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 could…but 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 me – single 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 nose – it 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 falter – it 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? Probably…though I wouldn’t. Hampden has always managed to produce rums that — whether aged in Jamaica or in Europe — set 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)

May 112017
 

Rumaniacs Review #038 | 0438

A “Rare Old Jamaican Rum” the ceramic jug says, and I believe it.  In all my travels around the world, I’ve never seen this kind of thing for sale (and buying beer in a glass jar at a kiosk in the Russian Far East don’t count). We’re living through an enormous upswell of interest in rums, with new indies and new bottlers popping up every time we turn around…but stuff like this shows us that even back in the day, there was some amazingly well-presented juice floating around.  Here, cool factor is off the chart.

As for the rum?  Very nice indeed. Aged in the tropics (of course – where else would Appleton be ageing its stock?) and better than both the other 12 year old we looked a the other day, and the modern one.

Colour – Amber

Strength – 43%

Nose – Initial attack is as dusty and dry as a mortician’s voice (and he’s wearing well polished old leather shoes, that’s there too).  Oily, vaguely like cigarette tar (not my favourite smell).  Coffee and chocolate, citrus rind, and then a nice procession of tart ripe fruits…mangoes and red guavas.  Some saltiness and dates and grapes, not much funk action as far as I could tell.

Palate – Some bitterness of unsweetened black choclate starts things off, hot salt caramel over a coffee cake (same kind of dessert taste I got on the last 12 year old).Wood shavings, some more leather, more cigarette smoke, and then the fruits timidly emerge – citrus mostly, also bananas (barely), and a dash of breakfast spices, nothing overbearing.

Finish – Weak point of the experience, after the above-average smell and taste.  Dry, sawdust (the mortician is back, shoes squeaking), leather, light chocolate, caramel, and the barest hint of the fruits retreating.  Not impressed here, sorry.

Thoughts – It’s better than many other, more recent Appletons of various names (like “Extra”, “Reserve”, “Legacy”, “Private stock” and so on) and those of younger ages, beats out the other twelves that have been tried…but not by leaps and bounds.  It’s not a furious game-changer. It sort of edges past them as if ashamed to be seen at all.  A good rum, and I liked it, but it does leave me puzzled too – because I thought it could have been better and didn’t understand why it wasn’t.

(84/100)

Some interesting and divergent perspectives on this one, from other members of the Rumaniacs.  You can check out their opinions in the usual spot.

May 082017
 

Rumaniacs Review #036 | 0436

The second in a small series on a few older Appletons. The V/X is not a sipping rum (and never was), but more of a mixing agent with just enough jagged edges, undeveloped taste and uncouth to make it shine in a cocktail (and always has been).  This may be why it was my tipple of choice in the years when I first arrived in Canada: it was clearly a cut above the boring Lamb’s and Bacardi cocktail fodder that flew off the overpriced LCBO shelves, even in those simpler times when two-ingredient hooch was what passed for an elegant jungle juice, and we all loved 40%. Just about every online reviewer under the sun who began writing in the mid-to-late-2000s has some words about this one on their site – in that sense it really might be something of a heritage rum.

Much like the 21 year old from the same era, little has changed between then and now.  The general profile of the V/X remains much the same, nicely representative of Jamaica, and the only question one might reasonably ask is what the V/X actually stands for. The rum is around five years of age, no less.

Colour – Amber-gold

Strength – 40%

Nose – It starts off sharp and dry, with an interesting melange of orange peel and caramel, bitter burnt sugar, before settling down to a slightly creamier smell of wine barely on this side of being vinegar, black chocolate, olives and nuts, and a  faint but discernible ashy-metallic (almost iodine) note I didn’t care for.  Lack of ageing is clear even this early in the game.

Palate – For flavours as punchy and pungent as the nose promised, the palate falls flat and dissolves into a puddle of wuss, all directly attributable to the strength.  Much of those variety of the smells is now lost in the sharpness (and thinness) of alcohol.  Still, after waiting a while and tasting again, there are raisins, more orange peel, bananas very much gone off,  brine, caramel, anise and tannins which, with the thinness, make the whole taste somewhat searing and astringent, even raw.  Just as the nose did, once it settled it became somewhat creamier, and more enjoyable.

Finish – Nothing to report.  Medium long.  Some oak and raisins, maybe anise again, but not enough to matter or entice.

Thoughts – Clearly a young rum.  Lacks body and punch and is jagged in the overall nose and palate.  It’s never been touted as being anything except an entry level Appleton, and that’s perfectly fine, as it is appealingly honest in a refreshing kind of way, and doesn’t pretend to be — nor was it ever marketed as — more than it really is.

(75/100)

Other Rumaniacs reviews on this rum are at this link.