It all began in the year 1825, when John Wray, a wheelwright living in the parish of St. Ann, Jamaica, opened a tavern in Kingston. Kingston was then, as it is now, a bustling seaport and the island’s commercial centre. It was also the site of one of the most fashionable theatres in the New World, the Theatre Royal. It was beside the Theatre Royal that John Wray set up shop, and he called it appropriately, “The Shakespeare Tavern” – a bar which is still in operation even today. This opportune location and his success helped him to realize his lifelong dream of becoming a successful rum merchant.
In 1860, Wray took his 22 year old nephew, Charles James Ward, into the business, and the rest as it were, was history. The business from then on became known as J. Wray & Nephew. Ward, in continuing the legacy after the death of his uncle, brought the company to new heights of growth and prosperity. Under his leadership J. Wray & Nephew was able to move to larger premises on Port Royal Street, which was conveniently near the wharves where barrels of rum were transported by sea. Even more opportunity came in 1894 with the expansion of the railway system from Kingston to Montego Bay, which made it possible for J. Wray & Nephew to engage in cross-island transportation of its goods.
"But the road to greater success of the company was not without its obstacles and challenges, one of which was the great earthquake and fire of 1907 in Kingston, which destroyed the Port Royal Street headquarters. However, a resilient Ward, then almost 70 years old reacted with a great “spirit”, which has come to epitomize the nature of J. Wray & Nephew, and by 1909 a newer, bigger and better facility was built at the same location."
Charles Ward died in 1913, but this did not signal the death of the spirit of J. Wray & Nephew. The spirit was kept alive and continued to grow in 1917 when the trustees of Ward sold the company to Lindo Brothers & Company, whose principal was Cecil Lindo. Cecil Lindo, who bought the Appleton Estate in 1916, now added the distinctive rums coming from that source to the J. Wray & Nephew portfolio and significantly increased the company’s production capacity. His brother Percy Lindo, to whom he sold the company, and soon Percy’s sons, also made significant contributions to the legacy of J. Wray & Nephew.
Through the years of its association with the Lindo family, J. Wray & Nephew continued to expand, modernize and innovate, moving from manual operations such as handwashing of bottles in wooden tubs and manual working of the corking machines, to new warehouses with electrified bottling lines, bottle washing machines and advanced labeling machines. There was also an advancement of the transport with the addition of a fleet of stainless steel tankers which facilitated the transport of rum from Appleton and other distilleries.
The company eventually changed hands from the Lindo family in 1957 when they sold Wray & Nephew to a group of Jamaican businessmen, who were some of the principal shareholders of a Jamaican conglomerate known as Lascelles, de Mercado. These businessmen formed the Wray & Nephew Group in 1960.
Since then J. Wray and Nephew expanded beyond the capacity of its Port Royal facilities and by 1975, the year of the 150th anniversary of the company, the new headquarters on Spanish Town Road, which is still currently the home of J. Wray and Nephew, was officially opened. In 1989, J. Wray and Nephew became a wholly owned subsidiary of the Lascelles de Mercado Group, and continues to grow in strength and of course, in spirit.
In December 2012,Gruppo Campari, the sixth largest player in the global spirits industry, completed its acquisition of a controlling stake in Lascelles deMercado & Co. Limited. The Italian based Gruppo Campari, through this historic acquisition, has now added the rum segment to its portfolio with world renowned leading brands of Appleton Estate, Appleton Jamaica Rum and Coruba. This strategic acquisition will improve the international profile of Gruppo Campari as well as take the fine rums of J. Wray and Nephew to all the far corners of the globe.
The Rum Process
There are two basic processes involved in the transforming of cane sugar to rum, fermentation and distillation at the estates.
In the fermentation process, molasses (the liquid remaining after sugar crystals have been removed from cane juice) is diluted forming what is called “the wash”. Yeast is added to the wash to convert the sugar to alcohol. This mixture is left to sit for 30 hours. What remains after this period is known as the “dead-wash”, which undergoes a further distillation process to separate the alcohol.
There are two methods of distillation which J. Wray & Nephew uses, the Pot still and Column still. With Pot stills, steam is applied to a kettle containing the “dead-wash” and the alcohol vapour given off is collected in separate containers, and results in three different products- rum, high wine and low wine. With Column stills, steam is injected at the base of three columns. Steam rises through the perforated trays in the columns driving the alcohol vapours upwards. The vapours condense on the trays, and this condensation is drawn off as rum, with the type of rum varying depending on how high up the column it is drawn off. This results in a wider range of rum which is unique to Jamaica.
The rum then makes its journey to the Kingston plant where it is blended in the blending halls and then placed in charred oak barrels in the warehouse to age. Air seeps through the permeable oak, causing the rum to mellow, and as the rum matures, it absorbs the colour and delicate flavour of the oak, transforming from colourless, to a golden hue, then to an amber shade as the years pass by.