The drink of choice for sailors and pirates alike, rum has effectively conquered the world, according to spirit expert and explorer Neil Ridley.
Joining fellow spirit connoisseur Joel Harrison in a rum talk and tasting at the Southbank Centre, Neil will trace the beverage’s history from its humble beginnings to its travels across various Caribbean islands. “Its origins are not particularly glamorous. Rum evolved from plantation slaves drinking fermented sugar cane and molasses before it was distilled and turned into a harsh spirit,” Neil tells. “It’s difficult to say when commercial rum started, but it was probably towards the mid 1600s and was distilled in a fairly crude way but around the 1800s rum became much more popular.”
At the tasting the duo will explain how the spirit is made and the different types of rum from traditional molasses to the Agricole variety, which is made from sugarcane juice. “We’ll of course be looking into the naval association; no rum tasting would be complete without this,” Neil says.
Rum’s nautical roots place it historically as one of the first bases of the cocktail as we know it today, Neil argues. “In the 1600s sailors would be given rum with lime and hot water to make a restorative drink and during battle the ration for naval sailors was doubled,” he tells.
Jumping forward to modern-day, there’s been a noticeable increase in hand-made small batch rums, particularly in the US, Neil explains. “There’s a huge shift in craft rum from America; there’s no rum distilleries in London yet but in the next ten years I’d predict someone might have a go at trying. Rum is being seen as much more of a spirit for the connoisseur now.”
Older Caribbean rums, particularly those aged in oak, are incredibly rare, Neil points out, since the evaporation is much higher in hotter climates like the Caribbean islands. “Some older rums occasionally come up at auctions and they’re highly sought after; it’s a very desirable spirit.”
A Ramble through the exotic world of rum is at the Members Bar at Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, SE1 8XY, on December 4 at 6:30pm. Admission: £45. http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk
The Southbank Centre year-long membership includes free entry to all Hayward Gallery exhibitions, priority booking for blockbuster events and festivals as well as access to the exclusive Members Bar. There is also a series of special member’s events, from workshops to wine tasting, and discount and offers at a number of shops and restaurants onsite. Membership starts from £45 a year.