Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Past and Present: A Tour of Hampden Estate

Entrance to Hampden Estate
The road to Hampden Estate is a bumpy ride not unlike many back country roads in Jamaica. The entrance is marked by little more than a retired sugar cane press. We approach a majestic row of trees lining each side of the road that brings us to the distillery. Sugar cane fields surround us as far as the eye can see. On the way, we pass over a narrow creek (see photo) almost hidden in the dense vegetation. Immediately my nose fills with aromas of rum, but more than that. It's that big bold pot still kind we love in Jamaican rums. The passing of this liquid landmark or rather olfactory threshold brings us to the home of one of the oldest sugar estates in Jamaica, dating back to 1753. Today, under direction of the Hussey Family, this historical site has a bright future, heated up by their relatively new white overproof rum called, RumFire.

Hampden Estate creek
After being promptly greeted by Christelle Harris, Director of Marketing (not to mention a former Miss Jamaica World Runner-up), her mom, Angie Hussey-Harris and the General Manager of the distillery, Mark Middleton, our guides for the tour, we are off. Ignoring the digital cameras and smart phones present, I look around and am transported back several hundred years to an earlier Jamaica. Time travel is possible...and I am back to give you that account. I don my hard hat and the distillery tour begins!

Age old agricultural methods are used in the fermentation processes. Environmentally sustainable
One of the muck pit grave sites

practices such as employing  muck pits outside, 100% recycling of dunder and composting fruits such as jackfruit, banana and naseberry, are used to culture and continually preserve the ideal yeast. This specific yeast and its nurtured interaction during the fermentation process is key in forming the product desired. That product being full of beautiful esters which gives the rum much of its unique bouquet and flavor profile. Let's have a closer look!

Fermentation Container
(top view)
If you have toured a fermentation area before, you know the smells can be intense with just a few vats. At Hampden Estate we pass through dozens of fermentation containers! Molasses is the primary ingredient used in this process to produce the ethanol in RumFire. We learn each batch ferments for 7 days, and is then left to sit for an additional 7 days before going to the still. Throughout this area we see many of the old previously existing containers slowly undergoing thoughtful repairs and renovation.

Fermentation Container
(side view)
For example, we learn local Jamaican cedar is used to replace boards on vats that leak. Each piece of wood is sealed together with banana leafs; no other adhesives necessary. Both are locally sourced and effective. In addition, many of the materials used in the distillery are taken from pre-existing structures on the estate. This distillery is green folks and on its way to becoming carbon neutral. Nice! Once ready, the fermented liquid (wash) is transferred to the pot stills for distillation. Onward and upward to the stills!

Pot Still #3
There are four pot stills with capacities ranging from 5000 to 2000 gallons. The largest is located away from the other three near the muck pits outside. RumFire is distilled entirely from pot stills. In addition to the unique yeast, terrior and type of distillation, water is another factor influencing the profile of a rum. The water used for fermentation and distillation is sourced from a spring high on a hilltop in the Cockpit Country. Apparently gravity alone is sufficient to move the water by pipe down to the distillery. The sugar cane fields require no irrigation due to the ideal and predictable weather conditions in the Queen of Spain Valley. The very large aquifer below the Trelawny surface provides the water needed for most other purposes on site.

Pot Still #3
Just before leaving the stills, we walk past the secured area where the rum is collected, tallied and government fees are assessed. (see photo) On our way to the lab, I realize
why, at every distillery I tour, I always see smiles on the workers' faces inside the lab. Who doesn't love quality assurance? To be sure, Mark takes us into their high tech lab for a brief educational tasting on the marks (no pun intended) they test for and the analysis involved. Part of it entails human palates. Tasting rum samples? Okay, if I must!

Mark discussing the bottling facility
We taste several different samples varying in ester concentration. High ester rums are their forte. He explains the distillery was acquired only three years ago and they now supply bulk high ester rums to several markets internationally. RumFire, their first bottled product, was released in March 2011. In less than a year, RumFire has been recognized and won awards in the UK and USA respectively. It is clear this operation is about quality and success. Mark entertains our questions and fills any information gaps about the chemistry in the liquids we are sipping. Rum is fun!

The bottling plant is located on site in an adjacent room. The shining stainless steel filling, sealing and labeling machines are clean and new looking. My eyes are distracted by the RumFire labels, quite attractive. (see photo) I begin to feel like a young kid again looking at cool stickers to collect. These labels aren't scratch and sniff, but what they represent is being poured into glasses locally at an increasing rate. At present, we are told they are moving 150 cases daily. RumFire is distributed by Red Stripe, and like Sean Paul's hit,
ever blazin' is right!

We walk around outside and view the remnants of the pre-existing burnt down sugar mill structures of the Jamaica Sugar Company. The history throughout the site is ubiquitous. Angie is quick to fill us in on the details and her family's involvement. Her passion and intensity are admirable. The sugar cane harvest begins in February and a portion of the the harvested sugar cane is pressed for the juice. The sugar cane press used provides a 60% yield. We are told that presently only 3000 acres are being used for sugar cane fields; a fraction of the land available. The sugar cane juice is also used in their fermentation process, but primarily for producing the ester content in the rum. Note the sugar cane juice's distinct function in contrast to that of the molasses, producing ethanol, as mentioned previously. Touring the distillery in its infancy is a unique opportunity. As the demand for larger quantities of RumFire increases, the capacity and ability appears to be already in place to supply it. No problem mon!

Hampden Great House
We ended the tour at the Hampden Great House with a cold bottle of Red Stripe. Relaxing on the veranda is a real treat. Its views and breezy openings illustrate their architectural purpose while watching the tall sugar cane blow in the distance. The basement was, at one point in time, used for rum storage. The house has just started undergoing a renovation of sorts to meet the needs of the family. Its grandeur and style are impressive. A great house for a party indeed!

A big thank you to Mark, Angie and Christelle for being gracious hosts and taking their time to provide an insightful rumtastic tour! Respect!!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Tis' the Season for a Holiday Punch Competition & Toy Drive

The Rum Collective joined forces with Seattle Gin Society this holiday season in a Toys for Tots fundraiser to donate money and gifts to local area children. What could be more satisfying than drinking rum and gin punch to bring smiles to the faces of young children at Christmas? Guests witnessed a 
festive punch competition mixed with drawings for cool raffle prizes and topped up with some fine holiday spirits! Liberty's back room set the stage with two punch bowls, one featuring Citadelle Gin and the other, Plantation Rum Barbados 5yr Grand Reserve. Which punch will win?

Plantation Barbados 5yr Grand Reserve Rum Punch

Garrick Club Punch



Punch by David Wondrich
(One of the raffle prizes)
Plantation Barbados 5yr Grand Reserve Rum and Citadelle Gin are spirits of Cognac Ferrand. This Plantation rum is a blend of rums sourced from Barbados and aged for five years before being transported to France, where it is carefully finished in French oak. This remarkable blended rum not only comes through wonderfully in a punch but is complex and smooth enough to sip. For my Northwest readers, this rum is now in Washington State and if you can find it, you may not believe its affordability at $23.10 per bottle! Don't miss this opportunity to try it and stock up for the winter.

Plantation Barbados 5yr Grand Reserve Rum Punch
Punch was served and the lines between gin and rum folk became blurred. I will mention, there were a few converts. Such is the charm of rum! The thirst for more punch, however, was unanimous. As the decibel level began to rise with more and more overflowing and slightly exagerated tales from the punch bowl, the donations filled the back wall and it was clear this fundraiser was a success. We managed to generate $250 and 12 new toys in donations for the Toys for Tots Foundation. Awesome!

The two punch recipes used are provided below:

Plantation Barbados 5yr Grand Reserve Rum Punch
One of sour (lime juice), two of sweet (simple syrup)
Three of strong (Plantation Rum), four of weak (equal parts orange and pineapple juice) 
Five dashes of bitters (Liberty's house bitters)
Garnish: orange slices and grated nutmeg

Garrick Club Punch
4 lemons
0.5 cups superfine sugar
1 cup fresh lemon juice strained
750ml Gin (Citadelle)
4 oz Combier
24 oz club soda or seltzer water
Garnish: clove studded lemon

A Few of the Donated Toys

The Rum Collective would like to recognize Rocky Yeh and Cognac Ferrand for their support!

Cheers to Keith Waldbauer, Andrew Friedman and the staff at Liberty for being fantastic hosts and facilitating another successful event!!!

A round of applause to all the guests who attended and provided donations! Thank you!!

Addendum: In the spirit of good sportsmanlike conduct, the Garrick Club Punch won by several votes. The only rational explanation I can offer for such a result is that those in the Gin Society may have been influenced by peer pressure. The character of a rum drinker, as history has shown, are freedom loving and full of independence in their words and deeds. I will also add those in The Rum Collective were outnumbered two to one by Seattle Gin Society members. Of course this calls for a rematch next December Seattle Gin Society!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Seattle Rumdrops - Elliott's Dark 'n' Stormy

It may be Bermuda's national drink, but the name Dark 'n' Stormy resonates with many who live in Seattle. Today, The Rum Collective's new bimonthly column, Seattle Rumdrops, premiers down on Pier 56 at Elliott's Oyster House just in time for, yes, you guessed it, rum o'clock!  A debut featuring Elliott's Dark 'n' Stormy is fitting for the weather outside and there isn't a better setting in Seattle I can think of to enjoy it.

This classic rum drink is simple and refreshing. Elliott's uses their own house made ginger beer. Its flavor balances perfectly with Gosling's Black Seal Rum, the dark side in this stormy concoction. Their ginger beer's flavor doesn't hit your palate like a ginger root extract or a heat producing ginger tea as is often the case with many ginger beers. Served ice chilled and topped with fresh lime, it is a waterfront cocktail not to be missed. Be adventurous and ask for a little John D. Taylor's Falernum in it. Here is their tasty ginger beer recipe for home use. Enjoy!

Elliott's Oyster House Ginger Beer Base: Home Version

4 cups water
2 cups lime juice
3 tbsp ground ginger
2 cups white sugar

Mix lime, sugar and ginger and whisk until smooth then add water. Refrigerate as needed.