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Appleton Estate Releases 50 Year Old Jamaica Rum - Jamaica Independence Reserve

Jack Bettridge
Posted: June 22, 2012

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.

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