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A Visit to the Hampden Estate Rum Distillery on Jamaica

In 2016 I took a trip organized by WIRSPA (West Indies Rum and Spirits Producers' Association Inc.) and their quality marque system ACR for Authentic Caribbean Rum. As this was a few years ago, this blog post is somewhat of a photo-and-data dump for you to enjoy photos and for me to refer to as notes for the future. If you'd like to read a detailed narrative write up from the visit, please check out CocktailWonk's blog post

Here are some notes, and then some pretty pictures. 

  • Hampden Estate dates back to 1753.
  • They've obviously been making rum the whole time, but have only been aging rum since 2010. 
  • They estimate 60% of the Jamaican rum purchased by Europe doesn't go into actual bottles of rum, but into cosmetics. tobacco, and confectionaries.
  • The maximum allowed ester count from Jamaica is 1600 ppm by law. This was established in a law in 1934. (I don't know how they counted esters in 1934.) They say they could get up to about 1700-1800 ppm if they tried. 
  • There is a claim that the use of dunder may have begun at Hampden, and everyone copied their method. 
  • They have four pot stills on site.
  • We learned that what we thought of as "dunder" is actually "muck." Dunder is stillage - waste from the still after distillation. Muck is a combination of cane juice, dunder, cane solids, molasses, and water. A bunch of muck is added to the just-fermented molasses of a new batch and distilled together to create the super-flavorful, high-ester rums. 
  • They add 11 parts fermented molasses to 7 parts dunder before distilling. 
  • They generally don't need to add yeast to their fermentation - there is a lot of it around the distillery. 
  • They ferment for about 2 weeks.
  • Their highest ester mark is called D.O.K. that has 1500-1600 ppm esters
  • Rum Fire, which is spreading around the US like... a rum fire, has about 500-570 ppm esters, where Hampden Estate Gold has 80-100. 

 

The fermentation room we visited was the only time I've had to wear a hard hat at a distillery where I really felt happy to be wearing one: The room was full of wooden fermentation vats in a wooden room with wood floors, covered in spider webs, and smelling like a deep level of hell from the muck. I almost threw up it was so powerful (was actually looking for a place to vomit but barely managed to hold it in). It was amazing and the type of old-school rum-making that nobody gets to see.

They embrace the stank and that's what makes their rums so special. We weren't supposed to take any pictures in there but pictures wouldn't do it justice. You'd have had to smell it to believe it. 

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