Over nearly three centuries, Jamaica has elevated rum-making into an art, creating premium aged rum blends that are revered for their full-bodied flavour. But beyond the craft, Jamaica rum’s rise to the top was rooted in the island itself. Here are the factors, both cultural and geographical, that set Jamaica rum apart from the rest.
Water unlike any other
Jamaica’s unique geography lies at the heart of its rum production. The island’s natural limestone deposits give its water a rich azure colour and imbue it with a natural softness. This limestone-filtered water enhances every part of the rum-making process, from growing the local varieties of sugarcane to diluting the molasses used in distillation. In fact, the laws governing Jamaica rum insist that fermentation and distillation occur only in territories with a limestone aquifer, as per the Jamaican Rum Geographical Indication. For Appleton Estate, that process takes place in one of the planet’s only “cockpit karsts,” where lush limestone hills and underwater caves produce the limestone-filtered spring water that gives the rum its naturally rich flavour.
While local sugarcane underpins Jamaica rum’s complex aromas, added flavours that may change the profile of the rum are strictly prohibited during the rum-making process. That means that the perfectly balanced, rich flavour of Jamaica rum shines through without any distractions.
An attention to yeast
The local varieties of sugarcane and the limestone-filtered water might get top billing in Jamaica rum’s ingredients, but many of Jamaica’s rum producers also focus on the yeast that catalyzes the fermentation process. While the country’s rum guidelines allow for cultured and commercial versions, premium brands pay close attention to the cultured yeasts they cultivate. In the case of Appleton Estate, the non-GMO yeasts that generate the rum’s distinctive flavour during fermentation have been handed down over generations.
Unique copper stills
While Jamaican rum can be distilled in both kettle-shaped “pot” stills and taller “column” stills, the key ingredient is copper, which removes sulphides from the distillate. Each type of still confers its own benefits—a 100% copper pot still, for instance, adds the signature orange-peel top note to Appleton Estate’s rums—so premium Jamaican rum producers will often blend the two techniques to give the final product a more balanced flavour.
The role of oak
In a country where no additives are allowed after distillation, the barrels in which the rum is aged play a decisive role in the flavour and colour of the final product. Historically, rum barrels were mere transportation vessels for ferrying the prized spirit by sea. But as sailors soon realized, the longer rum spent in barrels, the better it tasted. From that point on, the ageing process—and the casks in which ageing occurs—became an obsession for premium rum producers. According to Jamaica’s rules, all aged rum that originates on the island must come of age in oak casks, whose natural tannins give the liquid its rich, golden colour. And in the case of Appleton Estate, rum is aged in 40-gallon Number One Select American Oak barrels, which instil a hint of vanilla.
The taste of the tropics
While the oak casks impart flavour and colour during the ageing process, the location of the barrels themselves also matters. The Caribbean’s hot, humid climate provides the perfect environment for crafting premium aged rum. Not only does rum age more quickly in the tropics, but the humidity also enhances the way in which the rum takes on the characteristics of the casks. And while tropical ageing increases the amount of rum that evaporates—known as the “angel’s share”—that sacrifice is worth it to produce the full-bodied rum that Jamaica is known for.
Find your blend
From the Mai Tai to the Jamaican Daiquiri, you’ll find plenty of cocktails where premium aged rum takes centre stage. And while these classic rum cocktails help elevate the experience of Jamaica rum, many mixologists recommend starting neat to savour a premium blend’s true flavour. It might just be the best entryway to the art and joy of Jamaica rum.