Mai Tai magic: Appleton Estate’s 17YO pays homage to the iconic cocktail

Jamaica-based Appleton Estate has recreated the rum that inspired the Mai Tai. We get a taste and are transported back to the 1940s…

Rum is a spirit with a storied history. It’s shaped modern culture far beyond drinks. Today it is increasingly collectable, better understood than ever, and is at the heart of the serious cocktail scene. Rum’s star is in the ascendent, and it’s important to note whenever discussing its history that the spirit has its roots in slavery and colonialism. Its past is complex, and it’s appropriate to acknowledge this.

Now, Jamaican-based producer Appleton Estate has attempted to capture the essence of a very special rum from the 1940s. It has recreated the very rum that inspired the creation of iconic serve, the Mai Tai. Rum heritage has been brought to life, and we’ve had a taste.

Appleton Estate 17 Year Old Legend bottle and box

Meet Apple Estate 17 Year Old Legend. It’s been described as a “faithful recreation” of the 17 year old rum made by J. Wray & Nephew back in the 1940s. It’s this bottling that was at the emergence of the Tiki movement. After unearthing manuscripts and old recipes, master blender Joy Spence set about bringing the bottling to life in the modern day.

Using a blend of four rare distillates from Appleton Estate’s rum library, Spence got as close as she could to that original blend. So scarce were the samples that just 1,500 bottles have been released. All parcels have been tropically aged for a minimum of 17 years, the equivalent of far longer in a cooler climate. It’s seriously special stuff – and it will never be repeated.

“We knew we had a special story to tell,” said Spence. “This project has been years in the making and truly one of the most challenging of my career. 

“In carefully re-creating the beautiful taste profile of the original rum, we’ve created an expression that is a tribute both to our own heritage, and to the heritage of the classic cocktail craft.” 


Appleton Estate 17 Year Old Legend tasting note


We got a sneak preview taster of the new expression, and it’s just as unusual, complex and rich as we’d hoped. 

A pronounced, tropical funk leaps from the glass. It’s initially quite savoury – think: an olive brine saltiness and blue cheese. Then an incredibly profound sweetness comes through, like a plummy jam with pear, banana and cooked pineapple. On the palate, there’s a silkiness to the weighty texture, and a herbal undertone along with more stewed fruit. There’s heavy clove, and an incense-like near-smokiness. If this is how they made rums in the past, we want more. 

Appleton Estate 17 Year Old Legend in a tasting glass by the bottle

When you look back at the history books, it indeed was a rum like this that Victor Bergeron, founder of the famous Trader Vic’s bar in San Francisco, reached for when he made his Mai Tai. Back then it was simply a serve shared with friends from Tahiti called the ‘Maita’i roa a’e’, which translates as ‘the best’. It’s exciting to taste a spirit crafted to match such a moment in drinks history.

Appleton Estate 17 Year Old Legend Mai Tai recipe

For those up for taking it a step further, here’s the recipe Appleton Estate gave us to replicate that very first Mai Tai.

Appleton Estate 17 Year Old Legend pictured alongside a Mai Tai cocktail

2 oz. Appleton Estate 17 Year Old Legend 
0.5 oz Fresh Lime Juice 
0.5 oz. Orange Curaçao 
0.5 oz Orgeat (Almond) Syrup 

Combine in a shaker filled with ice, crushed and cubed.
Shake well and chill. Pour into a double Old Fashioned glass. 
Garnish with one lime shell and fresh mint sprig.