Every camera in the room is trained on a lone man struggling to open a rather plain brown glass bottle, unlabeled except for a paper tag around its neck. The red wax sealing the neck is not giving way easily to his run of the mill corkscrew. Sukhinder Singh, co-owner of The Whiskey Exchange, has opened countless rare and historic bottles in his time, but this bottle of obviously very old bottle is vexing him.
The 2018 edition of the California Rum Festival saw the four-year old-event hitting its stride. Held in the Soma Arts building for the third year running, many of the prior year’s small kinks were absent. People lined up around the block to get in, good rum flowed, and the international rum family joyously celebrated together–before, during, and after.
Nearly a decade into this modern rum renaissance, articles explaining rum for the introductory reader appear almost daily. On the whole, it’s a good thing; the more people aware that rum can be something much more than a vodka substitute is great. But in their desire to encompass the vast diversity of cane spirits, from rhum agricole to hogolicious Jamaicans to stately Cubans, too many writers and brand ambassadors rely on the easy sound bite: Rum has no rules.
In an ongoing effort to disprove the good-intentioned but flawed “Rum has no rules” sentiment, a number of rum experts have repeatedly and forcefully worked to shoot it down. Specifically, by highlighting actual legal documents defining exactly what the “standard of identity” is for various rum producing countries.
Call me biased, but at my fourth Tales of the Cocktail, the global rum family seemed front and center at the annual cocktail and spirits show. I didn’t do a rigorous analysis, but more than any other spirit, rum seemed to be on the rise–the most sessions, tasting rooms, and special events. As much as I wanted to attend every rum-related event, there were simply too many! So what follows are my personal highlights of rum-related events at Tales, with no slights intended to the events I missed.
In the last few months I’ve seen solid evidence that true premium rum is finally making inroads to the hearts and minds of spirits lovers. Bourbon and single malt drinkers are taking (the right) rums more seriously, and new bespoke limited editions are arriving nearly every week. It’s not uncommon for an entire allotment of bottles priced at $100 or more to fly off the shelf within 24 hours of release.