BarLifeUK recently joined a group of bartenders on a trip to Jamaica with Appleton Rum, it was without a shadow of a doubt the trip of a lifetime.
Jamaica has long been a country I have wanted to visit, it all started many moons ago when I was just a young snipper whapper. On family holidays we used to drive to the South of France, as I’m an old git we didn’t have iPads, mini TV’s or Gameboy’s to keep us entertained. We had to rely on I Spy, The Beatles, for a short period my brothers car sickness and tapes of old radio comedy shows to keep us entertained.
One of these shows was called ‘I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again’ (ISIRTA) with John Cleese, Tim Brook-Taylor and others staring. It was the perfect balance of fart noises and silly voices to keep me and my brother entertained and some satirical stuff to keep the old folks happy. On one trip I got one of the grown-up jokes, it was the first time I’d managed it, I felt so cool I never forgot it. It went like this
‘I say. I say. My wife has gone to the West Indies’
‘No. She went of her own accord.’
Not ground breaking I grant you but I understood it and I was hooked. Where was Jamaica? Was it full of other peoples wives?? Did they all play accordions??? (okay, I didn’t totally understand the joke).
Many years later I tried Appleton Estate Rum for the first time, one of the first rums I tried that really excited me about the category. It too was from Jamaica, which along with the accordion trees, gave me two good reasons to visit (my dad may have not been telling the truth about the accordion trees in retrospect).
Fast forward to last year and the Appleton Bartenders Challenge, which gave not only the winning bartender the opportunity to visit this amazing island but also those that came 2nd, 3rd and 4th. What a generous bunch these Appleton Estate people are.
At the end of last year Rich Tring of Bristol saw off the rest of the world (and a hurricane) to take out the world title and a couple of months ago the runners up got their opportunity to jet over to the West Indies. I wasn’t going to miss this, after all think of all the bored English wives working in the accordion processing plants to visit (ok so it appears my dad might have exaggerated there too).
Luckily for me the lovely Samantha ‘Sam’ Burke was soon it touch and your intrepid BarLifeUK adventurer was off to this mysterious island.
It took approximately 38 seconds of picking up my bag from the airport in Montego Bay for me to realise this country wasn’t going to disappoint. It took those 38 seconds to find a bar outside the doors of the airport to have my first ice cold Red Stripe and shot of Appleton V/X.
The tree covered hills were in front of me, the Reggae was blasting out of the bars stereo and an immediate feeling of calm and relaxation took over my flight weary body.
Our home for the stay was an amazing 5 star hotel on the outskirts of Montego Bay on the beach. As we checked in we were given a glass of rum punch, a wristband which allowed us free drinks at any of the 5 bars (including a swim up bar in the main pool) and food at anytime in one of the numerous restaurants. We agreed this was an acceptable base for our adventures.
It seems I should introduce you to the ‘we’ that joined BarLifeUK on this trip. The aforementioned Sam Burke was in charge of the merry band and with relatives all over the island we couldn’t have asked for a better host. The competition runners up (although I think winners would be more accurate) were Lee Potter Cavanagh, Ali Reynolds and Kevin Griffin alongside Mojo Liverpool’s Scott Simpson and Appleton reps Mark Cato and Greg Allen.
Over the following few days this group would have some of the greatest experiences we could wish for and to get the ball rolling we were up bright and early for a trip to the distillery itself. The Appleton Estate Distillery is located in the Nassau Valley in St. Elizabeth, a beautiful part of the island but a fair trek from our hotel.
As we clambered aboard our coach and were introduced to our driver for the duration of the trip, the excellently named Chicken, a giant cooler was loaded into the back. This time it took significantly less than 38 seconds for me to realise this drive wasn’t going to be a dull affair. The cooler was packed full of Appleton rum, J Wray & Nephew Overproof, beer, soft drinks and ice.
Before Chicken had even had time to release the clutch I was handed a rum and coke (or as it turned out to be a RUM and coke) and we were off. By the time we had arrived at the distillery we were in a very enthusiastic mood, our brains were open to take in information and our bladders really quiet desperate for the toilet.
Each distillery BarLifeUK visits has its own idiosyncrasies and methods of imparting information which makes it an always interesting experience. Appleton Estate is synonymous with Jamaica (or JA as the locals refer to it) and as such the tour is geared towards the consumer market, in fact we were joined by a couple of other groups of lovely, if slightly confused, tourists.
This however led to some fascinating insights, rather than concentrating immediately on the geeky side of things we got a much broader look at the history of the process at the distillery and how rum was produced in the days gone by with old tools dotted around the grounds. It even gave Ali and Kevin the chance to hand press some sugar cane and for us all to admire a rather lovely ass.
Once we had done the usual tour we were ushered away from the herd into a private little room where Senior Blender David Morrison was waiting for us with an array of rum. Now it was time for the geek out with David going into the sort of detail bartenders love, then we were given the chance to find out just how easy this blending game is.
We were given a selection of differently aged Appleton expressions and told to blend a lovely rum which David would judge. It was significantly harder than he made it sound, a fact reinforced by some of the facial expressions he pulled as he tried them. As it turned out there was a clear winner.
Obviously the three people in the room that worked for Appleton had an unfair advantage, yet it was none of them. However the three professional bartenders who were runners-up in the big competition were poised to take the glory, yet it was none of them either. So it makes sense that the guy writing this article is building up to a grand unveiling, but nope it wasn’t me either.
The winner was the ex-bouncer from Liverpool Scott who, it appears, has a natural talent for rum blending that will surely be snapped up very soon.
A more detailed look at the fascinating distillery will be appearing on BarLifeUK very soon but right now there are adventures to tell you about. So bring on the next heading….
Jamaica is a stunning island with beautiful blue seas and long beaches around the edge moving into lush forests in the hills and valleys of the interiors. If our experiences were anything to go by the locals make the most of this with the many activities they offer to visitors.
Before Jamaica I had never heard of Ziplining. For those of you as sheltered from the world as me let me see if I can explain it for you. A series of platforms have been built high in the tree tops around a rather beautiful part of the island. Joining these platforms are a series of long ropes higher from the ground one end than the other. You are attached to these ropes using a bit of metal and pushed, screaming, off the highest platform through treetops, over gorges and raging rivers to a man waiting to catch you before you knock him over.
I wouldn’t say it is an extreme sport but it certainly isn’t tiddlywinks. We spent an afternoon amongst the tree tops ruining the peace and quiet for any David Attenborough film crews. I say we, I really mean they, you see I was on photography duty (that and I have an existing medical condition of scaredy catness and bouts of being a big girl’s blouse). I did however get some great pictures as they zoomed above me at breakneck speed.
It was only afterwards that, in talking to the guys who run the place, I realised I was actually more in peril than they were. Apparently it is a common occurrence that the fear of the experience causes the loosening of bowls as they ‘zip’. The guys on the trip were wearing shorts. I was underneath them. Now that IS an extreme sport.
In fact most of the activities on the trip involved heights, ropes and jumping in some combination. There was also a rope swing jump at the top of a waterfall, luckily the waterfall wasn’t very high and we weren’t going over the edge so I got involved in that one. Once. However it was a trip to the famous Rick’s Café that really separated the men from the…. me.
Rick’s Café is an institution in Jamaica. Perched on the rocks overlooking the sea it has been providing drinks, food and glorious views of the setting sun since 1974. Despite being completely destroyed by hurricanes in 1988 and 2004 the sense of fun and enjoyment has always remained standing. However it is probably best known for its cliff diving.
You’ve probably seen them on TV, you know those idiots who jump off cliffs into the sea for no apparent reason. You may even have done mini jumps yourself on your holibobs. However with Rick’s biggest jump being 35ft into a calm little cove with a baying crowd watching this is the next level up.
Unfortunately at the precise point I was about to get changed into my cliff jumping attire my medical condition returned. Not all of us were so inflicted and Lee, Scott, Ali and Kevin all stepped up to the ledge of reason and took the plunge (in fact Lee did it twice as I managed to miss his first jump with the camera). I was impressed, I cheered, I got bored, I went to drink rum.
The evening was spent drinking, chatting, eating, watching the sunset and local lads show us how cliff jumping was really done. It was a truly lovely evening however surprisingly it wasn’t the best bar we visited that trip. That honour goes to somewhere rather special.
It is called Pelican Bar. I’m not going to give you an address as it’s unspoilt and secret nature is part of its joy…. that seems unfair. Okay it’s in the Caribbean Sea, bear left at the really blue bit and if you see the very, very blue bit you’ve gone too far.
Pelican Bar is like non-other I’ve ever been to. It is built a little way off the coast on a sand bank out of wood and crossed fingers. Like Rick’s it has been destroyed by hurricanes in the past and like Rick’s it has been rebuilt (although I’m guessing the budget was slightly different).
As a group we were pretty well travelled (think Lord of the Rings but with hairier feet) and between us have visited most of the venues on the World’s Best Bars Top 100 list. However as the boat jumped across the sea and the wooden outline of the Pelican Bar came into view there was a collective and audible gasp. All except Sam who sat with a very satisfied smile on her face. This was not her first time and this was not the first time it had received the required reception.
As we approached the steps up from the sea to the deck the excitement proved too much for Ali who vaulted over board into water that was a little deeper than he had planned. We were quickly furnished with beers and rum and spent the next few hours getting to a relaxed state usually achieved on this island with an extra ingredient. The sun began to set and not for a first time I found myself drink in hand, a beautiful vista in front of me and Cato saying something about diving to me (or was it Greg and Reggae? I forget)…..
When we weren’t jumping off things, visiting distilleries, blending rums and watching sunsets in amazing bars we were hanging around with the finalists in the Miss Jamaica content. Not once, but twice on consecutive nights we were minding our own business, drinking our own body weight in J Wray when in walked 15ish (it was hard to count without looking like a complete perv) tall, beautiful women in sashes.
It was a lovely surprise the first night but by the second night their continuous flirting and staring began to get a little awkward (at least that’s how I remember it).
Our mornings were not dissimilar to that of a Miss World contestant. We awoke early (well 9ish), sauntered to the breakfast buffet for a healthy start to the day (well a bit of fruit and sausages), straight to the pool for an early morning swim (well we swam to the pool bar), where we had a smoothie (well a Pina Colada) and then spent the rest of the morning topping up our tans (well going red and drinking more Pina Coladas). See totally like Miss World.
The pool was actually the scene of more than just drinking Pina Coladas…. we also had Miami Vices, Gin and Tonics, Appleton and Cokes, more Appletons…. well you get the idea. It was also the scene of Lee throwing a Campari and Soda into Ali’s face (including ice cube in the eye) and the scene of our midnight swimming expedition. I miss that pool.
Before we knew it our bags had to be packed for the airport but we had one more treat ahead of us. You see there was one other highlight of the trip and we had time to revisit it before we left this idyllic island behind us. The place was Scotchies, the reason was Jerk, the result was epic. Explaining to someone how good Scotchies is impossible without using various noises, grunts and hand gestures. The jerk chicken and pork is cooked over an open flame and is simply qqqwwwwaaurrrreeeeeahhhhhuummmmmuuuuuuuf.
A special thank you must go to Appleton Estate for a truly remarkable trip, they really know how to look after you. An extra special thank you needs to be given to Sam whose sense of humour, knowledge, enthusiasm and unbounding energy took the trip to a whole new level. Of course the gang as a whole made it.
Now it is your turn. Your turn to experience this amazing island and trip. Appleton have launched a competition which sees the winning bar team head as a group to Jamaica plus, once again, even those who don’t win can still get on the plane. So click here and get on it.