Review: Appleton Estate Rum 17 Years Old Legend

Wray and Nephew has been behind some of the most famous rums in history, and rightfully so. Its 17 year old rum created at Appleton’s Jamaican estate in the 1940s is said to have inspired the original Mai Tai cocktail. Now, it’s back. Sort of. Appleton’s Joy Spence has put together a recreation, which is being released as an ultra-rare one-off release for the summer.

Appleton Estate 17 Year Old Legend is an emblem of the distillery’s unrivaled history of crafting exceptional aged rums. Referencing original manuscripts and formulas, legendary Master Blender Joy Spence created this one-time release using four very rare distillates set aside to rest on the Estate to best recreate the taste profile of the prized golden blend. 17 Year Old Legend is the gift of one of the oldest aging rum libraries in the world, and soon to be a jewel of the finest rum collections. Due to the rarity of the distillates, only 1,500 bottles are available globally, never to be produced again.

To those bartenders at the forefront of the emerging Tiki cocktail movement in the 1940’s, the J. Wray & Nephew 17 Year Old was one of the most sought-after rums in the world and set the gold standard, prized for its gilded color and sensual, smoky, orange top notes. In 1944 in California, far from Jamaica’s tropical shores, legend has it that this exquisite spirit caught the imagination of one notable bartender in particular – Victor Bergeron, founder of the famous Trader Vic’s bar in San Francisco. While experimenting with friends, it’s said that he reached for a bottle of 17 Year Old rum, blended by J. Wray & Nephew, which would become his rum of choice. Medium-bodied, beautiful, and golden, the hues were evocative of the Jamaican sun. Protective to not overpower this special blend, Victor paired it with a subtle range of ingredients, to complement the rum’s top notes. Shared with his friends from Tahiti, it was declared ‘Maita’i roa a’e’, or simply translated, ‘the best’, and thus, a legend was born.

Today, Appleton Estate is proud to pay tribute to this enduring spirit. Produced at the oldest continuously-operating rum distillery in Jamaica, the iconic blend is aged a minimum of 17 years in the island’s fertile and tropical climate. Appleton Estate rums age nearly three times more quickly than spirits aged in cooler climates, allowing for richer, fuller flavours to develop in a shorter period – in fact, the minimum age of 17 years in the tropical climate of Jamaica is equivalent to over 50 years of ageing in a cooler climate. Crafted with Jamaican limestone-filtered water, with no added flavours, 17 Year Old Legend displays rich, caramelized pear and banana notes, mingling with warm, nutty, oak, and floral herbal notes. The full body crescendo culminates in a lingering, silky-smooth finish. The precious liquid is held in the brand’s iconic glass bottle, with a tropical interpretation of Appleton Estate’s visual codes in its neck label and gift box, exemplifying this release’s role as a true taste of Jamaican luxury.

“With our 17 Year Old Legend, we knew we had a special story to tell,” said Joy Spence, Master Blender at Appleton Estate. “This project has been years in the making and truly one of the most challenging of my career. In carefully re-creating the beautiful taste profile of the original rum, we’ve created an expression that is a tribute both to our own heritage, and to the heritage of the classic cocktail craft.”

We were lucky to get a sample of Legend to try. Let’s put it through its paces.

Old Jamaican rum is special stuff, and Legend is absolutely unique and engaging. Intense and brooding on the nose, it is plumped up with plenty of high-ester rum but balanced out with more mellow stock. The results are boldly fruity, its notes of bubble gum laced with gingerbread, oily molasses, and cloves. Smoky coal dust notes soon come into focus, the creosote overtones giving the rum a gravelly, earthy quality.

The palate should hold no surprises given this build-up and indeed it does not. The earthiness of the molasses dominates, with layers of vanilla and cinnamon coming into view before that strong Christmas cake quality takes over. Hot and heavy, it’s a very weighty, almost savory rum, with its sweetness kept well in the background, almost hidden around a corner. Notes of peppered bacon, torched wood, and some black cherry juice, or maybe cherry pits, all linger on the endless, monstrous finish.

Naturally I had to make this into a Mai Tai — it’s my current “favorite cocktail” on our About Us page, after all — and the results were outstanding. The richness of the rum paired perfectly with the bright lime and triple sec as well as the nutty almond syrup. I’m not sure I’d make a $500 investment on a bottle just for cocktailing… but then again, I’m not sure what else I’d want to do with this little delight.

98 proof.

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