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  • Writer's pictureStuart Pearce

Hampden C<>H blind side-by-side tasting review

A monster high ester mark ... a monster tasting.

8 outstanding Hampden C<>H - it's a knockout!! (hope not literally)

Starting the year with a review of Jamaican rums, why? Because I'm finally making my pilgrimage to 'The Rock'. Easter is going to be high ester, and I can't wait!

Hampden Estate Distillery One of Jamaica's oldest and most historically significant rum distilleries, situated in the northwest Parish of Trelawny, needs absolutely no introduction. Rum nerd mecca with its extreme funk, wild yeast, long fermentation, pot stills, muck, added cane juice vinegar, and dunder pits.

Hampden, as with many distilleries, produces several different rum styles (8 in Hampden's case), identified by unique 'marks' or 'marques'. The mark I'm reviewing today is right up there, even by Hampden standards.

About the mark - C<>H or "Continental Hampden".

10 days fermentation followed by 10 days dead wash, this mark checks in at a daunting 1300-1400 g/hlpa, the 2nd highest ester level Hampden produces. Intense stuff by any standards. Rums with these super high levels of esters and congeners were originally only produced as an addition for blending and flavouring (rum blends, inc cream, chocolate etc etc), only very recently have mad rum maniacs started drinking this kind of stuff neat.

C<>H has only been made and released to the market on 5 of 29 years (between 1983-2012 *as far as I can tell). Today I'm featuring highly rated bottlings from 4 of these 'vintages' (only 1997 is missing).

I've drunk and enjoyed plenty C<>H; heavy in Ethyl Butyrate, I know I'm in for flavour bombs that reek of extreme tartness, acetone, and wild fermenting pineapple. What I'm hoping to find, and what will separate the good from the great, will be bottles with increased depth and complexity. Rums with more variety of flavour. Rums that maintain the wild side of this mark, but with added refinement and finesse.

Today's side-by-side follows my series of Hampden Mark/Style deep dive reviews linked here:

I will be tasting these entirely blind, however to break them into manageable chunks it will be structured as heats (by year), and a final.

Round 1 - 2007

First up, a bright fresh round of younger continentally aged beasts.

Rum A -

Nose: A huge nose, a real assault on the nostrils. Smoked, almost meaty cough candy twists, artificial tropical fruit, funk, not too much acid which is a pleasant surprise. Parma violets, bbq smoke, sticking plasters, glue. The sweetest of the 3 but happily not sharply tart - risks being a touch sickly but the taste will tell

Mouth: A fresh pineapple, citrus zest, and vinegar smash up. Sharp, explosive. Fresh and zingy. Very aggressive tartness and sourness on the mid-palate (makes you wince). More of a challenge than a drink. Amazing freshness. Long fiery sharp old pineapple juice on the finish. Enjoyable as an experience, extreme stuff [85pts]

Rum B -

Nose: richer, more indulgent and approachable. More 'even' (not sure if that's a good thing - i don't want the wild too tamed) Smoked pear drops. Piles of varnish and acetone (B wins on nose)

Mouth: Smoke carries through onto the palate. Really powerful rotten aged pineapple juice. Young and fresh. Gluey taste. A touch less sharp making it more enjoyable to drink than A. Still a massive slap in the face (think "you've been Tango'd"). Apple vinegar rounds out a long finish. Too much acidic vinegar at the end for me, almost mouth-numbing like you get with Sichuan peppercorns. [86pts]

Rum C -

Nose: marginally the most aggressive alcohol of the 3. Cherryade. Buttery, a touch less punchy, and maybe less of an assortment of fruits on the nose. Wisps of smoke again. Over time more richness and depth emerge.

Mouth: A flavour bomb. The nose belied what was to come. There's more to this one than just overripe sour pineapple. A sour fruit cocktail. More complexity, more flavours fighting it out. Still very much a wild rum but more interesting and more drinkable than the first two. Fun stuff. No holds barred, a feisty barrel of funk. Winner in this heat [87+pts]

Reveal and winner of Round 1 (2007)

Rum A - That Boutique-y Rum Company “Cinema Series”, Secret Distillery #11, 63.5%, 15yr, 385btl

Brilliantly packaged in Boutique-y's distinctive squat 500ml bottles adorned by an imposing Frankenstein

Rum B - Holmes Cay Hampden 2007, 65.9%, 15yr, 244btls

Rum C - Winner of Round 1 - Kill Devil Hampden 2007, 62.5%, 10yr, 270 btls

Round 2 - 1993

Next up, after a solid break, clean glasses, and freshened palate ... a pair of big guns. Very long continentally-aged Hampden legends take to the ring

Rum A -

Nose: Burnt tyres. Deep and smokey. Sweet smoke on an otherwise dry medicinal nose. Amazing stuff. The flavours just keep coming. Salty fruit salad leads finally into rotten Hampden esters. Lovely. Pleasingly different.

Mouth: Beautiful. Different again on the palate. Burnt rubber. Medicinal. Smokey. Yet the expected sharp rotten pineapple is never far away. Roasted spices and some chocolate. Not as wild as some, but very very good. [90-pts]

Rum B -

Nose: About as nicer thing as I've ever smelt. Wonderfully sweet, complex, and complete. In Hampden terms this is perfectly balanced.

Overripe banana and mango - just the right amount of rottenness. Salted nutty caramel. Almost a fruit vinegar infused version of Caramac if you remember that. The fruit on this is incredible - citrus, cherries, and all the tropical fruit. Indulgent.... and endless. I'd go as far as to say the nose is perfect.

Mouth: Thick, intense, sharp but not too sharp. Wonderful fruit - grilled pineapple, lime, rotten papaya & banana. Spicy stuff. Acetone, balsamic vinegar, engine oil and salty olives. If I'm being really picky, the taste falls very slightly short of the unbelievable nose but it's still one of the best rums I've tasted. Amazingly aromatic and complex with a minutes-long rich decadent finish. [94pts]

Reveal and winner of Round 2 (1993)

Rum A - Salon du Rhum 1993, 57.8%, 28yr, 187btls

Rum B - Winner of Round 2 - Nobilis No.2 1993, 65.7%, 27yr, 168btls

Round 3 - 2010

Now the tropically aged round, featuring an honest-to-goodness unicorn - the 12yr Serie Cedre C<>H.

Rum A -

Nose: Glorious. Deep, rich, a touch of menthol. Caramelised tangerine. Caramelized glue!! Quite dry. Burnt nougat. Barbeque. The barrel influence is pronounced on this one -more vanilla, more tannin, less fresh funk, less fresh overripe fruit. Really lovely stuff - not as wild a nose as C<>H usually hits you. [10 more minutes and the C<>H funk is more present - yet balanced beautifully with rich deep oak.]

Mouth: The C<>H is not hiding any longer. Sharp and fresh. Really surprising- doesn't match the nose at all. Like unleashing a little wild animal in your mouth. And it has sharp claws! Very tasty. Pineapple & guava vinegar. A touch of brine. Cherry stones. Pear drops. A long, long taste. Moorish salted fruit. Lovely tannic caramel oak keeps a vague hold on the reins. Very good indeed. [94pts]

Rum B -

Nose: Fresher, headier, almost floral, candied. Some glorious old-fashioned sweetshop notes. The Hampden funk is more present here. Beautiful rotten fruit with calming oak. Yes, beautiful - in a crazy way :-) [marginally the better nose of the two]

Mouth: Fun stuff. Puts a smile on your face. And then slaps you hard around the face. A massive rum that demands a lot of time but rewards every minute. [93+pts]

Reveal and winner of round 3 (2010)

Surprisingly different, but both are absolute crackers.

Rum A - Winner of Round 3 - Cedar Series C<>H 2010, 63%, 12yr, 246btls

Rum B - Habitation Velier C<>H 2010, 68.5%, 10yr, 1215btls

The Final

The winner of each round, plus the Rum Cask 1990 which had a pass into the final as I didn't have any 1990 playmates for it. Arguably the best C<>H from 4 major years, head to head.

Rum A - so much fun. Captures the essence of this mighty mark in an unrestrained and wild way. tastes like it would be great in cocktails or a fun sip to demonstrate the wild side of rum. Beautiful complexity - opens up amazingly over time. Sweet rotten spicy funk. A tiny glass would lift any lineup. Probably not something I'd reach for often to sip neat as it's just too tart. Wild ... done well. [88pts]

Rum B - oh wow. Immersive. Beautiful. I'm getting really good furniture polish. Wax. If (as I suspect) it's the 2010, it's getting better and better all evening. Spicy, vibrant pickled fruit. Bursting with flavour. Rancio. Pickled chilli. Rotten tropical fruit. Lots of everything here. Huge depth and a finish that lasts aeons. [94pts]

Rum C - huge! waves of beautiful flavour. Perfectly integrated alcohol, initially sweet pineapple, candyfloss but with deep musky mid notes. Spicy stuff. Lots of licorice and plum vinegar. Pineapple sherbet. This is the nose of the night. Possibly the best nose of my rum life. The nose is a dead giveaway, this must be the Nobilis. Mouth - amazing depth and complexity. Wild but morish and just balanced enough by the barrel age. [94+pts]

Rum D - Polish. Eucalyptus, rich and honeyed, burnt dates, faintly medicinal, straw, burnt ends. Savoury, rounded and complete. Special stuff Mouth - medicinal. burnt eucalyptus, dried pineapple, and dried papaya. A very different Hampden. Excitingly different and delicious. [91+pts]

Reveal and overall winner

My scores crept up for a couple, potentially due to the extra oxidation, or just that it was a bit later in the day. Key here are the relative scores, to determine an overall winner. Scores are time-specific and very subjective, direct side-by-side comparison a little less so.

Rum A - Kill Devil Hampden 2007, 62.5%, 10yr, 270 btls

Rum B - 2nd place, just - Cedar Series C<>H 2010, 63%, 12yr, 246btls

Rum C - overall winner - Nobilis No.2 1993, 65.7%, 27yr, 168btls

Rum D - The Rum Cask 1990, 55.6%, 30yr, 260btls (50cl)

Conclusion - this took 9 hours! The longest of any tasting I've done. (Did the blind approach work better for you, or make the article too long and harder to follow?)

It was a lot of rums, plus the heats and final approach, however, the biggest factor impacting the timescale was the intensity of the rums. I could (and did) happily nose some of them for most of an hour. And when you taste them, a tiny sip goes a long way!

[Unexpected outcomes of this tasting were a ruined palate the next morning (like I'd burnt my tongue! ) And the most incredible house smell to wake up to (Glad I didn't wash the last set of glasses)]

C<>H is an amazing mark that evokes waves of tropical flavour. Score-wise, this was a showdown of some big guns, the tasting included several of my highest-ever scores. Overall a narrow win for the Nobilis 1993 thanks to its breathtaking nose. On taste alone, I think the second-place Cedar Series Velier C<>H 12yr might have just edged it! I wish this was available outside the boxed set.

Score benchmarking - As I did to validate my 90-point benchmark (here). I have previously given 94/95 points to an elite few rums (inc. HV Hampden HGML and HV Long Pong TECA 05). It's overdue time I put some of these heavy hitters side-by-side to see if my scoring has changed over the years, and whether they are all fairly and equally at this level. Perhaps a treat for my upcoming birthday :-)

Scoring: the +/- indicates direction I sense this might move in future tastings

Coming soon... I've finally scribbled something down to give a flavour of the first 6 months of our crazy new van life.

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I’ve really enjoyed these side-by-sides. Even though you usually have bottles I’ll never find in the states.

Stuart Pearce
Stuart Pearce

Cheers. We're lucky in Europe no doubt. Happy for you that you now have the likes of Eric Kaye bringing some great releases to your shores

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