German Rum Festival 2023 in Photos
Most of my European travel itineraries these days involve a rum festival — shocking, right? This past July was no exception, with the German Rum Festival in Berlin, followed by The Rum Show in London the following week. Below are my thoughts on the German Rum Festival from an American rum geek’s perspective.
The two-day festival is organized by Dirk Becker, a well-known rum personality and the owner of Berlin’s Rum Depot. The festival is held at The Station, a former 19th-century railway station repurposed into a collection of cavernous event halls. Bar Convent Berlin, the massive trade show in October, occupies several halls, but the German Rum Festival requires just one.
When rumheads gather, the rum flows well before the festival doors open. The night before the festival, around a hundred people, including yours truly, packed into a boat for a five-hour dinner cruise. But honestly, the buffet dinner was a sideshow to the free-flowing cornucopia of top-tier rums imported by Kirsch Import, a major exhibitor at the festival. As we docked around midnight, Mitch Wilson, Black Tot’s global brand ambassador, brought the evening to a close with his signature Tall Ships toast.
A wide spectrum of rum brands exhibited, from global giants to small European independent bottlers. As someone who can’t easily get it in the US, it was great to see Cuban rum well represented. I spent a lot of time at the Sao Can and Eminente booths and really enjoyed the 55% ABV, limited edition Eminente.
Many well-known brands relied on their local distributors to handle booth duty rather than sending their in-house staff. I was initially surprised to see Woodford Reserve bourbon exhibiting at the event until I noticed they shared a booth with Botucal. Brown Forman owns Woodford and recently bought the Diplomatico brand. Due to trademark issues with ALDI, Diplomatico is known in Germany as Botucal, although the other brand elements are identical.
While Mount Gay and Plantation (West Indies Rum Distillery) had their own booths, they also jointly staffed a “Barbados Rum Shop” booth serving tasty Bajan foods to accompany rum sips. The idea and execution for the booth came from the BTMI, aka the Barbados tourism board.
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This festival was the first I’ve been to where exhibitors could sell bottles directly from their booths. Brands could also charge for certain pours if they desired. It’s good because enthusiasts can sample a brand’s most expensive selections they normally wouldn’t pour for free at a festival.
Educational sessions ran throughout both days. Velier’s Daniele Biondi taught a session on the organic flavor components of rums as seen through the lens GC of analysis. I didn’t have time to sit in, but his slides caught my eye as they were chock full of information I’ve written about both in print and here. I also had a fully packed room for my session on the historical evolution of rum styles.
The show logistics were well-executed. Attendee tasting glasses were sturdy, stemmed glassware rather than plastic thimbles. And while I’m not a smoker, it was good seeing a dedicated cigar lounge adjacent to the exhibition area for cigar lovers to enjoy rum and cigar pairings. Instead of just one or two water coolers, multiple multi-purpose water/dumping/rinsing stations were strategically placed around the hall. The stations even offered three water choices — non-carbonated, lightly carbonated, and fully carbonated. These little things make a huge difference in attendee satisfaction.
On a personal level, seeing my European rum friends was wonderful. I finally met Steffen Mayer, aka (Stefano Caroni) in person. While Modern Caribbean Rum might seem like the largest rum book ever written, Steffan’s Caroni 100% Trinidad Rum is larger, clocking in at 21 lbs. and 1136 pages. We both have signed copies of each other’s books, so a photo together was mandatory.
A fitting end to my festival experience came as the security people gently nudged last-minute stragglers toward the exit. Somehow sensing that a few drams of Black Tot Last Consignment remained in a sample bottle, Johnny Drejer, Lance Surujbally (The Lone Caner), and I independently made tracks to Mitch Wilson. No Last Consignment was left behind. Fortunately, my next tot was only a week away in London. Stay tuned for my report on The Rum Show 2023!