Hampden Great House - The Vertical Review
Updated: Jan 7, 2022
Hampden distillery. One of the oldest sugar estates in Jamaica. Wild, funky, bold rums. Dunder pits. Heavy pot still rums. Unique and extreme. With a cult following amongst spirit enthusiasts from around the world...
In 2019 Hampden released a limited 'estate bottling'. This was an experimental blend of two of Hampden's 'marks' initially planned to only be available the distillery and at rum festivals & other events round the world.
Presented in familiar sexy black bottles indicating that this series is a collaboration with Velier. The label, as with the name, celebrates the beautiful home of Hampden - The Great House, Trelawny Parish (NW Jamaica).
The huge success and interest in this 'distillery edition' led to second, and now third releases. These have been a little more available but the huge interest has seen them sell out very soon after release. All three are, as you would expect, fully tropically aged at the distillery.
As these rums are blends, it's worth re-visiting the ranges of 'marks' produced at Hampden. From the lowest ester (these would be considered high by the scale of most other distilleries!) to the most extreme funk levels available on the planet. (shown below is a measure of the esters in grams per hectolitre of pure alcohol gr/hlpa of each 'mark')
20ml of each, left to breath for 15 mins, nosed first and then tasted. I worked up from 2019, 2020 to 2021.
Assisted today by the Average White Band
All three are a beautiful golden colour. 2020 looks marginally the darkest.
2019 Great House (red label), 59%, 3066 bottles
80% OWH 7yr
20% <>H 3yr
*confirmed by Hampden as <>H
Nose: Trademark big Hampden. Beautifully perfumed. Punchy yet approachable. A little acetone, salty olives, fresh vinegar (rather than a rotten malty one), a touch of buttery pastry, and a truck load of fruit. Green apples, black bananas, green bananas, pineapple, lots of pineapple - both the fruit and some slightly off pineapple juice. And a light but balancing core of wet vanilla oak. Gingerbread. Deep rich caramel. It's funky but it's rich & delicate at the same time. Very enticing - I'm enjoying the nose very much.
Mouth: Spicy at first, then really fruity. And sweet. Tropical fruit combined with pear drops. Then a splash of vinegar. That's quickly washed away by a little cherry coke. So much going on. No bad notes. The long finish is buttery pastry with that slightly off pineapple juice. Sweet and a bit rotten at the same time. Sweet sweet esters. Flavours that I love in a rum. An exciting, punchy and yet classy Hampden [90pts]
2020 Great House (green label), 59%, 5800 bottles
80% OWH 8yr
20% <>H 4yr
Nose: A touch softer, less feisty than the 2019. Really warm and rounded for a Hampden. It's got the signature vinegary tropical fruit, but a smidge more approachable. Lighter on the fruit with more oak, cigar box and some minerality. Quite buttery. Again very inviting. Again some spice - pickled ginger. Those black bananas are a constant in the foreground, with a little smoke coming and going in the background.
Mouth: A beautiful rum. Not the complex journey of the 2019, but warm, complete and delicious. It's Hampden through and through. Beautiful sweet esters. A touch of nail varnish remover, plenty of black banana and vinegary pineapple. A held together with a big warm spicy core of vanilla, ginger and chilli. The finish is long and very very enjoyable [89pts]
2021 Great House (orange label), 55%, 2400 bottles
80% LFCH 7yr*
20% C<>H 4yr*
A change to LFCH for the majority part of the blend, with the monster C<>H picking up the remaining 20%. Should result in the highest overall ester count to date. The drop in abv & bottles available are both, on the surface, a bit disappointing. However let's wait and see the impact on flavour and availability...
Nose: I don't know if it's the slight drop in abv but this is definitely less punchy. Without doubt a more accessible rum. Likely that was the goal. The high notes from the last two have been rounded and softened. Nose is a touch thinner. Still offering some delightful Hampden. Plenty of spicy hot ginger. The vinegary rotten pineapple and banana are there but less evident than the 2019 & 2020. Less fruity overall. Some peelings that I hadn't noticed before - citrus zest, banana skin, apple skin. And some wood polish. A different Hampden, also very good and very inviting, just a shame it's a touch thinner than the others.
Mouth: As with the nose, a little thinner and more watery than the first two. [Thinner - for a Hampden. Do not confuse this as meaning thin :-) ] It's very tasty and has no bad notes but it's just not quite as big. And for me, Hampden needs to be big.
There's olives, vinegar, tropical fruit and buttery pastry. And then there's a few gaps.
Next up ginger, chilli, caramel. A firey mix. A touch acrid at the end. Where are my layers of lingering sweet esters? This is a funky rum but it's different funky. Drier. And the finish... again the gaps. It's good no doubt. But it's not a match to the other two. [86pts]