Apr 082021
 

2016 seems like such a long time ago with respect to Hampden rums. Back then we got them in dribs and drabs, from scotch whisky makers (who could rarely be bothered to mention the distillery) and the occasional indie bottler like Berry Bros. & Rudd, Compagnie des Indes, Rom Deluxe, Renegade or Murray McDavid. That all changed in 2018 when Velier concluded a deal to be their worldwide distributor and the PR machine roared into overdrive. Since then, Hampden has become one of the boutique rums du jour, and they sell out almost as fast as the Foursquare ECS rums.

Back in 2016, though, this wasn’t a foregone conclusion. Hampden was known to the cognoscenti of course, those superdorks who paid close attention to the indie scene, knew their Caribbean distilleries cold and bought everything they couldbut not many others from the larger mass market cared enough about it; and anyway, supplies were always low. The distillery was ageing its own stock and continued to sell bulk abroad, so most independents sourced from Europe. That’s how SBS, the geek-run rum arm of the Danish distribution partnership 1423, picked up this barrel.

SBS itself was only created in 2015, seven years after its parent came into being, to cater to the boys’ fascination and love for pure rums. Their business had gone well by this time and they decided to branch out into their first love“our core DNA,” as Joshua Singh remarked to mesingle barrel rums. And they picked up this continentally aged rum which had been distilled in Hampden’s pot still in September 2000 and bottled it in October 2016 in time for the European festival circuit, which is where my rum tooth fair Nicolai Wachmann picked it up and passed some on to me. 202 bottles of this 16 year old rum came out of the barrel and was left as is, at a cask strength of 58.9%.

Clearly, with the explosion of interest in both the SBS range and Hampden over the years, this is something of a find. It’s quite rare, seems to be relatively unknown, and has only turned up once at auction that I could find, and fetched a cool £150 when it did. But when I tasted it, I thought to myself that these guys knew their sh*t, and chose well. Consider the opening salvo of the noseit felt like the Savanna 10YO HERR all over again (and that’s a serious compliment). It had esters puffing and squirting in all directions, very light and clean. A warm exhalation of rubber on a hot day, dunder and funk, formed a bed upon which sparkling notes of red currants, strawberries, crisp yellow mangoes, unsweetened yoghurt and over-sweet bubble gum competed for attention. It had that kind of cloying sweet to it, leavened with some sharper brine and olives and rye bread left to go bad and was the diametrical opposite of the rather dour and dark Caronis or PM Demeraras.

It was, however, on the plate, that it shone. This was a rum to savour, to enjoy, to treasure. It was a solid, serious rum of surprising complexity: just shy of hot, tasting of brine, avocados, kräuterquark, salt crackers, interspersed with pineapple slices, kiwi fruits and the tartness of unripe peaches and more mangoes. There was a wisp of vanilla in there, some faint white chocolate and nuts and caramel ice cream that somehow stopped just short of softening things too much, and allowed the crisp tartness to remain. As for the finish, it didn’t falterit was long and hot (in a good way), and reminded me again of the HERR, though perhaps it was a shade deeper, tasting nicely of salted caramel, bananas, pineapples, fanta, cinnamon and lemon peel.

In short, quite a serious all-round rum, not quite so savage as to scare anyone away, while powerful enough to distinguish it from standard strength rums aimed at the larger non-expert rum drinking audience. 58.9% is a near perfect strength for it, permitting full enjoyment of the nuances without any pain. Could it be mixed? Probablythough I wouldn’t. Hampden has always managed to produce rums thatwhether aged in Jamaica or in Europeset the bar a bit higher than most others; and though nobody comes right out and says so, part of the attraction of a rum so bursting with flavours is to have it neat and wring every tasting detail from every drop. This is the way most people speak of Hampden rums now that Velier is distributing them, but it was no less true in 2016. 1423 sure picked a winner that year.

(#811)(88/100)

Feb 052020
 

Hampden is now one of the belles du jour of the New Jamaicans, but it’s been on the horizon for much longer than that, though sadly much of its output from the Elder Days was sold outside Jamaica as a sort of miscellaneous bulk item, to be bastardized and mixed and blended and lost in the drab ocean of commercial rums that made up most of what was sold up to ten years ago. Never mind, though, because these days they’ve more than made up for that by issuing rums under their own estate brand, getting the single-barrel limited-edition treatment from Velier, and getting better every time I try ‘em.

This BBR bottling predates those more recent tropically-aged estate releases and hearkens back to what I sort of suspect will be a fond memory for the annually increasing number of Old Rum Fartsthose days when all of Hampden’s output was sent for further ageing and bottling to Europe and only independents were releasing them at cask strength. Berry Brothers & Rudd, that famed spirits establishment which has been in existence in London through just about all of Britain’s imperial and post-war history, certainly channels that genteel, old-world sense of style, with its prim and near-Edwardian-style labels.

What those labels don’t give us is enough databy our rather more exacting current standards anyway. We know it’s Jamaican, Hampden, distilled in 1990, 46% ABV, and from the osmosis bleeding through Facebook, we also know it’s a completely pot still rum, bottled in 2007, a continentally-aged 17 year old. Marius of Single Cask Rum whose article on Hampden is worth a read for the curious, wrote that the 1990 bulk export batchthere was only one or two a year, rarely morewas of marque C<H> “Continental Hampden”, which would place it in the high range of ester-land… 1300-1400 grams per hectoliter of pure alcohol (g/hlpa); only the DOK is higher, going to the legal maximum of 1500-1600.

From those statistics we can expect something pretty dense and even feral, bursting with flavour and happily squirting near-rancid and over-fruity esters from every pore. It does indeed do that when you nose the yellow rum, but initially what you smell is a lot of glue, rubber, new vinyl, the fake upholstery of a cheap car and, more than anything, it reminds me of sliding a brand new 33 LP fresh out of its sleeve. Then there’s wax, sugar water, light fruitspears, guavas, papayanougat, orange peel and an interesting sub-channel of sake and tequila, some brine and olives, followed up at the last by lemon meringue pie with a good bit of crust and creaminess thrown in for good measure.

(c) Barrel Aged Mind, with thanks to Marco Freyr

Yet overall, it’s not fierce and demanding and overdone. The palate, like the nose, also demonstrated this admirable self-control, and together with the lower strength, this allowed the glittering blades of over-fruity sharpness that usually distinguishes such rums, to be dialled down and savoured more than feared or watched out for. The profile was coruscating notes in a complex almost-sour fruit salad consisting of pineapples, kiwi fruit, green grapes, unripe apples and pears, sprinkled over with cardamom and a pinch of camomile. It is also rich and creamy, tastes a bit nutty, and the lemony background went well with the vaguely salty background that gave the whole thing a tequila like aspect that somehow worked really well. The finish was medium long, mostly wrapping up the show content to stay pretty simple and straightforwardlemon zest, salt butter, pineapple, caramel and a twist of vanilla. Lovely.

Summing up, the BBR Hampden is not like the high end muscle-beach monsters of the TECC and the TECA, or even a dialled down DOK; nor is it like those New Jamaicans high-proofs that are coming out now, which sport lots of tropical ageing and dense, deep profiles. You can spot the core DNA, though, because that’s too distinct to missit’s gentler, lighter, yet also crisply fruity and very precise, just not as forceful as those 60%-and-over ester fruit bombs. I wonder whether that’s the strengthprobably, yes.

But if you’ll forgive the metaphysical license here, what it really does is evoke and bring to my mind long unthought memories: of rummaging through and inhaling the scent of just-arrived vinyl LPs in Matt’s Record Bar in GT when I was a kid with no money; of overstuffed sofas and armchairs covered with thick smelly plastic sheeting, resting in old wooden houses with Demerara shutters and Berbice chairs where the men would sip their rums and “speak of affairs” on hot Saturday afternoons and me hanging around hoping for a sip and a word. The Japanese have a word for thisnatsukashiiwhich refers to some small thing that brings you suddenly back to fond memories — not with longing for what’s gone, but with an appreciation of all the good times. I don’t want to make out that this is the experience others will have, just that this is what it did for mebut in my opinion, any rum that can do this even half as well, for anyone, is definitely worth a try, even leaving aside the lovely scents and tastes which it presents.

(#699)(88/100)


Other Notes

Two other reviewers have looked at this rum in the past:

Oct 302019
 

Few except deep-diving, long-lasting rum geeks now remember Murray McDavid, the scotch whisky bottler that acquired Bruichladdich in 2000, and created a rum label of the same name at the same time. Most who spot the distinctive slender bottles with the steel-gray enclosures and red-patterned labels just see an older independent bottler and move along (some might stop for a taste, especially if they pay attention to the dates on the bottles). The MM line is long defunct, folded into the Renegade line in 2006 – Mark Reynier, the man behind it all, put into practice some of the ideas he had had regarding rum releases but liked the idea of creating a completely separate brand for rumsand therefore MM as a rum brand was discontinued. Renegade Rum Company was formed to take its place and continued the evolution of Mr. Reynier’s ideas before itself disappearing in 2012 (temporarilythere’s more info in the company bio, here).

What we see with Murray McDavid rums is an idea in embryo. Renegade to some extent gave a better-known foundation to the emergent single barrel, finishing, limited edition rum releases, but a simpler form of such an indie bottling ethos was already in play years earlier by MM, just around the same time as Velier’s Demeraras were being issued over in Italy. MM releases are hard to find now after so many years (there are only five as far as I could determine) but they do exist, remaining unsold or popping up for auction, largely because few know what they are, or if they deserve their price tags.

Briefly, the facts: it’s a tawny gold rum, from Hampden as noted on the very informative label (another thing MM/Renegade started to provide concurrently with Velier), distilled 1992 and bottled 2005. Ageing was in ex bourbon casks, with additional finishing in port casks but without any indication of how longsubsequent practice with Renegade suggests some months only. And it was 46%, the standard to which MM/Renegade adhered throughout their short lives.

Tasting notes: definitely Jamaican, that hogo and funk was unmistakable, though it seemed more muted than the fierce cask strength Hampdens we’ve been seeing of late. It smelled initially of pencil shavings, crisp acetones, nail polish remover, a freshly painted room and glue. After opening up, I went back some minutes later and found softer aromasred wine, molasses, honey, chocolate, and cream cheese and salted butter on fresh croissants, really yummy. And this is not to ignore the ever-present sense of fruitinessdark grapes, black cherries, ripe mangoes, papayas, gooseberries and some bananas, just enough to round off the entire nose.

No surprises on the palate, just variations on the Hampden theme: it wasn’t harsh or super sharp or powerful (at 46% we could hardly expect that). I tasted glue, sweet honey, very ripe red grapes, a really nice initial attack. It developed over time, presenting molasses, salt caramel, cream cheese on toast, coffee grounds, and the sharp lightness of green apples and hard yellow fruit kept pace with all the others. The finish was short but it was at least aromatic, mostly ripe fruits, some flambeed bananas, and that peculiar mix of hogo, fruit going off and sharp-sweet acidic notes that to me characterize Jamaican pot still expressions. As an observation, the influence of the port casks seemed quite minimal to me and didn’t detract from, or derail, the core Jamaican profile in any significant way.

Reading this, a jaded and experienced Jamaican rum lover might suggest it’s more of the same old thing, differing only in the details. True. However, I think that seen at a remove of so many years from when it was made, its originalitythat singular distinctiveness of the pot still distillate in particular, as ameliorated by the finishingis harder to make out, because we’re so used to it. It’s not the best Hampden rum ever released, but it’s a perfectly serviceable and drinkable version on its own merits, and for its strength, quite good.

We are in the middle of a golden age of rum making experimentation, where pot and column still blends, multiple maturations and fancy finishes are much more common and much more sophisticatedand much better, perhaps. Mr. Reynier’s “Additional Cask Evolution”which he pioneered with the five MM releases and then took further with Renegadewas ahead of its time and never really caught on with the greater rum public. My own feeling is that when one has a good distillate and uses the finishing judiciously to enhance rather than overwhelm, then it doesn’t matter how long ago the rum was bottledit’s a fine rum to sample.

This rum, showing off a Hampden HLCF years before the estate became more famous, is worth trying (or buying) whether you’re into Jamaicans specifically or rums from the past generally. It shows how good the lesser-known pot still estate-Jamaicans always were, and how fortunate we are that they remain available and affordable and approachable to this day. On both a historical and practical basis, I’m happy to have had the opportunity to taste it.

(#671)(84/100)

Oct 232019
 

soma online

For all the faux-evasions about “a historic 250 year old Jamaican distillery” and the hints on the website, let’s not dick aroundthe Stolen Overproof is a Hampden Estate rum. You can disregard all the marketing adjectives and descriptors like “undiscovered”, “handmade” etc etc and just focus on what it is: a New Jamaican pot still rum, released at a tonsil-chewing 61.5%, aged six years and remarkably underpriced for what it is.

The Stolen Overproof has gotten favourable press from across the board almost without exception since its launch, even if there are few formal (i.e., review-website based) ones from the US itselfperhaps that’s because there’s no-one left writing essay-style rum reviews there these days except Paul Senft, and shorter ones from various Redditors (here, here, here and here). In my opinion, this is a rum that takes its place in the mid-range area right next to Rum Bar, Rum Fire, Smith & Cross and Dr. Birdand snaps at the heels of Habitation Velier’s 2010 HLCF, of which this is not a cousin, but an actual brother.

If you doubt me, permit me to offer you a glass of this stuff, as my old-schoolfriend and sometime rum-chum Cecil R. did when he passed me a sample and insisted I try it. You’d think that Stolen Spirits, a company founded in 2010 which has released some underwhelming underpoofs and “smoked” rums was hardly one to warrant serious consideration, but this rum changed my mind in a hurry, and it’ll likely surprise you as well.

soma online pharmacyThe nose was pure Jamaica, pure funk. It was dusty, briny, glue-y and wine-y, sharp and sweet and acidic. and redolent of a massive parade of fruits that came stomping through the nose with cheerful abandon. Peaches in syrup, near-ripe mangoes, guavas, pineapple, all dusted with a little salt and black pepper. It held not only these sharpish tart fruits but raisins, flambeed bananas, red currants, and as it opened further is also provided the lighter crispness of fanta, bubble-gum and flowers.

The rum is dark gold in the glass, 61.5% of high-test hooch and a Hampden, so a fierce palate is almost a given. Nor did it disappoint: it was sharp, with gasoline (!!), glue, acetones and olive oil charging right out of the gate. It tasted of fuel oil, coconut shavings, wet ashes, salt and pepper, slight molasses, tobacco and pancakes drenched in sweet syrup, cashew nutsand bags and bags of fruit and other flavours, marching in stately order, one by one, past your sensesgreen apples, grapes, cloves, red currants, strawberries, ripe pineapples, soursop, lemon zest, burnt sugar cane, salt caramel and toffee. Damnthat was quite a handful. Even the finishlong and heatedadded something: licorice, bubble gum, apples, pineapple and damp, fresh sawdust.

So, whew, deep breath. That’s quite a rum, representing the island in really fine style. I mean, the only way you’re getting closer to Jamaica without actually being there is to hug Christelle Harris in Brooklyn (which won’t get you drunk and might be a lot more fun, but also earn you a fight with everyone else around her who was thinking of doing the same thing). Essentially, it’s a Jamaican flavour bomb and the other remarkable thing about it is who made it, and from where.

The Stolen Overproof is an indie bottlingthe company was formed in 2010 in New Zealand, and seems to be a primarily US based op these daysand the story I heard was that somehow they laid hands on some barrels of Hampden distillate way back in 2016 (Scott Ferguson mentions it was 5000 cases in his video review) and brought it to market. This is fairly recently, you might say, but even a mere three years ago, Hampden was not a household name, having just launched themselves into the global marketplace, and Velier’s 2010 6 YO HLCF only reached the greater rum audience in 2017 – apparently this rum is from the same batch of barrels. The Stolen is still relatively affordable if you can find it (US$18 for a 375ml bottle), and my only guess is that they literally did not know what they had and put a standard markup on the rum, never imagining how huge Jamaica rum of this kind would become in the years ahead.

When discussing Bacardi’s near-forgotten foray into limited bottlings, I remarked that just because you slap a Jamaican distillery name on a label does not mean you instantly have a great juice. But the reverse can also be true: you can have an almost-unobserved release of an unidentified Jamaican rum from a near-unknown third-tier bottler, and done right and done well, it’ll do its best to wow your socks off. This is one of those.

(#669)(85/100)


Other Notes

60,000 1/2 sized 375ml bottles were issued, so ~22,500 liters. All ageing was confirmed to be at Hampden Estate.


Opinion, somewhat tangential to the review….

If you want to know why I generally disregard the scorings and opinions on Rum Ratings, searching for this rum tells you why. This is a really good piece of work that’s been on the market for three years, and on that site and in all that time, it has garnered a rich and varied total of six scoresone 9-pointer, three at 7 points, one of 4 … and Joola69’s rating of 1. “Just another Jamaican glue and funk rum” he sneered rather contemptuously from the commanding heights of his 2,350 other rum ratings (the top choices of which are mostly devoted to Spanish/Latin column still spirits). If you want a contrary opinion that indicts the New Jamaicans as a class, there’s one for you.

Certainly such rums as the gentleman champions have their place and they remain great sellers and crowd pleasing favourites. But really good rums shouldand doadhere to rather higher standards than just pleasing everyone with soft sweet smoothness, and in this case, a dismissive remark like the one made simply shows the author does not know what good rums have developed into, and, sadly, that having scored more than 2000 rums hasn’t improved or changed his outlook. Which is bad for all those who blindly follow and therefore never try a rum like these New Jamaicans, but good for the rest of us who can now get more of the good stuff for ourselves. Perhaps I should be more grateful.

Jun 172019
 

It’s remarkable how fast the SBS line of rums have exploded onto the rumconsciousness of the world. This is a series released by 1423, the same Danish outfit which made the really quite elegant 2008 Mauritius rum I wrote about with such love a while back, and has received enormously positive word of mouth on social media for the last year or so. The only similar company I can call to mind that rose so quickly in the public’s esteem would be the Compagnie des Indes, which shared a similarly exacting (and excellent) sense of which barrels to choose and which rums to bottle.

Three things make Jamaica in generaland Worthy Park and Hampden in particularthe current belle du jour for rums. One there’s the fairy tale story of old and noble rum houses in previously shabby circumstances rising phoenix-like from the ashes of near closure and bankruptcy, to establish their own brands and not just sell bulk. Two, there’s that thing about pure rums, pot still rums, traditionally made, from lovingly maintained, decades-old equipment, eschewing anonymous blends. And three, there’s the ever-expanding circle of rum enthusiasts who simply can’t get enough of the dunder, the hogo, the rancio, that funky flavour for which the island is famous.

By that standard, this rum presses all the right buttons for Jamaican rum lovers. It has much in common with both the Wild Tiger rum, and the NRJ series released by Velier last year, and some of the Habitation Velier rums before that. It’s a Hampden rum, massively ester-laden at close the the bleeding max of 1600, thereby earning the marque of DOK (which actually stands for Dermot Owen Kelly-Lawson, a Hampden distiller who died in 1934). It’s unaged except for six months’ rest in PX barrels, and released at a firm but not obnoxious 59.7% ABVmore than good enough for Government work.

Now me, after the shattering experiences with the TECA and TECC (and to some extent the Wild Tiger), I approached it cautiously. I spoke gently, kept my head bowed low, and did not make eye contact immediately. Maybe the PX casks’ ageing ameliorated the furious acid-sweet and rotting rancio of such high ester funk bombs, but I wasn’t taking any chances. It might have ninja knives hidden behind the demure facade of the minimalist labelling.

I needn’t have worried. The nose started off with the dust of old clothes cupboards with one too many mothballs, leavened with fruits, lots of fruits, all sweet and acidic and very sharp (a hallmark of the DOK, you might say). Pineapples, yellow mangoes, ripe apricots and peaches, cashews, and soursop all duelled for bragging rights here. It’s what was underneath all those ripe and rotting and tear-inducing aromas that made it specialbecause after a while one could sense acetones, glue, nail polish, damp sawdust mixed in with white chocolate, sour cream, and vanilla in a nose that seemed to stretch from here to the horizon. I had this rum on the go for three hours, so pungent and rich were the smells coming from it, and it never faltered, never stopped.

And the palate was right up there too. Not for this rum the thick odour of mouldering rancio which occasionally mars extreme high-ester rumshere the sherry influence tamed the flavours and gave it an extra dimension of texture which was very pleasant (and perhaps points the way forward for such rums in the future). The tastes were excellent: sweet honey, dates and almonds, together with licorice, bitter chocolate, cumin, a dusting of nutmeg and lemon zest. As it opened up, the parade of fruits came banging through the door: dark grapes, five-finger, green apples, pineapples, unripe kiwi fruit, more soursop, more lemon zestmerde, was there anything that was not stuffed in here? As for the finish, really goodlong, dry, hot, breathy. Almost everything I had tasted and smelled came thundering down the slope to a rousing finale, with all the fruits and spices and ancillary notes coming togethera little unbalanced, true, a little sharp, yes, a shade “off” for sure, but still very much an original.

Summing up then. The SBS Jamaican 2018 is a Hampden rum, though this is nowhere mentioned on the label. It’s a furiously crisp and elegant drink, a powerfully and sharply drawn rum underneath which one could always sense the fangs lying in wait, biding their time. I noted that some of its tastes are a bit off, and one could definitely taste what must have been a much more pronounced hogo. The sherry notes are actually more background than dominant, and it was the right decision, I think, to make it a finish rather than a full out maturation as this provides roundness and filler, without burying the pungent profile of the original.

The other day I was asked which of the Jamaican high ester funky chickens I thought was best: the TECC, the Wild Tiger, or this SBS version. After thinking about it, I’d have to say the Wild Tiger was rough and raw and ready and needed some further taming to become a standoutit scored decently, but trotted in third. The real difficulty came with the other two. On balance I’d have to say the TECC had more character, more depth, more overall maturitynot entirely surprising given its age and who picked it. But right behind it, for different reasons, came the SBS Jamaica. I thought that even for its young age, it comported itself well. It was tasty, it was funky to a fault, the PX gave it elegance and a nice background, and overall it was a drink that represented the profile of the high ester marques quite well.

DOK Jamaican rums that are identified and marketed as such are a recent phenomenon, and were previously not released at all (and if they were, it was hardly mentioned). They’ve quickly formed an audience all their own, and irrespective of the sneering dismissal of the marque by some distillers who persist in seeing them as flavouring agents not meant for drinking, this is pissing into the windbecause nothing will stop the dunderheads from getting their fix, as the rapid online sellout of the SBS’s 217 bottles demonstrated. When one tastes a rum like this one, it’s not hard to understand the attraction. So what if it does not conform to what others say a Jamaican rum should be? Who cares about it being too hogo-centric? It’s distinctive to a fault, nicely finished, well assembled and an all-round good drinkand that may be the very mark of individuality to which many a DOK made in the future can and should aspire.

(#633)(86/100)


Other Notes

  • According to 1423, the rum was freshly distilled in 2018 and aged for six months in four 40 litre casks, then blended together, rested and issued outside the normal release cycle, in November 2018, as a sort of individual bottling.
  • All ageing done in Europe
  • A week after this review came out, Flo of Barrel aged Thoughts posted a comparison of six DOK rums including this one (in German), which is worth going through.
Dec 242018
 

My own personal memories of the Hampden Overproof will always be combined with the Tasting of the Century in London, where we tried those magnificent old rums the Harewood 1780, St James 1885, Bally 1924 and Skeldon 1978and the two new Hampdens. Truth to tell, my focus was so fiercely on that geriatric quartet, that I had little time to pay attention to the twins….time kind of ran out on me, and I could barely do them justice. So knowing I had the bottles in Berlin, I waited until October and then dealt with them there again.

Velier, as is now quite well known, has dibs on the distribution of Hampden rums from 2018 (and, I think, 2019) through their new organization of La Maison & Velier. Both the 46% and the 60% versions of the rum are the same, the former just being diluted down, so in this review I’ll be talking about the overproof version, although the notes are the same for either, with the strength being the only true variable.

Technical schtick for the rum curious: what we have here is a rum based on fermentation with wild yeast, distilled in 2010 on a double retort copper pot still; the ageing was fully tropical for eight years and it was bottled in 2018; the level of esters was not disclosed except insofar as to note it was “very high”; and of course, no additives of any kind, not sugar, not colouring, nothing. All of which, by the way, is on the hugely informative label that in its graphic detail is somewhat at odds with the famed Spartan labels of yore, but never mind. One thing that isn’t on the label is the outturn, but the source was 31 barrels, so assuming a 6% angel’s share per year, we can estimate that around 10,000 bottles were released into the global market.

What always surprises me about Hampden rums is how relatively restrained they are, irrespective of the strength. You expect that say, from an exquisitely blended Appleton, and certainly do not from Worthy Park offerings which cheerfully lunge out of the bottle like a hungry face-hugger, yet Hampdens find a sweet spot between the two that is nothing short of delectable. The nose is a combination of soft and crisp, initially redolent of pencil shavings, paraffin, varnish and sawdust, bitter chocolate, unsweetened cocoa, damp, freshly turned earth and tar, and, like many such strong rums, rewards patience as these aromas develop, and then fade. They are then replaced by green grapes, unripe mangos, and lots of sharper, unripe-but-sweet fruits, balsamic vinegar, sweet gherkins and a very nice background of aromatic tobacco and port-infused cigarillos.

Ah, and the tastereally nice. Strong and bordering in sharp, yet even at 60% ABV it presents as amazingly controlled, even moderate. The tastes are all there, deep and intense, rolling easily and crisply across the palate, yet not so ester-heavy as might be inferred from the label. You’d laugh when I say that I tasted well-oiled leather and sweaty shoes, and then take comfort in more traditional flavours of brine, olives, maggi cubes, cardboard, black bread and cereals (there’s a sort of creamy aspect to the whole experience I found very pleasing), which formed a bed upon which dates, figs, crisp peaches and pears and mangoes rested easily, dusted over with a lovely hint of cumin and cinnamon and lemon peel, leading into a crisp, snappy finish that sumed things up nicely, mostly with sharper fruits and crushed hazelnuts, lemon zest and that odd bit of tar from the nose making a belated appearance (perhaps out of mischief).

It’s possible that gently diluting the rum to about 55% from 60% might make it more approachable and an easier drink: for my money, it’s damn near perfect for what it is, a really well blended Jamaican which even Sandor Clegane might like, something that enhances the street cred of both estate and country. It requires, like all full-proof, dunder-squirting yardies, some patience; it’s a drink to savour, not swill, and is an exemplary rum in almost all aspects of its profile.

I’ve remarked on more than one occasion that my appreciation for righteously funky Jamaicans vacillates between Worthy Park and Hampden (though it must be acknowledged that Plantation is making inroads, and the Compagnie’s New Yarmouth rums also deserve a place at the table). It’s when you try something as powerful and tasty as this that you understand why the comparisons can and need to be made. We are living in a Golden Age of new Jamaican rums, where pole position is being taken over and held by exactingly made blends produced by the distillery of origin, retaining all their unique heritage and profiles, rather than an unknown mix marketed under the uninformative sobriquet of “Jamaican rum”.

What seems to have happened is that after years and decades of somnolence, rum aficionados gradually got acquainted (or re-acquainted) with estate-specific rums from Jamaica that weren’t Appleton as a consequence of the efforts of the continental independents. Through the limited single cask releases of a few hundred bottles here and there, we began to recognize the individuality, the idiosyncrasythe sheer dynamismof Monymusk, of New Yarmouth, of Worthy Parkand of Hampden. That gradually-building groundswell of appreciation has turned into a roaring wave in 2018, and this edition of a really superlative rum is the resultthousands of bottles, not just a few hundred, all coming from Hampden, all made and developed and aged there, and meant for all of us who love the massive taste bombs out of the island. It is, in my own estimation, one of those rums whose reputation will only increase with the passage of the years, and to have tasted the first versions out of the gate was and remains nothing less than a privilege.

(#582)(89/100)


Other Notes

Luca Gargano has made it clear that these are not Velier rumshis company is just the distributor. I chose to believe his fingerprints are on the bottles nevertheless, most likely in the selection of which 31 barrels made up the blend. However, in accordance with his wishes regarding attribution, I have not referred to this as aVelier Hampden Estate Overproof Rum.Though I think many of us harbour our own thoughts on the matter.

Dec 132018
 

 


There all sorts of fascinating things about this rum, whose age and rarity and limited outturn makes it almost impossible to find (and as for actually getting a full bottle? I dreams me dreams, kid). It’s aged more than thirty years. It was issued for the Hong Kong market. And it’s from Hampden, certainly one of the most interesting companies making rums in Jamaica today. Compagnie des Indes is one of those rare indie outfits that seems to be able to smell these oddly compelling forgotten casks squirrelled away in dusty warehouses someplace, and the only regret is that we can never seem to lay paws on them before they’re all gone (unless, perhaps, you’re Danish).

You’d be hard pressed to do a search on this baby and find anything about it, so let me fill in some blanks that I got after emailing Florent Beuchet, the boss over the Compagnie des Indes, that French independent I’ve been following with great interest and affection for some years. It was of pot-still origin, distilled December 1983 and bottled in November 2017, so a whisker under 34 years old (when was the last time we saw something like that?). It was continentally aged, one barrel, and its origin came as a result of Florent meeting one of the biggest importers of Burgundy wines in Hong Kong, striking up a conversation and then partnering for this very unique release. In fact, it was special enough that the Compagnie eschewed the standard bottles and went with fancy decanters instead, exactly 250 of them (of which a mere 12 are being sold in Europe through a shop in Paris called L’Univerre Paris, the rest in Hong Kong) — each was apparently filled by hand and wax-sealed by Florent himself before being put into a handsome French Oak wooden box to await a lucky buyer.

Photo (c) Compagnie des Indes

For me, it’s a neck and neck race on any given day, whether I like Hampden better than Worthy Park or the other way round, and how Monymusk, Long Pond and New Yarmouth vintages fit into the pantheon (I like to think Appleton exists in a sort of gentler parallel universe than these). Most of the time Hampden has a slight edge in my estimation (though not always), and a rum like this shows why.

Consider how it smells. There’s enough funk and raw estery aromas to gladden the heart of any Jamaican rum lover, and it’s warm bordering on hot, initially redolent of dark rotting fruits, raw tobacco, cigarette tar, petrol, pencil shavings and a sort of damp earthy mustiness. It deserves some patience and time, and once it opens up the softer and more delicate smells start to become more noticeabledill, a fine line of mint/thyme, and fruity notes of apples, grapes, raisins, bananas and overripe pineapple. And it doesn’t stop there, because after an hour or two I notice overripe oranges, olives, a light brininess, grass, and lightly seasoned vegetable soupplus deep caramel and molasses and toffee providing a remarkably stable undercurrent. It’s been a long time since I have tried something so crowded and complex, yet none of these aromas seemed to be excessivethe balance among them all was phenomenal

It provides quite a kick to the palate as well, and very little of the assembly failed in any way, or was diminished over time. It was bottled at 54.1%, and presents a solid series of characteristic Jamaican flavours, being oily, salty, acidic and roughall at the same time. The crisp and fruity ester-notes do what they always do when left to stand for some hoursbecome sharp and blade like. But they’re also giving off tastes of damp earth, mustiness, and are just a tad bitter, leavened by white pepper, burnt sugar, caramel and bags of fruits (apples, raisins, unripe mangoes, pears and pineapples). Oh and gherkins in vinegar, some tannins and unsweetened chocolatenot enough to spoil it, but sufficient to take the lead and dominate the softer balancing flavours of vanilla, flowers, and caramel. It’s very distinct and delicious, edging a little over the top, like the Cambridge or TECC from Long Pond was; and it will, I think be appreciated for precisely those reasons. It ended with a flourish, it must be said, really welllong, dry, aromatic, sweet, earthy, with light oil, petrol and rubber notes, plus thyme, and apples. The taste and finish last for hours, it’s that lingering, and I was and remain quite impressed with the way that nearly 34 years of continental ageing didn’t ruin the thing with excessive oakiness.

Strictly speaking, I think it’s unfair to categorize or compare independents’ single barrel rums the same way we would something that Christelle Harris or Zan Kong make, something tropically aged that their own hands had touched, blended and made in large batches instead of a couple hundred bottles. Because aside from being made for different audiences, stuff like this is very limited, and exactingly chosen based on the talents and preferences of that single buyer in selecting his casks. In that lies the appeal of the single cask bottling.

Still, with the proliferation of the independents and the rise of special limited edition rums over the last twenty yearsand the near annual releases of new rums from all the familiar regions by old and new companieswe’re in danger of losing some of that sense of wonder we once felt as we rediscovered those fascinating rums from the 1970s and 1980s that Velier, Samaroli, Moon Imports, Rum Nation, G&M, A.D. Rattray and others were putting out the door. We see bottlings aged ten years, or in their teens, or (heaven forbid) even twenties and take that as a given. But occasionally, just occasionally we get hit by something unexpected. Like the Velier NRJ rums. Like a small Fijian gem from TCRL, or an amazing rum from Antigua Distillery. And like this one, three decades of sweet fire, fury and funk trapped in a bottle, which emphatically demonstrates, like those others do, how some magic still exists in 2018, and can still, with some luck, be found.

(#578)(89/100)


Other notes:

  • This sample was provided by Compagnie des Indes on my specific request. When I first heard about this rum, I knew its rarity and restricted market would preclude my ever getting any and so for the first time I broke my reviewing protocol and contacted Florent Beuchet and asked if he had some knocking about I could try. He did, and sent it to me. The reader is asked to keep this in mind when assessing the tone and value of the review. I think it describes my feeling about the rum’s overall worth, and I hope you agree, but at least you know its source and can come to a conclusion of your own.
Aug 062018
 

There’s a story I heard years ago, that of the many rums from his company, Silvano Samaroli’s own personal favourite was one of the first ones he bottled, the West Indies 1948. Who am I to rain on a story like that, speaking as it does of a man currently residing in the Great Distillery in the Sky, and a rum from so far back in time that most of us weren’t even a twinkle in our Daddy’s eyes, made when the world was an utterly different place? But for my money, of all the rums I’ve tried from this Italian outfit and from Jamaica (and that’s quite a few), this one is among the very best. To cut straight to the chase and save you all a lot of reading time, I think it is a sublime drinking experience for anyone who treasures Jamaican rums.

That might sound like a startling assertion, but it has a lot to do with the assembly, much with the balance, and for sure the overall complexity: and that started right with the initial nosing, which started slow, gathered momentum, and turned what we initially and indulgently thought was VW Beetle into a growling Veyron wannabe.

Although the initial scents wafting easily from the glass are of paint thinner, acetones, rubber and some pencil shavings, for once these didn’t overwhelm or detract, but acted as a counterpoint to the rest of the nasal riches which followedwarm unsweetened chocolate, nougat, hibiscus flowers in full bloom, dust, dried coffee grounds, more light flowers with clear, delicate notes of something remarkably akin to freshly done laundry drying in the sun. Cedar, aromatic woody notes, honey tobacco. God, was this thing ever going to stop? Nope, there was morea light dusting of brown sugar soaked in molasses, and vanilla. If you’re looking for funk, well, it’s there, but for once content to be a bit player and not chew the scenery.

And the taste, the palate, the way it comes together, it’s masterful. At 52% it’s downright near damned perfectthe the balance between mouth puckering citrus plus laid back funk, and easier, softer flavours is unbelievably well done. Soda pop, honey, cereal, red currants, raspberries, fanta and orange zest dance exuberantly cross the tongue, never faltering, never allowing any one piece to dominate. Like an exquisitely choreographed dance number, the molasses, vanillas and fruits (peaches, yellow plums, pears, ripe yellow Thai mangoes) tango alongside sharper notes of citrus, lemon zest, overripe bananas, sandalwood and ginger. Even the finish is spectacularjust long enough, just sharp enough, just mellow enough, allowing each of the individually discerned flavours of fruits, toffee, chocolate and citrus to come out on stage one last time for a bow, before fading back and making way for the next one

It seems almost superfluous to go through the factoids surrounding it so let’s be brief: it is from Hampden , though this is nowhere evident on the label (I picked that up online); pot still, continentally aged, bottled at 52% in 2017 from a single barrel (Cask #19, which means nothing to most of us) of 1992 stocks, 228 bottles issued, and there you are.

I don’t know what they did differently in this rum from others they’ve issued for the last forty years, what selection criteria they used, but I must be honestthe 1992 came close to blowing out my circuits. It’s restrained but powerful, and the sometimes-overdone flavour profiles of other high ester rums, has been toned down and handled with real attention and care. I can’t remember the last rum that excited me so much, that enthused me so much, right off the bat. Okay, that’s crap, there was the UF30E and the Sajous and the BBR 1977but you get the point. I had to try it several times in the course of a single evening trying to poke holes into it, trying to find a flaw that would unravel the experience, make it more mundane, bring it to the level of other rums, but no, it stayed as spectacular at one in the morning, as it was six hours earlier when my friends and I cracked it.

These days, with independent bottlers proliferating as they have, each one trying to outdo the other with a remarkable rum from yesteryear, and with Scheer’s old hoards being plundered like King Tut’s personal rum chamber, with old rums becoming impossible to find and harder to buy, I honestly believed my days of finding an undiscovered treasure were over. After trying the Samaroli 1992, I knew I was dead wrongand happy to be so. There are still amazing rums out there to be found, often flying beneath the radar, teased out with a little luck, delving deep trenches in your wallet. This is one of them, a rum that shows what can be done when a bottler’s great selection crosses paths with a rum sleuth’s dogged persistenceand results in me writing about a rum that is made with whatin my opinionis more than a small dose of pure magic.

(#535)(92/100)

Jul 072018
 

These days Jamaican rums which were previously and mostly blending fodder are getting not only a new lease on life but a resurgence of their reputation that is so massive and enthusiast-driven that it’s led to the re-emergence of names like Longpond, Worthy Park, Clarendon, Inswood, Monymusk, New Yarmouth, Hampden Estate (and others), that might be giving Appleton some sleepless nights. Lovers of the style can’t seem to get enough of them, which goes a long way to demonstrating public boredom with pallid blended meh-rums that have suffused much of the consuming landscape for the last decades. People were and are simply looking for something more exciting, more distinctiveand Jamaicans are filling that niche very nicely indeed.

In 2017 the French company Compagnie des Indes issued a New Yarmouth rum which excited raves across the Jamaican rum loving cognoscenti, and in 2018 Velier issued two Hampdens themselves as they began their long march to promote the estateboth lit up Facebook like the Fourth of July. And that’s not even counting the other Worthy Park and Hampdens which have come to market in the last few years. The Hampden I’m looking at today is a bit more modest, howeverit is one Compagnie edition of about twenty from the island that were released up to 2017 (of which four were from Hampden).

In terms of background, it’s a 43% rum, pot still origin, barrel #JH46, distiilled in 2000 and bottled in 2016, 339 bottles, sourced in Europe (probably Scheer) – and if you’re really interested I dragged some others from the island to act as controls: the Mexan XO, the Mezan WP 2005, another two Compagnie rumsthe Longpond 12 YO (44%) and the Worthy Park 7 YO (53%). Because I was curious how well the Hampden would fare against both other estates, and other strengths.

There was no mistaking the lemon-yellow Hampden for anything but a Jamaican, that was for sure. The nose was slightly sweeter than the Mezans and the CdI Longpond, very clear, redolent of cherries, tart fruits, green apples, rotting banana funk, overripe mangoes, together with a fine line of citrus carving through the whole thinga medium ester rum, I hazarded, and very crisp and clean to smell.

On the palate, I didn’t think it could quite beat out the CdI Worthy Park (which was half its age, though quite a bit stronger); but it definitely had more force and more uniqueness in the way it developed than the Longpond and the Mezans. It started with cherries, going-off bananas mixed with a delicious citrus backbone, not too excessive. After ten minutes or so it opened further into a medium sweet set of fruits (peaches, pears, apples), and showed notes of oak, cinnamon, some brininess, green grapes, all backed up by delicate florals that were very aromatic and provided a good background for the finish. That in turn glided along to a relatively serene, slightly heated medium-long stop with just a few bounces on the road to its eventual disappearance, though with little more than what the palate had already demonstrated. Fruitiness and some citrus and cinnamon was about it.

Overall, a solid, tasty Jamaican rum, presenting somewhat younger than its physical years. It was continentally aged, so the rich voluptuousness of a tropically-aged rum was not its forte. Some of its rough edges were sanded away while leaving enough to give it some character: its strength was right, I think, and it lacked some of the furious brutality of younger ester bombs from the estates, without losing any of its elemental character. Not all high-ester, funk-driven, dunder-squirting rums are meant for such neat sipping (as has been remarked on before, such intensely flavoured Jamaicans are often used as flavouring agents in other blended rums). But as a rum by itself, tasted and evaluated on its own, this fifteen year old is a very pleasant sipping dram that retains just enough edge to make it a very good experience to have by itself, or to perk up whatever cocktail you feel like adding it to.

(#526)(86/100)


Other notes

For a pretty good historical and production-level rundown on Hampden estate, the Cocktail Wonk’s 2016 article covers just abut everything.

Oct 112017
 

Yeah, I’m chugging along behind the other reviewers, pulling late into the station on this one. The Smith & Cross Jamaican rum has been on people’s radar for ages now, so it’s not as if this review will do much except to raise its profile infinitesimally. Still, given its reputation, you can understand why, when I finally came across itcourtesy of a great bartender in Toronto who, by stocking stuff like this somehow manages to defeat the LCBO’s best attempts to dumb down the Canadian rum drinking publicboth excitement and expectation warred in the cockles of my rum-soaked corpus as I poured myself a generous shot (and left Robin Wynne, bless his heart, ogling, billing and cooing at the Longpond 1941 which I provided as proof that I really do exist).

And my curiosity and enthusiasm was well-founded. Consider the geek-stats on the rum, to start with: Jamaican rum from the near-epicenter of ester-land, Hampden Estate (awesome); pure pot still product (oh yeah); growly 57% strength (damned right); unfrigged-with (now we’re talking); and overall amazing quality, (well brudderman, Ah wipin’ me eyes). What more could any funk-bomb, ester-loving, rum-swilling aficionado on a budget possibly want? I mean, a juice like this beats the living snot out of, and then wipes the floor with, something like a Diplomatico, know what I mean? No soft Spanish style column still rum here, but an aggressive in-your-face spirit that’s itching for a dust-up. With style.

It certainly did not disappoint. When you smell this, it’s like Air Traffic Control didn’t just clear me for takeoff, but for blast-offscents burst out of the bottle and the glass in a rich panoply of rumstink (I mean that in a good way), matching just about any good Jamaican I’ve ever had, and exceeding quite a few. Although initially there was cream and unsweetened yoghurt or labneh, there was also the light fruitiness of esters and flowers, and absolutely no shortage of the righteous funk of rotting bananas and a garbage pail left in the sun (and I swear to you, this is not a bad thing). It was not, I judged, something to hurry past in a rush to get to the next one, so I let it stand, and indeed, additional aromas timidly crept out from behind the elephant in the roomsome rough and jagged molasses and burnt sugar, crushed strawberries in unsweetened cream, and some dark bitter chocolatein other words, yummy.

While the smell and aroma were one step removed from awesome, the taste is what told the taleit was, surprisingly enough, clean and clear, and quite spicy, redolent of olives, citrus, masala spice and a good whallop of burnt sugar. And it didn’t just exude these flavours, it seethed with them, with a sort of rough intensity that was remarkably well controlled. It also developed really well, I thoughtover time (and with some water), it kept on adding to the menu: hot black tea, a combination of earthiness, of dry and musty sawdust that one might use the word “dirty” to describe without any negative connotations, and even to the very end (an hour laterI had that glass on the go for quite some time), there was still nougat and chocolate emerging from the glass. Oh and the finish? Just excellentlong, crisp, funky, with salt and vinegar chips, creaminess and driness all fighting to get in the last word. I have just about zero complaints or whinges about this one.

So a few other tidbits before I wrap up the show. Strictly speaking, this is a blend of two styles of pot-stilled rum, Plummer and Wedderburn. These are not types of still (like John Dore and Vendome, for example) but two of the four or five main classifications the British used to type and identify Jamaica rums in the late 19th and early 20th centuryLong Pond, for example, was much known for the Wedderburn profile, a heavier bodied rum somewhat distinct from the more medium bodied Plummer style. Both have massive dunder and esters in there, so for Smith & Cross (who have been around in the UK in one form or another since the 1780s) to have brought this kind of style back out into the market several years back, when easier column-still sipping fare was more the norm, deserves quite a few accolades. The rum, as noted above, is a blend of almost equal parts Wedderburn and Plummer, with the Wedderburn aged for less than a year, and the Plummer portion split between parts aged 18 months and parts for 3 years, in white oak. Frankly, I’d love to see what a really (tropical) aged version of this rumzilla would be like, because for now the youth is apparentthough fortunately it’s neither distracting nor disqualifying on that score.

The Smith & Cross reminded me a lot of the Compagnie des Indes’s 2000 14 year old, also from Hampden, but not as good as the CDI Worthy Park 2007. There was much of the same sharp richness matched against something of a ghetto bad boy here, like an educated gentleman who knows just when to stop being one and belt you a good one. If you’re not into full proof Jamaican rums showcasing heavy dunder and funky flavours that batter the senses and skewer the palate, then this is likely not a rum for you. But for those who are willing to weather its force and scalpel-like profile, it is one that reminds us what Jamaicans used to be like and what they aspire to nowand points the way to a re-emergence of a style that has for many years been hidden from view and is now getting the praise that always should have been its right.

(88/100)


Background Notes

Smith & Cross, it should be emphasized, is acreatedrum, not one that is made by its distillery of origin (i.e., principally Hampden). In point of fact, it is made by Scheer, based on specifications provided by Haus Alpenz, a European spirits distributor who have Scarlet Ibis and Batavia Arrack under their umbrella. The story goes that around 2006, Dave Wondrich (author ofPunchandImbibebooks) was sitting in the Pegu Club NY with the Alpenz’s American importer, Eric Seed, and the latter asked him what rums and styles unavailable in the US he should be importing (following on from an earlier convo Seed had had with Jim Meehan about spirits in general). Wondrich knew that the sort of Jamaican rums called for in old cocktail recipes were all but unavailable in the US and he answeredA high ester Jamaican.” (“That’s interesting in and of itself because I think the current rum world has forgotten how bereft NA was of those products as recently as a decade ago,” remarked Dwayne Stewart, when we were discussing this in September 2020). Audrey Sanders, (owner of the Pegu) stopped by the table and reinforced what Dave was saying, and as a direct result of that conversation, Seed went to Scheer and asked them to create a funkier Jamaican blendand so Smith & Cross was born.

As for the name. “Smith & Crossis a combination of two old London firmsnames dating back to 1788: Smith & Tyers, and White Cross, sugar refiners and blenders whose premises were located along Thames Street by the London Docks. The partners were extensively involved in the rum trade, especially from Jamaica, but were eventually taken over by Hayman Distillers, another London company which was formed in 1863 – they specialized in gin themselves. At the time when Alpenz was putting together its new blended Hampden Plummer/Wederburn rum with Scheer, they had some commercial connections with Hayman, wanted an old fashioned sounding name with Jamaican connections and it’s not a stretch to suggest a gentleman’s agreement to be able to use Smith & Cross as the name of their new rum. (Hayman is now involved in another rum enterprise, Charles Merser & Co, but that’s separate from this brief bio.)


 

Mar 152017
 

#349

If I didn’t know better, I’d almost suggest this was a clairin. It was so potent and pungent, so powerful in taste and profile, that I had to double up the amount of controls I was tasting it with, just to make sure it really was a Jamaican rum and not some uncured white lightning out of Haiti. If you ever thought that Jamaicans were getting too easy, or you were getting bored with the regular run of Appletons, allow me to recommend (cautiously) this amazing white popskull from Hampden estate, which was gifted to me by Gregers and Henrik in the 2015 ‘Caner Afterparty, just so they could see my eyes water and my palate disappear while they laughed themselves silly.

Can’t say I blame them. Now, you would imagine that when a bunch of us grog-blog boyos get together, it’s a genteel sort of affair in a discreet private club, brogues and black tie in evidence as we dignifiedly pass glasses around, and reverently open bottles like the Longpond 1941 or a Trois Rivieres 1975 while making sober and snooty judgements in hushed tones about nose and palate and so on. Yeah…but no. What actually goes on is that a pack of noisy, rowdy, scruffy reviewers from all points of the compass descends on a dingy apartment, each loudly and aggressively shoving their newest acquisitions onto the table, demanding they be opened and tried (twice!), and a sort of cheerful one-upmanship is the name of the game. Quality doesn’t come into it, shock value does, and boy oh boy, did they ever succeed in taking the crown on this one.

I mean, just sniff this rum. Go on, I dare ya. It was a 63% ABV salt-and-petrol concussive blast right away. Forget about letting it breathe, it didn’t need that: it exploded out of the starting blocks like my wife spotting a 90%-off sale, and the immediate pungency of fusel oils, brine, beeswax, rotten fruit, wet cardboard, and sausages frying on a stinky gas fire took my schnozz by storm and never let go. Merde, but this was one hot piece of work. Frankly, it reminded me of the JB Trelawny rum and Appleton’s own Overproof, also bottled at 63%, and oddly, of the Sajous. I immediately added a few clairins to the Jamaican controls on the table, and yes, there were discernible differences, though both shared some emergent flavours of sugar water and pickled gherkins and maybe some sweeter red olives – and the tartness of green apples and a bit of lemon. But as for any kind of “standard” profile? Not really. It was having too much fun going its own way and punching me in the face, and represented Hampden in fine style.

Oh and this was not limited to the nose. Tasting it was as exhilarating as skydiving with a parachute your ex-girlfriend just packed. Again, the first impression was one of sharp heat (warning – trying this with your cigar going in the other side of your mouth is not recommended), and then there was a curious left turn into what was almost agricole territory – watermelon, flowers, sugar water, as hot and crisp and creamy as a freshly baked Danish cookie. It was only after adding some water that a more ‘Jamaican’ set of notes came out to grab the brass ring – more olives, salted avocados and overripe fruit, wax, some very faint floor polish, tied together with the tiniest hint of citrus, vanilla and leather, before it all dissipated into a lovely, long, warm finish that coughed up some closing notes of sweet soya and teriyaki before finally, finally, passing into the great beyond of boring tasting notes in a notebook.

Whew! This was a hell of a rum. I apologize in advance for sounding elitist, but really, the regular run of rum drinkers should approach this rum with some caution, or water it down or push it into a mix, lest it colour one’s perception of unaged white hooch forever. I have a feeling it was made to appeal to those who want vibrant, pot-still full-proofs with real edge and a ginormous series of hot-snot flavour notes that take a smart right turn from reality. Yes, of course it’ll make a cocktail that would stop just short of self-combustion (and there might lie its mainstream appeal rather than for masochistic nutcases who proudly drink it neat), but I submit that for the adventurous among you, taking it by itself is quite some experience, one that should not be missed. It’s hot, it’s massive, it’s tasty, and for sure the makers weren’t kidding when they put the word “fire” in the title. If the amount of amazed and joyful expletives (in seven languages) during a tasting is a measure of a rum’s appeal, then this one has to be one of the funnest, craziest rums I’ve sampled in quite some time, and I recall it with great fondness even after all this time.

(82/100)


Other notes

  • Made by and at Hampden estate, whose history is covered on their webpage
  • Triple distilled heavy pot still rum. There’s no notation on age, but for my money, it has not been aged at all, another similarity it shares with the clairins.
  • Rum Fire supposedly has an ester count of 300-400 g/hlpa, placing it in the LROK category, though there is some argument about the matter. According to Nick Feris, thestandardRum Fire white overproof marque is HLCFHampden Light Continental Flavoured; the Velvet seems to be something else since the ester concentration is lesshe suggested OWH (40-80) or LFCH (90-120) but didn’t commit to one or the other. Given the pungency of what I tried I wouldn’t say HLCF was out to lunch but one step below that is LROK which may be it. (See Matt’s rundown of the marques).
  • The difference between the straight “Rum Fire” and the “Rum Fire Velvet” has nothing to do with the label or the triple distillation, but the American vs European market labels (the name subsequently dropped thevelvetand both types were brought together with a common label design).
Nov 032016
 

rn-jamaica-1990

We should be grateful that some makers still have sufficient stocks to permit the issuance of rums old enough to votewe sure won’t see many of them much longer. This one does fans of the Jamaican rums no dishonourit’s great.

#313

With the recent 2016 release of the 1991 Jamaica SL VIII, which really is just about as good as they say and maybe even better than this one, I rummaged around my bag of tasting notes and remembered I had a bottle from that island from a year or two back knocking about and gathering dust (would you believe I actually forgot about it?) … so I brought it upstairs, re-tasted, updated the notes, and decided to jump it to the front of the queue. ‘Cause those Supreme Lords man, they’re pretty amazing, and we don’t see many rums this old from the indie bottlers all that often.

By now, after recommending them for many years, there is nothing new I can really add to Rum Nation’s company bio that isn’t already there. They’re not innovativeor “limited edition”in the same sense that CDI or Velier or even EKTE is, but they are very consistent in their own way and according to their own philosophy, and I’ve liked them enormously since 2011 when I first ran across their products and bought just about the entire 2010 release line at once. Almost always good, always adding a little bit here and a little bit there to tweak things a bit (like the Panama being changed to an 18 year solera, the new bottle design from 2014), and incrementally improving every year (moving slowly to higher proof points, the Jamaican 57% white and those amazing twenty-plus-year-old Demerara and Jamaica rums). They catch a lot of heat for their practise of adding sugar (sometimes it’s actually caramel but never mind) to their lower- and mid-level rums (the Millonario XO in particular comes in for serious hate mail). However this Jamaican SL VII has no such inclusions and is pretty much unmessed with, so rest easy ye puritans, and on we go.

Some details: this is a pot still rum, from Hampden estate, which is rapidly turning into one of my favourite Jamaican estates, like PM is for the Demeraras. It was distilled in 1990 and poured into 822 bottles in 2013 at a not-quite-so-spectacular 45%, after slumbering for almost twelve years in Jamaica (in ex-bourbon American oak barrels), before finishing the ageing regime in the UK.

rn-j-1990-2It’s always a toss-up for me whether I’m in a Jamaican or Guyana mood, and this orangey-amber rum showed whydeep rich licorice and honey started the nose off, billowing strongly out of the glass; the funk took its place, oak joined in, to which was added easier notes of mead, grasses (grasses? I wondered, but yeah, there it was), and some orange zest. Deeper, muskier and earthier tones took their turn, before fading off into fruity hints (unripe peaches and a half ripe mango or two). I was impressed as all get out to note a hint of fresh honeycomb (complete with waxy notes) with a clear, light floral undercurrent that all combined really well.

There was no divergence on the taste, as I’ve sometimes noted with Jamaicans, and the palate followed smoothly on from what was smelled. Smooth and warmyes, 45% could be improved on, but I can find little fault with what has been accomplished here. Quite fruity, acetone-like and estery, but also competing briny notes were in the mix. Citrus, sherry, the glue of an UHU stick, then cherries and very ripe apples on the verge of going bad. It tasted remarkably clear and crisp, with the funk being held at bay while never entirely disappearing. That might actually be to its detriment, because we look for a Jamaican profile, and it’s there, just not as in-your-face as we are led to expect by other independent bottlers who have no time for subtlety and smack you in the head with it. Finish is warm, remarkably long for that strength, with closing aromas of glue, sweet soya, a sort of mash-up of fleshy fruits, all leavened with a sly, crisp citrusy note that brings it all to a lovely close. Overall, it’s a lovely and approachable rum that many, beginners and aficionados alike, will savour, I think.

Rum Nation’s marketing is quite canny. Unlike the smaller independent bottlers, they don’t just do a single barrelfor them that’s too limiting. They do two and three and four or more at a time, which permits correspondingly greater volumes (usually in the low thousands of bottles, sometimes more, sometimes less). And they issue their high-end rumsof which this is assuredly oneat an ABV that’s more than the 40% which is practically a North American standard, but less than some raging full proof number that alienates (scares off?) all but the hard core. What that leaves us with is a relatively affordable, very accessible 23 year old rum of just under a thousand bottles, issued at a decent strength, and quality not to be sneezed at. For ensuring that sales and availability and appreciation go hand in hand, that four-way combo is a tough one to beat. This is a rum worth getting, and the great thing is, you still can..

88.5/100


Other notes

Bottle provided by Fabio Rossievery time we meet we argue over the cheque, whether it’s for a dinner we share or a bottle he’s provided. Sometimes I win, sometimes he does. I still owe him for this one, which I’ve had since early 2015.

The wooden box with its jute sacking which I so loved has been discontinued, but postage stamp pictures blessedly remain as part of the overall presentation.

Jun 302016
 

CDI Jamaica 2000 14yo 2

 

A rum that’s frisk to a fault.

Ever notice how many new Jamaicans are on the market these days? At one point you’d be lucky to see a few Appleton V/Xs chatting boredly on the shelf with an occasional dusty Coruba, and if your shop was a good one, maybe an indie or two. For over a decade, few knew better. Now, it’s not just J. Wray stuff that one can find with some diligent trawling: one can’t go online without banging into rums from Hampden, Monymusk, Worthy Park, Clarendon, Longpondwhich is all great. The rum resurgence is a long-established fact (disregard the ill-informed journos constantly harping on the way it is “happening now” every year), but methinks that Jamaica is just building up a major head of steam and there’s lots more and much better to come.

Velier left the island alone, which is somewhat of a shame, reallycan you imagine what might have happened if Luca had discovered a Caroni-style warehouse of some of these old distilleries? Few independents outside of Murray McDavid or G&M did much with Jamaican rumsperhaps the style was too different for popular consumption (sailors apparently didn’t care for the Jamaican component of their grog so its percentage in the navy blend kept dropping). One gent who bucked the trend and has been bottling superlative Jamaican rums for ages is Fabio Rossi (his first 1974 Supreme Lord 0 was bottled as far back as 1999 and we all know of the fiery white 57% baby from last year). And now Mr. Florent Beuchet of the Compagnie des Indes aims to capture some of the glory with this cask strength bad boy, sold exclusively on the Danish market, ‘cause they asked for it, and nobody else in Europe would pay the taxes on something so feral. The Danes smiled, shrugged, said “Okay da, så tager vi den,¹ and walked off laughing with the entire output of the barrel for their market, and the rest of us proles have been trying to get some ever since.

CDI Jamaica 2000 14yo 3Good for them all. I love those big bad bold Demeraras (who doesn’t?) yet I have true affection for the bruisers from Trenchtown as wellin a somewhat more tasteful and restrained way, it’s like they’re channelling the soul of Marley via a dunder pit and a decomposing guitar. I mean, just smell this 58% amber-gold full proof: esters, funkiness, herbaceous matter and a smorgasbord of rich ripe (almost too ripe) cherries, mangoes, apricots, sapodilla and tart white guavas. It’s not really that heavy: it presents with a sort of sweet, laid-back clarity and cleanliness that reminded me more of a Spanish style rum having a dust up in the yards with something fiercer and more elemental. But things didn’t stop there: minutes later molasses, vanilla and sugar bedrock emerged upon which rested yet other hints of squished strawberries (I know of no other way to express that), dead grass and some slightly off wine. Come on, you gotta admire something like this, 58% or no.

In a way that was both disappointment and relief, the twisty flavour bomb settled down after the initial attack of the nose. It was a medium bodied, clean, almost crisp rum, which is where I suggest Florent’s personal thing about continental ageing usually ends up (similar remarks are jotted down in almost all my notes). That was both this rum’s strength and its weakness, I thought, because the 58% coupled with that almost-but-not-quite lightness of the labial profile felt perhaps a bit too sharp. Still, get past it and suck it up, as the Danes would say, and indeed, once I did, the rotting vegetals of dunderous funk (or should I say the funky dunder?) surfaced once more, dialled down, clashing good-naturedly with some winey notes, green olives, rye, leather and a bit of caramel and molasses here and there. There was no way to confuse this with any Demerara rum ever made, or even an Appleton, and even on the finish there were points of difference from profiles we are more used to: marshmallows, molasses, apricots and brown sugar dominated, but that sly vegetal background still lurked in the background like a thief waiting for another chance to pick the pockets of your tonsils. Whew. Quite an experience, this. It handily showed any 40% Jamaican the door.

What else do we have? Well, the rum was Hampden stock, the outturn was 254 bottles, and as noted it was made exclusively for Denmark, bottled and released in 2015. No additives or adulterations of any kind, and for my money it’s a joyous riot of a drink, too badly-behaved to be anything but a whole lot of fun as you either quaff it with your friends or mix it into some kind of killer cocktail that calls for lots and lots of Jamaica sunshine, a spliff or two, and maybe some reggae tunes belting away to help it go down more easy. Not a great rum, but one that’s worth the coin any day.

I don’t know what the Danes are up to, honestly. Not too long ago they weren’t on anyone’s map of the rum appreciating nations of the world (was anyone, outside of France and the UK and the Caribbean itself?), yet these days they have one of the most active and vibrant communities of rum anywhere, and prices to match. Daniel’s new company Ekte just started making some waves last year (as if his rum bar didn’t already do that), my rum chums Henrik (of RumCorner reknown) and Gregers call it home, there’s an expanding rum fest, they all tell me it’s pedal to the metal all the wayand now the establishment commissions a rum like this? Hell, maybe I should move, just so I can get some more.

(#282 / 86.5/100)


Other notes:

¹Sure, we’ll take it.

  • The events behind why there is a special edition of CDI rums for Denmark is covered in the company bio. It’s a bit more prosaic than I recount above, but I can’t resist embellishments in a neat story.
  • Those same two sterling Danish gents, Gregers and Henrik, were kind enough to provide not just a sample of this rum for me to try in 2015, but the entire bottle. We’ll argue over who got the best of the exchange when we meet again this year as we demolish another set.
Jan 252010
 

Photo (c) and used with kind permission of Chris Dion

First posted 25 January 2010 on Liquorature.

(#008)(Unscored)

***

The Renegade line of rums is as clear a statement as any, that packaging sells: their bottles are so curiously different that one is almost compelled to take a closer look when one sees them on the shelvesand having seen, the itch to go spend some cash becomes an incessant feeling that must be assuaged. Or so I felt when I first saw them: that frosted glass bottle with the rich copper-bronze liquid swirling heavily within just makes me burn to blow some bucks, honestly. And it wasn’t a poor purchase either.

As I’ve noted in my review of the Trinidad 1991, Renegade Rums takes stocks from Caribbean distilleries old or closed, and matures them in oak barrels, then finishes them off in French oak casks that may have held Madeira, port, or wine. Their bottling runs are very small, numbering fewer than 2000 bottles. Because of this process, their rums have a characteristic whiskey finish quite unlike anormalrum, and are not as sweetthough I imagine dedicated whiskey drinkers will disagree vehemently and shudder as they reach for their single malts.

This Jamaican edition from 2000, originating from the Hampden distillery, was a selection for the November 2009 book club. As before, it has been aged in an American Oak bourbon cask, then enhanced for a period of less than a year in French Oak infused by Barac sweet wine (the bottle says Chateau Climens casks). For an 8-year old, the nose is impressive, redolent of bourbon and then wine, and more complex ripe fruits the more I sniffed it. The taste is of bourbon, mixed with apples and perhaps, just perhaps, a whiff of licorice, and it’s not overly smoothstill, to my mind it’s giving the Renegade Trinidad 1991 some serious competition. However, the finish spoils it somewhat, since it tastes the faintest bit bitter.

Renegade suggests drinking it neat, but the truth is, it’s a little too harsh for that, and I didn’t care for the not-quite-mellow whiskey-sour-fruit aftertaste. There’s a reason I favour rums over whiskey (quite aside from my background and history). It’s not bad, just not top of the line, and while the first impression is positive, I can’t say the finish is worth it, though whiskey drinkers will likely castigate me most thoroughly for this bit of barbarism. (If memory serves, the club appreciated it, just not to the point of leaving it unmixed).

On balance then, I would recommend avoiding the Renegade rums that are less than ten years old and sticking with the older stuffbut if you can find a decently priced bottle at all, then, bearing in mind their comparative rarity, you would not be going too far wrong if you bought the younger ones as well