Hampden "Great House" Distillery Edition 2022 Rum
Jamaica's Hampden Estate has been making world class, classically Jamaican rum since the 18th century, and surprisingly little has changed since then. Since its earliest days of operation, Hampden has employed especially long fermentation, made use of the infamous and oft misunderstood "muck pits", and eschewed the use of additional yeasts 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. The result of all of these old school fermenting traditions is one of the most expressive, bold, full-flavored spirits in the world.
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 (if you've had any European confections that featured rum flavor, it's a good chance they were flavored with Hampden rum). 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. More efficiently made rum, generally much less flavorful, became the norm, and it seemed this old style of rum production was a wild artifact of the past.
But then came the cocktail renaissance and those damned millennials with an appetite for every tasty and obscure cultural tradition, which eventually translated into a market for traditional Jamaican pot still rum, of which there is perhaps no greater prophet than Hampden Estate. At first, that meant unaged rum intended mostly for cocktails, and the occasional private European bottling of some older single casks (aged "continentally"). Then in 2018, the first aged bottlings under Hampden's own label popped onto the scene, in collaboration with the Rum evangelists Velier. These ongoing releases represented the first stocks of rum to be aged at the distillery's warehouse in well over a generation and became instant classics for us. Then starting in 2020, the distillery debuted a yearly limited-edition release called Great House to great acclaim. And where those standard releases had been blended by Velier's Luca Gargano, Great House is blended by Hampden Estate's own master distiller, Vivian Wisdom, who year by year lives up to his name with the fantastic blending choices he makes.
Hampden produces various recipes, or "marques" of rum, ranging from the relatively light ester count of 40-80 gr/hL AA, to the absolutely insane 1500-1600 gr/hL AA (almost exclusively used for flavoring extracts and perfumes, although occasional rogue bottlings do exist). These esters translate to intensity of flavor, and that classic Jamaican funk. The 2022 edition is a blend of 74% 3-year-old HGML (Hampden George MacFarquhar Lawson, a heavy rum around 1000-1100 gr/hL AA), and 26% 11-year-old LFCH (Lawrence Francis Close Hussey, one of the lightest marques, around 85-120 gr/hL AA), balancing the intensity of the high ester young rum with the elegance, wood, and spice of the older, lighter ester rum.
The nose on this year's edition is extremely powerful and rich, with candied lemon, ripe banana, and lychee backed up by a hint of poached pear and kiwi. On the palate, the pear is also present alongside coconut, agave, pepper, sugar cane, rhubarb, and vanilla. These play into a finish of baking spices, tobacco, tart cherry, raspberry, gentian root, and salted caramel. Bottled at 55% abv without additives or colorants of any kind.