Jamaica: Appleton Rum Estate, St. Elizabeth

My first trip to Jamaica was December 1997. I was 16 months old, so obviously don’t remember any of the trip, but have been back countless times since and have made many memories in the country. As my family are Jamaican, trips over the years have usually revolved around visiting people, running errands and fixing things, but in my last two trips I’ve actually been able to do some more shareable, albeit touristy, activities. One of which was a visit to the Appleton Rum Estate.

December 1997, Jamaica.

The Appleton Rum Estate is nestled in the Nassau Valley of Cockpit Country, St Elizabeth.

Both the Appleton Estate and the world famous Wray & Nephew Ltd were both acquired by the Lindo Brothers in the early 1900’s, and purchased again in 2012 by Italian Campari Group. Despite this, every drop of Appleton Jamaica Rum comes from this estate.

The process of rum making from sugar cane seems to have never changed, but the technical processes have become more efficient and streamlined over the years allowing the scale of production now needed for global demand. Gone are the days of a hand (or donkey) turned sugar cane mill. 

No donkeys are harmed in the making of rum, and this resident named Paz is probably the happiest and well fed donkey in Jamaica.

Nothing is wasted, and the stringy remains of the sugar cane after juice extraction are burned as a fuel source for the running of the factory, and the ash later spread on the cane fields as a natural fertiliser. The ageing barrels are also repurposed for furniture and art which you can see in various places around the estate. 

One of the most interesting things learned on the guided tour was that sugar cane is not native to Jamaica, but brought to the country from Papa New Guinea via Spain by none other than everyone’s favourite coloniser, Christopher Columbus.

Eve enjoyed her first taste of sugar cane, and some sugar cane juice!

After following the process of rum making into the fermentation and distillation rooms of the factory itself, we were shown one of 17 ageing rooms on The Appleton Estate. This room holds around 4,000 barrels and is the 3rd smallest of the ageing rooms. 

On to the tasting room, where we were warned:

If you disrespect the rum, the rum will disrespect you. 

We were invited to try three of the blends that are carefully blended under the authority of the Master Blender, Joy Spence. Joy Spence is the first ever female Master Blender in the history of the spirits industry. The signature blend is a blend of 15 rums aged for an average of 4 years, and is the lightest in colour due to its short time in the oak ageing barrels. 

The Reserve Blend and Rare 12 Year Old Blend are richer in colour, aged for at least 6 and 12 years. Our knowledgable tour guide informed us that the age label refers to the youngest drop of rum in the blend.

I won’t give away all the tour tips, but if you’re interested from what you’ve already read here then a visit to the Appleton Rum Estate is probably a must-do when in Jamaica. My parents, Eve and I went independently of a tour group and spent around 3 hours in total including the tour, lunch and a little gift shop rum haul!

I think I’ll make an effort to fit more of this kind of tourist activities in my future trips to Jamaica. There are still so many things that, as a Jamaican, I’m probably expected to have done that I haven’t. I’ve still never been to Kingston, or visited the Bob Marley Mausoleum. There’s a lot more of Jamaica waiting for me and I can’t wait to be back.

Harleigh Reid
Harleigh Reid

I write about food and eat a lot.

Find me on: Twitter