For one glorious long weekend this past October, the rum world descended on London to celebrate all things rummy. Industry legends such as Alexandre Gabriel, Luca Gargano, Richard Seale, Martin Cate, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Bryan Davis, and of course Ian “Rum Ambassador” Burrell offered up rumtastic sessions, showed off their latest highly covetable rums, and spread the gospel of rum to a very enthusiastic crowd.
From early Friday morning through the closing bell on Sunday, a steady stream of presentations and tasting sessions kept the crowd’s enthusiasm stoked. Italy’s Velier maintained a suite in the adjoining hotel, where Luca Gargano talked rum categorization in his typical highly expressive style, showing off a stunning collection of new and upcoming releases. Among my highlights, an aged Hampden Estate “Diamond H” bottling which, at 900-1,000 grams/hectoliter of esters, might be the funkiest Jamaican rum ever bottled for consumers. And on the show floor, if you knew where to look, you just might have caught a sneak preview of Foursquare’s hotly anticipated Principia and Dominus expressions.
Friday was “trade day,” where rum vendors who might be looking for importers, or otherwise not a great fit for the weekend “consumer” sessions, held court in a low-key environment to chat with industry professionals and the trade press. These sessions are great because you can reasonably converse with someone like Bristol Classic Rum’s John Barrett without swerving around dozens of people with sample glasses outstretched. A personal high point was spotting a newly released Campagne des Indes release from Jamaica’s New Yarmouth. Jamaican rum wonks know that New Yarmouth, Appleton’s sister distillery, operates almost entirely in the shadows. New Yarmouth Indy release are unheard of. (Unbeknownst to me, a few days later I would be drinking New Yarmouth straight from the cask. But that’s a story for another article. Oh yes!)
Friday also held a panel discussion on rum categorization with Luca Gargano, Alexandre Gabriel, Bacardi’s David Cid, Spiribam’s Philip Krizanic, and Richard Seale, and moderated by RumFest producer Ian Burrell. The conversation got, shall we say… spirited at times, with a key point of contention arising from whether embracing the use of appellations or categorizations is the best way to move rum forward.
Unlike the U.S., which is still coming to grips with high-end rums, the U.K. market is primed with rum enthusiasts, and the vendors they love showed up in force. Velier and Scotland’s Kill Devil presented a staggering set of must-have, highly limited expressions. Big brands like Appleton and Jamaica were present, of course, but it was also great to see smaller brands such as Saint Nicholas Abbey from Barbados and the U.K.’s The Duppy Share take bets on large booths. I was also encouraged to see the Venezuelan rum producers band together to collectively promote their rums and Designation of Origin (aka Geographical Indication, or GI).
A particular highlight was the rum auction, where some very high-end rums were sold off to the highest bidder, with the money received going to charity. Near the end, Luca Gargano and Martin Cate entered a bidding war over a bottle of Appleton 250th anniversary. As the price reached nearly 1,000 pounds, Martin dropped out, only to have Luca present him with the bottle immediately afterward.
The rum writers (including yours truly) were out in force: Peter Holland (The Floating Rum Shack) was mostly a fixture in the Marussia booth, pouring copious quantities of Doorly’s and Foursquare rum. Other writers Tatu Kaarlas (Refined Vices), Wes Burgin (The Fat Rum Pirate), Steven James (Rum Diaries Blog), and Simon Johnson (Rum Shop Boy) circled the floor, looking for the next inside scoop to report.
A favorite feature of spirits shows is the onsite store, where attendees can purchase a wide variety of bottles from exhibiting vendors. The Whisky Exchange outdid themselves with a huge selection of fantastic rums, many of them hard to find expressions from the likes of Velier, Kill Devil, and Foursquare. It was enough to leave just about any U.S. based enthusiast slack-jawed at the selection of goodies unavailable at home.
Mrs. Wonk and I have always enjoyed visiting London. With a never-ending cornucopia of world-class bars to visit and friends (new and old) to catch up with, it’s always a must-visit when we cross the pond. With our first U.K .RumFest under the belt, we can’t wait to schedule an October visit for next year!