How do you age a spirit for 50 years?
According to Joy Spence, master blender of Appleton Estate, which has just released a commemorative rum with a half-century of maturation, you strive to retard evaporation, you do twice-yearly taste tests for quality, you perform a special filtration and, if need be, you chain the barrels to the floor of the warehouse to make sure they don't disappear.
Appleton Estate 50 Year Old Jamaica Rum - Jamaica Independence Reserve is a bottling that has been planned since before the island gained its independence from the United Kingdom on August 6, 1962. Spence was going to take no chances the spirit would reach its semi-centennial intact. "I felt like Atlas the whole time," she says, in reference to the Greek god fabled to have born the heavens on his shoulders.
We're glad Spence made the effort. The rum is of historic caliber with a range of flavors and overall gravity that befits its 50 years in oak, but without being too tannic.
Perhaps that's because it was planned that way from the beginning. With America's own 236th birthday coming on July 4 and the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 just having been marked this past Tuesday, it might have been easy to forget the coming 50th year of the island nation to our south. But Appleton, the oldest rum maker in Jamaica, didn't.
The barrels for this commemoration were laid down and specified for this purpose even before Jamaica officially gained independence. Twenty-four barrels were originally selected by Spence's predecessor and mentor, the master blender Owen Tulloch, under whom she did 16 years of tutelage.
Of the original casks—ex-Bourbon barrels, which had been shipped as staves to Jamaica and reassembled by coopers at Appleton Estate—only 13 made it through the process due to inevitable evaporation in the strong Caribbean heat. From that, 800 bottles were filled, which will sell for $5,000 each.
Spence says the barrels were separated from the general population not because they were seeking special aging conditions, but because they want to secure them and make sure the rum wasn't otherwise used in the ensuing half-century. At one point Spence actually made the decision to have the casks chained to the warehouse floor. She says that it was made very clear to her that "your tenure will be very short-lived if you lose those barrels."
The barrels for the 50-year-old held a combination of pot-stilled and column-stilled rums. Spence declines to specify what percentage of each made it into the final blend.
The master blender says that the challenge with such an old rum was to make it smooth, with a honey character, but to unsure that it didn't have an overpowering wood character. That was achieved by performing a double chill-filtration at the end of the aging process.
Rules for labeling aged rum are not standardized worldwide. The age statement on a bottle may reflect an average age of the rum inside or simply the oldest rum in the bottle. However Appleton adheres to the English standard—ironically the very country from which the island had gained its independence—in labeling for age. All of the rum in the bottle is as old or older than the age statement.
For your five grand, you also get a magnificent presentation in packaging that took about a year to formulate, according to Spence.
The bottle is a crystal decanter, produced by Glencairn Crystal of the United Kingdom and designed after the curvaceous shape of other Appleton vessels. The brass and cork stopper is finished in gold, and gold screen printing on the bottle reflects a host of national symbols of Jamaica.
The rum is presented in a black lacquered gift box with gold-finished brass hinges. It contains a commemorative booklet that outlines Jamaica’s march to Independence and the journey of the 50-year-old rum.
(Cigar pairings on next page)
Appleton Estate 50 Year Old Jamaica Rum - Jamaica Independence Reserve (90 proof, or 45 percent alcohol by volume, $5,000)
APPEARANCE: Dense, dark amber, almost molasses color, with a hint of green-tinged copper. Chunky legs that take forever to make their way down the glass.
NOSE: Solid honey and molasses aromas are joined by banana, soft spices and a graham cracker note.
PALATE: Licorice hits the tip of the tongue and then explodes across the palate with hints of maple sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, more banana and honey.
FINISH: The finale is where this lovely rum distinguishes itself, insistently going on and on like a pinball game where the ball would rather continue to light up the bumpers (in this case the above tasting notes) again and again than to drop.
My Father Flor de las Antillas (90 points, Cigar Insider)
This medium-to-full-bodied Nicaraguan puro is full of leather, spice and nuts. Paired with the rum, it causes the Appleton’s licorice notes to pop even more intensely. The rum returns the favor, coaxing rich wood flavors from the cigar
Juan Lopez Selección No. 2 (92 points, Cigar Insider)
This medium-bodied Cuban cigar features meat, toast, leather and coffee. With the rum, it develops some unexpected fruit notes. Once again the addition of the cigar evokes the licorice in the Appleton as well as some fruit (cherries) previously undetected. While both cigars made good pairings, this the winner of the tasting. You’ll find yourself going back and forth, wondering whether it’s the rum that makes the cigar so good or vice versa.
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