An interview with Hampen Estate’s Christelle Harris

Christelle Harris, director of sales & marketing at Hampden Estate, agreed to answer a few questions. She is the niece of Andrew Hussey, the director of Everglades Farms and owner of Hampden Estate and the Long Pond Sugar Factory. After graduating from the University of Toronto in 2005, she returned to Jamaica to work in the family business. In 2008, she founded the Christelle Harris Charity Fund which aims at improving the infrastructure and learning environment in numerous schools in the Trelawny Parish.

Christelle, are you aware of the hype about some Hampden bottlings in Europe?

We were not in the past. When we first acquired Hampden, and for the first couple of years, I would catch a rare sighting of a private label Hampden bottling and thought nothing much of it. You see, we understood that Hampden’s history was one of selling fresh rum to a ‘middle man’ -mostly E&A Scheer. When we acquired the distillery, we maintained those relationships. So anything that was a result of that was not surprising. We were finished with it once it left the distillery gate.
Now that I’ve come to understand so much about the marketplace for rum, and particularly for the space occupied by unique authentic spirits like that of Hampden- I definitely am aware of the hype- and I do my best to share the knowledge with the rest of the team here in Jamaica (they have no clue about it).

What will be Hampdens position in the rum market in the near future? What kind of rums can we expect to see? Any high ester rums? How about full proof single cask bottlings? What is your target audience?

We will continue to produce rums that are 100% authentic. Those who really appreciate what Hampden is- that’s our target. It’s quite natural.

We love the high ester continental flavoured rums. The internet is full of rumors of what exactly goes into your muck holes. All I know is that you add banana leaves and dunder to your wash (besides the molasses and the yeast, of course) What else goes in there?  Where do the bacteria come from and which acids and esters do you create exactly?  Can you elaborate on the process?

To be honest, I’ve best seen it detailed by a very good friend of mine, and highly respected journalist, Matt Pietrek. Matt has come to visit us at Hampden where we have a wonderful, in depth tour. While it is open to all, rum novice and aficionado alike, the ‘rum geeks’ get the most out of it!
(This is the article Ms Harris is refering to -SCR)

Related to that, will we ever get a rum with a higher ester concentration than the HLCFs? At least the mark <> H should still be easily drinkable, right? How about the DOK?

Never say never, but it’s not on the table at the moment.

Do you know the mark and ester count/range of the rums from 1990, 1992, 1993, 1998, 2000 and 2001? These vintages all found their way to Europe.

The ester ranges that relates to each mark does not change (always is within the range). Once the marks are registered with the Spirits Pool Association in Jamaica, the ester count can’t ever change. The ranges were the same then as they are now. The only one that has been recently registered- since current onwership is LFCH (after my grandfather- Lawrence Francis Close Hussey).
Yes- the vintages found their way to Europe because they were being sold as fresh rum to bulk rum buyers directly from Hampden, then aged continental.

What is Hampdens current stock of older barrels? Do you have any barrels from the 1980s or even earlier?  If so, will we get the chance to taste them some day?

We only starting barreling when we acquired the distillery in 2009. We did not get any barrels or aged rum.

Together with Velier, you created the first fully tropically aged full proof Hampden. Was that an individual case or will we see similar projects in the future?  Perhaps also with other bottlers? Are you still selling to independent bottlers?

It was the first of many great things to come in the future. Ruruki ‘Luca’ Gargano is highly regarded by the Hampden team and family. We are thrilled that he (Velier) released our first tropical aged rum. However, please note that we do not sell to independent bottlers.

When the Hussey family bought Hampden in 2009, what was the main motivation? How much of the machinery and perhaps former workers did it retain? Was there a lot of modernisation involved?

The acquisition of Hampden was a part of a larger excercise. The government of Jamaica wanted to privatize the sugar companies. We put in a bid and won. This was for Long Pond Sugar Factory & Hampden Distillery. My grandfarther, Lawrence Hussey (now deceased) was the son of a farmer [His father was the first man to pasteurize milk in Jamaica.]. As a boy, my grandfather was a great student and a fantastic sportsman, but at 13 years old, a large tumor in his head and neck forced him into experimental sugery and cobalt radiation therapy, preventing him from reintegrating into the school system after a lack of available rehabilitation. He got an entry level job at Monymusk Sugar Factory, and quickly excelled, becoming the timekeeper for the estate within a year of his emplyoment. This was when sugar was ‘King’ in Jamaica. That was the era he gew up in; and it was always a fream of his to be able to own a sugar factory, although they were just farmers. Half a century later this opportunity arose- and he and his wife could now afford it. The rest, as they say, is history.

Let’s talk about Long Pond. A report in The Gleaner (August 21, 2015) states that Everglades Farms wanted to shut Long Pond for good. Later we got to know that Long Pond will stay closed for at least 2017 (The Gleaner, November 4 2016).  What is the current status of the sugar factory as well as the distillery?

The Long Pond Sugar Factory remains closed at the moment. It is not possible to continue pouring investment into a losing entity. We have invested more than 5 times what we initially estimated. We are considering the options, and intend to make our facility at Long Pond a profit generating one.

The Gleaner (August 21, 2015) writes that “the Hussey family is contemplating a closure of the Long Pond Sugar Factory, while keeping the rum distillery operations running at Hampden”. This statement is a bit ambiguous. Is there a chance that some of the stills from Long Pond distillery will be moved to Hampden? What are the chances of getting Long Pond style rums in the future? Was the LROK perhaps even such an attempt? By the way, what exactly does LROK stand for? (I figured that OK stands for Owen Kelly, how about the rest? How about HLCF – is High Level Continental Flavoured correct?)

Allow me to make a very clear distinction:- Everglades Farms Ltd owns Hampden Estate (rum distillery) and Long Pond Sugar Factory- Long Pond Rum Distillery is not onwed by Everglades Farms Ltd (it is owned by National Rums of Jamaica Ltd -SCR). Long Pond Sugar Factory and Long Pond Rum Distillery share a gate and some lands- but are separate entities.
Regarding the marks of rum:- The marks are directly related to the ester range; for example- HLCF = 500-600 esters- LROK (We don’t actually know what the acronym means- no one seems to know)- it is possible the last two letters could mean Owen Kelly or the last could relate to the name Kennedy- a Mr. Kennedy was the distillery manager when LROK was created.- LROK was created because they were trying to make HLCF and it came out too light! But they decided to keep it and register it with the Spirits Pool Association.

With hindsight, do you think buying Long Pond was a mistake? 

Christelle Harris, marketing director at Hampden Estate

This is not what we imagines when we bought Long Pond and Hampden. This was not my grandfather’s dream (and by extension our dream) realized. But I do not believe in mistakes! Much positive has come of our businesses in Trelawny, and through difficulty, higher achievements can be realized.

Last but not least, what is your favorite Hampden rum of all time?

I have not tasted them all. But my favorite is our first tropical release- Hampden HLCF 2010 (Habitacion Velier) (reviewed here -SCR).

Thanks a lot, Christelle! 

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