What is more evocative of arriving in the Caribbean than having your first fruity planter’s punch handed to you at the airport? Or a tart daiquiri at a swim-up infinity bar? Or a revitalizing rum and coke at any beach bar? Rum’s smoky toffee flavor is as essential to island life as sugar is to coffee.
Rum is the fermented byproduct of molasses. Going back as far as the seventeenth century, when sugar plantations abounded, rum has a long history in Jamaica. Once part of the old molasses slave triangle, much of rum’s early history is dark. Boat captains from New England, upon arrival in West Africa, would barter cases of rum for slaves, then sailed to the islands of the West Indies to trade the slaves for molasses. The slaves would work the sugar plantations and molasses would be taken to New England and England where rum was manufactured. Thankfully, slavery in Jamaica is a thing of the past. But flavorful rum is very much a part of its present. And now the ownership of the land and the manufacture of many of the wonderful local rums are in the hands of Jamaicans.
One of my favorite Jamaican rums is Appleton. Located in the southwestern part of the island, Appleton was first mentioned as a rum-producing estate in 1749. It has metamorphosed over the centuries into one of the finest rum distilleries in the world.
In 1987, the company launched their flagship Appleton Estate V/X Jamaican Rum. In 1996, their super premium Appleton Estate 21-Year-Old was produced, and in 1998 their premium 12-year-old.
Some of the Appleton white rums are light and ethereal, others are dark and stormy — which is also the name of my favorite rum drink: dark rum mixed with bubbly and tart Jamaican ginger beer and finished off with a good blast of lime. But whether dark or light, all the Appleton rums boast complexly smooth flavors, which many feel can compete with any liquor out there, including fine whiskeys. Some say Appleton’s superb flavor is due to their copper stills; others say it’s the pure azure blue waters of nearby springs.
Appleton Estates offers tours of its legendary distillery, nestled into a valley of sugarcane fields above Jamaican’s southern coast. Some of their finest aged rums can only be purchased on site.
Visit AppletonRumTour.com for more information on visiting this famed distillery. The old estate is several hours away by car from Montego Bay and or Kingston.
There are many other popular Jamaican rums worth trying. Myers Dark Rum, aged for four years in oak barrels, is a perennial favorite, as is Hampden, whose estate was established in 1743.
May all your days in Jamaica be bright and sunny, and all your nights dark and stormy.