is similar to a peated whisky’s smoke and peat: the younger the spirit, the feistier it is; the older it gets, the more mellow.
What you get on the nose of the 21-year-old is what you get in the mouth. One sip of this, and you’ll most likely fall in love. Sadly, it is a short-lived, one-sided love: because the ABV is only 43%, there isn’t much texture present, and the flavors dissipate rather quickly. I wish they bottled this at 46% or 48% to give it more character and length.
It seems like the baking spices flavor is part of the distillery’s DNA. It’s nice that despite the short fermentation and long time in casks, one can still taste it. The 12-year-old can show rum newbies what most of Jamaican rum will be like, while the 21-year-old seems like it caters more to single malt drinkers.
There are commission links within this article but as you can see, they don’t affect our judgement. Images kindly provided by the Whisky Exchange.