The power of funk: Hampden rum
Author: Rob Whitehead
Every so often, something comes along that breaks all your self-imposed rules, quashes assumptions, mocks the received wisdom and just generally makes you aware of a new realm of possibilities.
Growing up a child of Britpop, with Oasis, Blur and Pulp conducting an aural offensive against my parents’ Beatles and Johnny Cash LPs, it is difficult to describe the impact made upon my teenage self the very first time I heard Stevie Wonder’s seminal Superstition.
At that age, when one’s taste in music (and the projection thereof) seemed a crucially important part of the image I presented to the world, the rabbit hole that that unflinching bass-line shoved me down led me to such varied places as Trojan Records box sets, Daft Punk’s first album, Will Smith’s Wild Wild West and all the way back to Songs in the Key of Life (which I still think is one of the greatest albums ever made). It is no exaggeration to say that this new-found breadth of musical influences gave me a new-found confidence and helped usher in a fulfilling phase of my life.
Growing up in a seaside town, in a family with Royal Navy connections, of all the wines and spirits in my awareness, rum was perhaps foremost – with parental and grand-parental glasses of classic navy rums. Pusser’s and Wood’s 100 were just about the only distilled drinks I remember being consumed by the males in my family. Perhaps predictably, slightly later, in my adult teenage years, rum and coke became one of my go-to libations.
Slightly later again, within my first few weeks at Berry Bros. & Rudd, I was introduced to a rum, a Berry Bros. & Rudd bottling of 1986 Bajan Rum from Rockley Still. This was not a light, simple rum, and the sheer joy of it made it impossible for me not to dive headlong into as thorough an exploration of the rum panoply as I could facilitate in the mid-noughties.
One of the most illuminating discoveries of this expedition was the extremely high-ester “funky” rums of Hampden in Jamaica, which I still think is one of the greatest distilleries ever built.
Describing Hampden rum is tricky, without sharing a glass of it (which is why I almost always have a bottle open at our shop in St James’s), but the best attempts I’ve heard revolve around exotic stewed fruit, mountains of molasses and preposterously spiced varnishes. Hampden’s use of wild yeasts, proprietary Dunder (a filthy, bacterially rampant concoction of spent yeasts and distillation effluent, left to “mature” in pits in the distillery garden), properly characterful pot stills and extremely long fermentation times all contribute to the aromas and flavours sometimes skirting a fine line between charming and alarming.
My rum reconnaissance in those early weeks at Berry Bros. & Rudd was a crucial stepping stone on the journey to my current role as Spirits Buyer; and – just like Stevie Wonder’s unique sound – it was the funk of Hampden’s rums that sparked it all.
Play that funky music, Hampden
Berry Bros. & Rudd Hampden, 17-Year-Old, Rum, Jamaica: The nose is super freaky: all stewed and macerated fruits, exotic tobacco, burning Bakewell tarts, liniment, chicory and the faintest suggestion of singed motherboards. Hardly credibly, the palate builds on this with lashings of sandalwood, bitter chocolate, cinnamon balls, brand-new Axminster carpets, treacle toffee and liquorice. The finish is popcorn, coffee grounds, filter papers, Medjool dates, muscovado sugar, and something that, if pushed, I might describe as a well-used photocopier. I know of nothing quite like this extraordinary rum, and while I have several friends and colleagues for whom this is “not their bag”, I know plenty more for whom Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.