Friday, December 28, 2007

Jamaica - part 10

The last stop of the journey was the Appleton Rum Estate, just a few miles from the falls. Appleton is one of the top names in Jamaican rum, in production since 1749. As we passed through the village of Maggotty, I was feeling a bit drowsy. The last thing I expected to perk me up was rum, but that is exactly what happened. We entered a large pouring room and were given cups of of something that had rum in it, but also something sweet and uplifting.

The group was then led outside where various equipment and stages of rum making were on display. A donkey turned a mill that ground up sugar cane; the guide explained the separation of sugar and molasses, the latter of which is used to make rum. Spoonfuls of some sticky preliminary product were passed out -- rich, sweet and delectable. Then we were taken through the actual distillery. In contrast to the shiny steel fermenting rooms and crush pads of California's wine industry, this place was dark and heavy, evincing many decades of production.

After that we went into the aging room, where rows of oak barrels were stacked high. The guide explained that if we stayed in the room long enough, the vapors would make us drunk, silly, or crazy. There was a good discussion about the barrels, which were made from white oak, historically imported from France and England, and currently handed down from Jack Daniels in Tennessee. The insides of these barrels are charred, whereas the oak is essential in imparting the rum its unique flavor and color.

The final stop was a tasting of the full line of Appleton rum products. The clear and "pure" products tasted a bit too much like lighter fluid or gasoline for my tastes. I much preferred the ones with banana, coconut and coffee flavorings. A British guy was of the opposite persuasion, declaring the un-aged lighter fluid as the best of the lot. I tried asking him what he saw in it, and after conversing about various alcoholic beverages, I left with the sense that either I am a lightweight, or the Anglo-Saxon tradition of drinking is a form of rarefied suicide.


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