Jamaica’s South Coast is home to the iconic Appleton Estate. Nestled in the Nassau Valley, it is surrounded by winding roads, fields of sugar cane as far as the eye can see, and laying at the feet of majestic mountains. Located in the parish of St. Elizabeth, aptly called, “Jamaica’s Bread Basket,” a two-hour journey from Kingston and Montego Bay, this is rum country.
Jamaica’s oldest continuously operating rum estate since 1749, Appleton’s new rum tour is named after Joy Spence. She is the master blender for Appleton Estate Rums and the only female in the world to earn that top honor.
“It was a humbling and emotional feeling having the Rum Experience named in my honor. I never thought in my wildest dreams that this would happen to me,” Spence told Griots Republic magazine in an interview.
She further went on to say that the tour is comprehensively designed to educate visitors regarding the terroir, production process and most importantly, “learn what makes Appleton Estate rums unique.”
Upon arrival, visitors receive a complimentary rum cocktail of Appleton Estate Signature Blend, ginger beer and a dash of Angostura bitters, called Stormy Valley. The reception area is decorated like a cozy café meets chic bar with warm furniture accents repurposed from large oak rum barrels. Vintage bottles and labels dating back to the 17th century are showcased. Antique hooked cutlasses used to cut cane in the field, large iron vats, coconut brushes and other artifacts hang in the hallway. This is quite a delightfully perplexing scene for rural St. Elizabeth where acres of farmland are tilled and harvested to feed Jamaicans. From here, your tour guide fetches you to begin the experience from cane to cup.
The tour begins with a heartwarming film. We are escorted into a chilly, world-class theatre for a short film showcasing the beauty of the island and the importance of rum in Jamaican culture.
Producing rum in the 1600’s was very labor intensive, and guests see a demonstration of this at the next stop. Cane is fed into a Chattanooga press as a donkey walks in circles. Fresh cane juice tumbles into a canister below. The juice is fed to the donkey, and he also eats the waste.
Appleton Estate’s rum is special because the water used to make it is pumped from the limestone mountains. These mountains are a geological marvel called karsts. Karst mountains are found in few countries worldwide, and Jamaica’s bio-diversity allows them to grow on the southern part of the island.
The Joy Spence Appleton Estate Rum Experience (JSAERE) is one for all the senses. Guests taste fresh sugar cane, cane juice, and wet sugar, drink creeper rum punches and try their hand at squeezing juice from a sugar cane.
The stunning backdrop of soaring karst mountains surrounds the estate, and the view doesn’t get old. The experience ends in an expertly designed tasting room with three of Appleton Estate’s best rums. Made from fifteen rums, the Signature Blend is a bright golden amber color. The bouquet is citrusy with sweet notes, hint of molasses and wood. You will most likely find this bottle at bars across Jamaica because it is good for mixing. The Reserve Blend is made from twenty rums, including reserve stock, aged for six years. This full-bodied, honey-colored rum is rife with nutty notes and spices. Sip this neat. Finally, the Rare Blend 12-Year-Old rounds up the tasting. The youngest rum in this blend is aged for twelve years. The wonderful bronze color denotes the deep cocoa and coffee notes. No chaser needed with this one either.
No journey into the world of rum is complete without food, and the JSAERE has one the best kitchens on the island. Award-winning chef, Gariel Ferguson leads the kitchen staff with locally sourced, succulent, fall-off-the-bone jerk pork with a gorgeous glaze. Jerk chicken, potato salad and rice and peas are also on the menu. It tastes like Sunday dinner.
The JSAERE is a journey into the complexity and sophistication of rum in Jamaica. With rums to suit every palate from rum bars to the cherished private collection, which fetches a hefty USD 5,000 for the Prime Minister’s collection.