& 10% paperwork. That’s the old joke about what life is actually like in a brewery. & since fermenting the distillate is basically the same as brewing beer, the same holds true for a distillery. Generally, fermentation takes place in large, stainless steel tanks with complex systems of pumps & valves. The cleaning process happens thoroughly & often.
Contamination of the product with wild yeast or bacteria most often means that the whole process must be scraped & started again – best case scenario: the flavors, consistency, & look of the product are inconsistent thanks to the extra variation that can come into play in a less than pristine environment. Worst case scenario: the beer is unsafe & must be disposed of.
However, that isn’t always the case…
Distillery: Hampden Estate
Distillation Method: Plummer & Wedderburn Pot Still
Age: Non-Age Statement
Though “London” lives under the title of this bottle of Rum, the company that sources the liquid does so with great integrity, straight from one of Jamaica’s oldest & most venerable distilleries: Hampden Estate.
However you wish to describe it, once you taste it, it demands your attention: that quintessential flavor of Rum from Jamaica.
Though Haut Gout (French for ‘high taste’) is the unofficial official way to refer to the quintessential Jamaican flavor, it’s most often referred to as Jamaican Funk, but what does Jamaican funk taste like?
Some might uncharitably refer to it as “rotten banana,” but in truth, the flavor of Smith & Cross can best be described as the taking of a torch to a banana that has mere minutes left on the shelf…
Buttery, rich, overripe banana (& a touch of pineapple), flambe’ed for a good long time like the top of a black creme brulee that should be golden brown; beyond that, a wave of fresh baking spices, & a dry, earthy finish.
These flavors are also not shy at all. The strength of this rum (114 proof!) carries the flavors like the most graceful drag racer imaginable; it’s hot & spicy & commands your attention, but without the unpleasant burn of ethanol. The heat & drama here comes again from this distinctive style of Rum – high in character because it’s high in esters.
So, how do we get all those flavors?
I mentioned esters, because this Rum has them for days – like other Jamaican rums but also very much unlike them, as Smith & Cross goes above & beyond your typical blends & mass market options.
When distilling, the first drops of liquid to come off the still are poisonous, so the distiller makes a “cut” & throws out the “head”, the first chunk of distillate, a small percent of the total to be distilled. The distiller collects & collects until they reach the “tails” – the liquid to come off the still with a high influence from all the things left over in the still – oils, heavy compounds, & any unsavory organic materials that may negatively impact the flavor of the spirit (after all, the “mash,” or liquid being distilled, is an unrefined beer or wine, depending on the spirit being made). How ‘deep’ into the tails the distiller decides to cut off the source of liquid is a matter of personal preference, & in Jamaica, & even more-so at Hampden Estate, the cut into the tails gives the Mariana Trench a run for its money. In those tails lie the signature flavoring compounds & esters that give us the big flavor we crave from the small island.
But what is it about Jamaican Rum that makes those intense, high ester tails so unique & desirable?
Two to three weeks is the amount of time that high ester Jamaican rum typically ferments. Most beer, spirits, & other rums spend two to three days in an airtight fermenting tank, carefully separated from the outside world & all the contamination that it brings.
At Hampden Estate however, terroir is given a new meaning.
Dark. Dank. Mold. Mildew. Cobwebs. Moss. Funk.
Just a few words to describe the conditions in which the fermentation of this delicious Rum takes place: Unlike most commercial breweries & distilleries, in a building you’d need some courage to even step into. & yet, huge wooden vats deep in the soil house the molassas, water, & wild yeast that is then distilled in nearby old school pot stills. & “old school” is the phrase to use – this is how Hampden Estate has been producing its rum for hundreds of years, & God forbid they change a thing.
The minimal packaging on the bottle belies this Rum’s popularity – a Godsend for bartenders & casual sippers alike, the distinctive & intense flavor of this rum makes it a powerful tool in any Tiki arsenal (that operates on any budget). It comes recommended by Tiki authorities like Martin Cate, & is used as part of (2x best bar in the world-award winning team at) the Dead Rabbit Grocery & Grog’s house rum blend, which mimics the 19th century style of black pot still Jamaican rum.
& they’ve got the right ideas; whether sipped in a glass or featured in a complex cocktail, Smith & Cross is a force to be reckoned with – unique, powerful, affordable, & above all, delicious. Smith & Cross is a part of the grassroots movement toward an appreciation & adoption of quality rum that rivals the venerable Whiskey, & it comes to us through the dedication of Tiki historians, modern Tiki revivalists, spirits enthusiasts, & above all, the wonderful people curious enough to give this unique rum a try over so many others that offer so little.