By: David Othenin-Girard
K&L Staff Member
David's review: We were absolutely astonished when our friends at Golden Devil phoned up to say they'd found a few barrels of really old Hampden. Now there's new issues with the trademark so this can't be sold with that special distillery's name on the bottle, but I'm certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was distilled at the special distillery in Trelawny parish almost 30 years ago. To appreciate the rarity and uniqueness of this special cask, one must first understand why Hampden is regarded by many to be one of the best rum distillers in the world. Hampden has changed little since its creation several hundred years ago. For centuries it was more or less traded as a commodity. Its ability to produce high quality high ester spirits was prized by blenders, perfumers, confectioners etc. These high ester rums maybe never were intended to be consumed on their own, their intensity making them perfect as a tiny part of a larger flavor profile. But just like the big smoky Islays, which were once seen by the industry more as a tool of the blender than as a style to be marketed outright, these rums have developed a following among the few who have had the chance to experience them. And to further the analogy to single malt, while there are many excellent distilleries on the island where this is distilled, nothing is more highly prized than old versions of the most traditional distillers—Bowmore, Ardbeg, Laphroaig. Except all of those distilleries have updated their technology more or less to join the modern era. Hampden is still creating spirits as they might have a century ago and they were doing just that in 1993 when this special cask of rum was distilled. Back then, there was likely no market for this as a standalone cask and the fact that it has survived this long is as incredible in and of itself. And of course, the price reflects the great rarity here, but in the grand scheme of things, there will be a moment when someone realizes what an inexplicably reasonable price this ultimately was. After nearly 30 years this ultra-high ester rum has achieved a level of complexity that few drinkers will ever experience. It won't suit every palate—like Islay Scotch, you're either in the ester club or out, but for those in the club, this will likely go down as a legend. Let's taste! The color is old gold. Immediately on the massive nose fresh paint, shellac, and varnish stun the senses. Once the initial ester wave numbs the brain slightly, we begin to pick up a stunning bouquet of aromas: midrace F1 pit stop, salted lemons, green & black olives and their brine, bananas in all stages of ripeness and putrefaction. An absolutely impossible mix of intensity and near sensory overload on the palate. Simultaneously wildly rich, sour, salty and sweet. The heat is numbing and helps to temper the initial shock. Vibrant with a freshness that's undeniable but coupled with a near heart stopping power. Now this spirit is full strength and adding water is obligatory. Just a few drops and the varnish relinquishes its hold and the whole thing is taken over by the tropical fruit and the salty olives. The smoke is there still, but it's clean and linear. If you could get limestone to ignite, I'd imagine that's close to what you might smell. The texture is now downright thick—mostly on the lemons and the salt, but with a bevy of exotic herbs and botanicals added. Ardbeg lovers rejoice. Absolutely in love. I'm desperately afraid because all I want to do with my life is sit here and drink this. Very dangerous stuff.