Sprits and Spirituality: In Jamaica Where Rum is for More Than Drinking Part 1 of 3

Every Jamaican household – home or abroad – has a bottle of tried and true Jamaican white rum close at hand. Bay rum, over proof rum, Appleton Gold, rot gut liquor. The uses of rum are indelibly ingrained in Jamaican life history and culture. Jamaicans use rum as a healing remedy for just about anything – a bout with the flu, asthma, headaches or other ailments, ward off evil or to spice up our classic Jamaican rum punch. Of course, no Jamaican rum cake worth its name is made without a liberally sousing of fine Jamaican spirits. Even abstainers can’t escape its allure come Christmas time when the spiced rum cake is rolled out along with the baked ham. More ambitious chefs venture beyond baking into adventurous territory, dexterously using rum to punch up marinades, sauces and to flavor meats. On an island where rum is for more than drinking, rum bars serves as epicenter for the camaraderie that comes with drinking, domino playing, endless storytelling like the one that unfolded in the back of a pick-up truck on a trip back from Annotto Bay about the last innocent man to hang in Jamaica – with the driver happily “under him waters.”

No matter its uses, rum has been a staple in the West Indies since at least the 17th century. In his New York Times article On a Caribbean Rum Trail, Baz Dreisinger writes “Rum was born in the 17th century, molasses residue from slave-era sugar production was transformed via yeast into drinkable stuff, marketable especially in New England, where the “spirit of ‘76” so saturated American culture that George Washington demanded it at his inauguration…” In the West Indies, we like our rum as unyielding and distinctive as the Russians like their vodka. Enjoyed in every parish from Kingston to Westmoreland, is the elixir for which Jamaica has no equal – the Jamaican over proof white rum. At 126 proof, Jamaican white rum is the best-selling overproof rum in the region. Consumers take it straight, iced or mellowed out with orange juice, coke or whatever your pleasure. Over the contents of that nondescript bottle, politics, sports and the daily minutia of news are hotly debated by de facto political pundits, master philosophers and would-be heads of state. In rum bars and lounges across the island, rum loosens tongues and inhibitions and, as devotees will attest, enhances everything it touches. Ribald tales are punctuated by bursts of colloquialisms like “When Wappy kill Fillip,” “Beat de devil and give him him shut” and others. Full disclosure: Wray and Nephew’s Rum Cream was love at first taste. I’m still convinced that if the rest of the world got a sip, Baileys and white Russians would cease to exist.

The Distinction of Appleton Estate – Liquid Gold I was first enticed to jump on the Appleton Estate Rum Tour with promises of rafting and a trip to Treasure Beach after I’d gotten good and soused. But beyond swilling all the rum and sugar cane you can manage, is a wealth of Jamaica’s history. In fact, if you’re in the market for a world class rum connoisseur, look no further than Joy Spence, OD, Jamaica’s own Master Blender of the Wray and Nephew line of fine rums. She is the first female Master Blender in the spirits industry globally in 1997. Dr. Spence, who describes her craft as a glorious combination of art and science, noses and tastes each barrel to ensure the unmistakable quality Appleton Estate is known for around the world, appears in every bottle. At the Appleton Estate in St. Elizabeth, rum is still produced the centuries old way, with the steady, dependable labor of a donkey to crush the cane and extract the juice. During the fermentation process, the sugar cane molasses and Appleton’s special culture of yeast combine with exceptionally soft water, filtered by the limestone hills of the Cockpit Country and originating from a spring on the Estate. The rums mature in aged, handcrafted oak barrels. This where the rums their rich golden color enhanced by the delicate sweetness and complex flavors for which they’re renowned.

Appleton Estate uses a time-tested method handed down since the inception of rum making - a combination of its small batch copper pot and column distillation. The copper pot stills are uniquely designed for the Estate and gives the Estate’s Rum portfolio its distinctive character. Enhanced by their painstakingly slow distillation methods help create richer, deeper flavors gives the rum a more complex character. For 30 or more years the rums mature in aged, handcrafted oak barrels. This Art of Blending has become synonymous with Appleton Estate Jamaica Rums. Each rum is carefully selected and hand blended to create various Appleton Estate offerings each with a unique character, flavor and aroma. The smooth mellow spirit with complex flavors such as vanilla, coffee, cocoa and hazelnut. A swirl of the glass releases an intoxicating host of complex aromas such as coffee, cocoa, vanilla, the orange rind, all blended to produce the sublime12-year-old Appleton Estate Extra.

Look out for Part 2 of the Rum Series: In the Beginning ...there was Rum

By Denise Laidler “Golden pen” Visit Jamaica blog contributor