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  • Writer's pictureStuart Pearce

25yr Tropically Aged Wray & Nephew Rums

Today is a tasting I've been looking forward to for a long time. An extraordinary line-up of 25+ year tropically aged rums, all made way back in 1994 at the Wray & Nephew estates of New Yarmouth and Appleton.

This line-up represents nearly all of the 1994 Wray estate (New Yarmouth & Appleton) rums that have been released. Only missing two single cask releases - Wild Parrot & Rom de Luxe.

J. Wray & Nephew owns three sugar estates in Jamaica: the iconic Appleton Estate, the Holland Estate and the New Yarmouth Estate. These estates account for approximately 63 percent of all spirits produced in Jamaica. Famous of course for the hugely popular, funky unaged Wray & Nephew - but also for the historic, legendary (and now priceless) Wray 17.

1994!! - these rums have been maturing in the tropics for a seriously long time - to put this in context - imagine a world without iPhone, Play Station, Xbox, Google, Amazon, Outlook, Pulp Fiction, Forest Gump, Friends and Justin Bieber..,

The majority of these rums are single barrels, with just a couple of hundred bottles of each being released. After a quarter century in tropical conditions, there is a significant risk of these spirits being heavily over-oaked. The quality and flavour will be hugely reliant on individual barrel management, making barrel selection by the bottlers absolutely critical. (*As these barrels were all aged at the estates in Jamaica, we can be fairly confident that they have been managed by experts to the highest possible level)

25 tropical years is an incredible amount of aging. The cost of this cannot be over emphasised. During this time we will have seen a loss though angel's share of over 90% of the rum!

Tropical aging of this level equates to well over 60 years of continental aging. Whiskies this rare and with this level of barrel influence are seldom seen, and sell for thousands of pounds.

At RRP the bottles in this tasting would cost (in total) around £1500. A lot of money. However, as interest in rum continues to grow - and the rarity, cost & effect of this level of tropical aging is more widely understood, I expect individual bottles like these to quickly reach that price each.

All the rums were column stilled at New Yarmouth - with the obvious exception of the pot still Appleton :-) I'm expecting that one to be more funky and hence more to my personal taste, but there's only one way to find out ...

As always, 15ml of each, 30 mins in glass to open up, all nosed first, then tasted, in increasing abv order. I've selected Gordon Haskell, Curtis Stigers, Nils Landgren & Joe Sample to accompany me over the next couple of hours for this tasting. Groovy

SBS – Danish bottling, 57% , 308 btls, £225

Tasted first, as I'm walking up in abv order. SBS (single barrel selection) have chosen to dilute their rum down to a lower level than many of the others, I'm interest to see if this opens the rum up or loses something in terms of depth and texture.

Nose: Rich and spicy start to the tasting. A bit of tropical fruit. Definitely some esters there, a little airfix glue, nothing wild but a lovely deep funkiness. Oak, certainly, but not as much as I expected for the age and very well integrated. Surprisingly fresh and lively. A little anise, and some banana & lychee. A sort of 'sweaty socks' edge. Quite a sweet nose, even some pear drops there.

Mouth: What a lovely rum. It's mouth coating and very moorish. Possibly not reaching the highest levels in terms of complexity, and the finish is a little short but hey, that's just an invitation to take another sip. A very good balance of fruit, burnt caramel and oak. A super drinkable rum. Very, very good - Not sure I'd pay £225 for one, but I'd enjoy every drop if I did. [92pts]

Thompson Bros. – Scottish bottling, 59.1% , 271 btls, £175

The team at Dornoch have gained an impressive reputation for their line of rums, having sourced some rare, special and delicious casks over the last few years.

Nose: A notch richer and drier than the SBS. Deeper. Less of the sweet notes - some dry spice. Chinese roast pork with the star anise. Really lovely. So much going on with these, certainly not to be rushed. A little wax or floor polish and a sort of vegetal edge. Can't wait taste them. The oak influence here is majestic.

Mouth: Yummy. Plummy. A flavour explosion. The texture of these rums is something very special. They're actually chewy, and leave you saying num num num. Longer finish and more complex that the SBS. Great richness. Starts sweet and runs to a perfect oaked, anise finish. What a treat. [94pts]

Appleton Hearts Collection – Jamaica, 60%, 3000 btls, £220

An obvious exception in this line-up. The only Appleton rum, the only pot stilled rum, and the largest outturn with 3k bottles. This rum was released in 2020 with quite the hype and razzmatazz, along with releases making up the Hearts Collection of Appleton 1995 & 1999.

Nose: Wowzer. Completely different. Lighter, fresher, quite zippy. Nice pot still funk - reminds me of a Fijian rum I had recently. Not big funk like a Hampden or Long Pond, much more like summer fruits that have started to turn. Spicy. I can smell orange, ginger, banana, glue and some oak. Some cut grass, brown sugar and a medicinal edge. Like a toned down St Lucian Vendome still rum. The oak is creeping up as I'm nosing it. Not as rich and deep as the last two but very good,

Mouth: Second time I've tried this and I'm more impressed this time. The oak is pretty full on, drying your mouth and showing a huge amount of tannin. However the fresh vibrance of the rum and the spicy funkiness work very well. There's some lovely tropical fruit and a slight taste of glue, like you just licked a stamp (not so keen on that aspect). A really interesting and tasty rum. There are better tasting rums for the money but obviously it's an iconic and super interesting bottle. [89pts]

Kill Devil – Scottish bottling, 62.7%, 264 btls, £175

A legendary Scottish bottler, although rather cagey from my experience. Unfortunately I was unable to get more information on the bottle, not for want of trying.

Nose: We're back to the richer deeper style like TB & SBS. I notice a hint of play doh on this. Slightly sweeter & fruitier than the first two. But nothing like as fruity as the Hearts. Tobacco. Lychee. Spices. A little smoky. The increased alcohol is definitely there. Slightly less well integrated - takes a bit of time to get through to the flavours. Absolutely lovely though - were looking at fine margins between incredible rums.

Mouth: A big boy. Not as balanced as some of the others. This needs a few drops of water. Loads of big flavours. Really tasty. Just too much for me, and too aggressive to be fully enjoyable. It's got it all, the burnt caramel, the slight funk and little anise. Just very 'hot' and not as integrated with the oak as the others. A few drops of water temper this well and really open it up. [91pts]

Rum Artisanal – German bottling, 67.7%, 704 btls*, £140* [*500ml]

The first released of these rums, it came out over 2 years ago and was very favourably reviewed by many of the top names. This was a blend of 2 casks - presented in Rum Artisanal's usual beautiful little 500ml bottles

Nose: Oh my! This is very special. A big step up on the abv yet way way softer on the nose. It's got a bit of everything. The smell grabs you and drags you down into the glass. One of the most enjoyable noses on a rum, ever. So much going on - lots of spice, orange zest, nail polish, glue, beautiful big oak, a load of anise, some dark rich fruit. Really deep and relaxing. Time has treated this old girl very well - classy.

Mouth: A near perfect rum. Complex, interesting and yet incredibly drinkable. Perfect alcohol and oak integration. So well balanced. These are not like the younger funkier pot still New Yarmouth rums - much more similar to old Demerara. And this one is a perfect example. Caramel, some rich fruit cake, buttered toast, a quality cuban cigar, vanilla. Long long finish. A very enjoyable rum, aged to perfection. A veritable antiquity and an absolute bargain at the release price [95pts]

Colours of Rum – Polish bottling, 68.7%, 256 btls, £300

The most expensive of the lineup. And rarest with just 256 bottles in existence. A relatively recent release that was part of the launch of this new brand, along with a cluster of single barrel Foursquares and bottlings from Caroni & Uitvlugt Simple but very effective presentation. Very sharp looking,

Nose: Huh? 68.7% and I'm expecting it to be climbing out the glass ready to attack me. It's not. It's sat there at the bottom of the glass, thick and flat and half asleep saying "come and get me". Without doubt the 'least' nose. What I do get, smells sublime. Rich, deep, cigar box and fresh cut wood. A hint of glue and some anise. Almost no alcohol burn which is amazing. A bit of vanilla and caramel coming through at the end. After the Rum Artisanal this smells a bit flat. But I'm very interested to see what the taste delivers

Mouth: I'm actually wondering if this sample is really 68.7% !! It's gorgeous, but so gentle it's astonishing. Rich, deep and delicious. A couple of small gaps in the taste, and doesn't hang around, but incredibly drinkable. The burnt sugar and dark fruit are kept in focus by a backbone of anise oak. The bourbon barrels used for aging have left a soft vanilla spicy edge. Very very enjoyable. £300 is a serious price tag but the cost to produce these very long tropically aged rums is equally serious. And it's super tasty. [93pts]

Rum Shark – Czech bottling, 69%, 264 btls, £260

First release from these guys. This, along with 3 others (Hampden, Clarendon, Uitvlugt) came out as a range of single cask very limited bottlings last year. I've also got samples of the others so I've kept 10ml of this to do a whole shark evening :-) The big news on this one is 69%. I'm expecting a proper bruiser...

Nose: Yep, it's big, but surprisingly not as harsh as the Kill Devil, nor as complex & caressing as the Rum Artisanal. It's very rewarding to spend time nosing. A bit of leather, some rotten fruit, a load of lovely rich fruit, awesome oak influence, polish. Definitely the driest of the bunch. It's really growing on me. Incredible thick legs on the glass, Some mint and maybe a bit of fresh hot tar in there somewhere. Very enticing this one.

Mouth: Erm - small sips recommended here!! It's a monster. A monster with a cuddly side. It works, and it works very well. I might add a few drops of water later - for now I'm basking in the long long taste from the first sip. Without doubt the biggest of this lineup and the longest finish. A little goes a long way here. All the flavours discussed throughout, turned up a notch, Rum shark have chosen very well. [95pts]

So, as you can tell, all these are amazing rums, with not much between them. The Rum Artisanal and Rum Shark were the stand outs for me. And a very pleasant surprise from Thompson Brothers.

What an absolute treat the last few hours have been. Trying any one of these rums could be considered a once in a lifetime experience, and one I would highly recommend should you get the opportunity. Hope you enjoyed my review.

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