Last year, savvy rum drinkers quickly would have noted the new look of bottles from Jamaica’s dependable Appleton Estate, the storied distillery that has served as an introduction to the joys of Jamaican rum to so many now dedicated tiki-philes. It was a lineup-wide refresh, which saw core pieces like Appleton Signature and Appleton 12 Year Rare Casks unchanged, but also the addition of a new star in the form of the very tasty and high-value new Appleton 8 Reserve. In my opinion, the 8 Year blend immediately became Appleton’s best product from a value proposition, offering no shortage of flavor and a slightly higher proof point (86 proof, 43% ABV) for your $30 investment.
Now, the core Appleton lineup is further solidifying with the new addition of a 15-year-old, year-round rum, entitled Appleton Estate 15 Year Old Black River Casks. This is, of course, not the first time that a distillery like Appleton has put a 15-year-old product out into the world, as there have been other, similarly aged Appleton limited releases in recent years. But this one is notable for the fact that it adheres to the new packaging/labeling style and is intended for wide distribution, effectively making it the new “ultra premium” high end of the core Appleton lineup. Its price takes a modest bump, from the roughly $40 of Appleton 12 to a new price point of $65 for Black River Casks. That means this new expression will have a somewhat harder time competing with the likes of the 12 Year Rare Casks from a value standpoint, but $65 for a 15-year-old, tropically aged Jamaican rum is still pretty hard to come across elsewhere. The name “Black River Casks,” meanwhile, pays homage to the Black River of Jamaica’s Nassau Valley, which supplies the limestone-filtered water used to create all of the distillery’s products.
Like all new Appleton products, 15 Year Black River Casks was conceived and blended by Master Blender Joy Spence, a living legend of the rum industry at this point who is celebrating her 40th anniversary at Appleton this year. Judging from her work on Appleton 8, I find myself anticipating this one quite a bit.
Also of note: The distillery is likewise reintroducing its 21 year old expression in the current generation of packaging, now titled 21 Year Old Nassau Valley Casks and carrying an MSRP of $150. I don’t have a sample of that one to taste today, so let’s get right to tasting the 15 Year Old.
On the nose, my initial impressions on Appleton Estate 15 Year Old Black River Casks are a beguiling blend of fruit, oak, spice and Jamaican estery funk. I’m getting a decent amount of sweet banana, but they feel deeply caramelized or cooked, with lots of spice accents of allspice and candied ginger. Molasses cookie richness is tempered by moderate oakiness, but the funk is standing out on the nose to me for whatever reason—this seems a bit more estery than the way I perceive most other Appleton core blends, which may well make this a favorite of rum geeks.
On the palate, there’s a good amount of complexity on display, stemming from that blending prowess. I’m getting sweet cinnamon sugar and cloves, allspice, blackened bananas, grilled pineapple, orange peel and hints of marzipan sweetness, tempered by the slight tannin of oak and barely perceptible bitterness of very dark caramel. The “Jamaican funk” is perhaps a bit more subdued here than on the nose, but it’s an excellent supporting player, standing alongside subtle ethanol heat and a relatively dry finish.
All in all, this rum fits snugly into the Appleton lineup, offering similar flavors to the 12 Year Rare Casks, just with that next level of elegance. If you already know that you enjoy Appleton’s product, this is a no brainer at a price point that is still relatively affordable. If you’re less familiar with well-aged Jamaican rum, it would also be an ideal place to start your exploration.
Just as thoughtfully composed as we would expect.
Distillery: Appleton Estate
Style: Aged Jamaican rum
ABV: 43% (86 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $65 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.