Amongst the rolling hills of the Nassau Valley in St. Elizabeth is a sugar cane plantation ground that hosts the Appleton Estate Rum Experience. Currently named after the present Master Blender, Joy Spence, the experience begins outside with sights of heavy machinery and loaded cane stalks just beyond the signage and parking area. As you pass the craft items and local crops on display at the community vending area, a peacock or 3 may stroll across the site to greet you before you’re able to set foot inside the welcome lounge.
A Signature Welcome
Backdrops of a series of aged rums will welcome you, accompanied by numerous smiles at every turn from warm employees. After collecting an armband at the front desk, what better way is there to be welcomed than with a rocks glass filled with a rum cocktail? The signature drink is appropriately named ‘Stormy Valley’, presumably after the sometimes unforgiveable weather conditions prone to the lush area (we got a bigger preview than desired). The Stormy Valley is a mix of Appleton Signature Blend Rum, ginger beer, lime juice, and Angostura on ice, packed with just enough punch to arouse your senses ahead of what’s to come. The wait time for the next tour varies, but free refills are there to keep you occupied the whole way!
Drink Rum, Save Water
The formal tour experience begins with a brief introduction of Ms. Spence, before leading patrons to a dark Movie Theatre for a 7-minute visually insightful and captivating presentation on rum production in the heart of Jamaica.
After the mini-movie, you’ll step into the light of day to see Paz the donkey, who’ll demonstrate the first part of the rum process – sugar cane juicing. The designated tour area is a contemporary farmland lined with branded wooden barrels and pallets, roofed brick and mortar stations, and machinery of different eras.
This section provides an insight at what an aspect of rum production in the 17th century looked like ahead of the modern-day factory process which ensures no part of the sugar cane goes to waste.
The History Station is where you’ll find the first of a series of arranged photograph and text placards creating collages for an extra visual appeal and touch of knowledge. Inside this small space is enclosed machines of previous years accompanied by a synopsis of each, along with glasses of rum punch… and water, if you’re into that sort of a thing.
If you want an insight to a day in the life of Paz, jump in and partake at the Human Cane Crush Station. Like Paz, you’ll get additional exercise by using an outdated machine to crush cane and extract ~63% of its juice. After your hard work with the help of a partner pushing at the opposite end, you and everyone present may reap the rewards by sampling a cup of pure, strained cane juice.
All this, right before the ultimate venue photo op!
The samples don’t stop there! At the Molasses Station, a stirring pot of syrup byproduct aka ‘wet sugar’ will be revealed. When cane juice is boiled and its sugar crystals are removed from the liquid, molasses is formed. Grab a spoon and collect a dripping glob of face-tightening sweetness for sampling.
The stairs to the Panoramic View Tower provides an aerial look of a portion of the 11,400-acre land, bordered by cone-shaped mountains, lush greenery, and limestone –filtered water, which all play significant roles in the taste of the Appleton Rum you know today.
The steamy Distillery is home to copper pot stills that impart their distinctive character to the rum and power its manufacturing. Last in the production process is the Ageing House, which is lined with permeable oaks barrels of breathing rum, stored for years and even decades, before being poured into your glass.
Premium Taste Test
To top off the experience, an appropriate ending is found in the Tasting Room which is set up with a series of long tables, stools, and spirits. A detailed introduction to the aged rums are presented on a laminated sheet before you. Each station has 3 covered glasses of samples with different ages and distinct flavours, and a complementary bottle of Wata to cleanse your palette between tastings.
Just when you thought the samples were over, complete your buzz with a souvenir bottle to carry home (yes, with real rum!) which is given as a small token.
The experience can be extended if you like at The Black River Lounge where you can enjoy local cuisine and/or drinks. On your way out, you’re sure to waltz through the Gift Shop filled with more Appleton souvenirs, memorabilia, and personalized gifts.
A wise man once asked, “why is the rum always gone?” and I truly believe the answer is … because we drank it all. A special thank you to the Down Di Road crew for the invite, check out their 15-minute full episode of the experience! Here’s my preview:
Comment your favourite rum cocktail (or rum brand) below.
Stormy Valley is definitely a new favourite for me as a default wine drinker!
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