Why rum is so good for bartenders

Award-winning ‘EduTrainer’ Ian Burrell is the Global Rum Ambassador, he created the UK RumFest in 2007, the world’s first international rum festival and he also travels the world conducting masterclasses and seminars to educate about rum.

He was in Australia recently on his way to New Zealand for DramFest with Diplomatico Rum, and Bars and Clubs was not going to miss the opportunity to sit down and chat all things rum and Diplomatico with Ian.

It was a long chat, neither of us would have had it any other way, so we will bring you different stories over the coming weeks, including our chat about the new addition to the Diplomatico range, the Distiller’s Collection No. 3.

Firstly though we talked about premiumisation in the rum category, how you can help consumers upgrade their rum choices, and what makes rum such a great drink for bartenders to work with.

In terms of helping people move through the rum category, Burrell said the positive thing to look at is the fact that they are drinking rum to begin with.


“It’s the million dollar question for all rum company’s – how do you get people to trade up? Well, it’s about creating that perceived value for products. Once you are on the $20 bottle of rum, then obviously you are a rum drinker. We now have to appeal to other things in their emotional connection to the spirit.

“So you have to talk about provenance. Yes, Australia makes a lot of rum but there are other countries around the world that make rum. So it might be a provenance that they have been on holiday somewhere or they have a connection with somewhere like Jamaica for example or Barbados. Or somewhere closer to Australia like Phuket or Fiji and it’s about making the connection for people with a different style of rum than what they are used to drinking.

“Then on top of that you can connect people with things that they would normally associate with other premium spirits. One of the way that rums have taken people from other spirit categories is using similar types of languages. Age claims are normally associated with whisky so having an eight-year-old, a 12-year-old, a 15-year-old rum makes people think ‘that’s a 15-year-old rum, that might taste like a whisky’.

“Then they taste it and it’s ‘wow’ it does taste like whisky. We can also use language from Cognac as well, they have XOs, so if you have a rum that is extra old it might help people understand that it’s a bit different to the regular underproof that they have been drinking.”

Bars and Clubs Editor Andy Young with Ian Burrell
Bars and Clubs Editor Andy Young with Ian Burrell

There are other things that rum takes from other categories as well, which helps them to understand the rum category a bit better and gives people confidence to upgrade their rum choice.

Burrell explains: “The other thing is using cask finishes, using wine casks, sherry casks, Cognac casks, people understand this from other categories.

“It’s using language that is borrowed from other spirit categories to give the rum drinker that association that rum can be a premium spirit. And once they get there, it’s keeping them there and making sure they enjoy what they are drinking, and the premium rum category has been growing and growing especially in recent years.”


When it comes to how bartenders are using and understanding rum, Burrell told Bars and Clubs he was impressed by what he had experienced in Australia.

“I was in Melbourne yesterday and I was doing a Q&A session and there were great, amazing questions from professionals who are really understanding their craft. They were asking about the situation in war in Barbados between the tree rum companies over the geographical indication there.

“But they are also asking questions about what is the origin of the Spanish influence, or the Spanish style, English style and the French style, because when they put their menu together they want these kinds of detail. They don’t just want white, golden and dark on the menu, that means nothing, so these guys want to understand what type of what rum it is, what type of raw materials the rum uses, whether its sugarcane juice or molasses, so they are asking lots of great questions to really understand the category.”

While many people argue rum is the last category to premiumise, there are a number of premium rums available now, and one of the great things about the rum category is that it doesn’t have the pretension or resistance to mixology, as Burrell explains.

“I used to own a bar in London and I had a guy come in and he wanted to have an Appleton 21-Year-Old with coke. I just thought ‘no you can’t’ but he said ‘if you’re telling me this is a great rum, and my favourite drink is rum and coke, won’t it make my rum and coke a better rum and coke?’

“I couldn’t argue with that. But I made it a double, with a nice big block of ice and equal part rum and coke, no garnish and he told me it was the best rum and coke he had ever had.

“So I just thought, I’m never going to prejudge. All I wanted to do was create a great rum experience and you can use rum in some of the classic cocktails.

“To me bartenders are the most important people in the rum industry. They are the ones that use rum to create great cocktail and great drinks, and opening doors for a lot of these rum companies. Not everyone can drink a neat spirit, but put the Diplomatico Planas Aged White Rum in a Daquiri and that’s a beautiful cocktail.

“You can use something like the Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva in an Old Fashioned and it’s one of the best tasting drinks on the planet, or a Rum Manhattan, again an amazing tasting drink that some customers might never have experienced with tum until a bartender gets it in their hands and makes an amazing cocktail and people say ‘Wow, I really do like rum’.”

There is no denying Burrell’s passion for rum, the category and the drinks that bartenders in Australia and all over the world are making with rum. This is the first in a series of articles featuring Burrell, stay tuned for more.

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