Holmes Cay Mhoba 2017

My interest and appreciation of the output from Mhoba should be apparent to anyone that has visited this site previously. I have a few multi bottling reviews (here and here)and one very large reference piece charting the origins of Mhoba Rum and it’s founder, Robert Greaves here. Robert is a man that I have a great deal of time and respect for. Not only does he produce great Rum, he’s also an extremely humble, open, honest and likeable man. So imagine my delight when I found out that another person that I also consider to be thoroughly decent was bottling a Mhoba product. That person is Eric Kaye and along with his partner in crime (and wife), Maura Gedid, they are independent bottlers Holmes Cay. 

Holmes Cay have grown slowly but surely since my first encounter with Eric and their products back at Rumfest in 2019. Their mantra is “No Additives. No Adulteration. Just Rum”……and it is one that I fully support and can get on board with. Spanning Australia, Barbados, Belize, Fiji, Guyana, Jamaica, Mauritius, South Africa and Trinidad, they’ve not been too shy to encourage exploration beyond the Caribbean. Sadly, they’re also unavailable here in the UK outside of Rum auction websites and that is a real shame. 

How therefore have I come to acquire this bottling. That is all thanks to a coffee and a ham & cheese toastie at the Starbucks around the corner from Crewe railway station in October last year. Eric had been in Liverpool exploring the delights of the Main Rum warehouse and uncovering some new treats to bottle. Eric had kindly agreed to meet me in a stop off on his way down to London. I duly collected him from the station and we seconded to the sterile wasteland that is a Starbucks in a railway town on a weekday mid morning. I took some samples of quite coveted bottles for Eric to try and he kindly gave this bottle in return…..and a pretty cool hat too.  I also got to try a couple of samples, straight from a plastic Starbucks cup, of some insanely good upcoming bottling’s. Even then, they shone through their dire, drab surroundings and provided a brief journey to another place, if only for a second. 

So enough talk of trains, hats and sterile coffee shop environs, let’s move into the Rum. 

Holmes Cay Mhoba 2017 4 Years Old – 59% abv – 0g/l additives

As the name would suggest, this is a Mhoba bottling distilled in 2017 and bottled in 2021. It was bottled at its barrel strength of 59% abv and drawn from an ex-South African Whisky barrel (number 49). The barrel was one of a batch obtained from the James Sedgewick Distillery in Wellington, South Africa. Sedgewick’s produce Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky which is a Grain Whisky (can be made from any grain including unmalted Barley, Wheat, Corn & Rye) and Three Ships which is a Single Malt Whisky (Malted Barley). That parcel of barrels contained both malt and grain whisky barrels, all barrels were old and therefore very well used, and Robert being Robert, he refurbished around 2 in 10 barrels by removing material and re-toasting. Due to the losses to evaporation (the temperatures are at Caribbean levels but with greater fluctuation of highs and lows) the casks were consolidated, therefore it is likely that any releases from the 2017 ex-South African Whisky barrels may have seen time in both ex-malt and ex-grain whisky barrels. 

Tasting Notes

Nose: We often say that distilleries have a signature aroma, honed from their techniques crafted and perfected over a number of years, Robert has definitely achieved that in a short space of time with Mhoba. It’s like a unique blend of high ester Jamaican output, unaged agricole from the French West Indies, the heavier and massively appealing (to me) pot still side of cane juice and the glue-y output from Fiji. But that amalgamation is quintessentially Mhoba. 

Vibrant, bright, ester laden sugarcane juice. Light acetone. Plastic. Model glue. Lingering fuel aromas on your hand following filling up the tank. Earthy notes of turmeric, saffron, ginger root and freshly foraged mushrooms creep in. Layers of complexity keep building and revealing themselves as the glass sits. A fruitier side reveals itself with sticky caramelised pineapple, pineapple upside down cake, manuka honey. Imagine oily lemon and lime rind covered in powdered sugar. White wine. A really unshakable candyfloss note. Wafts of chocolate coated raisins, toffee pennies. Complex and rewarding……and more unnervingly, approachable.

Mouth: Initially there is an unmistakable and prominent liquorice root……those little wooden sticks that rewarded constant chewing with earthy, rooty, bitter and occasionally sweet liquorice. Robust, oily and possessing plenty of grip on the palate. As you sit and take repeated sips that sweetness grows with toffee pennies, pineapple cubes and tinned pineapple juice. Beautifully controlled acidity. Citrus oil. Sticky and almost damp muscovado sugar being added to a spiced fruitcake mix. Liquorice. Honey on toast. Sugared almonds. A drying and spiced mid palate which is where the barrel influence first shows itself, and it brings white pepper, ginger juice, baking spices. The finish is a touch shorter than I would’ve liked but it builds towards it on the preceding sips to leave that drying sweet, bitter and woody liquorice root, sugared almonds, peaches and maybe a hint of coffee at the death. 

In conclusion: This rum is on the lighter side of the Mhoba output. Way less wood influence than their usual offerings and it feels more approachable for it, but don’t let that make you believe that it is lacking in any way. Quite the opposite. It is complex, rewarding and shows great development from nose to palate and into the finish. Robert has again produced an exemplary distillate and Eric has been smart enough to snap it up and bottle it. A perfect match. 

4.5 / 5

© Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog 2022. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, both written and photographic without the express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Hampden 12 Year Old 2009 Jamaica – Quarterdeck (Duncan Taylor)

Well this almost feels new again…..its been a quite a while since I last wrote anything and personally I was unsure that I’d ever write again. But here we are…..like a bear that has been hibernating for a good few winters, it was time to awaken and reacquaint myself with my surroundings.

The Rum being assessed today is from a distillery steeped in history, a distillery that still utilises techniques long forgotten by a large bulk of the modern Rum making world. We are of course talking about Hampden. Sculptors of magically pungent and often breathtaking Rum using raw materials, surrounding environment and a vast wealth of Rum making knowledge dating back to the 1700’s as their medium of choice.

I have previously written about Hampden Estate, both distillery bottlings and independent bottlings and by clicking here, you can see a few of those posts. I was also meant to visit the distillery in early 2020….but a certain issue know globally as the Covid-19 pandemic put pay to that. Needless to say, Hampden Estate produce some stunning Rum at various ester levels……these include:

OWH (Outram W. Hussey) – Ester level of 40-80 g/hlAA
LFCH (Lawrence Francis Close Hussey) – Ester level of 85-120 g/hlAA
LROK (Light Rum Owen Kelly) – Ester level of 200-400 g/hlAA
HLCF (Hampden Light Continental Flavoured) – Ester Level of 500-700 g/hlAA
<>H (Often called Diamond H) – Ester level of 900-1000 g/hlAA
HGML (Hampden George MacFarquhar Lawson) – Ester level of 1000-1100 g/hlAA
C<>H (Often called C Diamond H) – Ester level of 1300-1400 g/hlAA
DOK (Dermot Owen Kelly-Lawson) – Ester level of 1500-1600 g/hlAA

To achieve some of their truly high ester releases, they also utilise something known as the Cousins Process. Named after the legendary ‘Island Chemist’, H H Cousins, this high ether process was introduced at Hampden Estate by Charles Allan in 1905. This technique was able to show that the “flavour” of Jamaican Rum was not solely the result of alcoholic fermentation by yeast, but by acidic fermentation by bacteria. The Cousins Process essentially utilises a series of steps to turn the fatty acid ester precursors from past distillations into a concentrated liquid that can be used to create some amazingly high ester Rums. Of course, Hampden Estate also utilise Muck (a horrific concoction of acids that create a bacterial dynamite for secondary fermentation to unlock other esters and volatiles) and Dunder (stillage from previous distillations retained and added to future fermentations). Quite an arsenal of tools at their disposal and the skills involved in their creation and deployment cannot be underestimated.

Hampden 12 Year Old 2009 Jamaica – Quarterdeck (Duncan Taylor) – 50.8% abv – 0g/l additives

I was first alerted to this Rum by Eric March, a member of the UK Rum Club facebook group that I run with the prolific Rum Blogger, The Fat Rum Pirate. He contacted me asking if I knew any information on the marque of the Rum as the bottle gives nothing away aside from a date barreled of 30.06.2009, a date bottled of 17.02.2022, indication that it is cask number 27 that had an outturn of 335 bottles and a 12 year age statement. I suggested that running back to other bottles that I have tried in the past, this may be a mythical DOK marque. Eric duly purchased the bottle and upon tasting, being the high ester Rum Geek that he is, agreed with my suggestion of DOK. We still however, have no official confirmation as the bottler doesn’t have the information. Eric was kind enough to send me a sample of the Rum along with one of the excellent Neisson Profil 105 and a crazy Savanna HERR. As soon as I poured the sample, I knew that I needed to pick a bottle up. It had both familiar, and unfamiliar qualities and I was aware that I’d wanted to spend more time with the Rum.

Tasting Notes

Nose: There’s certainly no mistaking this pour for anything dull and uninteresting……I’m pretty sure that my neighbours can smell it through the walls. Hugely bright, pungent estery acidity pours from the glass. Layer upon layer of inviting tropical fruit sweetness. A trilogy of Pineapple….charred and caramelised with tip-top cream, freshly cut and touching the fermenting fizz of over ripeness, a huge paper bag of pineapple cube sweets. Dried sweet Mango and Papaya pieces. Stinging pear drop acetone and a touch of tropical fruit vinegar. Someone using waxy furniture polish in another room and then blending fiery fresh ginger root with cloves. Walkers Old Fashioned Hazelnut and Caramel slabs. This DOK has a little more to it though…..there’s an underlying and for me quite unmistakable tart blackcurrant and sticky liquorice facet to the rum…..it genuinely does feel like someone liquidised a bag of sweets and poured it into the barrel. Even two hours after pouring, real development is still happening on the nose with more subtlety felt in the form of tomato plants in the garden on a sunny day and some faint appearance of fresh herbs. 

Palate: The first striking thing about this Rum on the palate is the insane mouthfeel, it’s big, oily and chewy. Sweet and also Bitter too. That liquorice and blackcurrant comes across almost instantly as soon as your tastebuds have stopped dancing around your mouth with the sheer intensity of the liquid. A “soapy” note around the side of the tongue……almost like a pine shower gel. Bright, acidic, estery fruit as on the nose. Sweet sweet caramelised pineapple. Fragrant Banana chips and sticky, chewy soft liquorice bring the sweetness with the creeping bitterness of a good dark chocolate and the tart berries. The mid palate brings Fennel seeds. Celery salt. White pepper. Salty salami. Olive brine. The lightest appearance of drying oak spice. The biggest problem with DOK is trying to stop it just evaporating on your tongue into nothingness. The oiliness of this bottling however helps it linger for more than a couple of heartbeats and brings something that most DOK bottlings that I’ve experienced seem to lack……a finish. This is the sum of its parts with caramelised almost burnt pineapple, the merest hint of barrel spice (white pepper and clove) and nutty toffee morphing into those liquorice and blackcurrant sweets with just a hint of menthol, resinous pine and drying barrel influence. 

In conclusion: It’s a great bottling. I’m struggling to find any faults, off notes or flaws. Even the abv feels right. They’ve done a great job with this bottling as it gives in waves and lasts as an experience for much longer than others of its ilk. For me not a daily drinker, but its certainly not some unapproachable brute either…..age has refined it and knocked the aggressive chip off its shoulder to create a well rounded, if still pungent and loud experience.

4.5 / 5

© Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog 2022. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, both written and photographic without the express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.