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The UK Rum Scene – Pt. 1

Pete and Pauline from TheFloatingRumShack.com sign on to give us a look at what’s going on with the UK rum scene.  This is Part 1 of a series.
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Picture 9A View from the Deck of TheFloatingRumShack.com

By Pete Holland

I can’t tell you how pleased I am to have been asked to contribute to RumConnection!

In order to write a piece, I think it helps for you to know a little bit about the people behind it.  TheFloatingRumShack.com is a means of broadcasting as much of the news and information that my wife Pauline and I amass in our attempts to learn all about Rum.  We are not exactly experts and don’t profess to have any amazing depth of knowledge.  We love rum and have had a really great time, meeting some really nice people as we take our first steps on the road to rum nirvana.

Why does TheFloatingRumShack.com love rum?  Mostly it’s the connection with the Caribbean that comes from my wife’s family.  It’s not uncommon for the kids of parents raised on rum to rebel and shun the noble spirit.  Fortunately Pauline was not one of those kids.  I’ve travelled to the Caribbean a few times and got hooked on the vibe – rum is in the rhythm and we are hooked, good and proper – it’s as simple as that.

So, an obvious question to look at would be, is rum on the up in the UK?  TheFloatingRumShack.com has been blogging and investigating since February 2009.  During that time I can think of several new rums that hit the UK market, namely St. Nicholas Abbey, Ron Abuelo, Ron Barceló  and Los Valientes.  I do recall through conversation with the nice people manning the stands at RumFest last year, that a fair few brands were there looking for a UK partner.  According to the RumFest newsletter that I received recently, this year’s RumFest will have a minimum of 10 rums that are making their UK debut.  Of those 10, I knew about 5 of them – the others are new to me and so that makes me a little upset that I’ve not been able to find out about this and write them up!  Bereft as I am of statistical data for previous years, I can only surmise that things look good from the point of view of variety.

Variety is good, but if the potential market is limited it’s an unsustainable model – same cake – smaller slices.  It’s become something of a joke at work – they all know I bang on about rum and I can tell that some people have listened and tried a bit and probably had their preconceived ideas changed for the better.  Most people I know though say something along the lines of “I don’t like rum”, which is a shame on many levels.  I think that percentage wise the population is more likely to say that I don’t like rum than is likely to take leap of faith and try it.  A small market (in an already small country – pop. est. 61 million) and an increasing number of rums doesn’t make for a happy ending – small or nonexistent returns will only lead to a disastrous ending.  So what’s the answer?  How is this addressed?

Education of course!  Get to the point where the punter believes he or she can’t do without ‘it’ and ‘it’ will fly off the shelves.  I can see that ‘education’ is apparent on several levels.  Bacardi and other brands sponsor training sessions for bartenders.  The educational’s unfortunately tend to be limited to the cities (London, Manchester, Edinburgh etc.) and so whole swathes of the UK miss out.  The quality of bartending in smaller towns and villages is on average abysmal.  I understand money is the driving factor.  There is likely to be little or no immediate return from out there in ‘the sticks’ and so no real investment is made.  If you’re in the trade and feel that this is a wholly inaccurate statement – I’d love to hear your initiatives.  So highly focused investment could be considered to be a double edged sword – a significant proportion of the UK live outside cities and so they will have no rum experience except for the normal quartet of Captain Morgan, Morgan Spiced (if you’re lucky), Bacardi and Lambs Navy rum.  This quartet form the average rum back bar of a large proportion of bars I’ve visited across the country.  I’m not criticising the actual brands, but it hardly speaks of the breadth of experience that could be had.  Couple this with a lousy serve and lack of knowledge and the result is that no one is going to be inspired to find out more.  I do need to point out that occasionally there is the odd hidden gem, but unless you happen to speak to the bar manager whom has obviously got a thing for rum, then you’d be better off banging your head against the wall in most cases.

….to be continued.

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Tune in tomorrow for a second installment from Pete Holland.  In the mean time check out their website.  It rocks!!