The California Rum Festival and the Ultimate San Francisco Tiki Bar Weekend
Rum is passion. It often borders the line between sweet and fiery in a way that no other spirit can compare. It’s also blazing a trail through the spirits industry - one bottle at a time. But the biggest obstacle is converting the average drinker and to change their perception about what rum is. That’s why the California Rum Festival is such an important event.
For a sipping drink, rum can be just as complex and mesmerizing as any whiskey. I’ve heard from quite a few people who feel intimidated as they try to get into whiskey, saying there is an atmosphere of exclusivity, particularly with premium offerings. But with rum, there is a sense of openness and adventure. Many people I know have only experienced rum in some fruity concoction or with a splash of Coke and lime that you sip while talking like a pirate. Rum can mean many things to many people, but it’s much more than a pirate’s drink.
However, in the case for rum, the times are changing for the better. This may be a part of the revival of tiki culture within the last decade, although that’s up for debate if it ever really went away entirely. But Rum and tiki go hand-in-hand. It’s hard to find a more friendly and welcoming group of people than the folks in the Polynesian Pop community.
The California event took place on the grounds of the SOMArts Cultural Center in San Francisco. This was the perfect venue to gather for such an international collaboration and it’s worth noting the bay area is home to many of the top tiki and rum bars in the world.
Before the festival even started, I was thrilled to see the tiki bazaar with assorted goods and cocktails available from the yet to be opened Zombie Village by Daniel "Doc" Parks from the incomparable Pagan Idol. It wasn’t the only tiki bar to make an appearance. Smuggler’s Cove was also present during the event showcasing a fine selection of rums and copies of their book, which is a must read if you haven’t already picked it up.
This festival is the perfect place for newcomers and experts to come together for a shared adventure of appreciation. Each tasting presents the perfect opportunity to get to know the brands, the flavors, and the wonderful history behind them. This is the perfect opportunity to establish the flavor palette that you’ll use when crafting a cocktail list for your next party or just for finding a new sipping drink to relax with after a hard day.
It’s also fascinating to hear the stories behind the brands. Daring tales of revolutions, smuggling, and island traditions. But it’s also just as fascinating to hear from the relative newcomers to the industry who are still making a name for themselves. I heard many people ask them same question: “why rum?” with my favorite answer being “rum is passion”.
Picking a favorite rum from the event is like picking a favorite child. Although I was very happy to see Deadhead represented after I had first fell in love with the six year rum during a tasting at one of Don the Beachcomber’s Tiki Makeke events in Huntington Beach last year.
The party didn’t stop at the main event as Trader Vic’s hosted a Rum Punch Brunch across the bay the next morning. And although Tiki Oasis just concluded just weeks ago, an exclusive gathering took place with the crew including a preview of Arizona Tiki Oasis next Spring. One of the highlights had to be the Women Leading Rum panel with Kate Perry of La Maison & Velier, Kiowa Bryan Spiribam Rum Specialists, and Karen Hoskin of Montanya Distillers. It was captivating discussion that delved into the integral role women have in the industry and how they are shaping its future. The brunch culminated in an incredible afternoon sipping Mai Tais on the waterfront and mingling with other like-minded rum lovers from around the country.
The California Rum Festival is one of the best events in the industry for helping to create new rum lovers. The rum revolution will be spread with each new initiate who goes out and shows what premium rum is all about. Do yourself a favor and take time to explore the world of rum at one of The Rum Lab’s upcoming events.
Instead of going for the same old spirit, grab a rum! Prefer whisky to rum? Why not try a Rum Old Fashioned to start your journey! Here’s my recipe.
2 oz. Plantation Barbados 5 Year Rum
¼ oz Demerara syrup
4 dashes of Peychauds
Glass: double Old Fashioned
Garnish: orange peel
Muddle an orange peel in the bottom of a double Old Fashioned glass and fill with a large sphere of ice. Pour rum, syrup, bitters, and stir.