There’s no way around mentioning Hampden when talking about Jamaican- or high-ester rum. Founded by the Scot Archibald Sterling in the Trelawny Parish in 1756, Hampden is well-known for its long ferments, muckholes and high-ester rums. In 1779, Sterling built the famous Hampden Great House, whose ground floor served as a rum store until the early 20th century. At some point in the 19th century, Hampden estate has been passed on to the Kelly-Lawson family and subsequently to the Farquharsons, who also built the Hampden Wharf in Falmouth during WW I to ship rum and sugar. Today it’s used by large passenger cruise ships such as the ‘Harmony of the Seas’. In 2003, Hampden estate has been bought by the Jamaica Sugar Company who did not operate the distillery. It was then that their rum reserves have been sold to spirit brokers in Europe. Six years later, Hampden has been bought at a public auction by the Hussey Family (owners of Everglades Farms Ltd), who are looking to revitalize rum production. With the increased hype around the distillery and the attention they attract it seems that the Estate is finally prospering again.

hampden dunder tanks
Dunder tanks at Hampden Distillery. Photo by Matt Pietrek.

Today, the distillery is home to 89(!) fermentation tanks, with capacities between 9,000 and 13,500 litres. And indeed, fermentation takes on a very important role at Hampden. Unlike (most) other distilleries, they add dunder, the throwback of the previous distillation process, to their fermentations. Adding these acid-rich remains increases the acidity of the mix. The acids, combined with the used wild yeast and other natural bacteria living in the fermentation vats work for a minimum of two weeks to create the wines. Depending on the desired style, this process called esterification is prolonged up to a month to create one of seven marks. The marks at Hampden are as follows, where the numbers denote esters in g/hlaa:

OWH Outram W. Hussey 40-80
LFCH Lawrence Francis Close Hussey 85-120
LROK Light Rum Owen Kelly 200-400
HLCF Hampden Light Continental Flavoured 500-700
<>H Hampden 900-1000
HGML Hampden George MacFarquhar Lawson 1000-1100
C<>H Continental Hampden 1300-1400
DOK Dermot Owen Kelly-Lawson 1500-1600

The highest of these are typically used as flavouring for confectionaries, baking extracts and sweets of all sorts. To get an idea on how to classify the different vintages released by independent bottlers so far (until the reopening in 2009 there has almost never been more than one batch that made it to IBs per year, hence batch and vintage can be used more or less interchangeably), please refer to the following listing:

  • 1983: HGML
  • 1990: C<>H
  • 1992: HLCF
  • 1993: <>H / C<>H
  • 1997: C<>H
  • 1998: HLCF
  • 2000: LROK
  • 2001: <>H
  • 2002: LROK
  • 2007: C<>H
  • 2009: DOK
  • 2010: LROK, HLCF, <>H, C<>H, HGML
  • 2011: OWH, LFCH
  • 2012: OWH

Distillation takes place in one of three 5,000 litre pot-stills with two retorts and a condenser. Yes, Hampden only uses pot-stills! Distillation is identical for all rums produced at Hampden, meaning that the only differences arise during fermentation.

I’ve had the chance to talk to Christelle Harris, the director of sales & marketing at Hampden Estate. Click here for the interview.

The following is the compulsory list of tasted rums from Hampden:

Official bottlings and corresponding brands:

The featured image is by islandroutes.com.