Hampden Estate in Trewlany Parish. Photo from the Cocktail Wonk Blog

The Limits of Funk: Hampden Estate


I've never much understood the concept of "smoothness". The things I put in my mouth for pleasure, I want them to be exciting, expressive and soulful. I'm not necessarily always looking for higher proof, but I am always looking for an experience. In this regard, I am most fortunate to have Jamaican rum in my life, particularly the amazing juice coming from Hampden Estate in Trelawny Parish. 

Hampden Estate is one of the last great traditionalists in rum making. Before the advent of huge global brands situating themselves within a stylistic category (i.e. molasses-based "Spanish" style, "solera blah blah blah"), rum was made at sugar estates, as the economic usage of the byproducts of sugar production. The last of its kind, Hampden Estate is operated like a sugar estate from the 18th century, creating their rums from a mix of molasses, freshly pressed sugar cane juice, and whatever else is left over; distilled in a beautiful old pot still with two retorts (chambers attached to the main pot), creating an unrivaled array of flavors. There really is nothing quite like it.

Fermantation Warehouses. Photo from the Cocktail Wonk Blog

The most important aspect of the production process at Hampden is fermentation. The molasses and sugarcane is fermented wholely with natural yeasts for a minimum of two weeks, creating rich and intense flavor. And then there is dunder. Traditionally, Jamaican distilleries will repurpose dunder (the leftover matter in the still after distillation) in consecutive distillations, similar to the sour mash method in bourbon production. Hampden takes it a step further, processing the dunder into “muck”, adding, and whatever solids are left over from the crushing of the cane. This is all consolidated into muck pits, where it is left to continue fermentation and further biological activity for months, sometimes even years. While my grasp of chemistry is quite limited, in broad strokes the purpose of these muck pits is to promote the development of bacteria, which in turn create acids. Flavor in distilled spirits mostly comes from esters, and esters are created when particular acids are chemically bonded with alcohol molecules. The more virile the muck soup, the higher the acid content, leading to heavier, funkier rum. This muck will then be added in various quanities to the wash before distillation. In the 1905 text "Report on the Experimental Work of the Sugar Experiment Station", muck was cutely given the term "flavourings" when described in formulas for the distillation of rum in Jamaica. 

Legends in Jamaica state that there were additions of goat heads, bats, and other malevolent creatures to the muck pits to promote even more biological activity, though Vivian Wisdom, the distillery manager at Hampden laughs them off. The continued appeal of these stories is perhaps fed by the very real presence of the evil-sounding “muck graves”; pits dug into the earth where muck is sometimes buried to preserve it for future use. Nevertheless, this historical process is what sets Hampden apart; they are the last remaining producer in the rum world still working in such a traditional manner. For anyone looking for to dig way deeper, there is a wonderful article on the blog site Boston Apothacary, which can be found here

"Muck Grave" at Hampden Estate. Photo from Daniele Biondi

For centuries Hampden Estate has sold off their rums in bulk, mostly to European blenders, used to spice up batches of lighter rums (called common cleans), or rarely bottled as single-cask expressions, all aged in Europe. Quite interestingly, I've found historical references to German Rum, a process where German companies would buy up incredibly high ester, funky rum from Jamaica and mix it a small amount with neutral grain alcohol back home, thereby reducing cost, and also saving on taxes. When we heard that there would be a release of aged bottlings straight from the distillery, we knew we had to have them. The two on offer today are aged for 7 years in the tropical climate of Jamaica, proofed down with natural spring water, and bottled without any addition of color. A blending of several marks (different batches, each with its own ester level) these are wonderful introductions to the unique distillates produced at this timeless distillery. We've also added the radical white overproof Rum Fire offering from Hampden, and a special limited release from our friends at the Italian company Velier, just to round things off. 

We'll also have our favorite rum specialist, Kate Perry of Maison & Velier in store pouring these fantastic libations for your pleasure tonight, February 14th, from 5 to 7pm. 

Today's offer is available for in-store pickup, delivery in New York City, or shipping within the state.


Hampden Estate Pure Single Jamaican Rum 46%

Rested in barrel for seven years in the tropical climate of Trelawny Parish in Jamaica, this is the first official distillery bottling of aged Hampden Rum, and we couldn't be more pleased to see it. The nose is a medley of tropical fruit and savory, slightly vegetal notes. The signature "funkiness", or hogo (a term adopted from the French haut goût, or high taste, used to describe the je ne sais quoi bold character and aromatic mélange of high ester rums) apparent in all Hampden distillates is front and center. The palate is assertive, with more pronounced savory and vegetal character, intermingling with notes of coconut, charcoal, roasted meat, rubber (in the best possible way) and slightly decaying pineapple and banana. Oskar Kostecki

  • rum
  • 10 in stock
  • no discount
  • $52.99

Rum Fire Hampden Estate Jamaican Overproof Rum 63% ABV

Our friends over at a fellow retailer sometimes just put "!!!!!!!!!" in product descriptions, and I'm tempted to copy them on this one, as there are almost no words to describe Rum Fire. Clocking in at a huge ester level (over 500 ppm) and bottled at 63%, it might rip your face off and kick you in the privates, but you know, you just might like it. Untamed and bombastic, this is funky rum at its finest, guaranteed to take you on a journey. A hate it or love it scenario. An angel-demon from bygone days shredding sweet and funky heavy wattage straight to your soul. I can't help myself, I'm utterly in love. Oskar Kostecki

  • rum
  • 7 in stock
  • no discount
  • $29.99

Habitation Velier Hampden LFCH 2011 62%

If you've stopped by the shop and asked me about rum, chances are you've heard about Hampden Estate. I just can't help myself, there is something about this historic Jamaican rum producer that makes me lose my mind; before I know what's happening I'm on my knees blurting out half-coherent sentences about why this might be the most important distillery in the entire world. If you're curious about the long form story, call the shop or email me, but the shorthand is this: Hampden Estate has been making uncompromising rum in exactly the same way for close to 300 years, using a blend of molasses, fresh sugarcane juice, and dunder (a combination of spent mash after distillation and the residue after fermenting molasses, that's then buried and exhumed and added to these pits and then re-distilled and it's all kind of crazy, etc) all fermented for long periods of time using only wild indigenous yeasts, creating the most wonderfully funky and compelling spirits. Finding pure, aged Hampden is always a joy, finding 100% tropical-aged Hampden is a revelation. The LFCH mark is a quite recent one for the distillery, not as high in esters as some others produced here, but this is still a cacophony of tropical fruit, petrol, funk, and that special Hampden magic. Bottled at 62% and I wouldn't drink it any other way. Oskar Kostecki

  • rum
  • 2 in stock
  • no discount
  • $104.99

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Hampden Estate Pure Single Jamaican Rum 60%

This is everything the 46% bottling is, and more. A richer texture and amplified aromatics and flavors. A few drops of water help tame the alcohol and lift the aromatic profile without sacrificing its potency. More intensity of tropical fruit also becomes apparent, as well as more spice and nuttiness. Incredibly complex, this is a truly spectacular rum. Oskar Kostecki

  • Out of Stock
  • rum
  • 0 in stock
  • no discount
  • $67.99