When it comes to the topic of drinks, Gentleman’s Journal has, for many years, championed whisky, bourbon and the like, and we’ve long gone into great detail about their collectability and ageing potential – however, having also closely followed the path and story of rum – and a few of the industry’s finest producers – we’d likely take a flutter that this specific libation is set to be the next big addition to drinks cabinets across the globe.
One particular maker we’ve been following of late has been Jamaica’s Appleton Estate, which has been a flagbearer for the industry since at least 1749, when its first distillation took place.
Set in the heart of the island, in the Nassau Valley, 200ft above sea level and surrounded by soaring mountains, Appleton Estate is the oldest continuously operating rum distillery in the country, and its centuries of craft has lead it to become a global leader in premium aged rums. Moreover, not only is its commitment to the traditions and spirit of the island evident in its visual symbolism, but it’s clear in the production methods, too.
Indeed, there are several elements that work in tandem to help distinguish Appleton Estate rum, but, like with many time-honoured practices, it all begins with the sugarcane. Harvest usually takes place in the Caribbean between January and May, which, enabled by nutrient-rich land, creates the building blocks from which the brand makes its singular tastes and aromas. Additionally, helping differentiate rum from other dark spirits is the tropical climate that facilitates a deep maturation in a quicker timeframe than that found in cooler conditions – for example, a 21-year-old rum is comparable, in terms of development, to a 60-year-old Scotch.
Then comes the molasses, which is produced from the harvested ingredients and are diluted with the crystal-blue limestone-filtered water that’s sourced within the grounds, an ingredient that softens the taste without tainting or altering flavour. Then, following the gathering of these foundational components, comes the processes that lead to the final product: fermentation (which makes use of cultured non-GMO yeast that’s been passed down the generations); distillation (a traditional copper pot still distillation is used, in order to provide the label’s signature top note of orange peel, as is a contemporary column still distillation, which allows for balance and richness); and ageing (maturation takes place in Number One American White Oak bourbon barrels, which, together with the tropical climate, makes way for a smooth drinking experience in which notes of coffee, cocoa, vanilla and hazelnut are all brought out). The result is a portfolio of more than 200,000 barrels – one of the largest inventories of its kind in the world – which showcases the company’s focus on high-age and collectible rums.
By combining the unique environment with the highest reverence given to both the raw ingredients and the finely tuned methods of production that have been passed down from generation to generation, the result is a profile of complex, aromatic rums infused with the spirited ethos and tastes of Jamaica, melding heritage and craft in every sip.
At the heart of this vibrant venture is the aptly named Joy Spence, who joined the company in 1981 as Chief Chemist, before being appointed Master Blender, 16 years later, the first woman in her field to achieve such a title.
Honing in on the bottled products, each offering is a unique expression, with multiple layers and varying profiles, all of which combine to make the most premium range of barrel-aged rums in the world.
The Appleton Estate 15 Year Old Black River Casks, notably, takes its moniker from the body of water that runs from the company’s grounds down a series of tributaries 33 miles to the sea, and is a libation defined by its honeyed-bronze hue, aromas of toasted almond and light hazelnut; intense tastes of orange peel and vanilla; and wisps of molasses and medium-roasted coffee.
Then there’s the Appleton Estate 21 Year Old Nassau Valley Casks, an homage to the grounds on which its ingredients were grown. Following just over two decades of ageing, the final creation is a rare mahogany-hued bottling that’s best served neat and whose flavours run from mellow orange peel to rich nutmeg and vibrant almond, leading to a long and dry ending that nods towards a little sweetness.
Then, of particular note recently are the Hearts Collection 1993 and 2002, the sixth and seventh additions to Appleton Estate’s line of extremely rare single marque pot-still rums.
This specific limited-edition collection was first introduced in 2020, with each subsequent release having sold out in minutes in several locations, quickly attaining status as a white whale for collectors around the world. And the two new additions, which have been hand-selected by Joy Spence herself, in collaboration with feted rum expert Luca Gargano, comprise a single proprietary marque distilled in a Forsyth pot still, with each offering having been aged for over 20 tropical years. Such a feat is made all the more extraordinary given that, by comparison, most counterparts on the market are 10 or 12 years old.
“Rums aged in tropical climates develop richer, fuller flavors much more quickly than spirits aged at cooler climates, so when you taste a rum aged for over 20 years like our new releases from the Hearts Collection, it’s a really extraordinary experience,” says Spence.
With the older rum, the Hearts Collection 1993, you’ll be hit with the fragrances of cinnamon, which are offset by an eclectic mix of mint, warm butterscotch and honeyed vanilla; meanwhile, with the Hearts Collection 2002, spirited notes of orange blossom contrast against thick hits of molasses, medium-roasted coffee and caramel.
Together, both bottles create a highly collectible and desirable offering and, most importantly, like all in the Appleton Estate portfolio, they’re a pitch-perfect labour of love worth the time and investment.
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