What can we say about Hampden Estate. First of all, I don’t want to be a completist here and write down a full-blown history. On one hand there is much better information online than I can write down here by myself, and on the other hand, there actually is also not a lot to be found. There are a few great sources for information, but there is still way less information available on Rum than there is on Whisky. Much less. If you have some time then Matt’s visit of Hampden is an excellent read.
Hampden started out somewhere in the 18th century already, and the distillery today still operates more or less in the same way today. Old skool. The first mention of Hampden was in 1684. However, Hampden’s own website starts history in 1753 (as a sugar plantation), but no clear year is mentioned for the start of Hampden as a Rum distillery, only 1779 is coupled with Hampden Great House where the ground floor was a Rum store. What we do know is that somewhere Hampden started distilling Rum, as did many sugar plantations, when exports of sugar from sugarcane started dwindling, when in Europe sugar was made from sugar beets in stead of cane. What we also know is that Hampden, after all there years, still looks more or less unchanged, and looking at Matt’s pictures, steam-punk comes to mind as well as the pictures from fans of abandoned places. Time definitely stood still here big time.
Hampden is also known for its Jamaican funk, and of all the Jamaican funk that can be had, Hampden is probably the mother of Jamaican funk. The funk is partially there because of a very long fermentation, somewhere between 8 and 15 days, fermentation with wild yeasts that just come flying in with the wind. No yeast is added. Also, Hampden produces a sugar cane vinegar (muck) that is added during the fermentation, helping the funky aroma along. Hampden currently has four stills they call the heart of the distillery, and rightly so, but I guess that is true for most, of not all, distilleries: A 1960 John Dore (7.560 litres) from Forsyths, Scotland, a 1994 Vendome from Kentucky (18.900 litres), a 2010 Forsyth still (18.900 litres) and the most recent addition is a Pot still made by T&T from South Africa (18.900 litres). All stills are heated with coils on the inside.
Hampden’s core range consists of Hampden 46 (8 years of tropical ageing) and Hampden 60 (or Overproof, 7yo and older, a mix of different marks). I have yet to try the 46% ABV. I never got around to it because, up ’till now, I always believed it is the reduced version of the Overproof, but that might not be true. The Hampden I’m about to try must be one of the early bottles, where the front label mentions 8yo and the back label 7 yo, whereas newer versions have a more prominent 8 on the front label. To add to the confusion. The website mentions 7 years again. However I still believe the 46% is nothing more than the reduced version of the Overproof.
Color: Orange gold.
Nose: Highly aromatic. Big, fatty, sweet and nutty. Fruity with bath/shower cosmetics florality. No, you cannot even call this big, no, this has an humongous aroma, so high level of esters indeed. Fruity and fresh. Acidic and lively. Fatty nuts, almonds. High ester Rums like this are used for their aroma’s for baking and yes, that’s where you know this aroma from. After the initial wave of bigness passes, a little bit of wood starts to become noticeable, grows bigger over time and is here to stay. Some oak and some pencil shavings and an indistinct herbal quality, as well as a tiny hint of car exhaust. It is remarkable how the big, fatty and syrupy start does move back to leave some room for more astringent notes like the woody notes. It doesn’t even carry this promise for a sweet toffee’d Rum any more. I have to say excellent balance after some air. A sort of instant classic. Unique. A must-have.
Taste: Where the wood is somewhat laid back in the nose, it is most definitely present here on the palate. The wood opens the ball. Modern wood, but that probably won’t make any sense to you. hint of plastics, otherwise it smells of tropical ageing, you just sense the heat that surrounded the cask. Acidic. Big fruit and quite a lot of fresh acidity as well, with this underlying woody backbone. Acidity bordering on very, very (over)ripe fruit, the pre-rot phase almost. The wood becomes more dark chocolaty in style, and more spicy. Less herbal though, but more leathery in stead. Wood and ear wax. In fact the ear-wax was here right from the beginning, just in the plethora of things I didn’t recognize it immediately. The bitterness moves forward now, especially noticeable in the back of your mouth. The wood is upfront but luckily, in this case, its not over the top bitter. At this point, the pencil shaving note on the note grows stronger. On the palate it shows some similarities with Demerara Rum and a specific Port Mourant comes to mind. This is not something I get all the time. When trying this late at night, with a tired and fulfilled palate, the Demerara association isn’t there. So this has some bitterness and it certainly shows wood which now picks up a slight soapiness, reminding me of the bath/shower cosmetics from the nose. The aftertaste is long and warming with a key role for the woody bitterness, but again, it is kept in check sufficiently not to bother you.
For me this is a good Rum with a good ABV, sold at a very fair (good) price and with good availability as well. In hindsight it also has a remarkable simplicity uncommon for a high ester Rum. This is the overproof version and I hear some good stories about the reduced versions as well. I may have to look into those as well, since by now there are some more expressions to choose from than the 46% ABV version alone. Hampden LROK, and Hampden LROK the younger, both bottled at 47% ABV have become available just recently. LROK is a mark given by Hampden. LROK stands for Light Rum Owen Kelly and by this, it tells you that is has 250-350 g/hlaa of esters. By the way, this Overproof version is made with several marks: OWH (Outram Warmold Hussey, 40-80 g/hlaa), LROK and DOK (Dermot Owen Kelly, 1500-1600 g/hlaa). I don’t think a lot of DOK went into this blend to be honest. More about “Mark and Ester” in the next Hampden review.
The empty glass, the next day, smells of warm electrical cable and the dusty insides of an old transistor radio. How odd…