The doors have just opened and Mansfield Traquair: ‘Edinburgh’s Sistine Chapel’ [TM] immediately fills with 400 whisky lovers. There’s angels soaring above our heads, which I suppose is appropriate given the spiritous nature of the event. This is Whisky Fringe 2008, the annual shindig thrown by Royal Mile Whiskies at the Edinburgh Fringe.There’s folks heading directly for us, glasses already primed for the first taste. “Welcome to The Rum Chapel,” I say. “What have you got this year?”comes the response.And so it starts.For two days Chris,Arthur and I dish out samples of 20-plus rums drawn from the whole of the Caribbean,Venezuela and Peru;we pour tastes of daiquiris to help clear palates, give verticals of ranges, talk of the stylistic differences between countries, talk, educate, joke, laugh, talk some more.The questions keep coming: “I know nothing about rum,teach me,”;“How’s it made?”;“What’s the difference between Jamaica and Guyana?”;“What do you mean Latin rum?”;“I like Morgan Spiced, what have you got?”;“Rum?! What are you doing here?” This is the third year that The Rum Chapel [try saying it in a Glaswegian accent] has been part of the Whisky Fringe, offering punters a generic overview of what has become one of the hottest spirits categories in the world.The first year people shyly circled the stand, plucking up courage to ask to try some rums; last year there was greater confidence; this year there are old friends as well as new converts.Each year has been busier than the previous, the interest is genuine.The barrier which some believe exists between whisky and rum has been shown to be nonexistent.There’s a natural link between the two: premium,mostly (in rum’s case) wood-aged spirits, there’s similar tales of heritage, provenance, artisanal craftsmanship.As The Rum Chapel shows, it’s not a big, or scary, leap from whisky to rum.I’ve long been a rum lover.The first exposure to the spirit was a tot or four of Trawler with a bunch of Russian trawlermen in a pierhead bar in Ullapool many years ago.Then came Lang’s Banana rum, followed by the great single barrel selection from Cadenhead,before, finally, true Caribbean rums appeared in the UK:Mount Gay, Cockspur,Appleton, Flor de Cana and el Dorado.The problem was getting hold of them. It was easy enough in Black British communities in Bristol there would always be friends’ relatives or neighbours back from the Caribbean with a suitcase full, but as far as most of the country was concerned rum was dark, bitter sweet and an old man’s drink.The same story was repeated across Europe and the US.Things have now changed.Premium rum has replaced Scotch as the most popular drink among young Spanish drinkers, it is growing in the US, France, northern Europe, Japan and the UK and is being led by a new wave of what could be called post-colonial rums.Rum has slipped the shackles of commodity, a bulk spirit whose value was added outwith its place of origin.Now, it’s Caribbean and Latin American brands which are leading the renaissance.This year, Caribbean rum’s trade body, WIRSPA, has launched a generic promotional campaign in the UK, Spain and Italy; rhum producers in Martinique are also banding together to promote themselves generically; there are rums fests in America, London and in a smaller fashion, Edinburgh.Rum’s on a roll.Why is it happening now?Momentum, a building of critical mass, the arrival of brands and most of all choice: rum can be white, gold, vintage and spiced; it’s the perfect cocktail spirit, it can be mixed or sipped a la single malt.Diversity and versatility, that’s a wonderful combination.Oh, and it also makes you smile. A lot.
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