Just in time for the weekend – we get two expert takes on Jamaican rum and cocktail cultural fusion

When Joy Spence first took a sip of Speyside scotch whisky at the source, “it was like a revelation.” It cemented her appreciation for single malts; the complexity, the rich caramel flavours, the smooth finish. But that wee dram inspired something else in Spence, a desire to create something new. It was more than the flavours that fascinated Spence; it was the process that pulled her in. 

First and foremost a chemist, Appleton Rum’s Master Blender Dr. Joy Spence has been putting her well-honed palette to the test since 1997. And we’re not talking about just any Master Blender / creator here, we’re talking about the world’s first female master blender – of any spirit. Her inclination toward single malts sparked an idea. 

Legendary Master Blender, Dr. Joy Spence. Photo by CHRIS BOLIN / Hill & Knowlton

“If the barrels that this whisky is aged in could give it this much richness and complexity, I thought, why not rum?” Spence told a small gathering at Fairmont Banff Springs while she led a private rum tasting (and pairing). “Imagine what one of my eight-year rums would taste like finished in a Speyside single malt whisky cask?” Spence was intrigued by the fruity and floral notes the 18-year-old casks impressed upon the spirit, which she ages a minimum of eight tropical years in No. 1 American white oak bourbon casks, and Appleton Estate 8-year-old Double Cask was born. 

Launching the spirit in Canada was important for Spence. We are, she says, Appleton Rum’s biggest market. This particular single estate Jamaican rum was created especially for Canada, and Spence and her team have produced only 13,000 bottles finished in just 60 casks for this limited release. It’s good timing, too, when the temperatures rise, refreshing cocktails with rum are many a go-to.

The limited edition 8 Year Old Double Cask. Photo by CHRIS BOLIN / Hill & Knowlton

“As someone who personally adores Speyside single malts, this project has been close to my heart,” says Spence. “The charm of this release resides in its captivating and intricate flavour palette, which makes it a perfect choice for fans of rums and whiskies.”

Speaking as a bit of a fan girl, I was stoked to be given the opportunity to meet Spence; she’s a legend in the industry who is still going strong at 73. Trailblazer, role model, brilliant mind, all round cool woman, she’s got it going on. She’s a gracious host with a warm smile, eyes bright behind oversized colourful glasses. Her turquoise earrings play well with her tropical print dress; she’s sunshine and light and greeting us with an excited look in her eyes. She orders an Old Fashioned with Appleton Rum made for her by Sam Clark, and gets the party started.

Sam Clark, Creative Director of Beverage at Fairmont Banff Springs

Sam Clark, Creative Director of Beverage at Fairmont Banff Springs. Photo by CHRIS BOLIN / Hill & Knowlton

Clark, the creative director of beverage at Fairmont Banff Springs, is also a fan. He presided over the cocktail menu and manned the bar, upstairs at the hotel’s Rundle Bar, for the event. We’re having a chat on the hotel’s just opened for the season, and newly crowned one of Canada’s best patios, the day after the event. “It’s great for our town in the Rockies, it’s great for the international stage; and the Canadian bar stage. We had Joy Spence here yesterday, a once in a lifetime experience for me,” Clark said.

Jamaican rum has a distinctive flavour and style, he says. “It’s really exciting to tap into those flavours and create something that’s very unique but still has a sense of place – of both Jamaica and Banff. It was his first time trying the Appleton Estate Double Cask, “and it definitely got the creative juices flowing. I wanted to acknowledge Joy and that heritage without being too over the top; small subtle elements, whether it’s the garnish or flavour pairings within a cocktail to complement it and without being too kitsch,” he adds. 

Clark’s instinct was to stay away from going Jamaican flavours full-on, he says, but to take pieces of it and weave it with Albertan ingredients and still have a drink that expresses that delicious fusion. “We’re minus 40; they’re plus 40, in terms of the temperatures sometimes; to have that symbiosis is where my head goes when weaving in Appleton into our program; it’s got a great place here; you give it a sense of place, an expression of flavour and coming up with something beautiful and simple and understated.” 

Appleton Estate Tasting - limited edition 8-Year-Old Double Cask in Banff, Alberta

Photo by CHRIS BOLIN / Hill & Knowlton

It’s taking ingredients and putting them together, like the Colada Clark served for the cocktail party before the tasting and dinner: “pineapple, coconut, toasted tea and mango, add in the Appleton Rum, and it’s so refreshing,” he says. “It lets the drink – and the hero spirit like this rum – speak for itself.” Simple and visually appealing – and it can be paired perfectly with food; understated is what inspires Clark. Beauty and simplicity. 

Those words could easily describe the Double Cask. Spence has an appreciation for the kindred spiritedness of single malt scotch whisky and Jamaican aged rum. In her quest to bring them together, she stayed true to Appleton Estate’s signature orange peel top note, and created a spirit enhanced with spiced fruit flavours, dried honeyed raisins, caramel and vanilla, with a subtle overtone of wood and that famed orange peel finish.

As a mixologist, Clark is a bit of a chemist in his own right: “We use the skins from fruits, say bananas; we take the skins, make sure they’re free of pesticides, then coat them with sugar, which pulls the oil out of the banana skin. And now you have a banana syrup, which we can mix with the rum cocktails; for the Rum old-fashioned, I used the Appleton 12-year-old Rare Casks rum, added ¼ oz of the banana “olio” and some chocolate bitters – to really express that fusion.” 

“Our 8-Year-Old Double Cask is a genuine expression of our passion and a heartfelt endeavour, meant to showcase the pinnacle of both Jamaican and Scottish expertise,” Spence said. 

Collectors will appreciate the limited edition, but if you’re also a fan of whisky, this is a brilliant alternative to try during the warmer months. 

The limited edition Appleton Estate 8-Year-Old Double Cask is available now in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario.  

Recipe: For a simple twist on a classic, try an Obair Fashioned cocktail

Appleton Estate 8-year-ol

The limited edition 8 Year Old Double Cask. Photo by CHRIS BOLIN / Hill & Knowlton

Obair is Scots Gaelic for teamwork, a nod to the collaboration that was needed to bring Double Cask to life.

  • 2 oz of Appleton Estate 8-Year-Old Double Cask
  • 0.25 oz of Brown Sugar Syrup*
  • 3 dashes of Orange Bitters
  • *Add 1 part fine brown sugar to 1-part hot water, stir and chill. Stir, serve on the rocks with an orange twist.

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