UK Rum Festival celebrated their 10th anniversary event in style on Saturday 22nd & Sunday 23rd October 2016. With over 400 rum varieties, a special appearance from famous British entrepreneur, Levi Roots and the chance to sample some of the most expensive rums on the planet there was no way we were going to miss the party! We share our highlights from this year’s festival.
The new ‘rum order’
Think Soca beats, coconut palms, and island vibes and the mind may leap to complete the mental picture with a mango mojito cocktail. Although the Caribbean is regarded as the spiritual home of rum, if your imagination stops at this stereotype, you may risk missing out on the richer tapestry that is the global rum culture.
The scene at the ILEC Conference Centre in Earls Court, London was as far away from a cold British autumn day as we could get. With over 50 exhibitors in attendance, the 2016 edition of the UK Rum Festival was the largest celebration of rum and rum culture yet…and it was buzzing by the time we arrived on its second and final day.
To appreciate rum’s global importance, it helps to know that rum (and its base ingredient sugarcane), like the spice trade before it, was once a major factor in determining the health of the global economy.
Author Ian Williams, in his essay on ‘The Secret History of Rum’ writes: “Long before oil dominated geopolitics, rum was the original global commodity, tying Europe, the Americas, Africa and the Caribbean in a complex web of trade and credit.” You could say that rum ran the world at some point in history.
The now annual UK Rum Festival aims to capture and give expression to rum’s global appeal. In addition to exhibitors (e.g., Mount Gay) from islands and territories in the Caribbean and the Americas, in the 2016 edition, brands from Cornwall (Dead Man’s Fingers), India (Wild Tiger) and Uganda (Matugga represented by Dugas) provided new opportunities to learn about rum provenance.
Taste the world one rum at a time
We identified some of the more unusual brands and made our way around the venue to learn, taste and network. The rich diversity of rum styles on display directly fulfilled the objective of proprietor and global rum ambassador, Ian Burrell to make the UK Rum Festival both entertaining and educational.
Kicking off our tasting with Louisiana based Bayou Rum, we sampled their spiced rum, mixed with ginger syrup and fresh lime juice. This tasty cocktail tickled our ever alert culinary tourism taste buds to want to visit their Lacassine home and sample more rum varieties alongside authentic Cajun delicacies.
From the traditional, we moved on to exhibitions from parts of the world less typically associated with rum. One of these was relative newbie, Nine Leaves from Japan. In a 2016 interview with Margaret Ayala the executive editor of GotRum.com, Yoshiharu Takeuchi who founded the brand explained that sugarcane was introduced to the people of Okinawa in the 15th century by the Chinese.
Spotting a gap in the Japanese market, Yoshiharu decided to set up his own rum distillery. Using methods similar to whiskey production, Nine Leaves have produced some interesting varieties ranging from clear rum to golden rum aged in French and American oak.
We obliged an invitation to sample their product and enjoyed a refreshing mix of rum infused overnight with celery, cucumber, oranges and bell peppers; the end result being a drink with strong vegetable notes and a hint of citrus. Definitely a recipe worth repeating.
We contemplated the differences in taste between rums from Fiji (coconut shell filtered Bati Ratu) and the Philippines (charcoal filtered Don Papa) before heading to Cuba to chat with Havana Club.
A representative explained the unique fermentation, aging and barreling techniques behind this world favorite. The mature smoky oak taste of their triple barrel aged Selección de Maestros gave some insight into why Cuban rum was once regarded as the ‘drink of the revolution’.
UK Rum Festival 2016 grand finale
Editor Margaret Ayala sees a steady growth in the rum industry being fuelled by growing consumer desire to ‘experience new flavors and expand their choices’.
One evidence of this is the growing success of events such as the UK Rum Festival where enthusiasts and aficionados alike can indulge and sample a wide range of rums including white, aged, flavoured, spiced and premium.
Press release: Global drinks consumers have a thirst for experimentation, convenience, and brands that fit lifestyle https://t.co/p2tYp9Jn1G
— The IWSR (@TheIWSR) August 16, 2016
The other proof is the bold entry of smaller and more dynamic brands (we’re looking at you Dead Man’s Fingers) into the industry which have helped to shake off rum’s ‘old world’ image.
With our educational objectives satisfied, we decided to seek out some entertainment. A little tin shack at the entrance to the venue sparked our curiosity earlier on.
A queue had formed around the edifice and from within, the sound of music and revelry seemed to shake its very foundations. Signage suggested it was a partnership between bar chain Revolución de Cuba and Bacardí, the ‘patron spirit’ of cocktails the world over.
Taking a break from sampling everything that was thrust in our direction (there was only so much neat rum we could take!), we decided to find out what was behind the tin walls and joined the queue. Ten minutes later we were transported to a Havana dance club, complete with pulsating salsa rhythms, rum fountains, vibrating maracas and limbo contests.
Like many others who had preceded us, we emerged from the shack slightly breathless, covered in brand paraphernalia and with our feet still moving to music which continued to ring in our ears.
Towards the end of the evening, with our brains and taste buds overwhelmed with new found knowledge and flavours, we were in full party mode. As if on cue, the sound of drums signalled the start of a spectacular display featuring dancers in carnival costumes, Brazilian samba drummers and capoeira artists.
The colours and energy on display were a great reflection of the personality and character of a spirit that forms the base of some of the world’s greatest cocktails.
The celebration was also an indicator of quality of the 2016 UK Rum Festival and a fitting end to the weekend’s activities.
The future of rum
Research data from industry body the International Wines and Spirits Record (IWSR) shows that in the decade leading up to 2010, rum enjoyed a global growth rate of +40%, ahead of every other spirit category. With premium varieties pushing more recent growth despite predictions of a slow down, the immediate outlook for the global rum industry seems optimistic.
If this trend continues, with the global rum footprint increasing, perhaps there is a chance that the industry can show the way by leveraging its versatility, encouraging a new generation of innovators and more importantly, bridging the gap between cultures.
The biggest challenge the industry faces is the speed at which it can fill the gap in public knowledge. The UK Rum Festival seems well positioned to keep driving this.
We look forward to the 2017 version. Anyone up for an East African inspired Daiquiri?
Shout out: The title of this article was inspired by our meeting with Dugas exhibitor, rum blogger, and global traveller Laura Inguenaud who writes at rumtheworld.com. Thank you for the many free samples Laura. A votre santé!
Foodies get in here: Fancy creating your own rum-based recipes? Check out how we used IBM Chef Watson to combine ingredients and create some inspired recipes.
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