Rum Fire

Rum Fire-DMR

Product of:  Jamaica
Age:  NA
Price: $9 on Jamaica
Alcohol: 63% ABV
Context: Overproof Rum
RG Rating: 9.5

Tasting Notes 
Very Smooth.  Don’t be fooled by the absence of color.  While Rum Fire is silvery and perfectly clear,  this potent rum makes its presence known immediately after pouring.  Scents anxiously leap from the bottle like flame from a fire. Bouquet is high ester all the way, as if you were entering the building where Hampden Estate keeps its fermentation tanks.  Aromas are wildly pungent, you are transported to the distillery’s smells of decaying dunder, by organic aromas of rotting tropical fruit and vegetal sugarcane grassiness, but somehow Rum Fire smells perversely, appealingly sweet.  Diluting 50/50 with water rounds off the sweet sugarcane molasses and alcohol aromas, thereby exacerbating to fermentation smells.  The sweet vs rot (good vs evil?) conflict is still evident in the initial taste, which is consistent with the aromas but milder, showing additional candied tropical fruit, some anise and a a trace of vanilla.   A medium weight body delivers flavors quickly, sweet at the tip of the tongue, drying on the palate (normal for an overproof spirit), and setting up for a finish that lingers with residual buttery sweetness that leaves a sense of the distillery behind.

In all truth, Hampden Estate is the most different distillery I have ever visited or heard of.  It is difficult to overstate the many facets that make Rum Fire overproof rum unique.  Start with the “graves”.  When I first saw these open air muck pits full of drying, spent dunder, the concept of this material being cultivated as yeast cultures and reused to jack up the fermentation process seemed unfathomable.  Next I was shown the vats of decaying fruit; bananas, jackfruit, and naseberry (also known as sapodilla).  Small quantities of both are added to the molasses-based wash. That witch’s brew is fermented for  seven days in 50 huge tanks made of Jamaican cedar (1-1.8 thousand gallons each), after which fermentation is stopped and the mildly alcoholic wash is rested for another seven days until it forms a top crust in open air cedar tanks.  Distillation occurs in large, 2 and 5 thousand gallon Forsyth copper pot stills, the entire operation seemingly unworldy among more conventionally modern rum distilleries.  That’s the essence of Hampden Estate’s very high ester spirits, and the finished product branded as Rum Fire ships at an ester count of about 500 ppm.  Hampden Estate produces a range of high-ester spirit marks (up to 2000 ester count) that are sold in bulk to the other rum producers, in Europe, South America and the Caribbean, and to food and perfume industries.

Rum Fire poster 2-iP

Let's explore the mystery of esters in more depth.  In Hampden’s own words:   “Most people understand esters to be the distinctive smell of bananas, pineapples, apples, oranges etc., but what exactly you may ask is an ester? To begin, esters have nothing to do with the strength of the rum but rather have everything to do with the strength of it's smell or bouquet and hence the reason for Hampden's full bodied flavourful rums. Technically speaking, Esters are organic acids…in concert with a catalyst yielding water as a by-product.  You will always be able to identify the authentic Hampden Rum.” Hampden Estate: So what exactly is it about Hampden's High Esters?

Words don’t do justice to the unique Fermentation techniques, so take a moment to explore the Hampden Estate Distillery Tour.

  Hampden Estate was founded in 1753, and is now undergoing a transformation by new owners, the Harris family.  Hampden Estates has a topsy turvy past, starting as a private commercial enterprise in the mid-1700’s, then spending a brief dismal period of unprofitability and declining production under government receivership in 2003, then purchased at auction by the Harris family in 2009.  Hampden’s history makes for an encouraging read, and the story is far from finished.  Follow it here:

Anxious for more?  See the article at Rum Collective written by my colleague Nick Feris for more about our January 2012 tour of the Hampden Estates distillery here at The Rum Collective: Past and Present: A Tour of Hampden Estate

Mike “clever-as-ever” Streeter of Rum Connection fame was on our tour too.  See his revelations at » Sip History at Hampden Estate.

Rum Fire Poster

If Rum Fire were a date, she’d be the kind you could never take home to mother.  In fact, you'd probably skip dinner altogether.  Straight to the action; she’s always ready and you’d better be up for it, for soon after enjoying the pleasures of Rum Fire, you’ll be looking for a comfy place to sit and appreciate her charms.

Seriously, Rum Fire isn’t intended for sipping neat.  It’s a very high ester, overproof white rum targeted directly at local Jamaican drinkers who want more rum flavor in their simple mixed than the market-leading rum delivers.  At that goal, Hampden Estate succeeds without equal.  Creative bartenders brave enough to experiment with Rum Fire in more complex cocktails will be rewarded amply with unique drinks.  

The most popular overproof rums in America are closer to neutral spirits than anything showing characteristic rum flavor.  That has given the category a bad name.  Shame, because Rum Fire unequivocally shows us that overproof doesn’t mean underflavored.  Rum Fire is the first rum produced by Hampden for sale to the local market.  Distribution in the USA and Germany are in the works.  Rum Fire is going to put heat on the overproof rum category, and a new generation of fantastic cocktails will happen. Great rum, great timing. 

Reviewed:  January 2012 at Hampden Estates and various local bars while touring Jamaica.

© Dave Russell 2017