13 February 2014 20:48

Ian Burrell Talks Rum

"There are three great rums in the world - The one in my glass. The next one. And a free one."

As the only recognised global ambassador for the rum category, I am constantly asked what the best rum is. Or what is my favourite rum? As I travel around the world "edu-taining" consumers, bartenders, and rum companies I'll always give that same answer, as there is no best rum, except the one that you're enjoying.

One of  the beauties of rum being a true global spirit is that you'll find a little rum bar or rum shack in almost every country where there is a discerning bartender, bar manager or bar owner; for rum is without a shadow of doubt the bartender's favourite spirit when it comes to mixing a fun cocktail for their clientele. While on my travels around the cocktail-drinking world, I normally take time to ask my local guide, "Where's the best place to get a rum or rum cocktail?" This question is a lot easier to answer when I'm in the tropical climates of Barbados, Cuba, Mauritius and even Miami, South Beach. But it becomes a little harder in certain cities where the bartenders are not known for being as adventurous with their back bar offerings, or when local distributors have yet to explore the wonders (and profit margins) of a beautifully aged rum. Most of these types of bars will offer two or three of the common rum brands and, if you're lucky, you might find a couple more on offer because somebody connected to the bar brought a bottle back from a holiday experience. It is because of this same experience that we are seeing an increase, not only in premium rum sales, but in rum bars. Even bars which maybe have a vodka or even whisky focus are now stocking a wider variety of rums. No longer will it be adequate to just stock your shelf with white, gold and dark rum. There is now a need for a bigger focus on the style of rums that a bar should stock. My basic recommendations for a bar are as follows:

  • a Jamaican white rum,
  • a Spanish style (Cuban or Puerto Rican),
  • a Brazilian (Cachaca),
  • an Agricole (French) ,
  • a super premium and
  • an overproofed (over 115 proof)...
  • and those are just The white rums! In the gold rum category I would stock:
  • a Jamaican style,
  • a Guyanese style,
  • a French style,
  • a Spanish style,
  • a sweeter Central or South American rum (for after dinner),
  • a Demerara rum,
  • a Navy rum

and one very expensive option, just to let customers know that the rums are not only for mixing with Cokes.

So that's 14 rums for starters. Not a bad selection for a basic bar, although some of my favourite venues around the world are stocking at least 80 different variants  on their shelves. These bars are a testament to the creators' passion and love of rum that is more than just an offering to quench one's thirst, but a spirit that is a lifestyle of the past, present and of the future...

The lavish cocktail bar in the world famous Langham Hotel. Over 85 rums, including their own labels of Guyanese and Panamanian rums.

The most notorious of the UK's Tiki bars stocking an amazing 200 plus rums. They were also the first UK bar to set up a rum club in which customers could sample many of the exclusive rums on their shelves.

Reputed to stock the UK's largest collection of rums, with over 300 at last count. Also known for its Caribbean cuisine and its celebrity clientele, it has been serving rums and rum cocktails since 1984.

As well as being a favourite night spot for future kings of England Prince Harry & William, this Tiki club boasts over 150 rums on its back bar. It also sells the famous "Treasure Chest" cocktail at £135.

When I first drank in this bar in 2008, the Einstein Bar stocked an impressive 50 rums, even though it was known for its gin collection. 6 months later while visiting, I was amazed to find that their rum collection had grown by 11... TIMES to an incredible 550 rums! Although some of the rums are the same but in different sizes, this was still the most number of rums I had seen in a single bar.

When you walk into Café....you might be excused for mistaking this rum haven for a small, cosy English pub. Draught beer on tap, wooden bar stools and homely Polaroid pictures covering the walls. But the 200 plus rums on the shelves give this bar a unique selling point, and the owner is as passionate about rum as any person I have ever met.

Named after the famous home of the Ernest Hemmingway Daiquiris in Cuba, the bar/club far exceeded its name sake in Havana. Although the original bar is a part of Cuban cocktail history, the London counterpart, with its 300 plus rums, should be a mecca for aficionados of rum cocktails and rare rums. Manager and mixologist Richard Woods has some of the rarest rums on the planet on his shelf. And if you send a pretty woman to ask him, he might just open some of them for you to sample.

This is the newest bar on the list but it has already built up a reputation for being one of the best bars in Greece. With 85 rums on the bar it is easily the biggest rum collection in Athens, but with most Greek bars only stocking the usual rum suspects, it could be a long time before there is another big fish in this pond. But, as the saying goes, you can't run a marathon without taking the first step.

Equally famous in Antigua for its seafood, this little rum shack boasts an incredible 200 different rums from the Caribbean and the Americas. The house specialty is the "Ti Punch", which mixes French rum, lime and sugar (no ice of course).

Situated north of Castries, the capital of Saint Lucia, the small town of Gros Islet features the Friday Night Street Party which is its major tourist attraction. Also known as the "Jump-Up", the street party encompasses several blocks, which have to be informally cordoned off with the stalls of street vendors. Castro's bar is a regular haunt for locals as well as rum lovers in the know. Although he only stocks about 70 rums, he has a collection of old and rare brands no longer seen on the market. The mission while you're there is to try to get Castro to part with a shot of his rare treasures, but that is another story.

When I first visited this Berlin bar it took me 15 minutes just to get in, and then a further 15 minutes to get a drink. This was mainly due to the fact that it can only hold 20 people and is literally a rum shack in the heart of Berlin. Although the setting within the bar is reminiscent of a 1930s speak easy, and the bartenders looks as if that they have been plucked from an old cocktail book. They currently stock over 80 different rums.

So if you're ever get to visit one of these great bars, make sure you ask the bartender which is the best rum that they have on their shelf. If the bartender is a rum lover you will probably be introduced to many interesting varieties, but ultimately, the best should be the one that you most enjoy.



By Ian Burrell, International Rum Ambassador

Even before he began his career as a singer, with hits such as 'Rock da Juice' which were used in several big motion pictures, Ian was, and will always be a mixologist. He is also the founder and brains behind 'UK RumFest...The Rum Experience', Europe's first ever festival to celebrate the diversity of rum.

Ian's career has taken him on an interesting and inspired journey. He first dived into the cocktail world during the boom of the early 90s while taking a year off from school. 'Alcohol is the element and cocktails the compound' is one of his favourite quotes. But it was his love of tropical cuisine and creating drinks to match that brought his attention to drinks companies such as J Wray & Nephew, who made Ian one of the first Rum Brand Ambassadors in the UK.

His role was to create rum cocktails for their high profile accounts as well as tell the story of rum to an ever-growing cocktail and bar culture. Although the task of educating a new wave of bartenders and mixologists was demanding, Ian still found time to co-present two TV shows, perform on stages around the world as rapper 'Via B' and play professional basketball in the British Basketball league.

Today Ian is recognised as The U.K. Ambassador for Rum, travelling around the globe conducting seminars, academies, tastings and judging many cocktail competitions.

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