Fri | Sep 25, 2020

Journey to rum country

Published:Friday | October 4, 2019 | 12:24 AMDanik Frazer/Gleaner Writer
Members of the Lifestyle team who made the journey to rum country with the help of special guide Master Blender Joy Spence!
Members of the Lifestyle team who made the journey to rum country with the help of special guide Master Blender Joy Spence!

Nestled up in the humid Nassau Valley of St Elizabeth are 11,000 acres of farmland renowned for being the producers of the best Jamaican rum.

The Appleton Estate is a sprawling self-contained plantation comprising different sections of farmland, including the Raheim farm and communities outfitted for workers by Appleton Estate and the Government with schools, a clinic, “a nice, quiet police station”, and an even quieter post office.

From the top of Siloah, one of the surrounding communities where children run barefoot and toothy, shrieking with laughter, is an overview of the true sprawl of breathtakingly lush cane fields closed in by the far-off Cockpit Country on the horizon and full, stark white clouds as far as the eyes can see above. These cane fields are where the sweet nectar of rum gets its beginnings, and these beginnings are by no means humble.

The company invested US$10 million into the improvement of its treatment and fertilising methods. Environmentally conscious, it started phasing out the slash-and-burn method in 2010, which is typically used for clearing cane fields of pests and overgrowth before the harvesting. Because of their its location, the cane fields are naturally irrigated, thanks to the rain showers that keep the lands hydrated and lush. So no need for expensive, energy-exhaustive irrigation systems.

With the hard work of the townspeople and world-renowned Master Blender Joy Spence and her team, Appleton not only churns out its signature blends of rum, it has also included in its reserves specialty blends, produced in limited supply, for which the masses descend upon the estate, in hopes to get their own.


The Appleton Estate Rum Tour was this summer’s hot-ticket event. Many made the pilgrimage to this sacred rum space to learn how their favourite ambers are produced – so much so that, as Spence exclaimed delightedly, on one day, over 400 Jamaicans made their way through the St Elizabeth hills to enjoy the beautiful, peaceful serenity of the property. As many of you already know, once you’ve entered through the doors, you’re welcomed with a mixed drink at reception. Typically, you’re taken on a walking tour of the immediate grounds, where you spend time going through rooms of history, learning all the methods used over 200 years ago and even seeing the oak barrels where the rums are aged. You get to taste the molasses used in the rum-making process and have a drink of freshly pressed sugar cane juice.

We didn’t get that tour; instead, we were taken to the cane fields on the back of a van, driven by one of Appleton Estate’s (patient and knowledgeable) farmers, Carlton Spencer, who taught us how to really apply ourselves to the cane-cutting process.

Unlike the Nassau Valley cane farmers who cut roughly 4 tonnes of cane per day (whew!), we got a stalk each, which is fair, since they’d want us to cause as little damage to their liquid gold as possible.

Back at the estate, in from the wet heat of the fields, we were treated to a private tasting of the special upcoming blend, ‘Journey’, by the master blender herself, as well as an oral autobiography in which she told us her story of having a passion for chemistry and philanthropy and a dedication to innovation. Truly motivational, Spence wants to inspire young Jamaicans, particularly those in non-traditional high schools, to love chemistry the way she does.

And as for those of us who are anticipating the next release of limited-edition blends, you don’t have much time left to wait. The amber is a deep, smooth-to-the-taste russet with clear notes of the incorporated spices and aromatics. Journey, distilled with the blending of a select stock of rare rums, the youngest being 23 years old and the eldest at 35 years of ageing, is definitely one to rival any cognac or whiskey. You’ll want to get your old-fashioned glassware at the ready this December because you need to be first in line for the release.

To identify the limited-stock rum blend is a newly designed logo featuring two hummingbirds, Jamaica’s national bird, flanking a peacock, a bird you may well call Appleton’s own mascot.