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Appleton Estate 21 Yr Old Rum

Review: Appleton Estate 21 Yr Old Rum 88/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (Arctic Wolf)
(Revised – July 14, 2013)

The Appleton Estate is located in Nassau Valley in St. Elizabeth which is part of Jamaica’s Cockpit Country. The Cockpit Country is a karst formation which was formed over millions of years. Karst is a generic name given to limestone that has been eroded by the chemical action of rain. There are only three cockpit karst formations in the world, one in Montenegro, another in China and of course, the Nassau Valley of Jamaica. A feature of cockpit karst formations are valleys formed within which are called poljes. These valleys are formed where river waters flood and recede (again and again) shaping a flat fertile, nutrient rich valley over millions of years. Nassau Valley is a polje and as a result, Appleton is one of the few rums in the world to claim a such a rich and fertile  “terroir” as the Nassau Valley.


The Beautiful Nassau Valley

Appleton Estate currently produces five production rums available in my locale, the Appleton Estate VX, the Appleton Estate Reserve, the Appleton Estate 12 Year Old, the Master Blenders Legacy (my personal favourite), and the most exclusive rum available in Alberta, the Appleton 21 Year Old Rum.

When I first reviewed the 21 Year Old rum in 2010, I had a few issues with both the overt oakiness of the rum, and the manner in which it was packaged. Three years later, I see the packaging has improved substantially, and I have decided to revisit the rum to see if the rum inside that package has improved as well.

Appleton Estate 21In the Bottle 4.5/5

Three years ago my issue with respect to the presentation of 21 Year Old Rum was that it arrived in basically the same bottle as the entry-level Appleton VX, which included one of those flimsy pressed-on metallic screw cap closures that just screamed “bottom shelf”. This is an expensive rum in my locale, running well over one hundred dollars, and I was shocked that the packaging gurus at Appleton Estate were so completely indifferent to presentation that they just recycled the bottle of their entry-level product and used it for a rum that was five time more expensive. I am happy to see that my cry of indignation was heard, and the Appleton 21 Year Old Rum was given a suave new bottle and a nifty straight sided cork topper.

In the Glass 9.5/10

When poured in the glass, the rum is almost exactly as I remember it from 3 years ago. The colour is a rich mahogany brown – tainted with coppery red hues. When I tilt my glass and slowly swirl it, I see a rich thick film on the inside of my glass which releases slow-moving fat droopy legs. The initial nose is retrained, and I catch notes of brown sugar, wood spice and orange peel. As the rum breathes, the restraints are slowly released and all of the scents and smell of the rum begin to fill the breezes with their aroma.

The scent of brown sugar seems to meld with the rising wood spices bringing forward an impression of rich baking spices (nutmeg, vanilla, allspice and cinnamon) and spicy toffee. Firm scents of orange peel and oak are apparent as are sweet smells of marmalade and  dark tobacco. I also notice freshly broken walnuts, pecans, and hints of marzipan.

The breezes above the glass are truly wonderful!

In the Mouth 52.5/60

When I reviewed this rum three years ago, I felt the rich aroma of the rum failed to translate from the nose to the mouth. We have some of that happening again; although this time I taste more of the  brown sugar sweetness  melding with the oak than before. (I checked an older bottle of this rum which I had on my rum shelf and this seemed to confirm the increase in sweetness in the newer bottle.) The rum carries plenty of sappy oak and orange peel spice as it crosses the palate, with the resulting spiciness softened just a little by brown sugary sweetness. I also taste some nice rich baking spices (vanilla, cinnamon and cloves). There is also an underlying bitterness which reminds me of walnuts and dry fruit.

Despite the increase in sweetness, the rum remains dominated to some degree by spicy oak sap. If just a little more sweetness was brought forward the rum would reach for the stratosphere in my scoring. Instead the rum scores very well reflecting its obvious richness and complexity, but the dominating oak and sharp spice put a less lofty ceiling on the score.

In the Throat 13/15

The 21 Year Old rum has a long bittersweet, spicy finish. My palate is left coated with flavours of treacle and baking spices (vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon) which lie alongside sharp orange peel spice and sappy oak flavours. I would have liked it if more of the sweetness implied by the nose to have made it through to the finish.

The Afterburn 8.5/10

As part of my review process, I re-sampled my older bottle of Appleton 21 (which still carries the metallic screw cap) beside the new bottle which arrives with the nice cork. The newer bottle seemed to me to be a touch better with more of the sweetness from the nose carrying forward into the taste experience. However, that wonderful nose still does not translate completely into flavour, and sharp orange peel and somewhat bitter oak flavours continue to master 21 Year Old Appleton Rum. If the sweetness found on the nose had been integrated into orange peel, the oak and the sap then this rum would be a masterpiece; however the Appleton 21 Tear Old Rum falls just short. Excellence is achieved, but mastery is elusive as my score of 88.5 reflects.

If you are interested in comparing more scores, here is a link to my other published Rum Reviews.


Suggested Recipe

SAM_0814 Monk's UncleThree years ago I designed this recipe especially for this particular rum. It works extremely well for any well aged rum which has a strong oak flavour in the taste profile.

The Monk’s Uncle

1 3/4 oz Appleton 21 Year Old Rum
3/4    oz Frangelico


Mix over ice in a Rocks Glass and Enjoy!


You may (loosely) interpret the scores as follows.

0-25     A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49   Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59  You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69   Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74    Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79    You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84    We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89    Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94    Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+       I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)

10 Responses to “Appleton Estate 21 Yr Old Rum”

  1. nick said

    i just got a bottle of 21 year old in jamaica the bottle das a wood and cork top $ 110.00 usd havent tried yet

  2. EricH said

    Great news, Appleton 21 year old is getting a new bottle! Well it’s the same as 30 year old bottle but now we finally get a real cork.

    • It’s about time!

      Thanks Eric

      • EricH said

        You’re welcome.

        Now we just need to drink up the existing stocks so our local stores can start stocking the new bottles…

        Hopefully there won’t be a price increase on the new bottles.

      • rintamaki said

        saw it at duty free at same price as lcbo. Just another money grab same 21 yr old .New bottle(same as 30 yr ) with a number on it.

  3. Kevin said

    Hi Chip – I like your comment on the metal screw caps, I have always been a little disappointed with that feature on quality rums. Would you know where a person could pick up some of these “high quality, high density synthetic corks”? I have found some online but wondering if any local here in Alberta? I live in the Edmonton area.

    Thanks and keep up the good work, great website.

    • Hi Kevin,

      I bought an assortment of cork enclosures from one of those specialty ‘make your own’ wine shops a while ago. They also had synthetic corks that were sold with that air pump thingy which is used to to stop wine bottles which have been opened from oxidizing. But to get the really good synthetic corks I have resorted to keeping the ones I find on other bottles when they are empty. Not a great solution, but the only solution I have so far.

  4. tony power said

    Hi Chip;
    Just arrived back from Saskatoon for the weekend and being an avid appleton drinker myself my buddy told me about 30 yr Appleton.I have all the rest including the 21 yr old and did not know the 30 yr old existed.To my amazement a speciality wine store in Saskatoon had 1 bottle on the shelf and the retail price HOLD ON TO YOU HAT $535.00.I will wait on that one for awhile or at least until the price drops a little.

    • Hi Tony

      I got my Appleton 30s for $350 a bottle. That is to expensive to open just for a review so they are sitting awaiting a special occasion. The $535 you saw seems high, but I have heard that in some locales the price is is pushing $700. (If you can still get the Appleton Legacy, it is reported to have at its heart, the same 30 year old rum. That might be a far better buy.)


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