The next stop in Jamaica brings us to Hampden Estate for a look at the distillery behind Rum Fire Overproof and a long line of heavy pot still rums.
Last fall, at the rum festivals in Berlin and London, we had the pleasure of meeting the Hussey family, owners of Hampden Estate in Jamaica. They were launching their brand new Rum Fire Overproof Rum and several samples were poured as we talked about their distillery. The rum was amazing and we quickly bonded with our new friends, so when they invited us to pay them a visit in Jamaica, we had to accept.
Hampden Estate has a long history of sugar production and rum making in Jamaica. The property was originally surveyed back in 1743 and from 1779 rum was being sold out of the ground floor of the Estate’s Great House. Throughout the years they have become well-known for Heavy Pot Still rums and using generations-old techniques that have been passed down from family members and Master Distillers.
In 2003, the Jamaica Sugar Company took over operations and continued to produce the same traditional high ester rums for export to Europe. In 2009, the Hussey family bought the estate at auction from the Jamaican Government. The new owners have enthusiastically taken over with a goal of respecting and promoting the history of the property and continuing to pump out their unique style of rum.
The Estate sets in Queen of Spain Valley in Trelawny Parish on the island’s northwest side. Our journey from Montego Bay was uneventful and we arrived at the property after only an hour’s drive. As we slowly crept up the King Palm-lined driveway, the old sugar factory, distillery and Great House came into view and we were all amazed at the historical beauty of the Estate. We instantly knew that our visit was going to be something special.
The high ester Hampden rums are legendary in the cane spirits community and have a very distinct flavor profile. The ester content is attained in fermentation and our tour begins with a look at the unique methods employed in the very early stages of the process.
Unlike most distilleries, no commercial yeast is used during fermentation at Hampden. Instead, cultures are initially grown and regenerated in outdoor natural vats, then combined with the wash and stored in over 50 traditional cedar tanks within the distillery. It ferments for 7 days and is then left to settle for another 7, an eternity in the world of fermentation.
The wash is then transferred to one of four Forsyths copper pot stills and distilled using traditional methods. Hampden Estate makes a range of bulk rums which are used for creating unique blends for brands in the Caribbean, Europe and North America. Some of their highest ester rums are used in the food, perfume and flavoring industries.
The next stop on our tour was in the rum lab for a brief primer on consistency and quality control. After, we had a chance to taste rums with varying flavor profiles. Some were quite mild, but as the ester content increased, so did the character and intensity. Finally, we sampled Rum Fire, their new overproof rum which was recently released in Europe. It is surprisingly smooth, but at 126 proof, should definitely be respected. It’s already winning awards and is destined to be a huge hit worldwide.
After our tasting we take an opportunity to walk around the entire distillery property. Much of it is in the process of being restored and with plans for a visitors center, tours and a rum store, the future looks very bright.
We find that some of the beauty of this old property is in the ancient sugar factory structures that stand on the landscape like industrial pieces of sculpture. Many have been brilliantly repurposed for current and future use and our favorite was the koi pond fashioned from the foundation of the original sugar mill.
Our day ended on the porch of the Great House for a cold drink and conversation about what we can expect to see from Hampden Estate and Rum Fire in the coming years. This is an exciting project and the Hussey family will surely make a successful run at fully restoring this beautiful property. Distribution is expanding, so keep an eye out for their products around the world.
Special thanks go out to Christelle Harris and Angie Hussey-Harris for the wonderful tour of the property and to Mark Middleton and Paul Harris for all the technical talk. We look forward to seeing the continued rebirth and evolution of Hampden Estate and know that the production of your unique style of rum is in very good hands.