I’ve been to some rum parties in my time but this was a cut above the others. If you are going to have a do there can be fewer finer places for the bash than the iconic Leeds Corn Exchange. As it was a celebration of rum it was a pretty safe bet that it wasn’t one of those parties where the booze runs out at about ten o’clock and someone has to nip down to the offy for replenishment.
When I was a lad rum was an old man’s drink, now that I am an old man it still is! My first sample of the spirit was in 1967 when my dad decided that we were going to have a holiday in Spain. We didn’t go on one of those new fangled package tours, he insisted we drive there. He didn’t drink much but when we were sitting in a bar in Denia on the Costa Blanca, he came over all sophisticated and tried a Cuba Libre because he liked the sound of it. Really it was Bacardi and Coke but, hey, it was only 1967, what did we know? He got to like it so much that he used up all our duty free allowance on white rum, not only that, it was so cheap in Spain that he poured the water out of the car’s windscreen washer bottle and filled that up with Bacardi as well! All he could say all the way home was ‘It had better not bloody well rain!’. Of course, when we got back to Leeds he never touched the stuff save for a couple of times on the following Christmases but even so I still dread a knock on the door from Interpol to bang me up for being an accessory to rum running.
Things have come a long way since then and now, not only is white rum not a novelty, neither are spiced and flavoured versions of the spirit. All were available in abundance at the Corn Exchange, with the admission price covering all the samples on offer by the various importers and producers. Should you be more academically interested in the spirit then there were two rooms where rumologists, or whatever they are called, were getting party goers up to speed. Funnily enough, they were also handing out samples, for educational purposes only of course.
In order to get everyone in the party mood there was a steel band enhanced by a bass which got people on their feet and strutting their stuff. Sadly, this is the nearest thing we got to Carnival this year but the women in costume added extra atmosphere. There were also one or two festival attendees who had taken things very seriously and come in appropriate garb.
For those of us whose first reaction on being asked to a party is to ask what there is to eat. there was no problem on that front either. Not only was there ‘plant based global cuisine from Honest Supper Club, but those wonderful people from Owt had stayed open for the occasion. I had the most amazing Fried Chicken Thighs with Salad and Coleslaw which were so good I had eaten them before I thought to take a photograph. Slack work, Stanley!
Rum is normally made from sugar products such as cane or molasses so the main area of production is the Caribbean. Jamaica rum is the first type which springs to mind but a lot of the islands have their own version of the spirit. As you might expect these include Trinidad, Tobago and the other Commonwealth nations but some of the others came as a bit of a surprise to me, although when I thought about it they really shouldn’t have. I put it down to the power of advertising.
The name of my dad’s favourite tipple should have given me the hint that Cuba is a producer, as are Haiti, Guyana and even one from Yorkshire – what! Even though the recipe is basically the same, like whiskey, there is a difference in taste depending on the region and so a fair bit of blending takes place. The lady from Diablesse told me that she spends a lot of time producing her small batch rums by blending Jamaican, Guyanan and Barbadian varieties. She had a display of items, the hint of whose tastes can be found in her products. One was dry and the other fruitier. Both were excellent. She said that the process involves a lot of tasting which explains the big smile. I think that the woman on the A B Gold stand must also engage in the tasting process.
One of the other brands which caught my eye was Black Tot Rum. For 300 years sailors in the Royal Navy were given a daily ration of rum, the size of which varied over the years. In 1970 it was decided that the technology used in modern warships was not conducive to being operated by tars who were three parts hammered so, at 11.00am on 31st July 1970, the last rum ration was handed out. This drink became known as The Black Tot. Remaining flagons were kept for special occasions or given to officers, some of whom saw the commercial value in their gift and sold it on. And that was before ebay! Black Tot Rum acquired these and that is where they got their name. Some of their bottles go on sale for £750.
At the previous rum festivals I have been to here, I have a mental competition for the most outrageous shirt and this year’s winner was a no-brainer.
Once again, the organisers of Rum Festival, Rolling Social Events, have come up trumps, in conjunction with their sponsors Diplomatico Rums, The Duppy Share, Latitude Wines and Spirits and The London Essence. Cheers!
My last posting ended on a sad note so I am redressing the balance here by offering my congratulations to Sam Fish, the joint organiser of all of the Rum Festivals, on the birth of her first baby. She also managed to break a leg which is a bit of an extreme way of getting someone else to do the running around in the middle of the night. A tot in the tot’s bottle should help.
All photographs by Stan Graham
Rum Festival is organised by https://rollingsocialevents.com/ check out their website for future events.