West Fork Whiskey is back at it again with the fourth release of their Hugh Hamer line. The crew at WF began the Hugh Hamer line as a way to experiment with how their Old Hamer bourbon would react with a secondary barrel finish. So far the finishing barrels have included Port wine barrels, second charred oak barrels and Peach Brandy barrels.
This time their ~4 year old sourced bourbon (MGP’s 99% corn, 1% malt mashbill) has been finished in Cruzan Rum barrels. It’s still bottled at the standard 103 proof, which has been a constant for the line so far.
The Cruzan Rum distillery is located on the island of St. Croix and is a subsidiary of Beam Suntory. It’s mentioned on their website that the barrels they use to age their rum in come from Jim Beam. The rum that they produce is similar to that of Cuban style rum which is to say that it’s a more light and clean tasting than the typical pot still rums found around the Caribbean.
Using a column still removes a lot of the fusile oils during the distilling process resulting in a lighter style. Alternatively, if you’ve ever had a rum distilled in a pot still, you’d notice that the heavy oils and esters that remain from the distilling process usually result in a bolder, funkier and heavier spirit.
I’ve had various rum-finished whiskies over the past few years and they’ve always varied wildly. Some rum finishes can be very funky (i.e. Jamaican) and some can be light and grassy (Agricole). My favorite part about them is when I find hints of tropical fruit flavors within. Knowing this ahead of my first drink of this Hugh Hamer release makes me excited to see what new and exciting flavors it imparts onto the bourbon. So let’s dive in! I sampled this neat in a glencairn.
Nose: For a rum finish, the nose isn’t all that funky. In fact, it’s more sweet (molasses) and floral than anything. The rum either brings some extra spice with it or accentuates the cinnamon and toasted brown sugar spice found in the underlying bourbon. I do find some tropical fruit scents, but they aren’t as powerful as I thought they’d be. It’s still nice to find as regular Hugh Hamer bourbon isn’t known for its fruit scents.
Palate: Lots more brown sugar flavors are present than I’d normally find in Old Hamer bourbon. The fruit notes are somewhat subdued but taste like cherry, mango and papaya.
In fact, if you combine them all together, it tastes more like Juicy Fruit gum than anything. There are also underlying grassy and floral flavors that a person could easily mistake for rye in the mashbill, but certainly have came from the rum cask.
Finish: Since this isn’t a very old bourbon, the typical vanilla and oak notes play second fiddle to Island fruits like dried pineapple, mango and a touch of plantains. The bourbon underneath gives it some extra sweetness which is how the finish fades away… into lingering sweetness that makes you happy to take the next sip.
As much as I love the classic, no-nonsense style of Old Hamer bourbon, I find that it lacks the fruit notes that help to heighten any bourbon drinking session. Fruit flavors usually comes from the small grain (wheat or rye) that aren’t present in Old Hamer’s bourbon.
So when West Fork announced that this batch of Hugh Hamer would be finished in rum barrels, I was most excited to find complimentary fruit notes more than anything else. Luckily, my wish was answered.
I’m not sure of the length of time that this batch of Hugh Hamer was left to finish in the rum barrels, but it feels like it was just enough time to make its effects known and not a day longer. I’ve experienced cask finishes from the likes of Bardstown Bourbon Company that leave their bourbon to finish in casks for 18 months.
That’s just too long and results in all of the bourbon flavor being covered up by the finishing barrel. You end up with a liquid that tastes like a high proof version of beer, wine, brandy or whatever cask was used. Thankfully, this is not the direction West Fork took with their barrel finished series.
Hugh Hamer has another hit on their hands with this rum cask finish. With this release, it’s becoming more obvious that they know what they’re doing when it comes to barrel finishes. The only question that remains is: what’s next?
1 | Disgusting | Drain pour (Example: Jeffers Creek)
2 | Poor | Forced myself to drink it
3 | Bad | Flawed (AD Laws 4 Grain BiB, Clyde Mays anything)
4 | Sub-par | Many things I’d rather have (Tincup 10 year)
5 | Good | Good, solid, ordinary (Larceny, Sazerac Rye)
6 | Very Good | Better than average (Buffalo Trace, OGD BiB)
7 | Great | Well above average (Old Ezra Barrel Proof, Old Weller Antique)
8 | Excellent | Exceptional (Michter’s Barrel Proof Rye, Four Roses Barrel Strength)
9 | Incredible | Extraordinary (GTS, 13 Year MGP or Canadian Rye)
10 | Insurpassable | Nothing Else Comes Close (William Larue Weller)
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