I have been slow to board the rum boat. I’ve only reviewed three rums till now. In the meantime, Serge V.—who all but singlehandedly got whisky geeks around the world to start drinking rum—has already reviewed more rums than I have whiskies in the entire time that I’ve been reviewing whiskies. This is not an exaggeration.
One of the problems with being late to the party is that most of what first got people excited is already gone and prices have begun to rise. Still, they’ve got a long way to go to catch up with whisky. Hampden is a cult distillery, for instance, and this 18 yo, released last year, is still around and costs far less than the Highland Park 18. Of course, the bigger problem for those of us in the US is how little interesting rum is available here. K&L in California were the only ones committed to a rum program but the new limitations on inter-state shipping may have put paid to that: large numbers of bottles of a Hampden they brought in early in the year and expected to sell out in a day or two are still sitting on their shelves (well, it’s possible that asking $70 for a 9 yo rum may also have something to do with that). Anyway, there’s an opportunity here for independent bottlers who already have distribution channels across the US: if you make good rum available to us widely, we will buy it.
Hampden 18, 1998 (46%; Kill Devil; from my own bottle)
Nose: Over the top aromatic like all the (few) Hampdens I’ve had: bananas, bananas, bananas. And banana bread. And a rotting trash heap in the sun. Plus pineapple and an almost berry-like sweetness. Under and through it all: machine oil, diesel, recently oiled hinges, black olive tapenade. With a lot of time and air the bananas back off a bit and there’s more balance (if that’s the right word for a nose like this one). Water mellows the fruit further and pulls out more of the diesel. I’ve sat in buses that smelled like this and not enjoyed it but this I enjoy.
Palate: Yes, it’s all that stuff from the nose, except leading with the funk before the fruit comes through and with a lashing of peppery smoke. Perfect texture and bite at 46%. More diesel here too with water and also some bready notes.
Finish: Long. Nothing new: all that stuff slowly fades out with the banana bread (with a bit of diesel in the batter) coming out again at the end. Longer with water and yes, more diesel here as well.
Comments: This is crazy stuff. Completely in line with that insanely high proof Habitation Velier release but mellower and far more drinkable (and I liked it far better than K&L’s 24 yo as well). So much so, in fact, that after a couple of pours from this bottle I immediately bought a few more bottles. I recommend you give it a go too if you can.
Rating: 90 points.