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  • Writer's pictureStuart Pearce

Hampden <H> - stuff of legends

Updated: Dec 29, 2021

Jamaican rum has an exciting mystique. It stands apart from other rum producing regions with it's instantly recognisable fruity, funky flavours.

This bold flavoursome rum is truly ingrained in the country's culture.

There are now only 6 operating distilleries in Jamaica, of these - two stand out for producing super funky rums - even by Jamaican standards!

Thanks to the use dunder to fuel inject the long slow fermentation, and traditional pot stills (amongst other elements), Hampden and Long Pond estates are able to produce some of the funkiest rums on the planet.

Dunder - a bit like sourdough - is a process of maintaining a 'live' pit of samples taken from previous ferments. A splash of which is added to kick start each new fermentation.

Adding these acid-rich remains increases the acidity of the mix. The acids, combined with the wild yeast and other natural bacteria living in the fermentation vats, work for a minimum of two weeks to create the high ester (and other congener) wines.

Depending on the desired style, this process (called esterification) is prolonged up to a month to create one of eight 'marks'. The marks at Hampden are as follows, the numbers being esters in g/hlaa:

Rums with ester content nearer the legal limit (1600) were historically only used as a flavouring in food, and other industries looking for authentic rum essence. A recent surge of rum 'geeks' have created a market with appetite to taste these super extreme rums.

The mark of <H> we're tasting today is high enough on the Hampden scale to be very funky without being their most extreme. In any other company this mark would be easily the most funky! The few limited releases of <H> over the years have been very well received - making this arguably the most sought after Hampden mark. Balancing extreme with actually drinkable!

Today's tasting has the added interest of comparing young v old rums of this mark. Tropically v continentally aged. Cask strength v slightly reduced abv. Interesting & exciting stuff, time to get stuck in...

Usual format, 15ml of each, left for 30mins to open up, nosed first then tasted, in increasing abv order.

Silver Seal 1993, 50%, 20 conti yrs

The elder statesman of the group, produced way back in 1993, released in 2013 and now only rarely seen in auctions. Aged for a massive 20 years, albeit continentally. Bottled by Silver Seal at the lowest abv of this group 'just' 50%.

Eyes: Amazingly light colour after 20 years - underlining the huge difference between continental & tropical aging. A light white wine colour. Some thickness leaving clear legs on the side of the glass.

Nose: Bright, rich and fruity. Very fruity - pineapple and banana. Some sour vinegar but not as much as I would expect - maybe just a light cider vinegar. Very inviting. Some baked cakiness - pastry & marzipan. A little oak. Lots of freshness in this - green apples, tonnes of grilled pineapple. Well balanced. Lighter than some, but very fresh and enjoyable.

Mouth: Light, quite thin, smoky. Zesty tropical fruit. Surprisingly thin for 50%. It's enjoyable but not as big and mouth filling as I'd want. Some pineapple, pastry, olives, a little oak. Reasonably long finish. A very nice rum but Hampden needs to be bigger. [86pts]

Kill Devil 2001, 58.8%, 17 conti yrs

Amazingly still available at this 17 year continentally aged offering was released by kill devil a couple of years ago.

Eyes: Again, super light and bright, Very similar look and thickness to the Silver Seal.

Nose: A little heavier, and less vibrant than the Silver Seal. More oak. A bigger rum. Some of the light fresh vibrant fruit have given way to a richer, deeper varnish. Not as aggressive as some funky younger Kill Devil Hampden I've had. Less glue, vinegar & pineapple, more oak. Different, still good. More refined and controlled.

Mouth: Much better mouth feel. Spicy with a good weight of oak. A refined Hampden. Moorish and lingering. A little glue & varnish. Some toasted tropical fruit. Quite a lot of oak. All works well. Not as exciting as some, not as bold as others, but a good Hampden [87pts]

Old Brothers 2001, 61.9%, 18 tropical + 1 conti yr

A very exciting recent release from old brothers. The longest tropically aged Hampden ever released. An absolutely huge 18 tropical years. Released about a year ago in very attractive distinctive little 500ml white bottles.

Eyes: Dark dark dark. Wow. It's a rich gold. Incomparible to the other 2001 from Kill Devil. Perfect dark gold & copper. Thick and unctuous.

Two Hampden from 2001, same Mark, very similar abv - Continental vs Tropical aging!! Amazing.

Nose: A very different nose to the other 2001 (KD). More oak, more marzipan and cake, more varnish. Richer, deeper, warmer. The oak and alcohol are perfectly integrated. Tropical fruit, a touch of coffee, ripe banana, caramel, a lovely little touch of vinegar. Maybe a hunt of tomato! Very impressive. Very complex. Slight toasted coconut & a medicinal edge. Really looking forward to tasting it.

Mouth: Yum yum. A really delicious drop. Well balanced throughout. No harshness even at 61.9% Lovely oak spine that supports the rum without overpowering. Perfect sharpness as you'd want from a funky Hampden. Loads of mango, pineapple and overripe bananas. Spices, olive tapenade, a really complex rum. Dry, a touch of salt, and then another wave of sugary tropical fruit. Lots and lots going on. Very bitter - maybe a smidge too bitter. I had a sneaky compare to a drop of HV HGML - it's not up to that level, but it's very very good. [92+ pts]

Samaroli Caksus 2011, 62%, 10 conti yrs

One of a trio of Hampden very recently released by legendary bottler Samaroli as a set... "The Caksus Trilogy". Maybe a few still available. Much younger than the first 3 tasted today. Distilled in 2011 and aged continentally for 10 years.

Eyes: Lighter gold wine colour. Surprisingly darker than the Silver Seal & KD. Some limited thickness.

Nose: Nice bitter, dry and sour tropical fruit. Typical Hampden. Glue, vinegar and pineapple. A little briney olives. Maybe a tiny touch light if we're looking for the perfect young continental Hampden but a great nose. Yum.

Mouth: A big punchy young Hampden. I love this exciting style. Like a big slap in the face with vinegar coated, rotten, tropical fruit salad, Ha ha. To be clear, that's a good thing. Sweet candied fruit. Olives, brine, glue, vinegar. Lovely thick oily mouth feel. Very ripe mangoes. Vanilla. A little oak holding it all together. Such a different experience. Reminds me of the Kill Devil 10/11 year 2007 - really exciting rum, Long long signature Hampden finish. [89pts]

Habitation Velier 2016, 62%, 5 tropical yrs

The most recent release of the group. One of a trio of hotly anticipated Habitation Velier releases for 2021. A 2016 distillation - aged tropically for 5 years. As always with Habitation Velier releases, the bottle has plenty of information - telling us of a 35% angels share and 2472 gr/hlpa of congeners.

Eyes: Not quite as golden as the Samaroli but darker than the first two long continentally aged rums. Very thick

Nose: A bit flat and sweaty. You know it's Hampden but it's not got the freshness and vibrancy of some of the younger funkier rums, nor the richness of the older tropically aged ones. There's glue and fruit, a dry oaked side, some plastic. Lots of pasty & marzipan. Salty. A little musty which doesn't work for me. Good but not great.

Mouth: Hard to judge this one. There's a little gap in the initial taste, and a long quite medicinal finish. Lots of spices. A bunch of tropical fruit. Vinegar. Some barbequed burnt ends. Definitely missing something at the back of the mouth. Good bitterness. Good level of oak. Some great bits but doesn't fully work together. [86pts]

Velier Warren Kong, 2010, 62%, 7 tropical yrs

Eyes: A stunning, but sadly still sealed bottle. Decided 5 was enough for today. I've heard great things about this bottle so looking forward to cracking it open for a future tasting :-)

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