Today, I went along to Cardiff Rum Festival not quite knowing what to expect. It sounded like an interesting event in the SSE Swalec Stadium that was a bit different to what I might usually go to. I’m not a big drinker, but I like a nice cocktail from time to time and rum is one of the main ingredients in many tipples. But now I realise that I knew very little about rum before today!
Held within the SSE Swalec Stadium, the Cardiff Rum Festival was celebrating it’s 5th birthday in style. We stepped into a room decked out with colourful streamers, aged barrels, palm trees and straw-roofed shacks, instantly transporting us to the Caribbean. The exotic theme continued in the background music, with well-known songs like Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” being played with a reggae twist like I’ve never heard before and Caribbean street food being served throughout.
So getting into the spirit of things, we got stuck straight into exploring the stalls on offer. I never knew there were so many different varieties of rum. There were over 50 different types of the tipple available at the festival from numerous distillers from across the globe. The whole idea of the rum festival came about thanks to a passionate couple who wanted to spread their appreciation and knowledge of rum with others like me, who barely know the basics about this well-loved drink.
I tried sample upon sample of many different rums, from spiced rum and cherry rum, to coconut rum and white rum. Before today, I had never tasted straight rum, so it was a bit of a shock to the system. I was used to drinking the spirit mixed into a delicious cocktail, but the whole point of the event was to demonstrate that there was so much more to it than a simple rum and coke or an mixed-up cocktail. In fact, when you really smell and taste the drink, you can pick up unexpected flavours like caramel and butterscotch… if you can get over the burning sensation first!!
There were a few stalls that really caught my eye and my imagination at the festival. At Old J Spiced Rum, I sampled their heady spiced rum with flavours of vanilla and toffee, but I also sampled the cherry rum which, when mixed with a delicious pineapple soda, tasted like summer in a glass! At Mangrove UK, I tried the Aluna Coconut rum, a blend of Guatemalan and Caribbean rums flavoured with natural toasted coconut, which tasted as crisp and clear as it looked in its elegant bottle. This authentic coconut rum was like no other I’ve tasted before. Made with virgin sugar cane honey, it didn’t have the usual sugary sweetness of other coconut rums, but instead it was smooth and subtle – a much more sophisticated spirit! I also appreciated the addition of the Fever-Tree mixer stall. With all that neat rum on offer, it was refreshing to come across some mixers designed specially to compliment and enhance the spirit. My particular favourites were the naturally-flavoured Madagascan Cola and the Aromatic Tonic Water made with South American Angostura bark. One festival-goer described this bark as the hang-over cure of his youth!
Pusser’s Rum held a stall at the festival, proudly displaying their original rum that has been enjoyed by the Royal Navy for many years. This historic brand continues to offer cases of rum to the Royal Navy Association to assist with fundraising efforts to this day, despite the daily Royal Navy rum ration coming to an end back in 1970! A friendly rum-enthusiast at the Pusser’s stall told us the story of their Gunpowder Proof rum – It was said to have been mixed with gunpowder and then ignited, and if it blew up then it was strong enough. It was definitely too strong for me!!
We came across a quirky stall called the Pembrokeshire Distillery, where a friendly and enthusiastic team told me how their rum was crafted in Pembrokeshire from local supplies of vanilla, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, angelica root and “grains of paradise”. I loved the fact that Pembrokeshire is not known for it’s rum, however they had woven it into every aspect of their product, with a local designer even creating their logo and bottle illustrations. Just at the start of their business venture, they had arrived at the rum festival in high spirits with their first ever batch of rum and it was attracting a lot of attention for all the right reasons.
Next up, what better way to enjoy rum than in the form of delicious chocolates and cakes?! Being a foodie at heart, this was the highlight for me! Exotic Tramp, a cocktail chocolate stall, was the last thing I was expecting to see at the festival. Their unique and beautifully crafted chocolates tasted as good as they looked and complimented rum tasting perfectly. Some of the chocolates were made using the rums available at stalls around the festival, while others were designed to snack on while tasting the rum, to bring out new and unexpected flavours within the spirits. From white Madagascan chocolate with cardamom to damson rum truffles, these delicious treats got my taste buds going and I walked away with a bag full of goodies and a smile on my face.
Just next door to Exotic Tramp we discovered cqwin, a charitable project focusing on future innovation and sustainable community development in Africa. Their stall was covered in t-shirts, bangles, bags, cakes and of course, rum. Using African fabrics to create fashionable garments and African rum to produce Pina colada cakes and other tasty treats, Cqwin brought an ethical dimension to the festivities, with produce which we could enjoy even more knowing that it was helping to combat childhood malnutrition in Mali, Africa. Run by an extremely passionate doctor called Alice who had experienced Africa’s troubles first hand, it was hard not to be drawn into this exciting crowd-funding idea and her heart-warming ambitions to finance sustainable community projects. It was amazing to find out the hard work she has been doing for such a good cause!
After exploring all the stalls, tasting rums from around the world and relaxing in the Caribbean-themed chill out zone, I reached the point where I simply couldn’t face another drop of rum! So feeling slightly tipsy (like Captain Jack Sparrow!), we headed home with a brand new rum-appreciation under our belts and it’s safe to say that I needed a little nap to sleep off some of that rum before I was in a fit state to write this blog!!
If you fancy visiting a rum festival, it’s not too late! The next event is in Bristol on the 9th of September, so don’t miss out on some rum-filled fun!