Feb 042021
 

Given the backward Prohibition-era-style rules governing alcohol in the US, Americans rightly sigh with envy when they see the rum selections in Europe. To get their favourite rums, they have to use any number of workarounds: bite the bullet and go over in person to buy some; have somebody mule it; come to an arrangement with a local liquor store in their state; or, heaven forbid, courier it – a tricky and not hazard-free process, I assure you.  

But occasionally the situation goes in reverse, and it’s the Europeans who grumble at the luck of the Yanks. Ed Hamilton’s little indie operation of eponymous rums is one of these.  Although perhaps the most renowned for the 151 Demerara rum (which went head to head with Lemon Hart in the early 2010s and has remained a bar staple ever since), the Collection also includes a Worthy Park edition, a Navy rum, a white rum, a New York blend, even a pimento liqueur…and several years’ releases (from 2004 through 2009) of St. Lucia Distillers’ rums, bottled in between 2013 and 2015. 

Today we’re looking at the Hamilton 2007 7 year old rum sent to me by my old schoolfriend Cecil Ramotar, which can be considered a companion review to the 2007 9 year old I wrote about four years ago (but of which I still had a smidgen for comparison purposes…in the name of science, of course).  Like its older brother, the 7 YO came off of SLD’s Vendome pot still in September 2007 and set to age in ex-bourbon casks, shipped to the US in 2014 and bottled in January 2015 straight from the cask with additives of any kind.  At a snorting, growling 60.4%, which I thought was excessive until I realized that several others in the line were even stronger.

That strength was bolted on to a firmness of profile and a solidity of taste that was really quite remarkable, and smelled, at the beginning, like I had stumbled into a high end cake shop with a fruit stand somewhere in there.  There were aromas of honey, marzipan, cinnamon and unsweetened dark chocolate; vanilla and the sort of rich pastry that makes really good cookies. I wandered out back and found the fruit shelf: apples, green grapes, fanta, strawberries, and just the faintest hint of saline solution and olives, all dusted liberally with brown sugar. 

Well, the nose might have been good, but taste tells the tale, right? Yes indeed. Again I remarked on its lack of sharpness, it’s lack of raw sandpaper scrape.  I mean yes, it was spicy and hot, but it more gave an impression of real heft and weight rather than cutting pain.  It was slightly salty and sweet and sour all at once, with the piquancy of gooseberries and unripe mangoes married to riper and more dusky fruits: raspberries and peaches and apricots.  Somehow the molasses, salted caramel, brown sugar and creme brulee didn’t up-end that profile or create any kind of crazy mishmash – the integration of citrus, flowers, pastry and cereal notes was pretty well handled and even added some peanut brittle and mint chocolates at the back end, during a nicely long and aromatic finish.

Clearing away the dishes, it’s a seriously solid rum. If I had to chose, I think the 2004 9 Year Old edges this one out by just a bit, but the difference is more a matter of personal taste than objective quality, as both were very tasty and complex rums that add to SLD’s and Ed Hamilton’s reputations. It’s a shame that the line wasn’t continued and added to — no other St. Lucia rums have been added to the Hamilton Collection since 2015 (at least not according to the master list on Ed’s site) and that makes them incredibly desirable finds in that cask strength desert they call a rum selection over there. Worse, only 20 cases of this one were released…so a mere 240 bottles hit the market, and that was six years ago. 

Now, in 2021 I think these rums are a close to extinct, akin to the Stolen Overproof Jamaican which was made, sank without a trace and is regarded as something of an overlooked bargain these days. With reviews like this one and for the kind of quality I argue the Hamilton St Lucia rum displayed, it may now be seen as more desirable, but good luck finding any.  If you do, I think you’d like it (though see “other notes”, below), and hopefully accept that it’s right up there with the better known rums of the New Jamaicans, Barbados or Mudland. In my mind, deservedly so.

(#799)(85/100)


Other notes

  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the empty reviewing landscape in the US where the rum was primarily distributed, few have bothered to say anything about it. Spirits Surveyor wrote about it last year (December 2020) in a short eval, rating it 7 (presumably out of 10) and commented on “liquid baking spices”. In July of 2020 LIFO Accountant on Reddit didn’t care for it and thought it too hot and unbalanced and rated it 4/10, preferring the 9 YO. TheAgaveFairy, also on reddit, gave it a 6+ and extensive tasting notes…and even thought it was a Jamaican for a bit. On RumRatings, it scored between 8 and 9, assuming you discount the one perspicacious gent who didn’t like it because he didn’t care for agricoles.
  • There’s another 7 YO from 2007 in the Collection, with a slightly lesser proof of 59% ABV.
Oct 052020
 

Although just about every conversation about the Hamilton 151 remarks on its purpose to replicate the Lemon Hart 151 as a basic high proof bar-room mixer, this is a common misconception – in point of fact its stated objective was to be better than Lemon Hart. And if its reputation has been solidly entrenched as a staple of that aspect of the drinking world, then it is because it really is one of the few 151s to satisfy both rum drinkers and cocktail shakers with its quality in a way the LH did not always. 

Back in the late 2000s / early 2010s Lemon Hart — for whatever reason — was having real trouble releasing its signature 151, and it sporadically went on and off the market, popping back on the scene with a redesigned label in 2012 before going AWOL again a couple of years later. Aside from Bacardi’s own 151, it had long been a fixture of the bar scene, even preceding the tiki craze of the mid 1930s (some of this backstory is covered in the History of the 151s).  Into this breach came Ed Hamilton, the founder of the Ministry of Rum website and its associated discussion forum, author of Rums of the Eastern Caribbean and an acknowledged early rum guru from the dawn of the rum renaissance.  As he recounts in a 2018 interview (from around timestamp 00:41:50), he decided to create his own line of Demerara rums, both 86 and 151 proof and while barred from using the word “Demerara” for trademark reasons, he did manage to issue the new rums in 2015 and they have been on the market ever since. 

Whether Hamilton 151 has replaced or superseded the Lemon Hart is an open question best left to an individual’s personal experience, but to compare them directly is actually apples and oranges to some extent, because the LH version blends Guyanese, Jamaican and Barbados rums while Hamilton’s is Guyanese only – though likely a blend of more than one still.  But certainly there’s at least some significant element of the wooden stills in there, because the profile is unmistakable.

It is, in short, a powerful wooden fruit bomb, one which initially sits and broods in the glass, dark and menacing, and needs to sit and breathe for a while.  Fumes of prunes, plums, blackcurrants and raspberries rise as if from a grumbling and stuttering half-dormant volcano, moderated by tarter, sharper flavours of damp, sweet, wine-infused tobacco, bitter chocolate, ginger and anise. The aromas are so deep it’s hard to believe it’s so young — the distillate is aged around five years or less in Guyana as far as I know, then shipped in bulk to the USA for bottling. But aromatic it is, to a fault.

It’s also hard to see the Hamilton 151 as “only” a bar-based cocktail mixer when one tries it like I did, neat. The taste is very strong, very powerful — given the 75.5% ABV, caution is of course in order —  yet not sharp so much as firm, a flavoured cricket bat stroking the tongue, tasting thirty proof points lower. There’s the piquance of ginger, red wine, raisins, dark fruits, followed by vanilla, caramel, cloves, licorice, pencil shavings, and cedar planks, melding an initially simple-seeming rum profile with something more complex and providing a texture that can be both coked up or had by itself.  Me, I could as easily sip it as dunk it into a double espresso, and then pour that over a vanilla ice cream.  Even the long lasting finish gives up a few extra points, and it closes the experience with dark red cherries, plums and prunes again, as well as coriander, cumin, cloves and toffee. Pretty good in comparison to a lot of other 151s I’ve tried over the years.

Frankly, I found the rum revelatory, even kind of quietly amazing.  Sure, it hit on all the expected notes, and the quality didn’t ascend to completely new heights (though it scaled several rises of its own).  But neither did it collapse and fall like a rock. In its own way, the rum redefined a good 151, moving it away from being a back-alley palate-mugger, to more of a semi-civilized, tux-clad thug. It might not be as good as a high-proofed ultra-aged Velier from the Age….but it wasn’t entirely removed from that level either. Drinking it, standing on the foothill of its taste, you can see the mountaintop to which it could aspire.

(#767)(84/100)


Other Notes

  • You’ll note the careful use of the word “Demerara” on the label. This was to get around the trademark issue which prevented the use of the term “Demerara Rum.” The rum is trademarked…the river is not.
  • Thanks and a tip of the trilby to Cecil, old-school ex-QC squaddie, for sending me a more-than-generous sample.

 

May 182017
 

Photo (c) Quazi4moto from his Reddit post. This is the exact bottle the sample was taken from

#365

Just about everyone in the rum world knows the name of Ed Hamilton. He was the first person to set up a website devoted to rum (way back in 1995), and many of us writers who began our own blogs in the 2000s or early ‘teens — Tiare, Tatu, Chip, myself and others — started our online lives writing in and debating on the forums of the Ministry of Rum. He has written books about rum, ran tasting sessions for years, and is now a distributor for several brands around the USA.  A few years ago, he decided to get into the bottling game as well…and earned quite a fan base in North America, because almost alone among the producers in the US, he went the independent bottler route, issuing his juice at cask strength, thereby helping to popularize the concept to a crowd that had to that point just been mooning over the indie output from Europe without regularly (or ever) being able to get their hands on any.

This rum was distilled in 2004 on a Vendome pot still by St. Lucia Distillers, who also make the Admiral Rodney, 1931, Forgotten Casks and Chairman’s Reserve, if you recall. They have both a Vendome pot still and a John Dore  pot still (as well as a smaller one, and the rums mentioned above are made by blending output from all in varying proportions) – Mr. Hamilton deliberately chose the Vendome distillate for its complexity and lack of harshness, and its source was from Guyanese molasses fermented for five days.

With my usual impeccable timing, I moved away from Canada at that exact time, and never managed (or seriously attempted) to pick up any of the Ministry of Rum Collection, since my attention was immediately taken up with agricoles and the European independents. However, one correspondent of mine, tongue in cheek as always, sent me an unidentified sample (“St. Lucia” was all the bottle said), and after tasting it blind, being quite impressed and writing up my notes, I asked him what it was. Obviously it was this one, a nine year old bottled at a rip-snorting 61.3%.  And it really was something.

On the nose, the high ABV was hot but extremely well behaved, presenting wave after wave of the good stuff.  It started off with rubber and pencil shavings, old cardboard in a dry cellar, some ashy kind of minerally smell, coffee, cumin and bitter chocolate…and then settling down and letting the rather shy fruits tiptoe forwards – raisins, some orange peel, peaches and prunes, all in balance and well integrated.  No fault to find here – I was unsure whether a standard proof drink would have been quite as good (in fact, probably not).  Throughout the whole exercise – I had the glass on the table with some others for a couple of hours – there was some light smoke and burnt wood, which fortunately stayed in the background and didn’t derail the experience.

As for the palate, wow – if gold could be a taste, that was what it was.  Honey and burnt sugar, salty caramel all mixed up with flowers, more chocolate and the citrus peel.  The tannins from the barrel began to be somewhat more assertive here, but never overbearing.  In fact, the balance between these components was really well handled.  With water, deep thrumming notes of molasses and anise shook the glass, leading to grapes, pineapple, acetone (just a little), aromatic tobacco and olives in brine; and throughout, the rum maintained a firm, rich profile that was quite excellent.  Somewhere over the horizon, thunder was rolling.  And as for the finish, here it stumbled a little on the line – long as it was, the tannics became too sharp; and while other closing hints remained firm (mostly molasses, caramel and brine plus maybe a prune or two) overall some of the tempering of one taste with another was lost.  

But I must note that the rum is a damned good one.  I think it’s a useful intro rum for those making a timorous foray into cask strength, and for those who wanted more from the Admiral Rodney or the 1931 series, this might be everything they were looking for from the island.

Some years ago I ran several of the standard proof St Lucia Distillers rums against each other, observing that while they were quite good, they also seemed to be missing a subtle something that might elevate their profile and quality, and allow them take their place with the better known Bajans, Jamaicans and Guyanese.  As the rum world moved on, it is clear that in small, patient, incremental steps — perhaps they were channeling Nine Leaves — St. Lucia Distillers, the source of this rum, were upping the tempo, and it took a few European indies and one old salt from the US, to show what the potential of the island was, and is. St. Lucia may have been flying somewhat under the radar, but I’m here telling you that this is a lovely piece of work by any standard, admirable, affordable and — I certainly hope — still available.

(86/100)

Other notes

  • Vendome is a company, not a type of still, and dates back to the first decade of the 1900s, building on experience (and customers) dating back as far as the 1870s when Hoffman, Ahlers & Co. were doing brisk business in Louisville (Kentucky).
  • Aside from the eight St. Lucian rums in the portfolio, The “Hamilton Collection” includes Jamaican and Guyanese  rums.  The Hamilton 151 is specifically intended to be better than (not to supplant) the Lemon Hart 151 which was out of production at the time.
  • Kudos, thanks and a huge hat-tip to Quazi4moto, who sent the sample.  He was, you might remember, the gent who sent me the Charley’s J.B. white rum I enjoyed a few months ago.
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