At the end of 2020, Jamaica’s Hampden Estate Distillery launched the first in a new annual series of rums that are designed to enhance its profile on the market. The distillery, which has been running for hundreds of years, only began producing products under its own label in 2018. (Before that, it sold off virtually all of its stock to other bottlers for blending.)
The famed distillery is rightfully looking to capitalize on its rising street cred, and a bottling like this seems to be the way to do it. What’s in “Great House” 2020? “Created from 80% 2013 vintage OWH (Outram W Hussey) rum and 20% 2017 vintage Diamond H high-ester rum, long fermented with wild yeasts and dunder, distilled in their famous copper double retort pot stills, aged entirely on the island and bottled at 59% abv.” If you’re not a rum nerd all of that may not mean much to you, but OWN is Hampden’s low-ester distillate, which is clearly designed to balance out the high ester component. What are esters? Sweet-smelling molecules that give rum its trademark fruit flavors.
That’s probably enough introduction to get us started, I’d think. Let’s dig into the dunder pit and get started with a tasting.
The fruit hits the nose immediately as a sample is poured from the bottle. Intense pineapple notes, bubble gum, vanilla bean, ample hogo, and a hint of smoke all waft from the glass immediately. Everything is amped up on the palate — and at nearly 60% abv, how could you expect anything less? — the pineapple note taking on a well-scorched, caramelized character, with notes of citrus peel, vanilla, baking chocolate, and ample red pepper. Spicy and racy on the finish, things turn more toward the cedar box than the baking cabinet, with a gentle woodiness enveloping the experience.
This is hot stuff to be sure, and while I had a small 50ml sample to work with, it never even occurred to me once to try adding water to what is quite a glorious rum. Dilute this attack of flavor and dull this powerhouse expression of tiki in a glass? I think not.