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The road-trip team in a jovial mood, (from left) Mary-Ann Chung, Ophelia Sinclair, Dacian Alexander, Nadine Powell, Cecile Levee, Kimberly England, Kathi Cooke and Warren Johnson. In the back row: Damian Royes. - Photos by Janet Silvera
A heavy-duty cane mill that is more than 150 years old. Now it's one of the many artefacts at Appleton.
The various types of Appleton rum, including the famous 21-year-old that was a hit with the road-trip team. 
Tour guide Norman Murray showcasing one of the many processes sugarcane undergoes.
A worker explaining the process to extract juice from sugar cane with the use of a donkey, as was done in olden days.
Unofficial driver Mary-Ann Chung (centre) checking out the old Appleton Estate truck, while Ophelia Sinclair (left) and Dacian Alexander, look on.
In a Bolt mood are members of the road-trip team, (from left) Nadine Powell, Kimberly England and Norah Blake. 
Some visitors to the island watching the process of juicing of sugar canes. 
Tour guide Norman Murray showing the bagasse, one of the end products of sugar cane.
A storage house for the barrels of rum.
The manual process of extracting cane juice. 
A scale used to weigh logwood, utilised in the making of dye, on show at Appleton.
Molasses, one of the end products of sugar cane. 
The Appleton Sugar Estate.
The back of an old truck used to haul sugar cane in the past. 
From left: Jorge Gonzalez, director, production supply chain, J. Wray and Nephew, on a tour of the St Elizabeth plant with the Jamaica Public Service Company Limited's Marvin Campbell, regional director, East, and Kelly Tomblin, president.
Rum expert Judith Douglas of Wray & Nephew giving classes on how rum is made. 

Appleton Estate Rum Tour: The making of the world's finest rum

Janet Silvera, Hospitality Jamaica Coordinator

Two hundred and sixty-seven years of continuous rum making, and today Jamaica's Appleton Rum Estate boasts the indisputable position of being home to the world's finest rum.

Last Wednesday, 12 adventurous JamaicaRoadTrips.com followers and an affable driver by the name Michael Pearson of Tropical Tours ventured out on a fact-finding mission of one of Jamaica's oldest attractions, Appleton Estate Rum Tour.

The group left Fairview in Montego Bay, St James, at 9 a.m., reaching the Appleton Estate, located in Nassau Valley, St Elizabeth, by 11:40 a.m. With only two stops en route - one in Ferris, Westmoreland, and the other just outside Middle Quarters, St Elizabeth - they were on target to avoid the regular afternoon rain.

Founded in 1749, Appleton sits on more than 11,000 acres of land, but at the rate at which the world is drinking rum, the most eloquent tour guide in the world, Norman Murray, thinks they may be forced to buy more lands.

WIDE DISTRIBUTION

"Don't get me wrong, enuh (you know)," he quipped, "we are not complaining, just keep drinking. Presently, we are distributing to over 50 different countries," he told the specially invited road trippers.

There is only one distillery that supplies the world with Appleton rum, and it's in St Elizabeth.

Taking the group, which included Cecile Levee, Mary-Ann Chung, Nadine Powell, Norah Blake, Damian Royes, Kathi Cooke, Ophelia Sinclair, Dacian Alexander, Warren Johnson and Kimberly England through the rum-making process, Murray gave them unforgettable insight into the actual rum factory.

Murray described how the sugar cane, a giant member of the grass family, if allowed would grow long, in some cases to as tall as 20 feet. In some countries, it takes anywhere from 10-24 months to ripen, but here in Jamaica, because of the soil and climatic conditions, the cane is harvested between 10 and 12 months.

Harvesting, Murray added, occurs between December and May each year.

While harvesting closes off during the rainy months, the factory remains open because the molasses that is produced from the cane, and which is in storage, allows the factory to carry out the making of rum.

Murray started the tour at the now modern facility, which still boasts remnants of the past. The first stop was to watch a donkey being used to squeeze juice from the cane.

Of course, Appleton is no longer using donkeys. Today, it's all mechanically done. With the donkey, they were able to squeeze 65-70 per cent of the juice out of the cane. But with the advent of modernisation, they are now able to squeeze up to 98 per cent.

Pointing out that nothing is wasted at Appleton, Murray said the shredded cane, which produces bagasse, and is used to make board of the same name, is used to generate steam for the turbines that run the factory.

"So while we are not into the board-making business, we burn the bagasse to generate electricity, and the ash that is left, we put it back into the field as a form of fertiliser, so nothing goes to waste. We are utilising every single thing," Murray said.

He noted that when Appleton stopped using donkeys, a number of mills were installed as replacement. "We have since graduated from the original mills and are using some huge rotary mills," he explained.

The tour, which could last between 45 minutes and an hour, gave an insight into the large cuppers that were used to boil the cane juice in the past. The road trippers got an opportunity to see how cane juice is boiled more than once, then dumped into a centrifuge, which spins and separates the liquid from solids.

The liquid generated is called molasses and the solid becomes known as brown sugar. "That's how simple we get molasses and brown sugar. You squeeze, carry out all the boiling, then you centrifuge molasses and brown sugar," Murray explained.

FERMENTED SUGAR

The sugar is fermented and the molasses is used to make rum. "Rum is a fermented spirit from sugar cane, so don't go home and ferment some prunes, grapes or apples and get some alcohol and think you can call it rum. It does not work," he warned, laughingly.

Grown in the Nassau Valley of St Elizabeth, Appleton Estate is surrounded by mountain ranges, giving it a 360-degree view. The soilin which the sugar cane is planted is located within a karst. The landscape is formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks such as limestone, dolomite, and gypsum. It is characterised by underground drainage systems with sinkholes and caves. It has also been documented for weather-resistant rocks, such as quartzite, given the right conditions.

The soil at Appleton Estate is extremely rich, and that richness lends itself to the sugar cane, which also reflects in the characteristics of the rum. "So it's a very ideal and unique location for us," Murray said.

Not satisfied with boasting about the rum company he works for, Murray said what makes their rum different from others is the soil. "So if you are making your rum the same way we do ours, and you use a different type of sugar cane, the taste profile of my rum is going to be different from yours."

The climatic conditions, including sunny mornings and tropical showers in the afternoon, which are very conducive to the growing of sugar cane, are the basic factors that set Appleton Estate rum apart.

An environmentally friendly estate, Murray said they have been trying to reduce their carbon footprint by generating enough electricity to supply the estate houses where some of the workers live with their families.

janet.silvera@gleanerjm.com 

Road trippers praise Appleton Estate Tour

Negril hotelier Cecile Levee:

"What an informative and educational experience! For someone who thought they knew a lot about rum, I had no idea of the nuances, as complex as wine-making, the climate, rainfall, variety of sugarcane ... who knew? And to culminate the end of the guided tour led by the charismatic Norman Murray was the tasting by Judy Douglas, with all her passion for the product and, oh, oh, oh, the 21-year-old - not the cane cutter, the rum. Appleton Estate, you are a gold winner for offering a truly wonderful experience. I am officially putting out my desire to the universe for a bottle of the 50-year-old.

Banker Ophelia Sinclair

A seminar was included where we learnt of the different mixes and blends. A tasting session was included that introduced our taste buds to the different rums. I can now truly identify the different rums and blends from just whetting my buds, or a simple sniff.

Mary-Ann Chung

Touring the world-famous Appleton Estate rum factory has been on my bucket list for several years now. I finally got the opportunity to make it a reality by being invited to be part of an amazing group of people.

Although not a rum drinker, I was fascinated by the process, but more important, I just needed to know what made our Appleton so special.

Truth be told, Jamaica being one of only three countries that boast our infamous Cockpit Country which creates our special limestone-enriched valley with its own natural spring filtered water [is amazing]. I learnt this was the perfect condition to harvest the perfect sugar cane to produce the perfect rum.

In addition, the world-renowned first female master blender is our own Joy Spence. Once again, I'm so proud to say I'm Jamaican.

Norah Blake, consultant

The tour was good. I gave it nine out of 10, even though I somehow expected more. Our tour guide was par excellence. I envisioned going on the train and travelling out into the fields to view the process. They have, however, effectively confined it to make it into a short tour, which covered everything in terms of showing the process from raw material to the finished products. The participation at the end in producing the juice was brilliant. A bit more history in the area of life on a plantation would have been welcome. The spirit sampling and education at the academy by Judith Douglas was really a learning experience that has left me more knowledgeable.

Damian Royes, student

It was such a wonderful experience being able to tour the oldest rum-production plant in the Caribbean. It was nostalgic in the sense that it brought back childhood memories of growing up in the Hampden Estate sugar belt. Our tour guide Norman was awesome, and I would recommend the rum tour to all my fellow Jamaicans. It created a positive, lasting impression in my mind.

Warren Johnson, businessman

The Appleton Estate Tour was a great and enjoyable learning experience that could easily leave a teetotaller into a guilt-ridden journey for not supporting the efforts of such a significant part of our past that contributes so much to our present. The contributing human factors that made the tour all the more a joy: Norman is a prized tour guide who is not only knowledgeable and informative but entertaining; the presentation by Judith Douglas was of a learned professor preparing students for an examination; and the hospitality of Mrs Sinclair and her team was first class. 

 

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