Leeds Rum Festival Reviewed

I was first introduced to rum in, of all places, France. About twenty years ago I was having a stroll round the Old Port of Marseille and had finished dinner when I spied a bar which looked perfect for sitting outside to people watch over a coffee and cognac before retiring to my bed.  Well, it was gone 9.30pm.

I took a seat and waited for the waiter. When he arrived I told him what I wanted, only to be informed that they did not sell cognac, only rum. I clarified that my ‘O’ Level French was not at fault here and he repeated that my only choice was rum. I asked for one which would compliment my coffee and he duly obliged. It was magnificent and so, when I had finished, I went inside the bar to sample another variety. I was faced with several shelves filled with bottles of the spirit. I got back to my hotel about midnight!

On returning home I thought that I would try to discover somewhere similar for a change from the normal bars, but I was only able to find the usual suspects of Captain Morgan, Lambs or Bacardi. I went back to my default spirit of whisky. Fortunately, thanks to Sam, Dan, Bruce and Jon, we are now treated to the Leeds Rum Festival where I could relive my night sur le lash. Instead of a sultry night looking over the yachts in the Mediterranean Sea, however, I was dodging buses on a freezing evening in Vicar Lane in order to get to the Corn Exchange where the event was being held.

All photographs by Stan Graham

At the door I was greeted by a chap who supplied me with a programme of events and a bottle of water, a nice touch as it would clear my palate between tastings and prevent dehydration, thus sidestepping a hangover – fat chance! I decided against hitting the various stands for a few looseners but went instead to Tasting Room 1 to listen to a presentation by Alison Bartrop, European Brand Ambassador for Banks Rum. (feature photo) It turned out to be a good decision because as well as the informative talk about the history of the brand we were treated to samples of their Banks 5 and Banks 7 rums, along with a rum-based Old Fashioned cocktail and a punch.

The punch was the drink rather than the physical act, but the effect was more or less the same. The numbers in the titles of their drinks do not reflect the years of maturing, but the number of places from where the rum is sourced. All rum is blended, unless you drink it straight from the still where it is produced, and the blend varies from bottle to bottle, although the end taste will be the same for each of the 5 and 7 varieties. Enlightened, and lubricated, I decided to have a five minute stroll around the stands to stretch my legs before going to Tasting Room 2.

The talk in Tasting Room 2 did not involve drinking but was a very informative and amusing history of Port Royal, ‘the wickedest place on earth.’ It was delivered by Dr Katie Lister aka @whoreofyore who told the tale of how Port Royal in Jamaica became fabulously wealthy owing to both the rum trade and piracy, and how that led to debauchery on a grand scale. All good things must come to an end, as they say, so when the law cracked down on the illegal goings on and shenanigans, and the place was devastated by an earthquake, it reverted to being a small, relatively law-abiding fishing port. The talk was delivered with great enthusiasm and humour, the time just flashing past.

Not having eaten since lunchtime, I decided to check out the lower ground floor where there were street food vendors, a bar and a DJ providing music appropriate to the event, with a mixture of reggae and soul. I have previously sampled the wares of Little Bao Boy so went to the amusingly named Doner Summer where I sampled the Bad Girl Berlin which really hit the spot. It came in a bread cake, some of which I had to leave as my appetite was sated with the filling but, as the lady who is the inspiration for the name would say, Enough is Enough.

As it was gone 9.30 and past my bedtime for a Saturday night, I decided to have one more snifter for the road and was recommended Rum Java, a coffee flavoured concoction which was just the thing to finish off the evening and very appropriate, given the circumstances of my initial sampling of the spirit all those years ago. This had been a rum do in the best sense of the term.

Editor’s Note:  So – for all those readers whose first choice isn’t rum, keep an eye out for Leeds Rum Festival 2019.  Those aficionados might just change your mind.

Stan writes Let’s Do Lunch for Leeds Living.  He also reviews special events for food and drink, which sometimes takes him beyond Leeds.  He has also developed an interest in writing on culture, most frequently dramatic and musical theatre.

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