In Conversation With Sam Fish

Saturday 27th October 2018 sees the Third Leeds Rum Festival being held at the Corn Exchange from 7.00pm until late and I will be covering it on behalf of Leeds Living.

It’s a hard life. Imagine my surprise and delight when I was also asked if I would like to interview one of the joint founders and organisers, Sam Fish.

Sam is the Operations Manager for the Mojo Bar on Merrion Street, so she is no stranger to the hospitality profession. It didn’t start out that way, however, as she left school aged 16 and found a job in a recruiting agency. She worked her way up the ladder until one day, three years later, she decided that finding other people jobs was not for her so decided to pack it in and seek out a new vocation for herself. She was obviously a great loss to her former industry as after a very short time she managed to find herself gainful employment at Revolution Bar in Call Lane. Recruitment’s loss was leisure’s gain and she took to it like a duck to water, again moving up the organisation until taking up her present position with Mojo.

It was on a trip back from a small Rum Festival in Birmingham that the idea of starting one in Leeds came to her. Leeds being Leeds and Sam being Sam, this one was not going to be small scale – so the Corn Exchange was booked and the rest, as they say, is her story.

She has previous form when it comes to rum, having done some work for the El Dorado brand, so she knew what direction the Festival should take and along with her partners Dan Crowther and Bruce Lerman, they decided to put the plan into practice. Dan and Bruce are involved in Hedonist Project in Lower Briggate, Dan also being Brand Ambassador for Maverick Drinks and Rumbullion.

She points out that the taste of rum varies not only from country to country, but also between different distilleries within the same area. It is not just a matter of choice between Captain Morgan and Bacardi but an infinite number of shades and flavours between. I asked Sam whether she could ever see rum rival the new-found popularity of gin and she saw no reason why it shouldn’t. Her prediction was that it would happen in a different way because of the sweeter sugarcane base of the drink, rather than that of the fruitier juniper berry of gin, but last year the total world sales of rum passed the £1billon mark for the first time. Schweppes are also convinced as to the future of the product as they are introducing a special range of mixers to accompany it.

Sam told me that the aim of the Leeds Rum Festival was not to make a profit but to introduce the spirit in all its forms to the people who have only ever sampled the big brands, and by showcasing the boutique and premium versions.  In fact there will be samples of rums available which would normally cost more than the entrance price for a single shot.

This year’s event has been a particular challenge to organise. Because of renovation work to the lower floor of the Corn Exchange, it was decided to move it to Kirkgate Market. The switch did not work out and so after a bit of negotiation the people at the Corn Exchange said that because it was an evening function they could use the ground floor. I get the impression that if Sam had been in charge of the Brexit discussions we would have everything sorted by now!

So, having established Leeds Rum Festival, what next? Well, it’s another rum festival, but this time in Liverpool, a city of which she speaks of fondly.   ‘I love the city and the people’ she told me. In fact, she would love to set up a series of festivals throughout the country and in a wonderful twist, organise a huge one in Birmingham to show them how it should be done. Now that is the definition of chutzpah!

Leaving rum out of the equation, Sam would like to participate in other food and drink festivals with one of her friends.  What are the odds that her favourite spirit finds its way into that one somewhere along the line.

I enquired as to what Sam did in her spare time, hoping that it didn’t sound like the cheesiest chat-up line ever, and she told me that being the mother of an 18 month-old boy, leisure time is a distant memory, although she and her partner have managed to squeeze in a couple of concerts lately. They saw David Byrne in Manchester earlier in the year and were so impressed that they immediately booked tickets for the Leeds leg of his tour. She may be a fan of this ex-Talking Head but believe me, this is one lady who most certainly is not on The Road to Nowhere.

Feature photograph by Stan Graham.

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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