With the popularity of whisky and gin soaring over recent years, rum has been somewhat forgotten about – that is, until now.
Thanks to the efforts of global rum ambassador Ian Burrell, rum is becoming the new go-to spirit.
Burrell went from being an international recording artist known as The Dude – his recordings have been used in several Hollywood films – to creating the world’s first international rum festival, the UK RumFest, in 2007. This inspired subsequent rum festivals around the world including in Miami, Berlin, Paris, Rome Madrid, Prague, Cape Town and Hong Kong.
Yes, Hong Kong! Rum fan and local bar owner Max Traverse, a.k.a. “The Word on Rum”, has organised five rum festivals in our city. The last one took place in early June, and Burrell was on hand with his unique style of “edutainment” masterclasses. We picked his brain, between rum shots, on some lesser known facts about rum.
Here are 9 things you probably did not know about rum:
1. Although most countries in the world produce their own rum, the Caribbean still produces 80 per cent of the world’s rum. “Barbados is the spiritual home of rum as it was the first country to produce rum,” says Burrell.
2. What does rum have that whisky and malts never had? Social media, says Burrell. “The rum trend is growing at an alarming rate,” he says. “This is because of the internet and social media. When I started the first rum festival in 2007, the whole idea was to bring people together – connoisseurs, the casual drinker, distillers and rum makers under one roof, a place where they could experiment and try something different from the crowd as everyone is there under one roof. This was before social media really took off. Now people can see all this in a matter of minutes – so it’s a different time than a few years ago.”
3. What are the latest trends in rum? “Richard Seale is revolutionising the rum industry,” says Burrell of the master distiller at Foursquare Rum Distillery in Barbados, who was also at this year’s Hong Kong Rum Festival. “He’s talking about purity, no additions and no additives in rums. He’s experimenting in casks; there’s the Zinfandel casks and Calvados casks. These were not done intentionally for rums, they were done by accident when they just wanted to transport rum from one place to another. They were just getting familiar with the wood and not the additions. The collectors and connoisseurs were saying how amazing this was and prices were skyrocketing within a few weeks. The rums became collectibles overnight. So everything coming out of the distillery has integrity, which is what the connoisseurs want.”
4. “It’s gone past the stage of the spiced rums or the sweetened rums,” says Burrell. Now connoisseurs are looking for spirits that have a lot of mobility about them. That’s what we are seeing now in the industry which is why – a small percentage of rum drinkers are treating them like the single malts of the world. And are prepared to pay a premium for premium rum.”
5. Golden rum will be the next big trend in the spirits category, outpacing gin in the next three years according to data insight experts CGA.
6. The oldest continually produced spirit in the world is Mount Gay rum which dates back to 1703.
7. The oldest spirit in the world in recent times is a rum that was bottled in 1780 and was found in a house in Leeds, England.
“The rum was from Barbados,” says Burrell. “They found 40 odd bottles in the cellar. I was one of the first to actually try it, as the bottles were not labelled so they didn’t know whether it was rum, brandy or whatever. The dusty bottles were found in a false wall that was put up in the early 1940s. The spirit was still in great condition and the family auctioned the bottles off. The family were the Lascelles, cousins of the queen, and the house was Harewood House. The bottles raised around a quarter of a million pounds, and the money was donated to Afro-Caribbean charities in the neighbourhood.”
8. Pirates created the first rum cocktail, bumbo, said to have come from a pirate’s recipe featuring rum, water, sugar and nutmeg. It became popular in the Caribbean during the piracy era, and with sailors who made it from their rations. “Old school rum tasted funky, leathery and rubbery,” says Burrell. “ Nothing like today’s rum.” Which is probably why they had to spice it up a little.
9. Arguably Traverse has the largest stock of rum in Hong Kong at his Honi Honi Tiki Cocktail Lounge, a.k.a. “The Rum Library”, where the Hong Kong Rum Fest was established. The Lounge has been winning awards since its opening and has featured in Asia’s Best 50 Bars. “We have between 250 and 300 rum labels with up to 15 to 20 per cent being rare selections,” says Traverse.
“Rare rums at present include St Nicolas Abbey, Barbados 12 year old rum, Foursquare Rum Distillery, Zinfandel Cask Blend, bottled in 2015, 8 year old and Caroni Full Proof Heavy Trinidad Rum, distilled in 1994, bottled in 2012, 18 years.” Some of his bottles are his own collection but connoisseurs can avoid disappointment by trying Honi Honi’s own brand working with New Grove Mauritius.