Hampden "Great House" Distillery Edition 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 it’s 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. 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 millenials 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. This new limited release, the Great House Distillery Edition 2020, marks the first U.S. release since then, and where those now regularly available releases were blended by Velier's Luca Gargano, Great House is blended by Hampden Estate's own master distiller, Vivian Wisdom.
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. Great House is a blend of roughly 80% the "light" OWH, or Outram W Hussey, marque, and about 20% of the Diamond H (<>H) marque, which has a super high ester count of 900-1000 gr/hL AA. The blend has a minimum age of 7 years.
The nose is extremely powerful and rich, with ripe banana and pineapple backed up by a hint of oak and brooding camphor. On the palate, the fruits are present but play a supporting role to darker flavors of chocolate, liquorice, tobacco, and a burnt, earthy element. These play into a finish of baking spices, particularly cinnamon, nutmeg, cocoa, and sweet rum baba cake. Bottled at 59% abv without additives or colorants of any kind.