The Rum Festival happens once a year at the Excel center in London and is the place to go for anyone that likes both rum and sampling.
Hugh Morris went down this year to check out what all the fuss was about and report back so as we know whether or not to go next year.
Beer festivals are a very British affair. Rows upon rows of worn kegs studied by bearded anoraks as they cross ale after ale from their soggy, stained checklists. Sticky floors, strange smells and stout. Lots of stout. But, as the cold winds swept across the Thames at the weekend, it was not stout on the menu at the Excel exhibition centre, but rum. Lots of rum.
RumFest, now in its sixth year, brings to London an atmosphere a million miles from the reserved predictability of most beer festivals. Yet some things are certain – plenty of rum, for one. From household names like Gosling’s and Mount Gay to lesser-known brands like Dom Papa and Plantation, there are more exhibitor stands than you can shake a stick at, each offering free samples or cocktails and neat rum in exchange for one of the vouchers including in the entry price. But it is the extras at the festival which really bring the event to life.
Greeted by glamorous peacock-esque girls on arrival, the rum enthusiast enters a carnival atmosphere complete with a omnipresent reggae beat and buzz of excitement. I say rum enthusiasts. It’s hard to discern how many of the throngs of visitors are connoisseurs and how many are just there for the party. I’d wager for every punter who knows a thing or two about rum, there are nine who knock back the free shots without so much as glancing at the label on the bottle. Not to say this is a bad thing. If anything it helps foster an informal, friendly environment.
It does mean that any effort to learn a little more about each offering is normally thwarted by baying, thirsty drinkers. But in sampling as many rums as you do in the four or five hours you’re allowed, you seem to learn what you like subconsciously, through osmosis of sorts. The eagerness to drink whatever is placed in front of you sets the tone for the first 30 minutes, then one adopts a discerning air for an hour or so, then after a few too many free samples, clutching your last cocktail voucher, you might as well be quaffing Aldi’s own as you pinball around the stands.
For the more formal entrant, there is a boutique area for the smaller brands and a trade area for the buyers and sellers of the rum world. Cocktail seminars, staged debates on the strengths of the Mai Tai and live music and dancing helps keep the event interesting and from becoming an glorified, overlit bar. Each stand is attended by knowledgeable passionate reps – some on rollerskates – and their ability to remain friendly in the face of the boozing crowds is admirable. Perhaps a bit more space for each stand could alleviate some of the pressure on the thoroughfares – but this does help create atmosphere. There’s also pleasure to be had from stumbling around the bemused, sober, non-RumFest attendees in the rest of the Excel. That said, it’s a strange comedown at the end of day when you emerge in natural light in the late afternoon sun and desperately wish you were already in bed.
Image : Lecool