On Thursday 20th March, Selfridges on Oxford Street hosted a tasting event aimed at raising the profile of rum. The spirit has become increasingly popular in the UK over the past few years and as a keen rum drinker, I headed down to see what was on offer. In the interests of thorough investigative journalism, I selflessly set out with the goal of trying as many fine rums as possible.
Arriving at my first stall I was handed a sample of Elements 8, Gold. After being given a crash course on how to properly ‘detect the nose’ I was allowed to let the drink roll across my palate for a proper analysis. I was surprised to be quite taken with the smoothness of the gold as, like many people, I tend to drink my rum with mixers or in cocktails. So-called ‘sipping rums’ were very much a theme of the evening, and I may well have discovered a new favourite tipple.
For many people, rum is intrinsically linked with tales of swashbuckling pirates and of the Royal Navy. I have heard a few wry comments across the bar myself after ordering rum, but there does seem to be a gradual change in perceptions. In the same way that vodka and gin have enjoyed resurgence in the past decade, perhaps rum’s hour has come.
The man who speaks most enthusiastically and perhaps with the most authority from the rum corner is Ian Burrell, self-professed ‘Global Rum Ambassador’. After an interesting and varied professional career, Ian turned his hand to running’The Rum Experience’, having seen that there wasn’t anyone doing anything comparable in the sector. He soon realised that there was not a proper annual festival to promote rums from around the world and this idea developed into the first RumFest in 2006.
Held in October, and easily found via your favorite internet search engine, this year’s RumFest will boast over two hundred individual rums. Rum lovers will be able to sample spirits costing anywhere between £30 and £300 a bottle. In conversation, Ian hinted at the possibility of a special cigar tent and smoking area, and confirmed that there would be lots of cooking with rum for visitors to experience.
Meeting Ian was a great part of the evening. He really does justice to the global rum community, and is every part the ambassador. Asked which was his favourite rum, Ian refused to be drawn, instead answering: “The one in my glass, the next one, and a free one.”
The evening was far more educational than I had imagined. Along with fantastic tasting notes and tips, I received some great insights into the various distillation processes from the industry experts in attendance. Rather than going into detail about pot stills and the solera method, I would encourage you to get your RumFest tickets now so you can hear it all firsthand. Take my word that the story of the rum takes on a more vivid quality with a glass in your hand and several more in your belly.
The Selfridges-hosted event on Thursday had a sophisticated air and catered to a set crowd. It was an excellent showcase for a number of great rums, and a wonderful opportunity to gain a little more knowledge prior to attending RumFest. Ian was keen to get across that there is a rum for every person and every occasion. He seems dedicated to promoting it as the every man’s spirit and it is certain that this year’s RumFest will have an eclectic mix of visitors and, of course, of rums.
Absolutely alternative and 100% entertaining!
Words and photography by Joe Hitchmough