Appleton Tried to Recreate the 1940s Rum Used to Make the Original Mai Tai

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Jamaica’s Appleton Estate distillery just launched a new 17-year-old rum that is an attempt to recreate the rum from the 1940s that inspired the world-famous Mai Tai cocktail. There are only 1,500 bottles of available, and this is a one-time release, so act fast if you’d like to try it for yourself.

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Esteemed master blender Dr. Joy Spence, who has worked at the distillery since 1981 and became the first female master blender in 1997, is the force behind the new Appleton Estate 17 Year Old Legend. It’s modeled after J. Wray & Nephew 17 Year Old, a rum released in the 1940s that was produced at the distillery at the beginning of the tiki cocktail movement. Victor Bergeron, founder of Trader Vic’s in San Francisco, reportedly became such a fan of this original rum after trying it that he used it to create the Mai Tai cocktail in 1944. The original recipe for the drink was the most simple (and therefore likely the best), consisting of just rum, fresh lime juice, orange curacao, and orgeat. Nowadays, you’ll find Mai Tais being made with sweeteners like grenadine, but the original became a classic for a reason.

According to the brand, Spence consulted original recipes and manuals to create this new 17-year-old rum. It was made from four distillates all aged for 17 years, so there’s no older liquid in mix. Because of Jamaica’s tropical climate, Appleton says that 17 years of maturation is the equivalent of at least triple that in a cooler environment, so this rum has picked up quite a bit of barrel character during its nearly two decades in casks. “With our 17 Year Old Legend, we knew we had a special story to tell,” said Spence in a statement. “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.”

Mai Tai
A Mai Tai sounds real good right now.

Like all Appleton Estate rums, there is no added flavor or sugar, and it is bottled at 49 percent ABV. We had a chance to sample the rum, and it’s a spectacular expression. There is some vanilla sweetness to it, but it’s subtle. More pronounced are notes of dark berry, baking spice, charred oak, and some banana and tropical fruit. This is a rum you’ll want to sip, but if you want to make a classic Mai Tai with it you won’t be disappointed either.

Appleton Estate 17 Year Old Legend has an SRP of $500, and will be available via ReserveBar later this month—sign up for the newsletter to find out when it drops. If you’re one of those NFT-curious people, there are 36 that are redeemable for bottles available for purchase via BlockBar. And while you’re waiting for this limited-edition rum to hit a store near you, check out ReserveBar to find other Appleton Estate expressions to sip or mix.

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