The Jamaica Tourist Board recently invited a small press troupe, including yours truly, to Jamaica to experience the island’s local food and culture. We ate jerk chicken and indigenous fruits, suffered through the searing heat of Scotch Bonnet peppers, rode camels and went bobsledding in the jungle. And naturally, a trip to Jamaica isn’t complete without rum. Since the Jamaican beer options are lacking (choices range from Red Stripe to Red Stripe), I made certain to sample as many rums as I could.
The rundown –
Included in a room drop at our Spanish Court Hotel, Port Royal Gold seemed cheap and astringent, certainly not a viable sipper. I imagine it has some application in cocktails, but all I can say for now is that it’s not very impressive sipped straight from a hotel bathroom drinking glass.
Wray and Nephew Overproof
This is one of the most consumed rums in Jamaica, an impressive stat given its potency. The 126 proof spirit hides beneath some alcoholic top notes, but is otherwise packed with aromas and flavors. It’s pure sugarcane with a malty sweetness that’s reminiscent of cachaca. I ordered this rum to accompany my lunch, and several of my dining companions noted that they could smell the rum from across the table. While I enjoyed it, this was not a crowd pleaser.
Appleton Estate V/X
This entry-level Appleton Estate rum is a blend of 15 rums aged five to 10 years in used whiskey barrels. It works very well in cocktails, as its sweet molasses and fruit backbone holds up well in most drinks. Given its versatile nature and affordable price point, Appleton Estate V/X was a ubiquitous fixture at Jamaican bars, where it was often used in rum punch.
Appleton Estate Reserve
This blend of 20 rums – each aged eight years or more – is smooth, rich and easy-drinking, with notes of vanilla, butterscotch, orange peel and spices. Sitting just above the V/X, it works well in cocktails but is also a very decent sipper. This was my regular pre-dinner, post-dinner and sometimes during-dinner drink during my stay in Jamaica.
Appleton Estate 12-Year
Also called Appleton Estate Extra, this blend features stocks ranging in age from 12 years to 30 years. It’s warm and nutty with notes of citrus fruit, vanilla and oak. Sampled at a few different venues, it was served neat in a snifter each time and seemed to be a favorite amongst bartenders. It’s tasty, well-balanced stuff, and one of the better rums I sampled during the Jamaican tour.
Appleton Estate 21-Year
A full-bodied sipping rum full of oak influence and spice that would likely pair well with a cigar. It was certainly enjoyable, but I found it a bit too woody and preferred the 12-Year overall.
I’d never heard of this rum prior to visiting Jamaica, and upon seeing it on a restaurant menu, the name didn’t evoke much confidence. So of course I ordered it. Served as a shot, but sipped like a gentleman, I found the body to be thin and watery, but it did pack a punch of flavor. Smatt’s also makes a silver, unaged rum, which I didn’t sample.
Served as a shot at Usain Bolt’s sports bar, called Tracks and Records, Coruba Dark was sweet, heavy and full of molasses. While it made for a decent shot, I’d love to revisit this rum in tiki cocktails.
Eh. Sweet, simple and nothing special. It makes a decent addition to cocktails, but doesn’t offer much on its own.
El Dorado 12
This was my first time sampling El Dorado Rum. I really liked it, despite it’s not being local. Turns out it’s from Guyana. No matter. El Dorado 12 is smooth and mellow with hints of honey and brown sugar. It offers fruit and spice and finishes clean and dry. Very good stuff.
El Dorado 15
Next up, the El Dorado 15 skips the honey and brown sugar backbone of its younger friend, instead opting for more oak influences, plus notes of coffee, chocolate, almonds and orange spice. I’m not sure I preferred the 15 over the 12, but it was certainly a lovely drink.
Click here for a full recap of the Jamaica trip.