Last Monday (24th November 2014) saw the launch of one of the world's best rums in South Africa, Appleton Estate Jamaican Rum. And who better to make the presentation than the Global Rum Ambassador, Ian Burrell.
|The Original Mai Tai|
The venue was Katy's Palace in Joburg's Kramerville, a beautiful open plan space with glorious views overlooking Sandton in the distance. As we entered we were greeted with a Mai Tai welcome drink, a suitable choice considering 2014 marks the 70th anniversary of Trader Vic Bergeron's iconic cocktail. Of course, they were made according to Vic's original recipe, using rock candy syrup, orange curacao (Cointreau), orgeat and lime juice, with none of the orange and pineapple juices that he felt had no place in a "true" Mai Tai. The only deviation from the recipe was replacing J. Wray Nephew Jamaican Rum with Appleton, but considering they're both from the same island and both from the Gruppo Campari stable, I'm sure even Vic would have deemed this a more than acceptable substitute.
Once everyone had taken their seats we were treated to an AV presentation with a difference; as the screen showed Jamaican sugarcane being exposed to the elements, mist fell from the ceiling followed by shafts of light to symbolise rain and sun respectively. When the brand video concluded, our host, Top Billing presenter Simba Mhere, took to the stage to kick off proceedings and introduce the esteemed Mr Burrell. What followed was a presentation as good as any I've ever seen.
"The Appleton Rum bottle is shaped like a Jamaican lady, and it gets prettier the more you drink" - Ian Burrell
It's hard for me to explain what makes an Ian Burrell address so worthwhile, but a number of factors come to mind. First of all, after 25 years in the business, he knows his stuff, but more importantly he puts it across in such a way that enthrals both bar geeks and novices alike. His talks are both interesting and entertaining, and delivered in an easy, seamless manner that is endearingly Caribbean.
The first thing Ian points out is that he is the Global Ambassador for the rum category as a whole and that he isn't affiliated to any one brand, but this only lends weight to his endorsement of Appleton Estate Jamaican Rum. When asked to name a rum of choice, Ian's famous response is that his three favourites are (1) whatever is in his glass, (2) his next rum, and (3) a free one. But uncharacteristically, he went on to say that if pushed with a gun to his head, Appleton undoubtedly falls in his top 10.
Shortly into his speech, Ian opened a bottle of Appleton VX and splashed a drop on the ground, a ritual that hails from the plantations of old in which slaves would pay homage to their ancestors. He went on to explain that rum is a massive part of Caribbean life, woven into the fabric of the culture. An island celebration or ceremony would be incomplete without it, as would a commiserative gathering. Ian described a phenomenon common to Caribbean funerals called Nine Nights in which friends and family of the deceased gather around the casket and drink for – you guessed it – nine nights.
Ian delved into the 265 year history of the Appleton brand, explaining how it's made entirely with ingredients found on the estate, including the water. Located in the Nassau Valley in the heart of Jamaica, it is on this lush, fertile land that specially selected varieties of sugarcane are grown. The combination of climate, soil, and topography of the Appleton Estate make it one of the few types of rum that claim "terroir". In fermentation, a proprietary strain of yeast that has been handed down through generations is combined with water that has been filtered through the limestone hills of the region before upwelling on the estate. The rums that make up Appleton Estate are produced on both traditional pot stills that are unique to the Estate, as well as the more modern column stills. These rums are aged under tropical conditions and then blended by Master Blender Joy Spence.
"Joy is like an aunty to me," said Ian with a clear affinity for this pioneering lady. The first woman in the history of the entire spirits business to hold the position of Master Blender, her contribution to the industry was recognised by the Jamaican government when they awarded her the Order of Distinction in the Rank of Officer.
"She once told me," continued Ian, "that when you're introducing people to Appleton for the first time, you should start with the oldest variant, with a little bit of chocolate." He directed our attention to the array of unmarked tasting glasses in front of us and pointed out the 21 YO. Smooth and delicate with a long finish, it easily compared with some of the other single malt Scotches on the table.
Yes, you read correctly. On our tasting mat, in amongst the Appleton Estate Jamaican Rum, were a couple of quality whiskies. The purpose of this, explained Ian, was not to trick us or to rate rum against whisky, but to illustrate how a premium rum can hold its own as a luxury sipping spirit.
The other two variants that are available South Africa round off the range beautifully. The 12 YO – frankly my favourite of the three – had a slightly more robust flavour and heavier mouth-feel, reminiscent of a cognac. The VX is the allrounder in this Jamaican line up. Marketed more as a mixing spirit, its bold fruity flavour is a favourite among true fans of Caribbean rum. Throw in a mixer, shake it up in a cocktail or enjoy it with a splash of water, the Appleton Estate VX is versatile and delicious.
Ian Burrell shared a few Jamaican phrases throughout his presentation, much to the delight of the crowd. One example is "the duppy's share"; a duppy is a ghost or spirit, so this translates as the angel's share, referencing the portion of rum lost to evaporation during distillation. Another term, which I can't wait to use in the Caribbean one day, is "Jun Crow Batty", a harsh type of high proof rum. A Jun Crow is a vulture and a batty refers to an arse, so this rum is so named because it (apparently) tastes like a vulture's arse.
On the other end of the spectrum, a term used to proclaim your approval of something is "raas". Although be sure to say it in a drawn-out positive way, because the wrong inflection could be construed as an insult. I think I'll risk it though. In fact I can't wait to one day be sitting on a Jamaican beach, Appleton Estate Rum in hand, and shout "RAAS!" for all the hear.
Article by Grant McDonald