From Jamaica, With Love

Bar None

with Debbian Spence-Minott

Thursday, April 18, 2019

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A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure to interact with self-acclaimed Global Rum Ambassador Ian Burrell. Even though he has positioned his brand in this way, I found he was not only a name, but he also had substance. Burrell is quite knowledgeable about the business of spirits, especially on his favourite libation: rum. I sought to ascertain from Burrell his thoughts about global rum positioning and consumption. After all, if one of Jamaica's treasures is its rum, then I am curious about its sustainability as a spirits category. Bar None readers, I know you are now quite savvy with rum and how rum is made. If no, drop me a note and I will be happy to answer your questions or contact some of the industry's experts on your behalf who can expand the conversation. Here is a recap of my discussion with Ian.

Thursday Food (TF): Ian, tell us how you entered this business of being a global brand ambassador of rums.

Ian Burrell (IB): As a Jamaican, I am very familiar with rum. I often experienced wines and whiskey festivals and thought, but rum could also do this! In 2007, I decided to invest all my savings and created the UK Rum Festival. At that time, I was literally unknown. The Appleton Estate UK team heard about the event and supported me with the execution. In the years to follow, other brands like Bacardi came on-board. In 2010, I connected with the Hampden Estate team at the UK Rum Fest and again in 2011, while working at the Berlin Rum Festival.

TF: Outside of the Caribbean, are there other rum-producing countries you have visited?

IB: Yes, there is an island called Reunion Island (which happens to be a part of Mauritius and France). The island produces a more Rhum Agricole style of rum and its consumption rate is high.

NB — Thursday Food found that Reunion Island has been producing rums from the 1700s. Today only three distilleries remain operational: Savanna, Riviere du Mat, and the Isautier distillery. All three produce the most famous brands of the island: Rhum Charrette. Other well-known brands are Savanna rums, Riviere du Mat, Isautier, Chatel, Varangues and Belle-Vue rums.

TF: Do you know about a Philippine Rum called Tanduay?

IB: Yes, Tanduay is one of the best-selling rums in the world. It is a Spanish style of rum. Tanduay is consumed a lot by locals — 99% of the rums are sold locally. In the last 4-5 years the rum has been exported to the United States and the style is liked, as that style of rum is geared towards the American palate. The typical rums consumed by Americans are Bacardi, Captain Morgan, Don Q, and Cruzan. Jamaica rum offers much complexity and could be perceived as a challenge. I find that bourbon drinkers are more likely to appreciate the Jamaican style of rum making.

NB During the interview, we were pleasantly surprised to discover that Monymusk rums are also sold to the producers of Tanduay!

TF: Are there any markets in which you observe the growth of Jamaica rums?

IB: Emerging markets like the USA, Canada, Mexico, UK, Germany, the Czech Republic and Poland. A matter of fact, Poland has one of the most successful rum festivals held in Warsaw. There is also a bar that has 1,000 whiskies on show but also over 500 rums. Rum is definitely taking shape and showing potential.

TF: What do you think is causing this shift and adaptation of Jamaican rum?

IB: Sometimes we take what we have for granted. I see that the knowledge levels of the international bartending community and beverage industry are improving. There is a greater appreciation for Jamaican rum. Persons are now understanding the differences in terms of region, country, and area. But we cannot stop there, we need to push education around the geographic indicator (GI) on rums and where they are made.

TF: What have you observed with spirits consumers and their attitude to rum?

IB: Rum is still under-appreciated. Consumers will spend a lot of money on imported spirits but are not willing to spend on premium local rums. We have to change the mentality. There are rums that supersede some whiskies. I believe rum does have a fighting chance and will grow globally.

TF: Give us your impression of the Jamaican bartender vs the international?

IB: I find that Jamaica has the clientele that will demand a certain style of cocktail like the clientele we find in London, Shanghai or Singapore. The bartenders need to work for their audience to ensure guest satisfaction. I find our Jamaican bartenders have great aspirations. They experiment, explore, they discover. But bottom line is that you need the clientele — guest satisfaction and service should be paramount. At the all-inclusive level, I find that the bartenders are not being challenged. Brands are not being called by name and the bartenders do not suggest different cocktails outside of what is being offered on property. Education needs to be emphasised for bartenders so that the clientele can be more engaged and challenge them.

TF: What are your thoughts on responsible drinking?

IB: Alcohol, if not consumed in moderation, can be classified as a dangerous drug and that is underscored because it is legal. Bartenders must be responsible. In the UK, I have found that, while working, bartenders are also drinking. I have found that if you as the bartending professional are not in total control and you are delivering a drug, then this could be harmful. Bartenders have the responsibility to ensure they are 100% coherent and that they know what is being served, ensuring no incidence of overpouring. The most important drink in the bar is water. Water should be the first thing that is offered to the guest before they take their first drink.

TF: What is your vision for Jamaica's bartending landscape?

IB: I want to hear of Jamaican bars being spoken about as some of the best bars in the world — maybe being listed in the top 100 bars in the world. Renowned as team players and establishments for service, just being recognised for the outstanding work that is being done.


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