Keen rum drinkers are probably well versed at this point in at least two or three of the big Jamaican distilleries. Appleton Estate has been at the forefront of the scene seemingly forever, and both Worthy Park and Hampden have had genuine renaissances in the last few years, putting out aged rum under their own name and label for the first time. Hampden in particular has become especially well-loved among the deep cut rum-heads for its intense expression of hogo, the word used to describe that Jamaican pot still rum funk, redolent of overripe fruit and nose tickling wildness. But Hampden is not necessarily the last word in pure and beautiful hogo; that distinction must be shared with one other historic distillery that has often flown under the radar: Long Pond.
The reason for its relative obscurity is mostly because it is a few years behind Hampden and Worthy Park in its renaissance, having been reopened for operation only in 2016 after a few years of non-production. In that time, it came under partial new ownership in the name of Maison Ferrand, the Cognac house perhaps best known to many as the folks behind Plantation Rum. This of course means a lot of new rums to look forward to as a result of resumed production, but perhaps even more excitingly for now, it means that Plantation just got their hands on some of the most well-aged stocks of Jamaican pot still rum anywhere. We first got a glimpse of this with this year's Extreme releases, two different bottlings of 22-year-old Long Pond rum, bottled without additives and at cask strength. For most though, those were out of reach, due both to price and limited availability. Enter our new Bitters and Bottles CA exclusive Single Cask!
This Jamaica 1996 is a blend of those same stocks of ultra old rum that we lusted after when it was released as part of the Extreme series, just slightly reduced to 49.1% abv, and aged two years further for a total of 24 years; 6 months of that in ex-Rye casks from the New York Distilling Company (the initial aging was in traditional ex-bourbon casks, followed by Plantation's signature ex-cognac aging for another 2 years). Also, like the Extreme edition, this is bottled without any added sugar (or "dosage", to borrow a Champagne and Cognac term as Plantation does), a welcome element that we are happily seeing more and more from Plantation, particularly with the older vintage releases.
The ITP and HJC designations refer to the proprietary marques, or recipes, that are used for fermentation, both in this case translating to an ester count of around 280 g/hL, or for those who aren't used to precisely measuring the ester levels in their spirits, moderately funky. That funk is right up front on the nose, with the tell-tale tropical fruit of Jamaican pot-still rum, particularly grilled pineapple, mango, and sweet plantains as well, merging into a musty old oak character: expected at such an age, but which plays along with the tropical fruit in a delightful way. It's a nose that shows the maturity that comes after well over two decades aging in the heat of the Caribbean, but is still cheeky and young at heart. On the palate, the spice from the finishing in rye casks jumps into play, bringing a tingly pepper alongside baking spice, especially nutmeg. The texture is slightly oily, and while not quite as viscous as a cask strength rum, still full-bodied for a spirit below 100 proof. After the initial wave of rye cask spice, those fruits and friends are back in play, with juicy nectarine alongside the mango and sweet plantain. The finish brings out more cask character, fading on tobacco, leather, and clove. Beautiful.