Review #18: Hampden Great House 2020

Hampden Great House part 2: return of the funk.

The second iteration of the Hampden distillery edition has come to grace us with its presence. Normally distillery editions are only available at the distillery, not with Hampden. For why should they limit themselves to only selling this rum on the property; with their momentum being as huge as it is currently and with the severely limited travelling capabilities due to Covid-19.

This year’s edition is somewhat similar to the 2019 edition, with some differences which should make it interesting to try both side by side. This years blend consists of 80% OWH and 20% <>H, compared to the 80-20 split of last years OWH and DOK respectively. This should result in a slightly less funky rum, since the ester count drops from the DOK to the <>H by about 500-600gr/HLPA (DOK: 1500-1600, <>H: 900-1000). This drop of course does in no way shape or form mean a worse rum from the start. In the wise words of Luca Gargano “the biggest boobs aren’t always the best boobs.”

The label remains pretty much the same as last years, only the colouring has changed from red to green. I wonder what next year’s colour will be (I have 1 year of inner debate to go on this essential factor of the rum).

The rum dropped at about the same price as the 2019 edition, but by the time you read this review it will have sold out on the primary market and it’ll probably be gathering absurd prices on the secondary market.

Well, let’s go to tasting… One thing’s for sure! The expectations are stellar.


Colour:

Light, goldenbrown. a tad darker than the 2019 edition

Nose:

The nose carries some spiciness and tobacco and a bit of tar. these are the first things that jump out besides the classical Hampden bouquet. The smells are heavier and less fruity than the previous iteration. Somehow I also get a mineral smell, a bit like rocks being hit by a waterfall.

All this of course is in symbiosis with the classical banana, pineapple Hampden notes. along with some zesty citrus (mainly orange).

After the first sip I start to get some smokiness and peat on the nose (see Taste for why)

Taste:

Let’s start at the beginning. the first tastes that come to my puny brain are meaty mangos and papayas and then, all of a sudden smoke. It almost feels like I’m drinking a peated whisky for just a second. Not bland for a first sip, innit?

This blend has one extra year of barrel aging, and it’s noticeable. This and the different composition of the blend create a wholy different experience than its predecessor. This year the rum is heavier and darker than its counterpart. more towards say… Caroni than other Hampdens, those rubber and tarry notes aren’t very far of.

These heavier elements do start to fade and mix into some lighter tastes after a bit. with some slight vanilla popping up, accompanied by cinnamon and nutmeg.

Finish:

The finish is semi-long and mainly cinnamon/nutmeg-spicy and a bit meaty, with a residual smokiness.


Rsiking sounding like a broken record: this tastes like a completely different rum than the previous version. I’ve now had a couple of these “wow, this is a different Hampden”- type moments in the last months and I don’t know whether it’s because my taste has somehow changed or whether it is actually the diversity that Hampden can put out there.

Between the 2 current Great Houses, the former is greater for me. The 2019 is just so funky and fruity and quintessentially Hampden (or at least what I assume everyone likes about hampden). The 2020 edition has a darker scent and taste than its counterpart. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a very very good rum, because no matter what Hampden does create wonderful rum regardless. This edition is just doesn’t do it for me as much as the 2019 does it. (edit:) This is the back-up meal you choose if the restaurant doesn’t have their world-famous steak.

9/10

Links for more information.

Here are some links to other bloggers who have done amazing blogging and amazing pieces on the more technical parts of the spirit.

Bloggers in general

Anything from The Cocktail Wonk

On distillation

Great essays by The Lone Caner

On esters

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Review #17: Rivers Antoine

Looking forward by looking back

The obscure cult-legend of Grenada: River Antoine Royal Grenadian rum. What is there to say to fans and where to begin for a layman?

The distillery was established in 1785. A bit later than big names like Mount Gay (the longest still operating distillery in the world, 1703), Appleton estate (1749) and Worthy Park (1740’s). But contrary to all these distilleries, Antoine stayed in the 18th century in all its pre-industrial glory or backwardness, however you see it.

Everything about the distillery is old. The cane is pressed by a water powered cane mill, the stills are heated by locally scavenged wood. There’s no controlling equipment whatsoever, so the rum is never quite the same, in flavour profile or ABV. Therefore, the percentage mentioned on the bottle is just a general guideline. There are 2 -let’s call them- expressions; one for local consumption, which is bottled with at an ABV of at least 75% and one for export (of which there’s very little) which is bottled at around 69% (nice).

The distillery has earned it cult status with rum fanatics (more specifically with the hogo-niche) through its wild fermentation, wildly inefficient yet very flavourful distillation and the whole mystique surrounding this rum.

This is only a short summary based on The CocktailWonk’s article of what the distillery actually is. It’s a great read, a deep dive that’s at once educational and easy-reading. Read it! Now!

The bottle in my possession, I got from Spirit Academy. They recently dropped a small amount of bottles, again thanks to Gargano, who is understandably a fan of the distillery. So getting it to Europe in a small quantity was his latest pet project.

The bottle’s aesthetic (if you can call it that) is very artisanal and authentic or cheap and Lidl/Aldi-ish, however you see it.

Colour:

I’m running out of ways to say something is clear. So you know… it’s … it’s clear, and pretty see through… yeah…

Nose:

A very deep and heavy nose presents itself straight out of the glass. Almost nothing like the funky Jamaican rums. Comparable to Clairin, but heavier and with less grassy notes.

This smells more like briny sardines that’ve been laid in the grass and dirt for a little while. And then put into their tin can, the salt still quite present. At times the alcohol really comes out with a whiff of eyewatering pungency; If your nose is dear to you, don’t put it to far in the glass as I just did, twice (what’s that saying about a donkey and a rock?).

After some breathing the rum reveals some lighter notes; grass, some varnish and tropical fruits come up. Quite the varying nose.

Taste:

Yes, sweet Mary mother of Jesus and all that’s holy !!! This is something to careful with. It’s like drinking gasoline that’s on fire, then eating a cigarette. Yet I want to go straight back for another sip. The second and third sip are still challenging, hot and spicy. To be honest, the sheer power of it all never really subsides.

The full 69% is just hardly drinkable and enjoyable for any mere mortal.

Here’s my attempt at some actual tasting notes: the palate is very dry, leaning on sour. The briny and oily nose extends through the taste as well, though the fish doesn’t accompany it. More varnish and spice are along for the ride.

Finish:

The finish is more of the same. A warm hearth filled with peat remains for minutes. Other than that there are trace amounts of the varnish and spice are also present.

This really is the rum equivalent of the exorcist. All the while you’re drinking it, you’re thinking “What the hell am I doing?” and you’re thinking over all of your lives decisions. Yet it still manages to intrigue, it still challenges you to tame it. Even though you know you’ll never truly be able to handle and understand it completely, you’re still chasing that ultimate Nirvana of conquering the beast. Actually; I’ll change my comparison, it’s probably like a bad heroin habit.

Personally (and by now, unsurprisingly) I like it. It’s challenging, interesting and nothing like I’ve ever drunk. This being said, it really is a manic assault on the senses and the mouth as a whole and I believe the novice of it all can wear of pretty fast and it can get boringly brutish. That’s why I’ll give it two scores. One for all you crazy psychopaths (of which I’m partly one), and one for regular people. I can only recommend giving it a try, if you find one out there in the wild. You might love it, you might hate it. But it’ll blow you out of the water regardless

Self-destructive-sadomasochistic-wax-play-fetish-score

10/10

Everyone else

5/5

Overall

7.5/10

Review #16: Hampden 2020 single casks, selected by The Nectar.

something kind and something wild

By now, Hampden doesn’t really need an extended introduction anymore. So let’s dive right in.

Since last year (2019), Hampden has been releasing single casks. Last year there was one for some of the major rum/whisky festivals and one for LMDW and a one off (the HLCF/DOK). Tastings can be found here.

This year, La Maison & Velier decided for a broader approach. They’re releasing a couple of single casks exclusively for some European countries: 4 in France, 2 in Belgium, and many more in other countries.

Some of the biggest and best importers/liquor stores get to select their barrels. These are then given a nice presentation showcasing birds endemic to the Trelawny Parish, where Hampden is located.

These country exclusive bottlings (much like the previous one, and probably the following ones) will no doubt make the prices of these bottles skyrocket on the secondary market or make people trade some of theirs for bottlings from different countries, because who doesn’t want to know all of the endemic birds in Trelawny?

The 2 bottles for Belgium are selected by The Nectar; the very well respected importer and bottler. The casks they selected are: #487, an 8 year old OWH bottled 250 times at 60% ABV and #498, a 10 year old LROK bottled 260 times at 62.5% ABV. Each with its respective bird (The Yellow Shouldered Grossquit and The Rufous Tailed Flycatcher respectively)

I’m not going to dick around much this time and get straight to the tasting


Cask #487: OWH 8y

Colour:

Light golden, basically identical as the standard release Hampden 8.

Nose:

The familiar Hampden notes, but tempered down. Pretty much what one would expect of their lowest ester marque. A deep fruitiness with your familiar banana-pineapple combo but all very mellow. A bit of orange and mango. All of this is combined with hints of cake. On the nose this is a pleasant summer fruitcake.

Compared to the LROK, this feels cleaner and more well behaved. Something newcomers will probably enjoy more than the heavier and somewhat “dirtier” notes that can be found in the LROK

Taste:

Pretty darn good. As the glass touches my lips and this golden fluid slowly drips in, I immediately become happy and melancholic again. The initial shot of chocolate followed by a steady flow of fruit is a welcome start to actually tasting it. There a small tingly spice, nothing overpowering though. The timidity of the nose is continued throughout the palate. All good things, in gentle amounts. Quite a bit of vanilla as well, more than what I’m used to in other Hampdens. It is a vanilla with a certain fraîcheur, kindly assimilated with the trademark Hampden flavours.

Again, a lovely little thing, mellow and kind. A bit of an underrated wallflower.

Finish:

The finish is not very long. Which was to be expected of a lower-ester rum. There is a woody quality that remains. Most of the fruit disappears after a couple of seconds. And you’re left wanting for more, ready for the next sip.


Cask #498 LROK 10y

Colour:

No real difference here either.

Nose:

The nose is immediately more pungent than the OWH. It’s definitely not up to par with your HLCF C<>H or god forbid the paint stripping goodness of DOK. Instead there’s a present fruity scent that gently fills the room, like being hugged just a bit tightly by a fruit basket. It’s very nice to smell the evolution from OWH to LROK. The particular scents are very much the same, only more pronounced and rougher around the edges. The extra 2 years does add a touch more vanilla.

Taste:

Wow, I didn’t expect this. A very different experience than what I’m used to. The first thing I notice is pepper, there’s some pepper and bread in there. The heavier notes really are more present here. The vanilla pops up again. After a while the fruitiness does start to break through. And how… spiced mango, banana and papaya. The Varnish that we all know and love also makes a fleeting appearance. These 2 sides alternate, with each one stealing the limelight from one another a couple of times.

A very interesting if at times somewhat un-Hampden like. I tasted this at the Spirits In The Skies zoom call and was blown away, and from what I remember it tasted a bit differently (then again, I did have a regular 8y, Rum fire, and the OWH before this at the time… so yeah). Its not my favourite Hampden (that spot still is reserved for the 2019 Hampden Great House), but it is an interesting showcase of the diversity that Hampden can bring.

Finish:

The finish is slightly longer than the OWH, bringing more spice and depending on the time either the fruity or the woody notes. Hardly both.


First of all, the fine folks at The Nectar did a good job at picking 2 solid casks from the Hampden warehouse. Though it might actually be harder to pick a bad one than a good one when it concerns Hampden-type casks.

I think the OWH is a great beginner’s guide to Hampden. All the necessary notes are present, but you get a nice introduction. Nothing is overpowering and all is pleasant. There’s no extremities that take getting used to, overall a good rum. It is a shame that this is a single cask, since most Hamdpen collectors or drinkers will probably enjoy the heavier stuff more. Also most beginner’s won’t have access or motivation to buy a single cask bottling.

The LROK is weird one, at my first tasting it was mind boggingly good. Today it is has shown an other side, a more experimental side. With notes I haven’t quite linked to Hamdpen at first. I do recommend trying this, even if it is mainly to broaden your perspective of what Hampden has to offer. This, for example would be more what collectors and drinkers alike should enjoy. Something unique and new.

For me the kind nose of the OWH wins me over more, the palate of the LROK intrigues me and the LROK’s finish delivers over the OWH. The LROK does walk away with the win, mainly because of its unexpected turns alongside with the familiar notes appeal me more than the easy-going OWH.

OWH

7/10

LROK

8.5/10

Review #15: Bar Ran’s funky juice

The first of many?

Here we are with a very special bottle (to me anyways). Today’s review will be the funkiest juice bottled by the funkiest man I know. Bar Ran’s funky juice.

Okay, so for anyone who’s not really into the cocktail scene or Belgian bar scene; let me explain.

Ran Van Ongevalle is one of the best (if not the best bartenders) in Belgium, Europe and the world. In 2017 he won Bacardi Legacy with his cocktail Clarita. He was co-owner of The Pharmacy Knokke and worked in The Artesian in London; after which he opened his own summer pop-up ‘Palo Cortado’ in 2019, which was so successful it was extended into the winter. In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic he opened his permanent Bar: Bar Ran. I do wonder how he got the inspiration for the name.

Full disclosure, I worked with or for him for a couple of years, but since I’m not on his payroll anymore, I can say whatever the hell I want.

The summer of 2020 was a hot one, which means it was perfect to make buttloads of daiquiris. With rums ranging from Rum Fire and Savannah HERR (of which we sold out one whole bottle in 2 hours) to foursquare Sagacity and even Velier Royal Navy Tiger Shark and so much more, it’s safe to say we made a LOT of daiquiris.

After a summer full of daiquiris, during the second Covid-wave and the lockdown, Ran decided to bottle his own rum. So people could take a bit of Bar Ran’s identity home with them.

The rum chosen for this special bottling hails from the Lluidas Vale and it possesses the WPE marque… now that we all know what distillery the rum is from, we can all set our expectations astronomically high. The juice is unaged and bottled at 63% and it clocks in at an ester count of 393.11g/HLPA . The bottling is a collaboration between 1423.dk (Denmark), The Nectar (Belgium) and Bar Ran (Belgium). And only 132 bottles have been produced.

All bottles have already sold out, so you won’t be able to grab one. Though visiting the bar might enable you to try it, the way you should. With a crazy show by the man himself.

Enough talking, let’s see if the rum is any good. I’m going to try it neat and in a daiquiri (because wintertime and 2°c is a great time to drink daiquiri’s, shut up Karen)


Colour:

As transparent as the Black Tot 50th anniversary back label.

Nose:

Nail polisher and paint remover, the first nosing will burn those pesky nosehairs straight off. Forget a nose trimmer, this’ll do the trick. It’s so outrageously in your face and revolting. I think I’m in love.

But all kidding aside. The first nosing is pretty hefty. The chemical top notes are overly present at first. they do settle down and make way for a more buttery nose which is much more pleasant

Taste:

The aggressive fucker comes in swinging with its full 63% 393.11g/HLPA bodyweight.  But he subsides pretty fast to make place for a somewhat more complex (yet still not docile) palate. I get a bit of dark chocolate with some chili. This chili transforms into hot wings (I guess this’ll be great with Jamaican Jerk chicken). The meatiness extends in a fairly thick and chewy texture.

Another flavour I get is one of distilling malt whisky or Poitín, the malty qualities add another interesting and unexpected layer.

Finish:

The finish is medium-long . And it does a proper good job at warming my insides. Boy oh boy, I know what I’m going to add a smidge of in my egg nog this Christmas.

A warm pure chocolate taste stays a bit. Accompanied by a longer lasting peppery note.


As a sipping rum, I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone. don’t get me wrong, its a cool experience to get to know the more extreme sides of our totally unknown Lluidas Vale distillery. But it’s not something to be drunk on a weekday after a long day at work, think more of a pre-drink before a techno rave to get those freak-juices flowing.

As a daiquiri (60ml Funky Juice, 30ml lime, 2 barspoons crystallized sugar) it does not disappoint. The aggressiveness is toned down by the lime and sugar to a nice balance of punch and freshness. This transports you to a summery beach in Jamaica. As a whole it still packs a punch, but it’s less disruptive and more fun as a cocktail. I do have to admit, the Veritas is still better

As a drinking rum

6/10

As a Daiquiri

7/10

Overall

6.5/10

Review #14: Clairin Vieux Sajous 4 years old

to age or not to age?

Haiti seems to be the place to be in the recent years. This of course is due to the interest that Gargano brought to the island with the bottlings of the Clairin r(h)ums and his recent endeavor of opening a distillery on the island and making Providence Rhum.

These rums are mainly unaged with the exceptions of some clairin ansyens. Which have been aged for a limited amount of time, ranging in the 10 to 20 month timeframe. The production and consumption of unaged Haitian rum and Clairin is normal for the inhabitants of this island, or for that matter almost any other island and its respective rum. This is chiefly because aging was deemed unnecessary at first. Rum was only barrel aged for a significant time due to necessity, when it was being transported out of the island. On the island however, rum was consumed unaged.

This is probably why the general and longstanding European mindset of “ALL AGED EVERYTHING” and “ugh, I don’t like white rum” is seen as pretentious and completemy senseless as fur coats to the islanders. The fact that Europeans get off on every year of barrel aging must be absurd to the Caribbean population who know what’s up with unaged pure rum. Because let’s be honest, unaged rums like clairin, rum bar, rum fire, river Antoine,… are understated giants in the European market and they should get way more credit than what is given to them at this time.

And in this train of thought we seamlessly segue to the topic of today. The 4 year aged Clairin Sajous Vieux, because what would get the Europeans more excited than aging something that’s perfect the way it has been for ages. This might be a great moment to see if rum that is made to be drunk unaged actually works “on the barrel”.

After a further deep dive for information (by reading the back label) I have uncovered more information. This being that this rum is a blend of 12 barrels, previously filled with single malt whisky or rum. Also the rum is bottled at a respectable 50.6% ABV.


Colour:

Very light golden colour. About the same you’ll get from a 12 year old single malt (tropical aging strikes again)

Nose:

I Don’t recognize any Clairin Sajous in this at first, it’s very mild straight out of the bottle. One could almost mistake it for a light whisky aged on rum barrels. After a second nosing, the grass and fruity “hogo” become more outspoken.

The notes I mainly get is some vanilla, nougat some red meat, grass and some glue.

Taste:

On the palate the first thing I notice is the woodiness. It has a rather warm, charred, oaky flavour. And the Vieux Sajous is as dry as they come. This woody and “dark” base is covered by a layer of the  grass, varnish and glue. I find the rum to be quite pungent and rather sharp, it doesn’t quite fill my  mouth with goodness (hehe) as I like with other rums, which possess the ability to blow me away.

Finish:

As “warm” the rum was with the first sip, as “cold” the finish is. The finish is mainly characterized by a medicinal and almost metallic feeling. Leaving the tongue sort of numb. This does allow the rum to stick around for a while, though it’s not necessarily exceptionally pleasing thing.


This is a weird one. I adore the unaged original Clairin Sajous (regardless of the whole batch to batch difference), but this doesn’t quite win me over. For me it’s to sharp or to “hard” to be a good sipping rum and it’s overpriced to put into cocktails. It isn’t a bad rum overall, just not really a good at what it’s supposed to be. To me it has lost the true spirit of Clairin with the prolonged aging. And it comes up short as an aged rum because the rum is really meant to be drunk unaged.

So, here we are. It’s clear (to me anyways) we don’t need to age everything, just because the market wants to have everything aged. I can do nothing mut commend Gargano for the experiment, but it’s not doing anything for me.

5.5/10

Review #13: Providence First Drops

We’re back baby!!!

After months of laziness, procrastination and lack of motivation or time I’m back once again. I know your lives have been empty as a clam without pearl or you know… you guys with an empty rum cabinet (oh the horror) . But hey, at least I’m back now (who knows for how long).

Okay enough narcissism, let’s talk rum. And boy have I got a good one today. Because today I have the first drops of the latest and greatest new rum in the Caribbean: Providence.

The Providence rum is distilled in the recently opened ‘Distillerie de Port-Au-Prince’ in Haiti. The distillery was opened thanks to a collaboration between La Maison & Velier and the Barbancourt-Linge family. Yes, that Barbancourt and yes, that Maison&velier. So, a distillery opened by Europe’s most important rum importer, one of Europe’s most important liquor stores and a Haitian rum dynasty. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, as it appears, absolutely nothing. The distillery opened in 2018 with a Muller still and its first product is spot on. It’s a distillate of both fresh cane juice and syrup of crystalline sugar. The sugar is sourced by Michel Sajous. Yes, that Sajous (boy, a lot of big names here innit?). The juice and syrup are fermented separately and are then also distilled separately in the Muller still which will always distill in Bain-Marie. After the first distillation both parts are mixed and distilled a second time. This whole process produces an unaged discontinued rum like it was made by Barbancourt up until 1992.

The presentation is quite picturesque as well. A nice old-timey label with old-school, calligraphy-type lettering and cute drawing make it look like a bottle of yore.

Some last information: the rum is bottled at 57%, it has a volatile substance count of 538.9mg/HLPA and an ester count (for all you ester geeks out there) of 212.2gr/HLPA. (as per this post)

this version (First Drops) will be limited (no idea how many bottles are available) but Providence will drop a standard rum which should lessen the thirst of many a rum lover for the foreseeable future.

Let’s taste this piece of Haitian history.

Colour:

Have you ever seen bottled or tap water (not the Flint, Michigan type though)? Yeah that colour

Nose:

Have you ever smelled water? Yeah, nothing like that. Absolutely nothing like that. It’s more as though Clairin Sajous and a light, lovely Mezcal did the horizontal naked cha-cha and 9 months later this came out.

It’s got that grassy tone of clairin with a whiff of smoke surrounding it. It’s like one of those grilled burger commercials with all the over the top smoke in the background but with cane instead of burgers.

After a while the smoke fades away and we are left with a tropical (albeitethanol-fueled) fruit bouquet.  Some apricots, a bite of pear and a leaf of orange blossom. It also has a slight creamy nose to it, a bit yoghurt-y-ish-kinda.

Taste:

On the palate the first sip is really refreshing. Almost none of the smoke is transferred to the taste, instead I’m treated to fresh pineapples red fruits. Of course there’s plenty of grass to go around. Everything is coated with a very familiar Clairin-like vibe.

The rum also has something rather meaty and tarry to me. Here the smoke makes the occasional return; it’s almost like I can chew it a bit, it’s a lovely weird umami mouthfeel and something I don’t get often from a rum. This chewy (no not that chewy) side can also sporadically be found in the yoghurt-y flavour.

Finish:

It also has to be noted that there is a very spicy side to it as well. As soon as I swallow it’s spice island all the way: pepper, ginger and a substantial yet not unpleasant alcohol burn. This is complimented by some notes of coffee and dark chocolate.

To conclude, this is a blasting sugarcane juice/syrup rum. More complex than clairin or any Agricole I’ve tried so far, definitely much bolder than the Agricoles. It is quite in your face however so it’s more positioned for the more experienced drinker. To me this is a more daring and more complete Clairin.

It could also be tamed a bit in a ‘Ti Punch or world class Daiquiri made by Ran (shameless plug to Bar Ran in Bruges here and here).

As a first release from a fresh distillery I’m very curious about what’s to come from this collaborative effort. Great job so far.

9.5/10

Review #12: Hampden ‘Great House’ Distillery Edition

Part 3 of the Hampden saga. Probably the most exciting one! Good god I’ve been looking forward to this one.

First of all, this rum was meant to be solely a distillery edition and event rum to showcase what Hampden has in store at rum congresses. So, back in January (when I bought the bottle) the only way for anyone who couldn’t go to Jamaica to buy one or didn’t have connections to get one was through rumauctioneer. I was one of those people who bought a bottle that way, at the wonderful price of £110 lot total and £ 150 included shipping, commission and VAT. In non-Brexit language this is about € 180. Quite a hefty price, but I was willing to pay for it. Later that week I found out the Great House dropped in Europe and I bought another bottle for about €100, yeah… that hurt, could’ve saved € 80 there. After painfully overpaying in auction (something some of us undoubtedly know the pain of) this rum really had to be pretty dang good. It also goes without saying that I bought a second bottle immediately

This just goes to show how volatile secondary markets can be. It’s both an exciting and frustrating place to shop.

Here’s why it should live up to a bitter-and-empty-wallet need to be awesome. Primarily because it’s Hampden, and when does Hampden ever disappoint? Secondly, this rum has been blended by Vivian Wisdom, Hampden’s master distiller. If I’m not mistaken, this is the first release that’ll be solely his. Before, the blends in the previous rums were blended by Mr. Gargano. Third and last, it’s the distillery edition and in my experience these bottlings are mostly astonishing.

The presentation of the bottle is wonderful too, the stately bottle and beautiful label presupposes an astonishing rum.

Let’s go over the specs real quick and then it’s tasting time.

Though there is no age statement on the bottle, it’s said that the rum inside was aged for around 7 to 8 years. It was then bottled at 59%. The Blend inside consists of 80% OWH (Owen W Hussey) and 20% DOK (Dermot Owen Kelly-Lawson) the former is the lowest marque of esters made by Hampden, ranging from 40 to 80 gr/hl AA. The latter is the highest marque of esters, ranging from 1500 to 1600 gr/hl AA. Which should make for an interesting blend with very light and heavy notes.

And now we’ll see if this rum is as good as it should be.


Colour:

Golden orange-y

Nose:

Everything I hoped for and more.

The nose is so gentle. The first thing that welcomes me, even from pouring, is the familiar overripe pineapple and banana fruitiness that defines Hampden. The fruitiness is supported by another familiar scent, the one of glue and varnish. This appears to be a make it or break it scent; some people adore it, others detest it. Luckily I’m one of the former. Some spiciness is also present and compliments the fruit and varnish rather well. Nothing is overly dominant and every proverbial kid on the block is playing along nicely.

The 59% ABV and the 20% DOK aren’t disturbing or overpowering the experience in any way. The heavier parts of the rum offer an alluring seduction towards further nosing and enjoyment of the complexity of it all. I could just sniff this rum all day long, I think I’d almost forget tasting it… Though I know the taste will be at least as good.

Taste:

Holy Mother of Ester! This. Is. Delicious.

On the palate the DOK does seem to be more present than on the nose. It takes a couple of sips to get used to the overpowering might of the this high-ester-nerd pornography. But once I got used to it, boy oh boy, I don’t think there’s even an expression for the experience.

The initial intensity of spiced and barbecued fruit evolves towards the mellowed down (as far as “mellowed down” works in Hampden) bananas, pineapples. The rum really opens up after a while and reveals the last varnished piece of the puzzle and glues it all together (see what I did there?).

This is just an astonishing and immensely complex rum. I fall far short of even noticing some of the flavours present in this beautiful beast, whatever precise notes they may be… I enjoy them with every single fiber of my being.

Finish:

As the rest of the experience, the finish is incomprehensibly complex and developed. A little spiciness remains constantly on the tip of my tongue and the fruit seems to be roasted over a campfire in the back of my throat.

For the finish alone I’d consider becoming one of the most selective alcoholics in the world and drink only Great House all day every day.


Yeah, this is it. This is my alpha and omega. This is my “eudaimonia” and 100% my favourite rum (maybe even thing) ever.

Of course this is just my personal flavour (biased towards Jamaican rum), but I will fight every single one of those who say this is a bad dram.

On a slightly more serious note, this truly is an amazing rum, and because it is so limited I can only encourage everyone to buy a bottle as soon as possible and try it.

While writing this I saw the announcement on Ministry of Rum that Hampden will be releasing the Great House on a yearly base with differing blends from year to year, so I’m already looking forward to the next one.

10/10

Review #11: Clairin Sajous

As you may already know thanks to my previous reviews (hampden, habitation velier, royal navy), I adore funky, in-your-face, “hogo” rums. There’s just something about smelling and tasting these types of rum that make me feel awake and tingly.

So, today I’ll be reviewing one of the better discoveries of the 21st century so far (really hoping the whole space exploration will rekindle, but this’ll do): Clairin, specifically the Sajous.

Clairin is the native spirit of Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world and one that’s been hit with its fair share of misfortunes since its incredibly brave fight for independence, which gave the country its sovereignty on January 1st of 1804. Despite being poor and politically not the most stable country in the world, Haitians are apparently rather happy and Clairin might be a big influence on this happiness.

Despite being produced from fresh sugar cane juice or syrup, Clairin is not classified “Rhum Agricole” per se, it’s more comparable to the cachaca-to-rum relation. Technically it’s an Agricole, but then again it’s not. (if someone has a clear idea on the exact classification, please do contact me). The spirit is made from sugarcane juice, in its most natural form, the sugarcane is non-hybridized and mostly grown polycultural. This means that the canes aren’t grown to human specifications and the fields where the cane grows is also used for other naturally growing plants such as bananas, mangos,… (click here and here for more on the subject). Basically, the cane juice is grown in a pre-efficiency focused way. Without careful cross-breeding, segregated crops or chemicals; this puts the focus on the cane as a purely natural product and it adds another level of “terroir” in rum. Add to this natural, long fermentation and very rudimentary moonshine-like distillation rigs and you have a wonderfully artisanal spirit.

There are a couple of variations in the Clairins that are being bottled. The main bottles are: Sajous, Vaval, Casimir, Le Rocher and communal (which is a blend of some of the distilleries); all of these also have some aged variants. These 4 single rums are only a small sample of what Haiti has to offer. There are numerous tiny distilleries throughout the country.

But for today, I’ll just focus on the Sajous version. The ‘Sajous’ part in the name refers to the founder, owner and distiller of his distillery, named Chelo. the distillery is located in the middle of a sugar plantation, of which all the sugar is used for distilling this wonderful liquid. No, there’s no actual sugar being produced here, because who needs sugar production if you have rum, isn’t that right Worthy Park? The sugar cane juice is concentrated into a syrup which can be stored for over a year, making year-round distillation possible.


Colour:

Clear as can be

Nose:

The initial nose has a thick and buttery note, which quickly fades away form more grassy and vegetal notes. This fresh nose showcases the pure terroir way of production. Though it must be said that this freshness also comes with a rather sharp alcohol tone. With this sharpness comes some potent varnish, oily and brine-y hints.

Flavour:

The first couple of seconds of the first sip don’t reveal a lot of flavour due to an overwhelming alcoholic punch in the face, but after getting used to the sharpness of the alcoholic numbness some fresh herbal tones come popping up. Accompanying the herbal, grassy and hay-like notes is a more dirty character; one of oil, varnish and a bit of tar. The taste is all over the place, dragging me from open fields full of cane to a dirty building with a dismal safety and health protocol. The rum truly mimics its production from natural fields to fermentation and distillation in conditions that would make any whisky distiller cry and run away.

Finish:

This powerful dram sticks around for a while, but not quite as long as one might expect. After the initial power of the actual sip, the might dwindles somewhat and leaves an impression of a meeker Agricole.


Clairin might be one of the last frontiers of rum in this world. Since its discovery a couple of years ago it’s gained more popularity, and rightly so. A natural and artisanal product like no other. Though I do believe that you have to be a true tough person to drink it neat on a regular basis, and Haitians definitely are, more so than I am (however hard I try).

For me this rum will serve better in a good ti punch or a feisty daiquiri. The aggressiveness of it can be overwhelming unless tempered by some lime, sugar and a bit of ice.

7.5/10

Review #10: Foursquare Nobiliary

Richard Seale and his foursquare is having a pretty good 2020 considering everything that’s going on. With the releases of the mindbogglingly ridiculously (but aptly) named Plenipotenziario, the regal Nobiliary (great comparison on these two here) and later in the year the 2008.

It’s safe to say that Foursquare is digging itself in more and more as THE golden standard for rum quality, pureness and straight taste with each bottle new expression. A very passionate following (of which I am becoming one) leads the charge with declarations of love all over, rum reviewers give the tipples from the distillery’s stills a constant stream of good to great reviews. This effort leads to a wider respect and hopefully a further normalization of this rum; meaning that -thanks to the frequent releases of new bottlings surrounded by quite some hype- foursquare will be more available wherever you go. Perhaps even kicking Plantation of the pedestal on which it was placed by the larger mainstream consumer market.

Wow, that last sentence sounded a bit Fox news-y.

Back to the rum at hand, today I’ll be reviewing the Nobiliary. This is the 12th “installment” of the Exceptional Cask Selection and is named for its noble character, hence the name and the royal purple lettering (love that detail). Why royal purple? Well, little history lesson; back in the time of the Great empires (think Persian, Roman, Byzantine) purple was the color of royalty (or nobility), simply because the clothes with this pigment were so exorbitantly expensive. Rulers liked showing of their power and wealth by flaunting purple (in this case the emperor does have clothes, purple ones at that). Now that you know this, you can dazzle all your friends with your knowledge of the letter colouring of the Nobiliary and its meaning. (thank god for The Rum Robin, right?)

After this history lesson, let’s go through the specs: the Nobiliary is aged in Barbados for 14 years, all of which in Ex-bourbon casks and bottled at 62%. The distillate in this bottle is a blend of a continuous twin column still and a double retort pot still and there are absolutely no additives (sweeteners, flavourings, colouring) or take-aways (chill-filtering).

Okay, let the regal tasting start

Colour:

Dark orange-brown, very apple juice-y

Nose:

Boy, that is a lovely sniff. The rum first presents itself as quite dry with a lot of interesting and intense smells just around the corner. The nose gives a powerful impression, with a pleasant first oomph and lovely fruitiness. The most notable scents I get are raisins and plums. I also get some funky varnish and a bit of darker leather-y notes. Some sourness also sneaks in, which gives the rum a fresher nose.

Flavour:

Ooh, that tickles the tongue in a nice way. The first sip brings along a fair amount of spiciness and fruit. The varnish smell is almost unrecognizable on the palate, instead I get some more bourbon influence. A hint of vanilla, with some acidity which combines in a great dry mouthfeel, but with a full flavour.

It takes a couple of sips to get used to the intense spices, which bring some amazing notes themselves. It’s after these sips that the rum really opens up completely. The vanilla notes are coming to the forefront, together with some dark chocolate. Though the 62% ABV keeps the rum punchy and quite an experience with every sip.

Finish

Thanks to the intense flavours of the high ABV and the many years in the Barrel, the finish is really long and almost as complex as some lesser rums in their entirety. After the sip, everything mellows out, the dark chocolate loses some of its cacao and the vanilla combines with yet a new hint, one of caramel. A nice relaxing end to an intense, dry and flavourful rum.

Wow, this is one hell of a dram. From what I’ve read about and have tasted from foursquare before, I always thought Foursquare was a rather composed and quiet sort of rum. Like Speyside or Lowland whiskies, great quality and more missionary than kinky.

But was I wrong, after drinking this truly noble rum it seems that I still have quite a while to go in my rum-journey and a lot to learn.

This is truly a noble rum; and not some weak nobility, but more of an emperor Augustus or King Louis XIV. A Nobility out of this world, which only deserves to be praised. An intense opening palate and a complex, satisfying middle palate and finish make sure of this. Truly a stunning rum.

8.5/10