Why rum is the hottest spirit on the shelf

Anna King Shahab,
On Trend,
Publish Date
Saturday, 5 August 2017, 3:25PM

It's time to get over memories of those early, unfortunate dalliances with cheap rum and syrupy cola and say hello to rum, mark II. Premium rum is a sophisticated spirit.

It pays to learn a bit about it in order to best enjoy it, and who better to learn from than Appleton Estate's master blender, Joy Spence? Spence is in New Zealand holding masterclasses, so we met for a chat and a rum-blending session.

Jamaican-born Spence began her career at Appleton Estate 35 years ago as a chemist, before being selected and trained by the master blender to take over the prestigious role. She became the first female master blender in the spirit industry. Rum runs in the veins of Jamaicans. "We talk about rum being there from the cradle to the grave," Spence elaborates. "We wet a baby's head with it, sprinkle it on building foundations and in the grave before the coffin is lowered in.

"Rum is the most versatile spirit. You can savour a premium rum neat, match different rums to food, or mix lighter and younger rums into all sorts of cocktails. The best rums exhibit complexity in the manner of fine whiskey or cognac", she explains.

Rum is made from sugarcane molasses fermented, distilled, barrel-aged and blended. At Appleton Estate rums are distilled in a mix of copper pots and stainless steel columns, which add different flavour notes, notably orange peel, nutmeg and banana. Ageing in Bourbon barrels adds notes of chocolate, coffee, vanilla and brown sugar.

A note on ageing. Rums may be aged from 1-2 years right up to many decades - Appleton Estates has a 50 year-old offering. And here's a case where premature ageing is a good thing - Spence describes how Jamaica's tropical climate means rums age three times faster in the barrel than, say, a whisky sitting in a barrel in the nippy Scottish Highlands. Spence has a tip for telling whether a rum has been aged well. "Hold your glass up to the light and you should be able to make out an olive-coloured ring on the surface of the rum".

Historically, rum was made in sugarcane growing countries with the raw ingredients to hand (in Appleton's case, they own the cane plantation and the sugar factory from whence the molasses comes). So the Caribbean, part of Central and South America and Queensland are all big players. Sugarcane-growing Fiji gets a look in too - the Fiji Rum Co. offerings are well worth sampling. And though we don't grow cane here, New Zealand has sprung a few boutique rum producers who have mastered blending and/or spicing batches of rum. Stolen led the way: they launched in 2011 and quickly grew to cult status; their selection now includes spiced, smoked, dark, light and over-proof versions, all made with custom-distilled Trinidadian rums and a good dose of marketing nous. More recently Helmsman has joined the shindig; theirs is Caribbean rum spiced with natural ingredients to result in well-rounded aromas and flavours of vanilla, banana, white chocolate and cinnamon.

Bars round Auckland are firmly complicit in the rum revolution and you can taste your way through the gamut of premium rums neat or in elevated cocktails. Jason Rosen, co-owner of Mea Culpa and Revelry, recently won a global rum cocktail competition held in Paris and the Caribbean, and he reveals he will be launching a new rum-focused cocktail bar in Auckland this October.

In the meantime, here are a few ravishing rum cocktails to try round town:

Something fruity and sparkling: Coupe de Corsair at Lovebucket - cherry, vanilla and orange spiced rum, curacao, hibiscus and champagne.

Something classic: Daiquiri Deluxe at Caretaker - house spiced rum, fresh lime, Orgeat, housemade orange blossom syrup.

Something with a twist: Millionaire's Daiquiri at Mea Culpa - light rum, sloe gin, lime juice, apricot brandy and grenadine.

And here's something joyfully simple to try at home this weekend: it's Joy Spence's favourite way to enjoy a good aged rum.

Recipe: The Joy

In a tumbler, pour 45ml Appleton Estate Reserve.

Add a slice of orange and gently muddle the flesh into the rum (not the skin as it will release too many bitter notes).

Add a few drops Angostura bitters, ½ cup crushed ice and top up the glass with dry ginger ale.


It's your last chance to head to the pop-up Jamaican bar at Ostro, which finishes tonight. Ostro have Joy/Appleton Estate cocktail specials at the bar and they have happy hour every night, 5pm-6pm.