This was a very exciting case study and the final rum of a four part series where I also looked at a Peruvian rum bottled by Plantation, Worthy Park’s WP 502, and a special Velier bottling of Barbados’ Foursquare distillery.
Hampden produces exciting stuff and is easily one of the great distilleries of the world. I’ve covered them in the past with a case study from a reportedly 20 year old bottling (bottled as Golden Devil and aged in Europe) and then with their extraordinary Rum Fire. Their distillery is unique relative to the others in Jamaica because they only own double retort pot stills. For this rum, they took a high ester mark and stretched it to a manageable degree with a low ester common clean mark also distilled on their pot stills. This is a different approach than other producers that stretch pot only with column. The final ester count going into the barrel actually has a lower count than Rum Fire, and this creates an extremely high degree of elegance.
The hallmarks of terroir are all over the Hampden process. The facility itself leaves its mark with ancient fermenters and large distinctive double retorts. Every photo you come across on the internet is enchanted. A unique water source feeds the ferments and then there are site specific yeasts and bacteria that are carefully stewarded in a way that is almost wildcrafted. This latest product sees seven years of tropical aging at the estate which the label claims is equivalent to 25 years of “continental” aging.
Hampden is likely the most heritage of all the Jamaican properties. They were the darling of the colonial Experiment Station. When you read the old early 20th century documents from Charles Allan, S.F. Ashby, and H.H. Cousins, you’re reading about Hampden. Cousins, a government employee, created the high ester process in collaboration with Hampden (recovering acids from the retorts with lime). When Ashby took microscope photos of Schizosaccharomyces Pombe distillery yeasts, they likely came from Hampden. As an aside, I think I found a Hampden yeast collected by Ashby or Cousins (1913) in cryogenic storage. Knowledge of Pombe fission yeasts spread around the island in the early 20th century, but they may have been first naturally harnessed by Hampden in the 19th century.
When Hampden comes up, we think of production methods locked in time, but they also appear to always have been at the center of research and innovation. They hosted more curious scientists than anyone else on record, putting them at the forefront of the movement towards guided traditional practices (an emerging spirits industry trend). We see innovation from Hampden (and no doubt specifically Vivian Wisdom) again because, as huge on flavor as they are likely used to working, this rum presents all that feisty terroir with a well balanced chemical composition. The result is a heavy but opulent and gloriously drinkable rum that is ready to go at 46% ABV.
This rum manages to have the perfect ratio of low to high boiling point esters. There was no headiness obscuring all the deeper aroma and persistence. The rum oil character isolated in fraction 5 was on another level. It was of the sensual type and became visually a curiosity because, on the surface of the volumetric flask, a droplet associated with rum oil appeared to float within another droplet! Something special is obviously going on, but it is likely to remain mysterious.
[This really needs to be shot again with an SLR and ideal lighting. The photo depicts a droplet associated with rum oil floating within another droplet.]
The aroma of rum oil trailed well beyond fraction 5 which is the hallmark of extreme nobility. This mingled with the pot still characteristic of noble (non-acetic) volatile acidity. The last fractions and stillage were definitely tart which is always encouraging (there was also possibly a laissez faire amount of tufo). This makes for a well structured rum. Like a few of the others rums, fraction 8 possessed something mysterious and wonderful that is still unidentified. Possibly a noble volatile acid? What beautiful thing could lurk that far back?
Hampden’s seven year old expression has everything going on and perfectly exemplifies the idea of rum oil/ester radiance.
Fraction 1: Concentrated to the point of non-culinary aromas. [In this rum, the ethyl acetate was designed to start low so it could rise during maturation A pot distilled low ester rum was blended with a high ester rum.]
Fraction 2: Generic fruitiness and no non-culinary aromas. This is surprising because I thought this fraction would be much more concentrated.
Fraction 3: Fairly neutral but there is almost a thin veil of generic fruitiness.
Fraction 4: Definite fusel oil but not exactly a wraith.
Fraction 5: Quite intense. This produced unique rum oil droplets. There was a large drop in the center of the volumetric flask and then water seemed like a different droplet floating in the center of that. Very tricky to photograph. There was a point where the rum oil associated aroma smelt one way at the beginning of collecting the fraction and then another way at the end which was much more seductive and sensual. My theory is that it is either a different compound at different point in the run or possibly experiencing the radiant phenomenon where rum oil valorizes the perception of something else like butyric acid. Whatever happened it was extra beautiful. This fraction has very significant long chain esters and they are penetrating. They are almost a little cloying when isolated. There is a pretty intense acridness on the palate associated with esters. Everything about the fraction is extraordinary.
[When other spirits stretch pot with column, this rum stretches heavy pot with light pot which may be a strategy that keeps the esters elegant, but the rum oil absolutely opulent. The two different ferments may actually produce different types of rum oil which is why there is so much depth and complexity.]
Fraction 6: Definite rum oil as well as gustatory acidity. Many attractive facets. Wonderful persistence.
Fraction 7: Almost a faint trace of rum oil. Definite gustatory acidity, but it feels like less than fraction 8.
Fraction 8: There is interesting and beautiful dimension here. Almost a whiff of butyric acid but then something else that is very attractive. Significant gustatory acidity, more so than I would have thought.
Stillage: Significant gustatory acidity and signs of tufo.