Joy Spence, the master blender for Appleton estate rums, came north recently with an extremely rare product to mark Jamaica's 50th anniversary of independence - Appleton Estate 50-year-old rum, an age unheard of in the rum trade. To find out how it came to be and what it's like, check out our interview with her.
Mix: You’re introducing quite a rare product, perhaps unprecedented – tell us about it?
Joy Spence: The 50 year old Appleton Estate was actually set aside for aging in 1962 in order to celebrate Jamaica’s 50th anniversary of independence. So here we are now having achieved this milestone in the history of Jamaica and Appleton, we’re able to produce the oldest rum now commercially available, keeping in mind that Appleton estate has been a trendsetter in terms of aged rums. We’re always pushing the envelope to create new products first on the market. Historically if you look at Appleton Estate 21, the first of its age, in the 1980s; two years ago we introduced a 30-year-old Appleton; and now a 50-year-old.
Joy Spence evaluating a glass of Rum
Mix: Tropical aging can be a problem; did you need to treat the barrels in any special way?
Spence: The most important thing is this rum emphasizes the whole issue of tropical aging where we age three times as fast as you would in a cooler climate. So this 50 year old rum would have to be aged 150 years in Scotland, for example, to get the same flavor intensity. And we use the British system in which the age stated is the youngest age of any rum in the blend, while other people use an average age. We had to be careful to refill the barrels because of the high evaporation loss. We started with 24 barrels and ended up with 13 barrels at the end of the process. Every two years we would do a refilling exercise to minimize the evaporation loss, refilling from the barrels that had shrunk and topping off with the same rum. We probably ended up with one less barrel after the first refill and continued until we ended up with 13. We ended up with 800 bottles for the world, with the US getting 70 bottles allocated to them. (There’s a special concierge website where interested buyers can try to purchase a bottle, for $5,000). There might be a few on retail shelves eventually, but most of them are waiting to be purchased based on consumer interest. It was quite shocking when we launched it in Jamaica, there was a lady who as soon as she heard about it on the rum tour of Appleton estate, she put down her credit card and said she needed to get a bottle right away.
Mix: As you checked in on the barrels through the years, what did you look for?
Spence: I checked it every six months to make sure it was aging as it should and to look at the flavor development. When it reached exactly 50 years, we took it out of the barrel, let it rest, reduced it somewhat and let it marry until it was time to bottle.
Mix: Did you ever worry that it was getting too old or woody or intense?
Spence: No, not at all – we knew we could handle it in the final processing as we’ve developed a special technique to be able to master that over-powering of oak…let me just leave it at double chill filtration and that we’re able to polish it very well. This 50 year old has beautiful, warm mahogany highlights, a very rich body, and an interplay between the warm oak, rich vanilla, maple and cinnamon notes. It is bottled at 45 percent alcohol by volume. You don’t get that overpowering oak and the taste is phenomenal with a honeyed oak finish. Maple, cinnamon, honey and vanilla are the main notes. The oak comes through on the palate rather than the nose but not rough, not what people would expect. What we did worry about was it disappearing. We had the barrels chained to the floor of the warehouse. Even the vat that it was in, we had three people who had access to the keys that locked it, and it was a three tiered locking system.
Mix: What are the benchmarks of the Appleton rums, in your opinion?
Spence: Well, in our Appleton Estate range, you’ll find the most important aromatic being the orange peel top note, the hallmark of the rums derived from the fermentation and pot still distillation. Then there are the spices – nutmeg aromas, cinnamon, coffee, vanilla and maple. We now have the largest pot still production in the Caribbean. Mostly you have column stills in the rum business, but that doesn’t give you the complexity of aroma and flavor. The pot stills are designed for us uniquely. We changed them about ten years ago as the metal wears out and we increased the size - they are now 5,000 gallons each and we have five of them. Also, a lot of rum producers are allowed to add 2.5 percent of flavorings to their rum, but Jamaican law does not allow anything.
Mix: What’s your favorite Appleton Estate rum cocktail?
Spence: Place a slice of orange in the bottom of a glass and add a dash of Angostura Bitters and muddle the pulp. Add two ounces of Appleton Estate Reserve and ice then top it off with ginger ale.