In 2022 when the Hampden Pagos was first announced, Pagos to mean "Cru" in Spanish, it certainly raised a brow of interest given the Jamaican distillery's surge in popularity over the recent few years - what would a Sherry interpretation of an already incredibly distinctive flavour profile result in? I suppose was the question on everyone's mind, I don't know I'm not a mind reader.
The inspiration behind turning a bigger focus towards the use of Sherry aging (here it's 100% versus other distilleries which might use it as part of a blend of various cask types) was to challenge the widely held notion that Scotch whiskies are at their pinnacle when aged with Sherry casks. If that were the case for whisky, why not rum? Would a Sherry aged rum perform even better than whisky? That's what the Pagos series had sought to find out.
The inaugural Hampden Pagos, with both PX and Oloroso. (Image Source: Velier)
The inaugural edition used both PX and Oloroso casks and resulted in a really jammy, fruity, dense sweet rum - whilst tasty, wasn't very Hampden-y, if you know what I mean. That signature overripe bananas, olives, diesel, air-dried meats, were sort of missing. So was that good? It depends what's your definition. For me, it was surely a great spirit, but perhaps not the best sherried Hampden - which would be still the Hampden classics front and center, supported and enhanced with Sherry flavours. The Sherry seemed alittle strong then.
Bodegas Fundador. (Image Source: Trip Advisor)
Nevertheless, Velier's chief Luca had mentioned that given the initial experiments, he'd concluded that PX wasn't suited for his purposes, and would focus on the use of Oloroso - Ah hah! A part two it seems!
And another year rolls around, and here we have Hampden Pagos 2023, the second edition from the Pagos Sherry series, this time, with a focus on the use of Sherry casks from Bodegas Fundador which seems to specialise in Oloroso Sherry which I assume was used primarily here. Don't quote me on that.
When I got to Whisky Live Singapore 2023, I knew I had to head over to the Hampden booth and jackpot! I spotted the new Hampden Pagos 2023. It's pretty awesome that each year at Whisky Live there's a consistently solid showing of the latest bottlings - I'm told next year's will be held at the Singapore Flyer on 23/24 November 2024, so keep yourself free then.
So let's see what an Oloroso-forward Hampden brings!
Hampden Pagos 2023 Second Edition - Review
Aroma: Strong scents of overripe bananas, alongside heavy rancio notes - brie cheese rind with more dry wood tannins. More umami notes of dried mushrooms, soil and miso paste, with a faint but dense bittersweetness and dryness of black chocolate and black forest cake.
Taste: Right away lots of dry rancio notes - yeasty brie cheese rinds with a side of walnuts, more earthy freshly harvested mushrooms. There’s a lighter supporting bit of the signature Jamaican green bananas, as well as some bits of green olives and air dried meats that deliver some savouriness. Further back there’s something of a port wine denser jammy sweetness but also packing a good amount of tannins.
Finish: Turns sweeter towards raspberry jams, chocolate sauce and cacao nibs. Here it’s more mellow, with darker, sweeter flavours making a bigger appearance. There’s a final hit of tobacco leaves, leather and coffee to round things off. Lingering fruity aromas with an otherwise clean and dry finish.
This was fiercely intense and right off the bat you get loads of that dry Oloroso Sherry influence that’s packing all those heavy rancio notes that comes across as dry, yeasty, earthy and umami. This is pretty dominant from nose to palate and only lets up into the finish with an all clear sign in the form of darker, sweeter flavours that show up right at the end.
To that end, it’s created a big head to head tussle between the funky fruitier Hampden flavours and the otherwise more dry and earthy umami Oloroso influences - for me the Oloroso seems to pull ahead leaving the only traces of the Hampden. Certainly compared to the first Hampden Pagos (2022) this displays more of the signature Hampden profile, but with that said there's great tension between the two.
While I could see the complimentary nature of the two profiles, the Oloroso was perhaps alittle too active for my liking here. It’s resulted in a very striking expression that we’ve definitely not seen from the Jamaican Great House before, and is sure to remain hotly debated for years to come.