Lockdown might have put a stop to festivals and events, but it’s also inspired new ideas for bringing people together, leading to the creation of Europe’s first virtual rum festival. Hosted by RumCask, the festival brought together an exceptional range of distillers to talk about their products and share some of the most unique rums in the world.
A tale of three grandfathers
The event got off to a cracking start with Andrew George and his introduction to William George white rum and the story behind the brand. Named in honour of his two grandfathers, William and George, Andrew’s passion for his family and for rum was on full display. Some awesome background information about the label included the white compass that points to magnetic north and celebrates William and George coming to South Africa in 1956.
The rum itself was gorgeous, different from other white rums I’ve tasted. It’s a blend of six different rums from Jamaica and Trinidad that are pot-stilled and column distilled. I got hit with notes of raisin, tart, chestnut and mild grassiness. The William George truly was a revelation for me because I’ve never seen white rum as a sipper until now.
The next two rums to try came from Sebastian Lauinger and the phenomenal El Ron Artesano brand. Sebastian introduced the history of the company, which dated back to his great grandfather Viktor Riegger making fruit liqueurs in Germany’s Black Forest.
The two rums consisted of a 40.4% ABV ruby port cask and a 42% peated cask. Both of them tasted divine, with notes of sherry, Christmas pudding, red fruits and cranberry in the ruby port cask. The peated cask was absolutely insane. It was like the perfect blend of Scotch whisky and rum, heavy in the front of the mouth and then fiery at the back of the throat.
From Fiji to Guadalupe
The next stop on the rum world tour was the island of Fiji, thanks to Plantation’s brand ambassador Paul McFadyen. Paul gave a fascinating overview into the history of Fiijian rum and how Plantation plan to introduce more of it to the world. The Plantation Island of Fiji rum was delightful. I picked up flavours of chocolate, butterscotch, custard cream, cranberry and rubber. I’ll be on the lookout for more Fijiian rums in future.
Then it was on the Guadalupe with Clementine Guillot, the European Ambassador for Rhum Damoiseau. Clementine’s energy and passion for the brand was infectious and she gave a brilliant overview into rhum agricole and the unique terroir of Guadalupe.
The three rums that were tried during this part of the festival included a 50% white rhum agricole, honey-like 5-year cask and the diabolical 66.9% 2009 7-year Millesime. The white rhum wasn’t really my cup and tea and I did enjoy the 5-year.
The Millesime was the champion of the lot. It was like being punched in the mouth with fire in the best possible way. When cut with water, the entire profile of the rum changed and that was an eye-opener.
Drinking in the mountains of Colorado
The next port of call on my rum voyage was Colorado, with a wonderful presentation from Karen Hoskin, founder of Montanya rum. Karen is doing some amazing things with rum, from how it’s produced to how it’s bottled. Montanya is a female-led and ethically focused brand that is championing a single-barrel approach.
There were four Montanya rums to try: Oro (40%), Exclusivia (40%), Valentia (40%) and Platino (40%). Starting off with the Platino, it was another revelatory moment for how diverse white rum can be. Aged for 18 months in ex-American whisky barrels, the Platino had light and refreshing fruity notes.
The Oro was warming and savoury, with notes of bacon, toast and coffee coming to the forefront. Interestingly, Karen pointed out that coffee used to be one of the dominant flavours because the company used to source their sugarcane from Hawaii.
The Exclusiva and the Valentia were packed full of flavour too. My favourite of the lot was the Valentia because of its whisky-like qualities, which come from it being aged for four years in American whisky barrels and then finished in a rye cask. The inspiration behind the name is pretty awesome as well. Meaning courage, Valentia was named after Renee Newton, one of the distillers at Montanya.
A journey through London, Belize, Australia and Cuba
For the final leg of the festival, London based Merser and Co introduced their rum, an incredible blended drink made from ten different varieties of rum. The blends come from Jamaica, Barbados, the Dominican Republic, Panama and Guatemala. The result is a complex rum bursting with notes of banana, peach, vanilla, pine and oak.
The story behind Merser is really cool as well. It’s the first blending house in London for over 100 years and takes its name from the French translation for merchant. The merchants who sourced rum during the 18th century were masters of their craft and Merser have brought back that lost tradition.
The final speaker was the engaging Josh Singh from 1423 World Class Spirits in Denmark and he introduced three rums that hadn’t been released to market yet in Europe. The first was a mouth-crackling 2012 52% Cuban rum that tasted of pure Scotch. It was mental.
The second concoction came from Belize, weighing in at a potent 58%. Wild, gamey and rugged, the drink had notes of black pepper, oats and chilli. Sweet fire. The most unusual rum was saved for last, a powerful, herbal drink from Australia that damn near blew my head off for how full-bodied it was.
Europe’s first virtual rum festival was a major success. It not only helped to increase my knowledge of rum, it transported everyone to a place of joy and that’s all anyone can ask for in a time of uncertainty.