Over on the Facebook Rum History forum, I shared some recent discoveries about perhaps the most sought-after rum in the world: Wray & Nephew 17, made famous for its use in the 1944 Mai Tai.
For all the obsession collectors and tiki historians have over it, we know shockingly little about this rum.
Here’s what we can logically infer:
To be available for Trade Vic in 1944 and aged for 17 years, it would have to been distilled in 1927 or prior. We know it was pot distilled because Jamaican distilleries didn’t use column stills till much later.
That’s about the extent we can safely infer.
Many people assume it was distilled at Appleton Estate which is now synonymous, which J. Wray & Nephew. But Appleton wasn’t J. Wray & Nephew’s only distillery. Far from it.
What were the marques used? We don’t know.
What was it aged in? Likely not ex-bourbon casks. They weren’t nearly so common then. Especially when you consider that 1927 was during American prohibition. So, what was Wray & Nephew rum of that era aged in?
I recently came across a very lengthy 1926-written story about the Lindo Bros., who owned J. Wray & Nephew from 1916 till around 1957. In addition to details about the Lindo’s operations in Jamaica, it also has two pictures of their aging facilities. Pictures I’d never seen till now.
From the excerpted text shown here, it’s clear that Bernard Lodge was among their foremost distilleries. The W&N 17 rum could have come partially or fully from Bernard Lodge. Or some other Jamaican distillery. Remember, J. Wray & Nephew built their reputation since 1925 as blenders.
We also learn that J. Wray was aging rums in Jamaica for up to 30 years, so a 17-year expression was no big deal for them. Other sources show that they also shipped 15 and 20 year rums.
Incidentally, other historic lists of rums sold in Jamaican suggest that the now highly sought after Wray & Nephew 15, 17 and 20 expressions were export rums, and not among the many J. Wray and Nephew rums sold in Jamaica. (I’m of course open to evidence disproving this.)
Lastly, from the warehouse interior image, the casks look like puncheons, which typically held 108-100 imperial gallons (about 500 liters). It was the most common cask size in the British rum trade for centuries.
Were those casks once used for something else? It’s possible. However, by 1926 rum was a full-fledged industry, and the company employed coopers. It’s unlikely that they were having to use whatever barrels happened to have arrived on ships the way they might have in the 1700s.
There are still plenty of mystery about W&N 17 was made, and perhaps someday Appleton will share their notes on its production. But for now, we can say we know just a bit more about it.