Hampden Estate prepares for greater rum demand

Hampden Estate prepares for greater rum demand

Observer writer

Sunday, January 06, 2019

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Tucked away in the Queen Of Spain Valley in the interior of the parish of Trelawny is the Hampden Estate and Distillery which has been part of Jamaica's history of rum since the 18th century. And yet despite its long existence Hampden's story is not a familiar one to many rum drinkers because it was sold only as bulk rum to other distillers both locally and internationally.

Hampden is in fact used by a number of other Jamaican rums to flavour their own brands. Many rums marketed as Jamaican rum which are manufactured in foreign countries also utilise Hampden for the same purpose. It is used in the production of colognes and perfumes such as Chanel and in a wide variety of foods such as chocolate and Haagen Dazs rum and raisin ice cream.

But even though a true appreciation for this age-old Jamaican rum has been held almost exclusively by industry insiders, the winds of change have blown through Hampden in recent years and this secret in the industry has been revealed to a wider audience both at home and abroad. This came about as Hampden increased its profile by manufacturing its own brands after being acquired by the Hussey family through their company, Everglades Farms Ltd.

The acquisition took place in 2009 via public auction through the divestment of assets belonging to the government's Jamaica Sugar Company. Christelle Harris, a member of the Hussey family and director of marketing for Hampden Estate, explains that the family's entry into the rum industry was the fulfilment of her grandfather's aspirations.

“My late grandfather, Lawrence Hussey, had a dream of owning a sugar factory one day as he grew up in the era when sugar was king in Jamaica,” she relates. “He followed in his father's footsteps and became a farmer, and over the years, a serial entrepreneur. Late in his life, by way of government divestment, his dream of owning a sugar factory would be realised.”

Under the tenure of the Husseys, Hampden began bottling its own brands for the first time in the estate's history, although some other companies which utilized Hampden's rum as an ingredient in the production of their own rums have used the Hampden name in their labels.

Hampden released Rum Fire, a white overproof rum, as well as a gold rum called Hampden Gold. Since coming into existence, both rums have earned numerous international awards and medals in recent years at events such as the ShowRum Tasting Competition in Italy, the Annual Berlin Rum Festival in Germany, the Rhum Fest Awards in France, the Ministry Of Rums Tasting Competition in San Francisco and the Rum Renaissance Festival in Miami.

However, it was something other than the international accolades that caused Hampden to shake the world of rum, recently. In 2017, two leading global distributors of rum, the French company La Maison du Whiskey and the Italian company Velier operating under a joint venture bought the global distribution rights for Hampden's ageing rums and their entire stock of the product amounting to over 2500 barrels.

The purchase made waves in the rum industry particularly because of an Italian named Luca 'Ruruki' Gargano, a legendary connoisseur and distributor of rum who bought into Velier in the 1980s. Under his guidance Velier developed a line of spirits that has earned worldwide admiration and includes the likes of Damoiseau from the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, various estate specific brands from Guyana, the Caroni line from Trinidad and other unique rums from around the Caribbean which he markets with great success.

Having Gargano buy into the Hampden brand was an unquestionable stamp of approval from the industry but the appreciation of what Hampden has to offer comes as no surprise to Christelle Harris.

“There is no other Hampden,” the director of marketing states emphatically. “It cannot be replicated. The terroir is impossible to be copied or transplanted. Hampden is particularly skilled and well known within the rum industry as the specialist in high ester rum production. The ability to do this, is one of the reasons our rums have won so many awards.”

The high amount of esters in Hampden's rum is what has allowed it to stand out for over 200 years. The production of rum results in the creation of chemical compounds known as esters in the product. These compounds contribute various aromas to the rum. Hampden rums range from 50 to 1600 esters with the higher figure representing the most that a rum is allowed to have on the market.

It is for this reason that Hampden's flavours have always been popular in the blending of other rums and in the flavour and food industry throughout the world from the Caribbean to Europe, South America and the United States and Canada.

Other factors in the production of Hampden's rums contribute to their taste. The use of spring water from the Cockpit country, the utilisation of wild yeast as opposed to the more common commercial yeasts, the distillation which takes place in Hampden's old copper pot stills rather than newer column stills, the old wooden fermentation vats on the estate as well as tropical ageing in Trelawny's environment are all thought to play a part in the mystery of Hampden's flavours.

It is impossible to find distilleries around the world that have the unique combination of all these factors and conditions which is why the taste of Hampden rums have always stood out in the market. The company points out that there are distributors in foreign countries who are selling Rum Fire at higher prices than other local brands because they appreciate the uncommon process that goes into the creation of Hampden's rums.

The production, branding and distribution of ageing rums represents the biggest step made by the Hussey family since they introduced Rum Fire and Hampden Gold to the world. The brands may be relatively new but they bear the proud stamp of history.

There is a small cemetery located at Hampden. In it can be found the graves of members of the Stirling family from Scotland who founded the estate in the 1750s. Trelawny, at the time, was a hub for Scots who were seeking riches and fleeing the Jacobite Wars in Great Britain. There are also graves belonging to the Farquharson family who took ownership from 1852 until 2003 when the business was then acquired by the Jamaica Sugar Company.

The cemetery stands as a reminder that while the latest ventures undertaken by the Husseys are new endeavours, they come with over two centuries of inherited expertise and a sterling reputation for quality in the industry. It is a legacy that the family is keen to preserve and take forward into a new era.

It is also a legacy that the Jamaican public can explore through a tour of the Hampden property. The company has opened itself to visits from both locals and tourists. A 35-minute trip by car from Montego Bay will take you to the estate to explore its grounds, the Great House, the fermentation and distillation processes as well as its compelling history. The experience ends with rum tasting and lunch.

The tour is a valuable addition to the island's tourism product as it is another rum excursion option which can only enhance the visitors' knowledge of Jamaican rums and give them a better understanding of the industry in its entirety.

The passion of the tour guides is quite genuine as they communicate their knowledge of the estate and its products. It is a passion that is reflected by Christelle Harris when she talks about where Hampden is coming from and where it is going with the recent entry into the market of its aged rums.

“The divestment of the Long Pond Sugar factory had a hidden gem attached to it, and that was Hampden Estate and Distillery,” she reflects enthusiastically. “We never understood the value of Hampden at the time. Now that we have studied the world of rum internationally, we understand that there is no distillery in the world like Hampden, no rum like Hampden's, and as rum is currently in its renaissance, the demand for tropical aged Hampden rum will increase exponentially.”

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