No rum business this

Joy Spence, master rum blender, of Appleton Estate in Jamaica with a Joy of Rum cocktail.  Photo...
Joy Spence, master rum blender, of Appleton Estate in Jamaica with a Joy of Rum cocktail. Photo from www.alpineimages.co.nz
There are two schools of thought when it comes to premium spirits. Connoisseurs look for complexity and aroma to savour, but the bright young cocktail set want to mix them flamboyantly with other flavours.

But sometimes it's possible to please both, as it appeared at a function in Queenstown at the weekend.

Joy Spence, master rum blender at Appleton Estate in Jamaica, was promoting her premium rums, especially the newly blended, rare 30-year-old.

She believes fine sipping rums should be savoured neat, as you do a fine cognac or single-malt whisky.

Three cocktail experts - Frankie Walker, luxury spirit ambassador for Lion Nathan, Richard Chudley from Barup, and Dan Miles from Eichardt's in Queenstown - created what they claim is the world's most expensive cocktail.

The event started with a passionfruit mojito (passionfruit juice, lime, organic brown sugar from Jamaica, soda and Appleton VX rum, which is designed for blending), then progressed to a daiquiri (lime, caster sugar, a dash of orange bitters and Spence's treasured Master Blenders Legacy).

Then the cocktail whizzes swung into action with their Joy of Rum cocktail: for two, put 60ml of Appleton 30-year-old rum (about $1000 a bottle), 10ml Louis XIII Cognac (about $2500 bottle) and organic brown sugar flown in from Jamaica into a brandy balloon, and warm on a brandy warmer.

As the sugar crystallises, add a pinch of saffron strands and set fire to the spirits to intensify the flavour.

Serve in a crystal cognac snifter with a sprinkling of Central Otago gold dust. It certainly was fragrantly delicious - saffron goes very well with rich and flavoursome rum and cognac.

Joy Spence said: ‘‘Young people blend spirits in a different way. Today is my birthday - welcome to the mellowing of age.''

She has been working at Appleton for 28 years and been master blender for 11. Growing up in Jamaica, she was fascinated by chemistry as a child, and later taught the subject.

However, she felt as a university lecturer teaching applied chemistry she lacked industry experience, and joined Appleton.

She became fascinated by the sensory part of the process - being able to create a product based on aroma.

When blending rum they use only the nose, she says, Later they will taste it to confirm their blend.

Rum is made by fermenting molasses, a by-product of sugar, then distilling it and ageing it in barrels.

The variations in different rums come from different varieties of sugarcane; the soils - at Appleton Estate they are on rich, fertile soils; the water which filters through Cockpit Karst, an unusual limestone formation of hills and valleys; the yeast, which is cultured at the estate; the shape of the stills, some of which date back to 1749 and others have been designed specially; the ageing in bourbon barrels - spirits age three times as fast in the tropics; and the blending.

From the simple Appleton VX (about $35) designed for mixing, the next step up is Reserve 8-year-old (about $45), a sipping rum hinting of nutmeg, vanilla biscuits and dried orange peel.

Extra 12-year-old (about $55) is richer and mellower, with hints of honey, dried fruit, vanilla, and orange peel which the addition of a little water brings out.

The Masters Legacy (about $100) is a new blend that celebrates rums made by three generations of blenders, Owen Tulloch, Spence's predecessor, rums made since she joined the company 28 years ago, and those made by her protege David Morrison in the past 9 years.

It hints of baked pear and maple, and ginger and has a lovely aftertaste.  Appleton 21-year-old (about $170) could almost be mistaken for a cognac, and is intense with floral hints and suggestions of mint, nuts and vanilla biscuits.

The new 30-year-old is silky smooth with overtones of spiced apples, maple syrup, vanilla, nuts, beautifully balanced with a lingering aftertaste.

As rums get older they lose the sugary aftertaste and get mellower and deeper with vanilla, Spence says.

The Joy of Rum cocktail will be available at Barup and Eichardts at $1000 a glass for the next few weeks, as long as the 30-year-old Appleton (and Louis XIII) last.

Thirty of the 1440 bottles of Appleton 30-year-old produced have been allocated to New Zealand, and will be auctioned when they arrive later in the year.

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