“How the hell has it taken me so long to write something about Worthy Park” is what I asked myself when I looked at the collection of Rums from the distillery that I have on the shelves. Ever present at Rum Festivals globally since around 2015, which is incidentally where I first met Zan Kong and Gordon Clarke. Boutique Rumfest London in 2015. It’s also where I got my first taste of Rum-Bar Gold, Overproof and their amazing Rum Cream. That was their ‘core range’ at the time and kind of has been for a while. Teased with development samples both at home and at subsequent Rum Festivals, we finally got to see what Worthy Park had been working on behind the scenes at last years UK RumFest. But before we get into this……maybe a little background on Worthy Park and their history.
A Brief History of the Worthy Park Estate
The Worthy Park Estate is located at the geographical centre of Jamaica in the Parish of St. Catherine which is in a valley known as Vale of Lluidas (previously it sat in the Parish of St. Thomas but this was later folded into St. Catherine)
Founded in 1670, the Worthy Park Estate was gifted to Lieutenant Francis Price for his services to Oliver Cromwell during the English invasion and capture of the island of Jamaica from the Spanish in 1655. Since 1670, Worthy Park Estate has only been owned by three families. The Clarke Family have owned the Estate for 100 years. Henry Clarke emigrated to Jamaica in 1846 aged just 18 years old. He became an Anglican Minister and founded the Westmoreland Building Society which is now known as the Jamaican National Building Society. Henry was Father to five sons, one of which was Frederick Clarke.
Frederick (current owner Gordon Clarke’s Great Grandfather) purchased the Worthy Park Estate from J.V Calder in 1918 for £44,000. During his period of ownership he took production levels from 250 tonnes p/a to at its peak 1800 tonnes p/a at the time of his death in 1932. Upon his death his three sons, Clement, Owen and George took over the running of the estate. The company has continued to be operated by successive generations of the Clarke and McConnell families who are all descendants of Frederick Clarke’s children. They have seen that continual re-investment has been made in the estate, expanding cane production and improving the efficiency of the sugar factory.
Commercial cultivation of sugarcane began in 1720 and has continued unabated to this day. Rum production at Worthy Park has been recorded from as early as 1741, which makes it the oldest producer still in existence in Jamaica.
Post World War 2 there was an over-supply of Jamaican Rum in the marketplace and as you would imagine, this drove prices down. Because of this reduced value, the Spirits Pool of Jamaica met with the islands distillers and between them an agreement was made to stop Rum production at the facility in the 1960’s. So, some 40 years after it was last in operation, in 2004 a decision was made by Gordon Clarke to begin Worthy Park Rum production again. Rather than attempting to attach the defibrillator and revive the abandoned distillery set-up, Gordon took on the decision to build a modern facility which would have the capability to produce a wide range of marques. Upon their re-entry to the Rum market in 2005, the decision was made to begin selling bulk rum to brokers who would then sell to bottlers. This would give a steady income whilst allowing Worthy Park to focus on building the Worthy Park brand. Rum-Bar White Overproof was the first product to be unleashed upon the Jamaican market. This was then followed by Rum-Bar Gold and Rum Cream. Having credibility at home was a key driver in delaying the presentation of Worthy Park Rums to the masses.
Cane, Yeast, Fermentation and Production
Production wise, Worthy Park uses four sites. They own the Worthy Park and Enfield sites, lease Caymanas from the Jamaican Government and lease Tulloch from a private farmer. The main operations which include the Distillery, Sugar Factory and Bottling Facility are all on the main Worthy Park Estate site with the three other locations being solely used for sugarcane cultivation which encourages efficiency and the consolidation of the operational side allows for reduced logistical costs.
Worthy Park have in excess of 20 varieties of sugarcane that are harvested with the majority of the fields being dedicated to 3 varieties. They also utilise 3 different yeasts within their fermentation. An activated dry yeast, an isolated proprietary yeast ( taken from one of their sugarcane varieties) and a wild yeast. This wild yeast is cultivated in 4 american white oak pre-fermentation vats. This yeast is developed in a 3 month process which involves molasses, crushed cane stalks, cane juice and ‘special’ ingredients. The yeast is then allowed to develop on its own in these open tanks which are devoid of any temperature control. Worthy Park have 6 fermentation tanks, of which 4 are temperature controlled via a heat exchanger in order to create the ideal temperature for fermentation. The 2 non-temperature controlled tanks are dedicated to the wild yeast fermentation for their high ester distillate and this is a process that can last for between 2 to 3 weeks. So, these various yeast strains and fermentation methods allow Worthy Park to produce a varying number of marques that each has its own code based upon ester count with the most commonly aged marque being WPL.
WPEL – <60 gr/laa
WPL – 60-119 gr/laa
WPM- 120-239 gr/laa
WPH – 240-360 gr/laa
WPE – Up to 800 gr/laa
You’ll note that these levels have been indicated on some of the Habitation Velier bottlings and in certain instances (the 2006) the marque was used on the bottle (WPM)
Production takes place on a Forsyths Double Retort Pot Still…..and what a magnificent beast it is.
I would personally say that bulk Rum sales have mostly been a blessing for Worthy Park. Without releases by bottlers such as Mezan, Kill Devil, Bristol Spirits, Habitation Velier, Kintra, Cadenheads, Ultimatum and Compagnie des Indes the Worthy Park name would not be as well-known as it is. But for every good and honest representation of a very well produced and honest product, there are some that were allowed to use the name that really didn’t treat it with the respect that it deserved….and I’m specifically looking at the Single Cane Estate Worthy Park which was unfortunately released with ‘additions’ by the brand owner Bacardi. This is the downside of bulk rum sales…..you have no controls over what people do and how they present your Rum. A double-edged sword really as additions are the last thing that a pure single rum producer such as Worthy Park would consider.
Anyhow, let’s get back into what we’re here for……the Rum.
Worthy Park Estate Signature Range
We had been waiting a while for Worthy Park to release their own product with the Worthy Park name proudly up front and centre of the bottle. Now we know what they have been busy working on. At the UK Rumfest in 2017 we were lucky enough to try the two main releases that will see their way into the UK Rum market….and also one that wont…but thats why we order online. At the date of publication, none of the Rums are UK available but if you look hard enough they are available online from elsewhere *cough* France *cough*. Within the range there are two cask strength cask finished Rums and one without additional finishing and presented at a more approachable abv. The bottles are heavy, curved, tapered wide shouldered things of beauty with wooden topped synthetic cork closures and its so good to see Worthy Park Estate so prominent on the bottle. It’s almost reflective of a puffed out chest bursting with pride. So without further ado…..
Worthy Park Single Estate Reserve – 45% abv
The Worthy Park Single Estate Reserve is a blend of Rums tropically aged between 6 and 10 years. It is 100% WPL Marque and is aged in ex-bourbon American white oak . It has added caramel colour for batch consistency given that it is the mainstay in the range but it is not chill filtered. It obviously has no other additions. Pure Single Rum. This Rum will see a UK release.
Glass: The Rum is a vibrant gold in the glass and is immediately identifiable as Worthy Park. Banana. Spice Bun. Savoury brine and Olives. Time and a little blow into the glass gives freshly cut fennel. Heavy molasses. Whiffs of English Breakfast Tea. Baking apples filled with mincemeat. Bonfire Toffee. Rich Vanilla and an oily citrus. All rounded out with a pleasing acetone note. Glorious.
Mouth: A beautifully sweet entry is accompanied by a peppery bite. That trademark overripe banana is there along with a little funk. Tropical fruit like Guava and Mango. Brine and salty liquorice by the boat load. A little sticky buttered Soreen malt loaf is a very enticing addition. Nutmeg and Allspice chime in. There is a growing heat and peppery kick. Quite a lot of really pleasant heat on the mid palate as the oak begins to take hold and dry things out. It is nice and oily. Quite chewy. Pancakes with mashed banana and golden syrup with a little vegetal bite too. Sticky dates and treacle toffee. The medium length finish is all oak and black pepper initially with just a trace of sweetness. Salty brine and raisins develop and though I don’t say this a lot about Jamaican rum….there is a leathery and almost tobacco quality in the finish. Burnt cigar leaves and Malt loaf round things out. An amazingly pleasurable experience that has totally been worth the wait. The abv probably sits about right too.
Worthy Park Single Cask Selection Series #1 – Marsala Finish – 60% abv
Worthy Park Single Cask Selection Series #1 – Marsala Finish is again 100% WPL Marque but this time tropically aged for 4 years in ex-bourbon American white oak. It is then shipped (undiluted and unblended) to their partners in Denmark. The Rum is then put into ‘dry’ Marsala casks that were shipped with some liquid in them prior to being emptied and checked for leaks before the Rum was added. No caramel colour and it is not chill filtered. Pure Single Rum. This Rum will not see a UK release.
Glass: A slightly darker gold in the glass, the nose is quite astringent up front. The alcohol really shows itself and needs a few minutes to disperse. Prunes. Apricots. Blackberries. Raisins. Quite an apparent oak and a fair bit of smoke. Caramelised BBQ banana and fudge. A pomegranate molasses sourness. Clearly pungent pot still with the brine and saltiness that it brings but this is subdued. It is still unmistakably Worthy Park but with another layer.
Mouth: There is an initial astringent and peppery bite with moisture sapping oak that gives way to a growing sweetness. Overripe banana. Apricots. Blackberries. Red currant jelly. Not quite as oily and all-encompassing as the Reserve. There is some real heat in the mid-palate as the astringent oak makes a welcome reappearance. It’s quite tannic and a little reminiscent of hedgerow fruits. There is a sweet and sour interplay on the sides of my tongue with the sweetness of woody berries being offset by sour tamarind. It invites further sips. The medium length finish is initially led by the alcohol vapours. Once the heat that they bring subsides you are left with a warm, tannic and peppery oak that calmly drifts into berries and a hint of red liquorice. The cask finish is really well-integrated, but I can’t help but wonder what more time would’ve done.
Worthy Park Single Cask Selection Series #2 – Oloroso Finish – 59% abv
Worthy Park Single Cask Selection Series #2 – Oloroso Finish is again 100% WPL Marque but this time tropically aged for 4 years in ex-bourbon American white oak. It is then shipped (undiluted and unblended) to their partners in Denmark. The Rum is then put into ‘dry’ Oloroso casks that were shipped with some liquid in them prior to being emptied and checked for leaks before the Rum was added. No caramel colour and it is not chill filtered. Pure Single Rum. This Rum will see a UK release.
Glass: The Rum is a darkish straw gold in the glass and there is a huge dollop of molasses up front backed up with creamy Caramac bar. A hint of mashed banana and caramelised brown sugar. Rhubarb. There are developing savoury notes with brine and black olives and it appears to be quite salty and reminiscent of crumbled Oxo cubes. It is also a little rubbery and sulphury on the nose……like someone is lighting matches in the next room whilst a car is doing burnouts outside an open window. A growing white pepper and nutty character develops before leaving you with date and walnut cake.
Mouth: This has by far the hottest entry of the three. It opens with quite a distracting heat which gives way to a freshly opened bag of dried raisins and mixed peel. Plump ripe greengages. A really apparent powdery white pepper and burnt paper. Speculoos spread. It has a really astringent mid-palate resplendent with white pepper and a grating of fresh nutmeg atop an egg custard. Hidden within the vapours that play at the back of your throat is a block of pipe tobacco similar to the one that my Grandad used to shred and cut with his penknife. Tannin’s aplenty lead what is the longest and most pleasing finish of all three. Its simplicity and enjoyment at its best. Peppery oak and a real heat are carried through to a tobacco and nut laden finish. If I had to add anything, it would be that I think the Rum needs longer in the Oloroso barrels. It’s almost like a layer on top of the Rum and even though its seen the same time in the barrel as the Marsala, it’s not as well-integrated.
So there we go. The new range has been worth the wait. What makes writing about the Rums from Worthy Park even more enjoyable is that having met Gordon once and Zan numerous times, they’re such nice people that you cant help but wish them every success. If this is their first run at a signature range worthy of the Worthy Park Estate name, the future looks very bright.
I’ve maybe copped out a little with scoring the Marsala and Reserve equally. In my own mind I know that the Reserve is the better product. It’s an amazing representation of what for me Worthy Park is, but with so much more depth than we’ve seen in their own releases thus far. But I was and am so taken with the Marsala Cask with its extra abv and all that it offered, I struggled with the score for a while.
Huge thanks to Nikos Arvanitis and Zan Kong for their help compiling this article.
I hope to one day bring you first hand experience of visiting the distillery……but in the meantime if you would like to read more about Worthy Park and see a few images of the things mentioned above, click on this link.
If you would like to really get deep into the history of Worthy Park then I would suggest purchasing A Jamaican Plantation: A History of Worthy Park 1670-1970
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