Indlæg - Jamaica rom og Hampden Estate (Only in ENG)

Indlæg - Jamaica rom og Hampden Estate (Only in ENG)

By Marius Lohschelder


No story about rum and sugar would be complete without a huge chapter on Jamaica. Always a bit neglected by the Spaniards, who predominantly grew tobacco on Jamaica, it took Admiral Penn and the Britons to conquer the island in 1655 to rear it to the sugar dynasty and pirate haven it has become known for. Their first major move was to build the trading hub of Port Royal at the site of what’s now Kingston, which quickly grew to the largest and richest city in the entire Caribbean. In a sense it wasn’t much more than a shantytown. Pirates and privateers, with their loot and ‘special’ attitude reigned supreme while the remainder of the city’s residents were made up of merchants, prostitutes, mercenaries and riff-raff.

At the beginning of the 18th century the island experienced an enormous agricultural transformation in which more and more land was seized to plant sugar and coffee. It is said that more than 800 plantations grew sugar during the crops heyday and as we are well aware of, where there was sugar, there was rum. According to Tristan Stephenson, “Jamaica still had 110 distilleries in 1901 and over than 12,000 hectares of arable land dedicated to growing sugarcane”. Today, only six of them are left, five if we exclude Port Morant due to its unknown status (not to be confused with the Guyanese Port Mourant still).

While some of the Jamaican distilleries eventually also acquired column stills, this movement was less pronounced than in the rest of the Caribbean. Tradition and flavourful products still play a very prominent role on the island.
The incredibly flavourful high ester rums are to a large extent the byproduct of a German tax hike on foreign rum. Germans already had a penchant for Jamaican rum but as the market started to grow, the German Empire levied higher import duties for rum from Jamaica. The rum “producers” in Germany were clever though: Instead of keeping on buying the same old rum at higher prices, they asked the distillers on Jamaica to produce more flavourful rums, i.e. rums with a higher ester count. These would be mixed with neutral alcohol at home. The result is the well-known “Rumverschnitt”. Fittingly, the unblended, more concentrated rums have been labelled “German-” or “Continental Flavoured”. Crucially, this allowed many Jamaican plantations to shift their focus to rum distillation in response to the slump in global sugar prices at the end of the 19th century. Moreover, it helped some of them to invest in more efficient production techniques for sugar. It’s no coincidence that Jamaica is now home to the most efficient processor of sugar in the world (Worthy Park).
McFarlane (1947) provides the following classification scheme for Jamaican rums based on their ester count:

  • Common Clean   80-150  parts per 100,000 alcohol
  • Plummer            150-200 parts per 100,000 alcohol
  • Wedderburn     200-300  parts per 100,000 alcohol
  • Flavoured        700-1600 parts per 100,000 alcohol

What’s striking is the gap between Wedderburn and Flavoured. My guess is that rums that would fall into this range simply did not exist back then. Only the first three categories were deemed drinkable or sellable and Flavoured was solely intended to be exported and blended with neutral alcohol. But that’s only speculation of course. In 1934, the Jamaican authorities capped the legal ester count at 1600.
On top of that, the distilleries typically have their very own marks to denote a rum’s ester range. Nowadays, these are usually given in grams per hectoliters of absolute alcohol (g/hlaa).
What follows are small profiles of Jamaica’s distilleries as well as lists of tasted and reviewed bottlings.

Appleton Estate & New Yarmouth
Clarendon (Monymusk)
Hampden Estate
Long Pond
Worthy Park Estate
Port Morant (status unknown)


There’s no way around mentioning Hampden when talking about Jamaican- or high-ester rum. Founded by the Scot Archibald Sterling in the Trelawny Parish in 1756, Hampden is well-known for its long ferments, muckholes and high-ester rums. In 1779, Sterling built the famous Hampden Great House, whose ground floor served as a rum store until the early 20th century. At some point in the 19th century, Hampden estate has been passed on to the Kelly-Lawson family and subsequently to the Farquharsons, who also built the Hampden Wharf in Falmouth during WW I to ship rum and sugar. Today it’s used by large passenger cruise ships such as the ‘Harmony of the Seas’. In 2003, Hampden estate has been bought by the Jamaica Sugar Company who did not operate the distillery. It was then that their rum reserves have been sold to spirit brokers in Europe. Six years later, Hampden has been bought at a public auction by the Hussey Family (owners of Everglades Farms Ltd), who are looking to revitalize rum production. With the increased hype around the distillery and the attention they attract it seems that the Estate is finally prospering again.

Dunder tanks at Hampden Distillery. Photo by Matt Pietrek.

Today, the distillery is home to 89(!) fermentation tanks, with capacities between 9,000 and 13,500 litres. And indeed, fermentation takes on a very important role at Hampden. Unlike (most) other distilleries, they add dunder, the throwback of the previous distillation process, to their fermentations. Adding these acid-rich remains increases the acidity of the mix. The acids, combined with the used wild yeast and other natural bacteria living in the fermentation vats work for a minimum of two weeks to create the wines. Depending on the desired style, this process called esterification is prolonged up to a month to create one of seven marks. The marks at Hampden are as follows, where the numbers denote esters in g/hlaa:

LFCH 85-120
LROK 200-400
HLCF 500-700
<>H 900-1000
HGML 1000-1100
C<>H 1300-1400
DOK 1500-1600

The highest of these are typically used as flavouring for confectionaries, baking extracts and sweets of all sorts. To get an idea on how to classify the different vintages released by independent bottlers so far (with the exception of 2010 there has never been more than one batch sold in bulk per year, hence batch and vintage can be used interchangeably), please refer to the following listing:

  • 1990: C<>H
  • 1992: HLCF
  • 1993: <>H
  • 1998: HLCF
  • 2000: LROK
  • 2001: <>H
  • 2002: LROK
  • 2009: DOK
  • 2010: LROK, HLCF, <>H

Distillation takes place in one of three 5,000 litre pot-stills with two retorts and a condenser. Yes, Hampden only uses pot-stills! Distillation is identical for all rums produced at Hampden, meaning that the only differences arise during fermentation.

Posted on: 26. juni 2018Theis Steen Hansen

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