Kill Devil Hampden 10 Year Old 2007 Cask Strength – The Whisky Barrel Exclusive

This review marks another Cask Strength Hampden Release from the Hunter Laing Kill Devil range exclusive to The Whisky Barrel…..my second review of a Whisky Barrel Exclusive Hampden this week! There was a previous Hampden 10 year TWB exclusive released earlier this year….in March…and another 16 year released to coincide with this 10 year. Hampden of course specialise in heavy 100% pot still rums harking back to Rum production of days gone by with the Plantation tracing its roots back to 1753. I have previously written about Hampden Estates own releases here, a 17 year Kill Devil Hampden release here and the recent 16 year Hampden Whisky Barrel Exclusive release here.

Without further ado, let’s get into it.

Kill Devil Hampden 2007 Cask Strength – TWB Exclusive – 62.5% abv – Pure single Rum

This 10-year-old Rum is from a 2007 distillation and it has only Continental maturation. Presented at a cask strength of 62.5% it has no caramel colour and has not been chill filtered. With so many marques available with varying ester levels, it’d be interesting to find out what marque this is….without that information to hand, we’ll just have to try it.

Tasting Notes

Nose: With glass sitting on a table next to me this rum is so powerful that it feels like it’s beneath my nose. Very creamy. Lots of ethyl acetate. Sweet overripe banana, chargrilled pineapple and sharp cranberries. Again, very ripe juicy strawberries. Something acidic lurks like cider vinegar. Brine. Preserved lemons. Pickled cornichons with mustard seeds. Pink grapefruit rind. Molasses. Warm tires. Melting plastic. Light barrel notes. Sappy wood and eucalyptus. Beautifully vibrant.

Mouth: Neat it is very intense. Initially very sweet with bright fruit. This becomes quite acidic and then very dry very very quickly. Almost disappearing. I’ve only felt that to this length before with unaged DOK. Well stewed breakfast tea develops. The overriding taste is burnt toast with lots of butter…..making this rum an instant favourite as I use the smoke alarm to tell me when my toast is ready! With water it’s slightly more approachable, but still hellishly intense. The opening is slightly sweet and creamy and is all about beautiful Bajan Banana Jam….the best jam that I’ve ever tasted. Candied pineapple. Quite a bit of spice in the form of ginger, cinnamon bark and an earthy turmeric. The oak maturation displays itself more here…and it drags the fruit and spice onto the dry, oak led mid palate. Quite oily and tarry with a real dry spice note. Molasses. The finish, which is frankly sublime is initially fruity with that banana jam and pineapple before the cider vinegar and cornichon appears. Burnt, buttery toast is a real theme here and it marks an earthy return of the turmeric. Bonfire embers, molasses and burnt rubber round things out. The finish is a little short in the end. Perhaps due to the marque. It’s akin to trying pot still rum straight off the still…..initially intense and it then disperses far too quickly. Though the molasses is still with me.

4.5 / 5

It’s again a very very good rum, and all told, I prefer it’s youthful abandon to the slightly more refined 16 year. Both warrant your money though. To buy one however, I’d buy this.

© Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog 2018. 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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Kill Devil Hampden 16 Year Old 2001 Cask Strength – The Whisky Barrel Exclusive

Specialist online retailer The Whisky Barrel always seem to be commissioning something interesting, whether whisky or rum….fortunately for us, but not our wallets, they seem to be upping the ante when it comes to their rum releases with a few solid Berry Bros. and Hunter Laing offerings.

There have been a few Cask Strength Hampden Kill Devil releases by Hunter Laing of late, this 2001 marks another to be released as an exclusive for The Whisky Barrel. This 16 year hails from a sister cask to the previous 2001 TWB exclusive released in July of this year. There is also 10 year 2007 to accompany this release which is again the second 10 year TWB exclusive to be released this year. Hampden of course specialise in heavy 100% pot still rums harking back to days gone by with the Plantation tracing its roots back to 1753. I have previously written about Hampden Estates own releases here, a 17 year Kill Devil Hampden release here and a previous Whisky Barrel Exclusive release here.

Kill Devil Hampden 16 Year Old 2001 Cask Strength – TWB Exclusive – 61.2% abv – Pure single Rum

This 156 bottle run of a 16-year-old Rum is from a 2001 distillation and it has only Continental maturation. Presented at a cask strength of 61.2% it has no caramel colour and has not been chill filtered. The 2001 distillation date hints that it may be the <>H marque as mentioned in the Hampden section of the Single Cask Rum website. The official Velier 70th Anniversary release of the Hampden <>H, a 2010 distillation of that marque with a full 7 years tropical maturation is a bottle that evaded me upon launch and still evades me to this day. I have however tried it as a result of the generosity of a sample from a friend…..it left me wanting more though.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Astringent varnish. Furniture polish. A freshly opened tin of gloss paint. Intense pear drop acetone but with a really fruity and sharp nose. Overripe banana. Caramelised pineapple. Haribo strawberry sweets. There’s real depth to the fruit and a stewed plum and prune quality…Still quite sharp though. A little time in the glass brings freshly sliced ginger, an almost fragrant floral coriander seed. Toasted coconut. Pencil shavings. Freshly sawn wood. Peppery. Growing oak presence. It starts to become quite smoke driven, well, more burnt splints from Chemistry lessons, and for a while that dominates. Coming back to it, quite salty. Olives. Brine. Light menthol character. Pine air freshener. Intense stuff

Mouth: With no water…..Warming, hot, spicy entry. Salty, zestly lemon and olives. Black Forest ham. Heavy molasses. Dry dry dry oak. With water….Still spicy, still hot…but fruitier too. Caramelised pineapple that’s just caught…it gives rise to a bittersweet treacle. Burnt banana loaf. A nice backbone of oak carries things along. Strawberries, very similar to the Rum Fire Velvet….Citrus peel. The mid palate is dominated by spicy, grippy oak. Cinnamon (bark not powdered), ginger. Strong building site cabin tea. Soft liquorice and sugar-coated liquorice torpedoes develop. The finish, which is measured in tens of minutes starts off with salty liquorice and a touch of black olive before the cooked burnt fruit kicks it’s way in…Pineapple, banana and then a bitter lemon zest. Quite tangy. Very well-integrated musty oak coated in molasses rounds things out.

Well balanced, poised and multi-faceted. Depth of flavour and aroma that others would kill for. Hampden fares better than most when it comes to continental maturation, which is a bonus as it’s all that we’ve had from them for a while as far as aged stock goes…..at least up until the Habitation Velier releases were unleashed….and now their own Estate bottlings which will be on these pages soon. This is a very good example of a very good distilleries output at a bit of a bargain price…..though the previous release was a few quid cheaper!

4.5 / 5

© Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog 2018. 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.

Veritas White Blended Pot & Coffey Still Rum

The only way that you won’t have heard about Veritas (Probitas when released in the States) would be if you had absolutely no interest in the Rum world.

A teaming up of two amazing and honest distilleries to produce a pot and column blended ‘White’ Rum. These two powerhouses are of course Foursquare Rum Distillery in Barbados and Hampden Estate in Jamaica.

The front label, resplendent with a “Guardians of Rum” crest, states that it is a blend of Coffey Still and Pot Still Rums…..it also states the Master Blender (Richard Seale) and the inspiration (Luca Gargano). As you would expect, the rear label confirms that the Coffey Still component is from Foursquare and the Pot Still component is from Hampden…..the rear label also confirms that the Rum is aimed at the cocktail market…..but its so much more than that simple. There is also a ‘tongue in cheek’ mention of dosage on the label….I’ll say no more about that….but the jibe would fall flat if the Rum did not stand up to closer inspection. I have written extensively about Foursquare Distillery products and you can read more here, with a bit of information on Hampden Distillery here.

Veritas White Blended Rum – 47%

I mention above that this Rum is more than it appears on the surface….and here is why. The make up of Veritas is more interesting than stated as it is actually a blend of three Rums. The first component is a 2 year Tropically aged Foursquare Pot still Rum (the Rum has colour for a reason). The second component is an unaged Coffey Column still Rum from Foursquare. The third component is an unaged Pot still Rum from Hampden Estate. There is no charcoal filtration of the Rum. The biggest component of the blend is the unaged Coffey Column Rum which when tasted really does show that a little pot still can go a long way. Digging deeper, the Hampden marque used is OWH (Owen W Hussey). Numbers wise, this is the lowest count marque that Hampden produce….but as has been pointed out to me, purely elevating ethyl acetate isn’t improving the Rum. The OWH marque, whilst ‘low ester’ in relation to Rum, is actually high by spirit standards. The marque itself was put forward by Vivian Wisdom, Master Distiller at Hampden (and all round lovely chap) for use in the blend and its inclusion was agreed by Richard Seale.

 

Tasting Notes

Nose: Beautifully creamy. The abv excerpts itself robustly on the nose with a little sting. Portuguese custard tarts. Vanilla pods. Present but light and very well-integrated pot still element. It possesses the creaminess and fresh vegetal cane like quality of the Habitation Velier Foursquare 2013 and 2015 releases. Light acetone bite dragging citrus oils and a basket of fresh tropical fruit on the table at breakfast in summer.

Mouth: There it is. The pot still is way more present in the mouth feel which is a lot more oily than I expected. Real proper weight in this rum on the palate. It is the pot still that leads the early exchanges. Chewy Molasses. A touch of Kola Nut. Give it time and the lighter, fruitier elements come to the fore. Sugarcane. Light and so so typical marshmallow from the Coffey column. Banana. Guava jam on a buttery crumpet. Croissant like buttery pastry sweetness. Molasses in the finish. So much body to it.

Really really impressive. Prepare to have your preconceptions of young, cocktail oriented rum changed for good. It’s not just good for a young Rum, it’s good full stop. Yes…..I’d be perfectly happy drinking this neat….but it mixes so well. Daiquiris…good….provided you keep them on the sour side this Rum sings a wonderful tune. Banana daiquiris…..good. It even mixes well with coke.

4.5 / 5

A previous favourite of mine at home for daiquiris was Plantation 3 Stars…I enjoyed the fact that it had a bit of pot still in there and that it was reasonably cheap …..I have no need for it now. Tried side by side, the 3 Stars lacks palate weight, lacks character. Night and Day difference

Veritas is around £25 a bottle….you’ll have to buy from a France or Italy at the moment which is annoying…but it’s worth the effort.

© Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog 2018. 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.

JAH45 Silver Jamaican Rum

A new range from a familiar stable. JAH45 is the brainchild of the newly formed Hellshire Club….or more specifically its CEO Carl Stephenson. Carl, a former executive of J Wray & Nephew is also the guy behind the excellent Elements 8 Range and their Republica Rum was reviewed here. But this article is all about JAH45 Jamaican Rum. Origin wise the whole marketing side of things links nicely to the Rum in the bottle. JAH being Rastafarian for God, though in this instance it is being used as a reference to Jamaica. 45 as you will have worked out relates to 45 RPM speed on a turntable. JAH45 draws its origins from the revolutionary sound systems in Kingston during the 1950’s that provided affordable entertainment that was subsequently used by liquor stores to entice customers in to buy Rum. Huge speakers would be set up and DJs would set up turntables and bang out local music. For me it calls to mind artists like U-Roy and Toots & the Maytals. 

Anyhow, onto the Rum. The range itself will comprise 5 bottlings. The Silver being reviewed today, Gold, Dark, Spiced and Overproof. Again, not too enamored with the use of colour as a classification but given the target market for the bottlings and their insane pricing levels it’s probably the right approach. Insane pricing because the bottles range from £20 to £27 which is priced to sell and be affordable to those wanting to take a trip into the unknown. Initially the company approach is the get the Rums into the on-trade and they have already been picked up by the Las Iguanas restaurant group.

JAH45 Silver Jamaican Rum – 40% abv 

The liquid in the bottle is a blend of unaged Pot and Column distilled Rums from Hampden, New Yarmouth and Clarendon. New Yarmouth is the distillery that produces W&N Overproof and Clarendon is the distillery that produces Monymusk. Hampden is the distillery that produces pure magic and the stuff of dreams.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Fresh, vibrant, grassy sugarcane. Powdered sugar. The heady intoxicating molasses aroma that permeates a distillery. Light astringency. There is a definite light punch of pot still that is tempered by the column component to merely a gentle slap. Funk….but really accessible funk. Pineapple syrup. Foam bananas. A little menthol nose. Pear drops. Wet cardboard. Really pleasant and whilst it has that magical Jamaican edge that we crave, it’s not at all scary for those new to Jamaican Rum.

Mouth: A near perfect translation from nose to mouth. Sweet entry. Oilier than expected. Light tropical fruit. Pineapple, guava, mango. Fresh banana. A touch of liquorice. Something vaguely herbal. It has way more going for it than a £20 bottle should do, and it packs way more authentic and true flavour than a lot of Rums twice its price.

Now obviously you won’t be drinking this neat, though that’s how I managed to clear close to a quarter of the bottle….getting to know it. I know for a fact that when thrown into a Daiquiri with a drop of Banane du Brésil, greatness ensues. But I’ve been enjoying it as a long drink with Ting. No measures, just feel it. Makes a banging drink.

I want to taste more pot still…but its a double-edged sword. More pot still would equal greater expense and that is not the intention here. There is enough interest here to hold my gaze for a while and really with all of the super premium fancy bottled stuff being hawked to consumers for extortionate prices, what the Rum world needs is accessible true, interesting Jamaican rums that have not been messed with. Yes you have the Appleton range but whilst relatively inexpensive are a little light on the vibrant pot components. This isn’t. This has just enough pot still to lift it above the close competition. I’d love to see these Rums with supermarket availability.

4 / 5

I see its direct competitor as Appleton White, and in my opinion the JAH45 Silver kills it. For £20, this much flavour, honest origins, and no funny business…..its a must buy.

© Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog 2018. 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.

Kill Devil Hampden 17

Now we have the basis laid down for Hampden Estate with its own bottlings here, we can look to explore some independent releases….of which there are plenty. Kill Devil seem to be in possession of plenty of Hampden Rum as their releases from the distillery are growing in number….particularly on the Cask Strength side with a 24-year-old (which I’ve never tasted), a very small release of less than 60 bottles of a 9-year-old Cask Strength rum which will be coming to this site and a limited edition bottling of a Cask Strength 10-year-old for The Whisky Barrel….which I have on order as I write this. Kill Devil are the Rum arm (Golden Devil in the U.S) of Hunter Laing, specialist blenders and bottlers of single malt whisky. They bottle either at 46% (50% as standard in the U.S with no Cask Strength releases) or at natural Cask Strength….un-chill filtered and with no additions or colouring. They apply their whisky principles to their Rum releases. They really are true single cask releases. The Kill Devil range is Hunter Laing’s showcase of the quality and diversity of rum available in the Caribbean and from further afield.  So without further fuss…let’s dig into this bottle.

Kill Devil Hampden 17 – 46% – Pure Single Rum

Distilled in the traditional twin retort pot still at Hampden Distillery in December 1998, some 11 years prior to the current ownership taking over and 5 years prior to it being subject to a government takeover, this Rum was bottled in 2016 giving it over a full 17 years of maturation. There is an 18-year-old bottling from the same distillation date of December 1998 which I will look at in time.

Tasting Notes

Glass: The pale white wine coloured liquid has one hell of a nose. Even at 46% this is bursting from the glass. Huge. Pungent and typically Hampden….but also a touch Long Pond too in its fruity delivery. Esters esters esters. Acetone. Varnish. Buckets of fruit both ripe and overripe. A clear and definite menthol note. Sweet Victoria pineapples. Ripe strawberry sweetness. Almost perfumed. Pineapple mint. Overripe bananas. Guava juice. Sugared almonds. Olives. Smoked cheese. This is a joy to sit and nose. It just keeps on giving. Beautiful fruit, confectionery, fresh mint and sappy pine notes. Not the funkiest Hampden that I’ve tried, but it’s massively pungent.

Mouth: Sweetness is the vibe initially backed with an amazingly medicinal quality of acetone, varnish and a little pine. The sweetness fades relatively quickly but whilst its there the initial overwhelming note is Pineapple….a lot of pineapple. Grilled and sticky sweet. The fade brings a slightly bitter or more likely sour note…like fizzy sour sweets or a past its best fermenting pineapple. Further refreshers reveal more of that base sweetness….green apples, ginger syrup and a light vanilla. Kola Kubes. Pear drops. The sweet / sour interplay of a ruby grapefruit. Citrus oil appears along with that beautiful sweet and menthol pineapple mint interplay that was present on the nose. There is a lack of any real oak influence in this which probably assists in allowing the fruit to shine through. Savoury notes of olives and brine are present as expected but are nowhere near the dominating flavours. At the back-end I found the finish to be of a medium length and as the sweetness of that pineapple fades it boosts the menthol and pine quality to the fore. White wine. Pomelo with a sprinkling of black pepper and a little clove oil. Surprisingly whisky like too. The finish for me after such a flavour and aroma explosion was quite disappointing and by far the weak link here…..thats because it was so vibrant and giving at the front end. But if you carry on refilling your glass…..you always maintain the sweet spot of those aromas and flavours.

4 / 5

An amazing Rum that for me was a little bit of a let down at the finish line. A more vibrant finish would’ve seen an extra half mark on the score. But if you see this, you should buy it. Money well spent.

© Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog 2018. 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.

Hampden Estate – Hampden Gold and Rum Fire Velvet

Amazingly this will mark only the second and third rums from Hampden Estate to feature in the site, the first being the quite excellent Excellence Rhum Collection release. I thought it useful to gather some information and give a little background on the Hampden Estate and their history.

Hampden Estate, known for their incredibly pungent pot still output lies in the northwest parish of Trelawny in the Queen of Spain valley and first operated as a large sugar plantation in around 1753. At this time it was owned by a Scotsman by the name of Mr Archibald Sterling. In 1779 the Hampden Great House was built on the Estate with the large ground floor functioning as a rum store until the early 1900’s. 20 years later in 1799 the upper residential level of the Great House was added.

Hampden Estate Great House

Solidly embedded in Jamaican history, Hampden Estate established the Hampden Presbyterian Church in around 1824 making it the first church of that denomination in Jamaica. Under the ownership of Mr Archibald Sterling up until circa 1827, the Estate then came into the ownership of Dermot Owen Kelly-Lawson, Justice of the Peace of Trelawny. Ena Kelly-Lawson, his daughter, married a Mr Farquharson who upon her death inherited Hampden Estate. The Farquharson’s owned and operated the estate as a sugar and rum production facility until financial difficulties in 2003 saw the government operated Jamaica Sugar Company take ownership . So essentially during a 250 year period spanning 1753-2003, the Estate was owned and operated by only two families. The government ownership was also accompanied by the shouldering of an element of debt to help protect local employment. At one time the Estate was renowned to be in possession of some of the best Cane yield lands in Jamaica and boasted the highest tonne of sugar from tonne of cane milled. But due to a perceived lack of investment from the previous owners it was deemed that the estate had become archaic, therefore inefficient and subsequently unprofitable. In 2009 following a legal dispute relating to the estates previous owners, Everglade Farms Limited owned by the Hussey Family acquired the Estate via public auction as a result of a divestment of assets by the Jamaica Sugar Company. A commitment was made by Everglade Farms to invest $6.2 million into Hampden Estate and Long Pond Sugar Factory (not distillery) and this brought with it an element of stability to the Trelawny economy.

As far as the Rum itself goes….Hampden is a treasure trove of goodness. They specialise in the making of heavy Pot Still rums and have in-depth knowledge in the art of making High Ester Rums that can only be gained from experience handed down from generation to generation. Hampden do not use commercial yeast.  They culture, suspend and regenerate their own. They also use that most mythical of creatures….the dunder pit. They’re also still using fermenters made more than 100 years ago. This is centuries old traditional Rum making at its best…..a place that I’d love to visit.

Hampden make a variety of marques ranging from 50 to 1600 Esters. The higher the ester range, the more intense the aroma of the rum. Their rums are used extensively in the blending of other rums throughout the world and their higher ester rums are used by the food, flavoring and perfume industries. Familiar known marque names will be LROK, HLCF, <>H and DOK but there are many more.

Although certain marques are set aside for ageing, the majority of Hampden’s business comes from bulk Rum sales to the likes of E & A Scheer in Holland.

There is plenty of other reading on the subject of Hampden Estate and one of the most in-depth sources can be found here

All of that brings me to the fun subject of  the two Rums that I have chosen to look at today…..Hampden Gold and Rum Fire Velvet.

Hampden Gold – 40% – Unaged – Pure Single Rum

Tasting Notes

Glass: The Rum is a completely unaged pale straw gold. Now do we see the uselessness of categorisation by colour? E150a….Spirit Caramel. In this instance they’re not doing it to dupe you, quite the opposite. It’s being done to combat your preconceptions about unaged Rum. To allow a quality distillate to be experienced by those that would otherwise write it off. They’re not hiding it, however it would be good to have some acknowledgement of this on the label. Initial aromas definitely show us that we’re in pure pot still Jamaican territory. Acetone. Pear drops. Tropical fruit….think papaya and guava. Beautiful bruised bananas. Molasses. A touch of freshly cut green apple. Light sweetness.

Mouth: The Rum has a very thin mouthfeel and carries none of the sweetness present on the nose. It’s very spirit driven. Molasses. A light vegetal, almost agricole like sugarcane note. Fresh, ice-cold apple juice. Lidl Apple Loop sweets. Mixed tropical fruit jam. Dialed down funk. Even though its very light (for a Jamaican) and has a very thin mouthfeel, I enjoy it. It doesn’t have the abv to hammer home what makes its origins great but it could be a gentle introduction to the style and at a good price to display the quality of the distillate even down at 40%. Better to nose than to drink, but solid stuff for their entry-level nonetheless. Great in a rum and coke which is where I use it.

3 / 5

Hampden Rum Fire Velvet – 63% – Unaged – Pure Single Rum

Tasting Notes

Glass: Wild. This is more like it. A huge fruity arrival. It grabs you by the scruff of the neck and screams Jamaican! They use dunder at Hampden…and it shows. Plump ripe strawberries and their fresh candied sweet aroma. Lots of citrus oil. Overripe mashed banana. Green cooking apples. Kiwi fruit. Funky as hell. Really heavy vibrant sugarcane notes. Root vegetables…earthy turnips and parsnips. Something rotten on the compost heap. Stinging acetone. A coating of varnish on a cheap cricket bat. Wax. Brine. Olives. Rather weirdly the aroma of passing the flue of the boiler that exhausts at the side of my house. Slightly metallic. Simultaneously both heavy and light. Beautiful natural sweetness. It’s the Rum equivalent of the state that Newt from Aliens was in when Ripley found her.

Mouth: An oily flavour explosion and way more approachable than I expected. That’s not to say you can dive in. You have to acclimatise. Small sips to ease yourself in. Very hot. Very peppery. Very funky. Pear drops. Acetone. Savoury leads the way with olives, brine and freshly cut fiery ginger. Quite herbal. Very agricole like in its root vegetable quality. The sweetness pushes through on the mid-palate though and its very welcome. The juice from a chewed chunk of freshly cut sugarcane. It’s quite sharp too. Cloudy apple juice and apple purée. Fleshy pears. It has a very creamy and oily mouthfeel…its also really floral. Citrus oils. A drop or two of water really helps open the Rum up and releases Guava jam. More apples. Tropical fruit. Salty crackers. Aniseed sweets. The finish is long, warming and returns to the savoury leading with anise, salty olives and vegetable crisps. Crispy seasoned lotus root. Molasses and that magical vapour that can only be fresh, vibrant Jamaican Rum allows it to finish really cleanly. It’s a brute of a Rum that needs a cautious approach….a bit like a game of Buckaroo….gently gently.

4 / 5

This is pretty much the only distillery produce available on the market in the UK with the USA getting Rum Fire which is a higher ester version of the Velvet. There is no doubting the quality and tradition that goes into the production of these Rums. Both are definitely worthy of a purchase. The aged independent stuff from Hampden Estate for me is where the real fun lies though….and it is those releases that will be getting a run out in the coming months as I’ve a wealth of releases from Habitation Velier, Velier, Adelphi, Blackadder and Kill Devil to choose from. Stay tuned.

Newt

© Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog 2018. 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.

An Interview with Nikos Arvanitis – Rum Traveller

Copyright Nikos Arvanitis

Nikos Arvanitis will be familiar to most of my Facebook Rum forum frequenting audience. He’ll also be more than familiar to Rum Festival attendees throughout Europe. In fact his biography reads very well:

Nikos Arvanitis has been working as a bartender since 2006. Rum is his passion and his desire to understand it led him to the Caribbean. Living in Barbados and using this island as his base, he has visited 30 islands of the tropical zone of the “West Indies” and over 45 distilleries and sugarcane fields, both active and inactive. His journey is still on, it will soon be reflected on paper and he has named it “From the West Indies to the World”.

Nikos Arvanitis through his travels and speeches is trying to spread the traditional production process of Rum and the culture of the Caribbean people.

He is a member in the jury panel and an instructor in rum presentation, in several European Rum Festivals (Berlin, Paris, Poland, Greece, Spain etc.) and bar shows.

Instructor of Rum in Bar Academy Hellas

Copyright Rum Diaries Blog

On a personal level, I have known Nikos for around three years and during that time we have conversed a lot about life, Rum and everything in between. During our period of friendship I have seen Nikos grow into a very well-respected spokesman for Rum and an evangelist for the history and tradition that exists within the Caribbean. More recently he has become a very active independent spokesperson for the Gargano / Seale Classification and a campaigner and activist for Pure Rum and raising the category in general.

I was fortunate enough to meet Nikos earlier this year in his natural habitat….a Rum distillery. The distillery in question was Foursquare Rum Distillery in Barbados and it was also my first Rum Distillery visit. We chatted for a while, walked through the distillery with Richard and sampled untold delights in the Foursquare Tasting Room. We also shared a pretty eventful taxi ride with him.

Open and honest is all that I have known from Nikos and I’m giving his full, unedited responses to my questions. No cutting, snipping or leaving out of any detail. Hopefully you’ll see that his responses relay the passion that he has and the high regard in which he holds Rum as the true essence of the Caribbean and its people.

1 – For those that may not already be familiar with you and your work, explain to them what your project “From the West Indies to the World” is about.

From the West Indies to the World

It’s a personal project including photos, thoughts and notes for the real side of Caribbean islands and the connection between the locals and the Rum, through the eyes of the unknown reality.

Sugar cane fields, unknown dead estates, Rum Distilleries and traditional Rums.

In short, it’s my lonely trip-wandering in the tropic zone of the West Indies. Personal experiences, emotionally charged stories, culture, people. I don’t travel the easy way. I’m visiting places that they are really inaccessible to many white people and also I organized the 95% from all these trips myself, without sponsors, companies etc. The final collection of these experiences is the reason that this project is born, and due to that, I don’t focus only the to rum and the production process..

I’m not an author / writer and I do not even want to be. I just have the feeling and the belief that the experiences created to share. This project is an extension of me and the opposite.

The ultimate goal of my project is to make as many people as possible respect and fall in love with the Caribbean, the local culture, the people and finally the distilleries that are keeping alive and  unchanged the traditional production process of the spirit we love the most.

2 – Your travels are followed by and envied by many people….including me. One thing that often gets said to people like me is that to truly understand Rum and all that it is, you have to visit distilleries. Just how many countries and distilleries have you visited?

I would like to speak on a personal level without meaning that it’s either wrong or right. Yes, I clearly believe that if you don’t visit the Caribbean by yourself and the distilleries as well, it’s really difficult to understand rum. There’s a huge difference between the word ‘knowledge‘ and the word ‘understanding‘. Countless sites on the Internet with completely different opinions and misleading information, distributors, companies and ambassadors talk about rum and they’ve never touched sugarcane in their life. So there is misinformation and false information about rum. When I visited the distilleries I acquired a complete image, totally different to the one I had before. And yes, I was reading and attending seminars. But I figured that it wasn’t enough. It was like I was going inside the glass and becoming one with rum. Of course, it is important that the people of the distilleries are also honest with you. I was lucky (and a pain in the ass for them)

I have visited in total 30 islands of the Caribbean tropic zone. The number of distilleries is 45 out of 50. My last trip was in Haiti and trust me, Haiti is a unique situation. It’s a category by itself.

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3 – I personally see you as a direct link to Rum producers that are not active on social media and have little to no online presence. Do you think that your relationship with these Rum producers is vital in bringing the plight of forgotten and overlooked distilleries such as the Callwood Distillery in the BVI and River Antoine in Grenada into the spotlight?

The first time I saw distilleries like the ones you mentioned, I said to myself, “I will spread all over the world about these distilleries-Caribbean’s heritage”.
I saw this subject in a very romantic tone. It is truly a shame that 90% of the whole world does not even know the existence of wonderful rums like these. But the most important thing is that they do not know the passion, the love and respect that the people who surround distilleries have for their rums. Their existence is the link between the past and the present. And if you do forget the past, the heritage and the history, the future is cloudy and uncertain…

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4 – Apart from your project and the Rum, what continues to drive you to travel to these places?

People. Certainly people. The human relationships that I created there are by far the most important school of my life. They changed my worldview. I’m not the same person as I used to be before. At least I do not act and think the same way.

I adore the warm climate. I don’ really like the cold and I am freezing really quick and easy. I am not really sure if I will survive this winter in Paris. Hahahaha. Yeah, Paris is going to be my base for the following year(s)…

Finally, the word “vibe“. I can’t explain this feeling in a few words. It’s something much deeper. The vibe in the tropic zone makes me happy and above all, I’m 100% myself. Something I have never experienced before in the big European countries even in my own country, where the friendship and human relationships are in the second or even third fate. Unfortunately…

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5 – You’re a firm advocate of the proposed Gargano / Seale Classification. Explain the classification for those that may not be aware of it. Why you feel that it is so important?

Usually, my presentations for this matter last like 4 hours…..So I believe it’s a little bit difficult to explain in a few words.

Yes, I am a 100% supporter of this wonderful classification. It was the middle of 2014 I think when Richard (Seale) firstly introduced me to this classification in one of my weekly visits to Foursquare distillery. When I saw the classification I told to myself: “Yes, this is the only way to have a better and promised future for the category of Rum, to put things in a row and first of all to give Rum the respect it deserves”. Two years later I found Luca (Gargano) in one of his trips in Barbados. He also helped me understand the classification. So, my communication with the two most influential persons of the Rum world plus my personal research was the common link for the final result…..to spread this classification all over the world.

This Classification focuses to the type of the producer, the type of the still and of course at the distillery statement. I believe that this last thing is the biggest problem in Rum. The 70% of rums of the global market haven’t got a distillery statement. This is really bad.

This classification it’s not about what’s good and what’s bad. Tasty or not. Originally, it’s a chronological order of the history of distillation and is based on facts. There is a separation between the traditional production process and the modern.  This doesn’t mean that tradition overtakes modern methods, but we surely have to have a different approach to an original artisanal Rum from an industrial one.

Finally, some people say that this classification is a copy of the Whisky’s classification. This is not true, not at all and please if you don’t understand the role of the classification, don’t judge. Open your mind and be more Caribbean…I am always open for conversations about this subject, contact me and it would be my pleasure to help you have better understanding about the classification.

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6 – Your time spent with Rum producers has seen you spearheading the important job of communicating the classification through your interactions on social media and your presentations to industry and consumers. Do you see knowledge of the classification spreading throughout the community to the point that there is a basic understanding already when you talk to the industry and consumers?

First of all I really need to share with you that NONE of the producers ever told me what to say in my presentations or to promote specific Rums (I am not a f****n promoter or brand ambassador and I will never be). I was In Berlin some weeks ago and someone came to me and said that: “You promote the rums of your friends distilleries”. This is not true. I love to promote the Rums I love and the distilleries who still respect the Caribbean’s heritage and tradition. It’s true that I have a personal connection with many distilleries like Worthy Park, Foursquare and others but this connection is more a friendship and match to our beliefs than a business. The people out there who know me personally, know this much better than anyone. The situation with the association is something new but all of us used to fight about the traditional production process of the Rum many years ago, but our voice is heard by a lot of people only in the last 2-3 years. The customers really want to know more about the Rum and this is wonderful. The promise I am giving is that I will always act 100% as Nick and I will do the best to raise the category of the Rum.

7 – A large proportion of the Rum producers appear to fear the classification. Why do you think that is?

From my point of view, the main reason is that they initially believe that if they accept this sort of classification, it is like neglecting what they say so many years about their products on the market. I think that they are only interested in the rise of their own label and not rum as a spirit. We all have to understand that sales cannot go up in a particular bottle if the category is not developed in general. You cannot deny that tradition, not least the complicated production process of rum, should not go into the same sink as modern industrial products. They cannot have the same prices and above all the word “artisanal” on their bottle. So yes, I think they initially think of their sales which is not true because if the rum is classified and developed in general, this will be a good thing for everyone. Speaking so much time for the world market, I will give a personal example from my own country that reflects what I have said. See it as a miniature of the market.

Ambassadors who have never touched a still, have not bitten sugar cane, have never walked in the Caribbean, have not spoken to locals and have not understood the rum, continue to promote products that are in the company’s portfolio, for which you do not know the existence of the distillery (which of course does not exist), so-called spiced easy rums and pure alcohol full of flavors and sweeteners, industrial products that have nothing to do with the history of the island are being produced. How do you orient yourself in the market by telling lies and having the main goal of selling your own only products and at the same time looking for the good for the future of rum? It can not be done. Quite simply because there is no love for rum and the Caribbean but love for your dominance in the market and the word “monopoly“.

The shawls have no pockets. What is the essence if you are not faithful to your values ​​and your beliefs as a person and you adapt to what the system imposes on you…?

8 – Do you think that the Classification will ever become industry standard?

I am very optimistic and positive as a human and yeah man, I believe that it will. Already you can see a great rise of the artisanal Rum in the global market and this is wonderful and makes me very happy. But I don’t like to use the world “industry” next to the word “Rum“. Let’s use another term: “The World of Rum” is much better I think.

From me and my team, there is a promise that we will do all we can to build strong foundations in this classification and we will fight for it through presentations, seminars, articles etc. What is the essence of human being as if you haven’t got something to fight for??

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9 – Do you think that having a Geographical Indication for Rum production will become the natural progression?

Yes, I believe that this is the path. Jamaica for example, is fighting about this. But I would like to make a general statement on this really important subject.

In Jamaica we have distilleries that make completely different rum in a totally different way. In particular, it’s not possible to consider a pure single rum from Worthy Park or Hampden with that of Clarendon. Yes, these three distilleries take place in the same island, they are all Jamaican, but the Rums are completely different. The production process as well. In Clarendon they use a small amount of Rum from Batch distillation. The majority of the final blend is coming from distillation in Multi column ethyl alcohol plant. This does not happen in the first two distilleries I mentioned earlier. So, I say that simply saying Jamaican Rum is not enough because there is diversity within Jamaican Rum.

They all rely on some common elements in the production process, but at the end of the day the final products are completely different. So, just the world Jamaican Rum I don’t feel that it’s enough.

There must be also control to the independent bottlers with no distillery statement. I’m tasting very often rums like these, let’s say a Barbadian Rum, and this rum has nothing to do with the traditional rums of the island. The same happens also with other bottlings. Personally, I find it unacceptable to add sweeteners, aromas and other extras that literally do not respect the distillery, the history and the heritage of the island, and also the tradition, except some special situations. Of course, the majority of these independent bottles haven’t got distillery statement on the labels and at the same time they say that they choose personally the best barrels from the distilleries. They didn’t .They just bought these rums from other companies. Be careful with the false marketing terms. I really would like to see better control and balance between the distilleries and the independent bottlers in future. If the rum is not even close to the character of the distillery and the distillery bottlings, don’t give the permission to the independent companies to make the bottling. The master distiller has to taste the rum and if he agrees, enter the name of the distillery and his signature. So everyone cannot bottle whatever they want. Quite honestly, I believe this.

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So there we have it…..an amazing amount of passion and a completely open forum for Nikos to give his true, unedited opinions.

I’d like to personally take this opportunity to thank Nikos again for his agreement to undertake this interview and I hope that I have given him the platform which he deserves.

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