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Getting into the Spirits on the Appleton Estate Rum Tour

Appleton Estate is the oldest sugar factory and rum distillery in Jamaica, the second oldest in the Caribbean. The sprawling 11,000-acre estate dates back to 1655, however, it did not start producing rum until 1749.

Appleton Estate
Appleton Estate Rum Tour

Appleton Estate’s location in St. Elizabeth‘s Nassau Valley provides the perfect combination of characteristics — a special soil composed of a limestone formation, known as Cockpit Karst,  and favorable climate, sunny mornings and tropical afternoon shower (a slight shower started while we were on the tour) — that produce some of the finest sugar cane on the island.

The Appleton Estate Rum Tour begins, appropriately, with a complimentary glass of rum punch, a proprietary blend of 5 rums that give it an uncharacteristically dark brown color. I’m so used to the strawberry syrup-colored rum punch that this made me think of lemonade made with brown sugar, well, except for the taste. This definitely was not lemonade! Surprisingly smooth, it went down so easily, I asked for another cup. This time, the bartender gave me a larger one and this time, I savored it.  I was so busy enjoying the rum punch, I missed the video on tasting and rum types that preceded the guided tour.

Appleton Estate donkey drawn mill
Appleton Estate Rum Tour – getting the donkey ready
Appleton Estate Rum Tour - sugar mill
Appleton Estate Rum Tour – sugar mill

Starting with a look back at the time when sugar cane juice was extracted by inserting the stalks into a donkey-driven mill, the tour wends its way pass an impressive display of tools and equipment that have been used over the more than 260-year history of the estate.

Appleton Estate Rum Tour
Appleton Estate Rum Tour
Appleton Estate Rum Tour
Appleton Estate Rum Tour

It then moves to the distillery, where Appleton Estate’s pot and column still production processes are explained. The factory can produce up to 160 tons of sugar of sugar daily with the distillery producing 10 million litres of rum annually. Approximately 80% of this rum is exported to about 70 countries. At the ageing house, we saw the thousands of oak barrels in which the rum is stored for fermentation.

As a part of the tour, we sampled cane juice, wet sugar and molasses, by products of sugar cane. It ended with a tasting of thirteen rums, including the award winning Appleton V/X, Appleton, Appleton Special, and Wray & Nephew Overproof (63% alcohol by volume). We were given a small souvenir bottle when we finished the tasting. Other Appleton rums that have won awards are Appleton Estate Reserve 8 year old, Appleton Estate Extra 12 year old, Appleton Estate Master Blenders Legacy, Appleton Estate 21 year old, Appleton Estate Exclusive, and Appleton Estate 30 year old. Rums are available for sale in the gift shop.

Jamaicans purchase nearly 90% of the overproof rum produced by Appleton. This clear rum, called locally white rum or whites, is an “all-purpose rum” that is used in cooking and baking, and is believed to be good for headaches and fever, and if you feel a cold coming on, just pour some liberally on the top of your head or wipe some over the soles of your feet. It’s the one rum you’ll find in almost every Jamaican household.

Appleton Estate Rum Tour
Appleton Estate Rum Tour
Appleton Estate Rum Tour
Appleton Estate Rum Tour

Appleton Estate marks Jamaica’s 50 anniversary of independence with the recent release of Jamaica Independence Reserve, a very rare Limited Edition Appleton Estate 50 Year Old Jamaica Rum that retails for US$5,000. Only 800 bottles were produced.

One more thing to know about Appleton Estate, in 1997, they appointed Joy Spence master blender, making her the first woman in the spirits industry to hold that position.

Before You Go:

Cost/Duration: The tour costs US$25.
You’ll spend about 2 hours total time between watching the video, the actual tour, and tasting. No reservation is necessary.
NOTE: Because there is alcohol consumption involved, this is an adults only tour. I was told however, that if parents showed up with children tow, they would be included in the tour but not in the tasting. The tour is free for children under 12, half price for those over.
If you’re interested in doing the Appleton Estate Rum Tour, ask your hotel to make the necessary arrangements.
For more information, contact Appleton directly or call 876-963-9215
Hours: First tour – 9:30 a.m., last tour: 3:30 p.m.

If you like rum punch, here are a few recipes to try using Appleton’s products, or download Appleton’s Global Cocktail Collection:

Rum Punch

In a punch bowl, combine
1-750ml Appleton Estate V/X
1-750ml Coruba dark Jamaican rum
1-750ml Wray & Nephew white overproof rum
2L orange juice
2L pineapple juice
1 cup lime juice
1/2 cup grenadine and several dashes of Angostura bitters
Stir to mix and add a block of ice to chill. Serve in punch cups and garnish with fresh fruit.

Rum Punch (Traditional) 

Serves: 10-12

4 cups water
1 cup lime or lemon juice
3 cups strawberry-flavored syrup
2 cups Jamaican white rum
Mix all ingredients together in a punch bowl.
Serve over ice cubes with a piece of lime or lemon.
Water and rum maybe added to weaken or strengthen as needed.

This is my submission to this week’s Budget Travelers Sandbox Travel Photo Thursday series. Be sure to check out other photo and story entries on their website.

Havana, And My Mojitos Sucked!

I love a good cocktail, especially one with a rum base.

So when I knew I was going to Havana, I was as excited about going as I was about all the rummy cocktails I knew I’d get to drink.

Cuba is, after all, rum country. It’s also home of the mojito, the daiquiri and the Cuba Libre – all made with rum and lime juice, my other favorite ingredient.

But it was the mojito, the perfect refreshing antidote to hot days, that looked forward to downing.

Unfortunately, my first Havana mojito sucked!

And it wasn’t just that it needed more sugar. We tried that and it still tasted ‘off.’

So did the next one at the second bar.

The mojitos I’ve had in New York and elsewhere – the taste I’ve come to love – are a delicate balance between rum, sugar, mint, lime juice and ice. Even allowing for slight variations in the taste of the ingredients and the quantity of each that was used, I couldn’t explain the big difference in taste between Havana’s mojitos and New York’s.

I was disappointed.

I just knew the mojitos in Havana would have been good, so good, I’d be drinking them instead of water. And I knew I’d be raving about them when I returned home. I just knew!

Instead, I found myself doing what I do when I’m out and can’t find my favorite brand of spirits, I revert to something that’s foolproof: in this case, rum and coke.

(Yes, even though Cuba has its own brand of cola, this American import is available, especially in tourist areas.)

Now, there’s really nothing wrong with my backup drink: rum and Coke or the rum, Coke and lime mix called Cuba Libre. But since my taste buds had been primed for weeks in anticipation of the mojito, it felt like a poor substitute.

Several days later, while we were having lunch in a hotel restaurant, I noticed something that to me explained why the mojitos tasted so different.

There, on the bar, were rows of glasses. Each had sugar, lime wedges and several sprigs of mint leaves. How long had they been sitting there, waiting?

Could this slow marinating of these two ingredients account for the difference in taste?

Even from where I sat, I could see that the mint leaves had wilted to a deep green and a brownish yellow was slowly overtaking the vibrant green of the wedges of lime.

I watched as a waiter walked over, picked up a glass, added rum and ice, muddled the ingredients and served it to a diner.

I’m not a purist. Neither am I one of those people who thinks food has to taste the same everywhere, you know, like McDonald’s?

Glasses with Mint

But you cannot convince me that that wasn’t the reason for the difference.

Tell me if you agree.