Why do we love Hampden Estate? There are a lot of answers to that question, but it all comes down to the heart of the reason why so many rum lovers and spirits enthusiasts have a special thirst for Jamaican rum.
The funk. We want the funk.
Jamaica is renowned for its pot still rums, which you’ll often hear people describe as “funky”. This funk refers to the aroma and flavor that is generally achieved through long fermentation and single distillation in a traditional pot still. There are lots of pot still rums from all over that have elements of this, but Jamaican rums in particular have the flavor profile, redolent of overripe tropical fruits, that is most associated with funk.
In Jamaica itself and in rum drinking circles, you’ll hear this funkiness called hogo, from the French haut gout, meaning high taste. It is a term originally used to describe the smell of moldy cheeses or slightly rotting meat, that intensity that grabs your nose and sticks to it. Ask any rum drinking hogo-head what distillery makes the most luscious and funktastic rum, and you’re likely to hear one answer: Hampden Estate.
Hampden has been making funky rum since the 18th century, and surprisingly little has changed since then. A lot of spirits producers claim a special tie to some tradition or great history, generally invoking an image of the way their “grandpappy” used to make whiskey with his beloved dog by his side and a cigar in his mouth, or some romantic imagery along those lines. Hampden Estate has actually retained its traditions and authenticity, almost by accident.
Since it’s earliest days of operation, Hampden has employed especially long fermentation, and doesn’t add any yeast to aid in the process. The molasses is fermented completely from airborne yeasts in the dark, dank fermentation area, which has remained unchanged and somewhat uncleaned for its long history. This large room is a smelly terroir all it’s own, developed over a long period of time.
One special thing they do add to the fermenting molasses is what they call muck, a black, bubbling sludge, sat in an earthen pit, made up of all kinds of volatile substances that supercharge the creation of esters (the chemical compounds that give spirits big, often fruity, flavors). Hampden’s proprietary pits of muck have been developed, like the environment in the fermentation room, over many many years, and are some of the only ones left in the entire rum producing world. They may appear and smell like they’re straight out of a biological horror film, but what they do to the resulting rum is simply magical.
If the distillery had undergone the streamlining and updating that so many did during the 20th century, all of these incredible traditions and carefully cultivated environments could have disappeared in a second. We are very fortunate they didn’t.
For years and years, the distillery produced bulk rum that was simply sold to the European market for blending into other rums and to be made into food flavoring. None of it was aged, and none of it was bottled as their own product. During this time, the estate stayed as it always had been. It was never updated to function more like a factory, never made sterile and carefully controlled. While many other distilleries were modernized and cleaned up, Hampden was left alone.
Eventually it wasn’t turning much of a profit and in 2003 the Jamaican government stepped in as part owners to help preserve local jobs. In 2009 the current owners, the Hussey family, bought the estate, realizing its value as an unchanged distillery of traditional Jamaican rum. They continued to sell to the European bulk rum market, but also began bottling their own rum under their own label, notably one of our favorite, most hogo-rific bottles, Rum Fire. They also began aging rum on the premises in ex-bourbon barrels...
Now that rum has come of age, has been bottled under Hampden’s own label (in collaboration with Rum Superheroes Velier), has arrived in the U.S., and we’re gonna pee our pants we’re so excited about it. They’ve released a 60% abv overproof and a “drinking strength” 46% expression, both 100% pot still distillation, tropically aged over seven years at the estate, and bottled with nothing added other than their own natural spring water to proof it. While we have enjoyed both as unique and sumptuous sippers, they also work beautifully in cocktails. Try them in a daiquiri, that most classic and beloved rum sour, in a rum old fashioned, or in this little rum punch we’ve been enjoying:
Hampden Rum Punch
1/4 oz Allspice Dram (St. Elizabeth)
3/4 oz Fresh Lime Juice
3-4 dashes Bittercube Jamaican No. 1 Bitters
Shake it all with lots of ice and open pour into an old fashioned glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.