Rum Festival 2017 at The Corn Exchange

Its elliptical shape and its soaring ceiling make the Corn Exchange an ideal venue to sink a few beverages of a Saturday afternoon, and the Leeds Rum Fest provided the perfect opportunity to do just that, not to mention learning about some of the world’s finest rum while you do it.

Rum Galore

The two-day event, held this year over September 23rd and 24th, is another set-piece of the Corn Ex calendar, in between tequila and gin festivals, and fairs for handicraft sellers and vintage clothes makers. We ventured on the Saturday session straight into the basement events space, through a side-entrance that still bears the branding of Anthony Flinn’s long-departed restaurant – but it probably makes sense to avoid going up and down the main stairs after a few samples. With forty brands and twice that number of rums on offer, the Rum Festival is much like a wine tasting, but without the pretentious murmuring about the nose or the body or any other part of the drink’s anatomy — nor any etiquette about spitting it out. This is about enjoyment and understanding the spirit’s unique qualities, but also about having a damn good time and getting a little bit tipsy in the process.


It’s often remarked that Leeds has seen a flourishing in its gin and tequila scenes in the last couple of years, with new bars cropping up in the City Centre evangelizing about how both spirits are so much more than Gordon’s and tonic in a can, or drinks poured out of bottles with sombreros on top. Rum, however, already has something of a pedigree here — visit the Rhum Room upstairs at Mojo on Merrion Street, or visit every other stall when Carnival comes to Potternewton Park, and you’ll see. But with so many lesser known brands available to try and learn about, the Rum Festival inspired its visitors — me included, someone for whom white rum meant bottles of Malibu at teenage house parties until I had a taste of Chairman’s Reserve sipping white rum.

Photographs from Leeds Rum Festival 2017.

The ambassadors from brands spanning the entirety of the rum producing world are undeniably passionate about the drinks they offer, ready to chat and teach you about their offerings without it ever feeling like a lecture. They’re here to share their knowledge and hopefully inspire a few gin fanatics to switch over to rum. In fact the hashtag for the event was #notgin.

Line Your Stomach

After a few samples and a couple of the potent rum cocktails from behind the bar, I sought out something delicious to line the stomach – something the masterminds behind the festival had obviously anticipated. Little Bao Boy were on hand to deliver their trademark pillowy soft bao buns to the proceedings, filled to the brim with succulent meats and tangy sauces that made a fantastic but unexpected accompaniment to the Caribbean spirits. The dessert menu meanwhile was a treat, with Sugar Spun Sisters offering their pina colada and dark and stormy waffles — expect to see them at every boozy street food event this side of the Pennines.

It was far more than worth its ticket price, and definitely one drink-fest I’ll be making a permanent annual fixture in my calendar.

Rosie O’Brien

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