Blind Rum Tasting: Appleton 21 - 15 - 12 - Reserve
Updated: Mar 15, 2019
Finding good rum in our Ontario liquor stores is like finding water after a 3 day walk in the desert. A second of intense happiness, followed by confusion…..”Is this a hallucination?!”.
We are fortunate to have a wide selection of Appleton products available to us. Canada is Appleton’s largest market , which was the reason for them to introduce their 15 as a Canadian exclusive. A moment of joy, to finally have one up on our European and American rum friends.
I’ve heard the 15 will be released worldwide soon, so our joy of being the only one is short lived. But us friendly Canadians are ok with sharing this Jamaican treasure with the rest of the world.
Since there is so much Appleton around us, I felt it was time to do a blind tasting of the Reserve, 12 year, 15 year and 21 year. The reason for tasting it blind is to challenge myself, to get better at distinguishing flavours, and to compare it without any prejudice. Problem is that the 15 is clearly the lightest in colour, which could have ruined the non prejudice part. However, I luckily didn’t connect the dots on this until the end.
Appleton rums are a blend of pot and column still. The numbers on the bottles are the minimum age of the liquid. They are all fully aged in Jamaica. The Reserve used to be an 8 year old. Since the re-branding it’s a blend of 20 rums with an average age of 6 years. Because it’s an average, they’ve decided not to put an age statement on the label. An example of honesty and transparency.
Jamaica is partly famous for their very funky, high ester rum. You won’t find any of these in the Appleton portfolio however. When I met the great Joy Spence, Appleton’s master blender, I asked her if we could expect a higher abv rum and a high ester rum from them in the future. To higher abv she said "yes", but a definitive "no" to high ester. She said:”High ester rums are for people to get drunk on and aren’t premium”. No doubt she was referring to the local Jamaican market, as rum enthusiasts in the rest of the world are almost trampling each other to get a hold of higher funk rums.
The nose is quite heavy on this one, a good start. I smell chocolate, oak, vanilla cream, orange peel, a little eucalyptus and molasses.
Cardboard!Who doesn’t like some cardboard in their rum?! I sure do. It’s briny, has some oak and a beautiful hint of leather. Pineapple shows up as well. I like this nose, although not as much as the first.
First impression is that it’s a young spirit. Quite a lot of sweet fruitiness going on here. I get wine gums, sweet licorice, cola candy and something slightly rotten. It’s quite different from the first two but I like it.
This one is on the light side. I get a bit of sulfur, new car smell, some rubber, dried fruit, apricot and orange peel. It seems a bit dusty. Definitely not my favourite of the four. I actually asked my girlfriend if this was really an Appleton. Ooopss.
Rum #1 wins this round, #2 and #3 are joined second. #4 is dead last.
At this point my guess of the order of what I was nosing was the 21, 15, Reserve and 12.
Chocolate comes back, I get some licorice and oak. The finish is on the short side. This made me think it wasn’t the 21.
That beautiful leather returned, accompanied by tobacco and oak spiciness. The finish is much longer than rum #1.
It’s simple, quite bitter and has a sweet short finish. Again, it feels like a young spirit.
It’s very light, almost too light for me. I like boldness, this certainly isn’t that. Vanilla comes through, it’s a tad harsh. Not as young as #3 though.
Clear winner is rum #2. Rum #1 is quite a bit behind it but still far ahead of rum #4 and the loser of this round, which is #3.
After the tasting, my guess of the order was 12, 21, Reserve and 15.
Overall I found rum #2 the winner by quite a margin. Those leathery notes and the long finish are very appealing. Rum #1 is another I like a lot but it lacked some complexity and the finish was too short for a win. Third spot went to #4. It’s far behind the first two, but what kept it ahead of #3 was the obvious youthfulness of the latter.
When my girlfriend revealed the order of the samples it turned out I was very wrong at the nosing but 100% right at the tasting. 12, 21, Reserve and 15.
The biggest surprise to me was the low score of the 15 and how close the 12 and 21 were in quality. When the Appleton 15 came on the market I liked it quite a lot, bought a few bottles for myself and hauled six of them across the ocean for people in Holland and the UK.
However, because of this tasting I won’t buy the 15 again. I’ll stick to the 12 as a great regular sipper and mixer. It’s one of my favourite rum & Coke rums. In this sense the blind tasting format has really done me a favour. I will do this more as it's humbling and educational.
Result and score:
1. Appleton 21 – 79
2. Appleton 12 – 73
3. Appleton 15 – 64
4. Appleton Reserve – 60
Click here for info on the scoring method.