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Chicago Rum Festival

Chicago rumfest, like many others in the United States, is organized by Federico Hernandez. A very passionate rum guy who deserves a lot of respect for all the work he puts into these festivals. This was my first rumfest on American soil so I was excited to go. I have been to Tales of the cocktail but that’s not purely rum related.

I flew in early morning on Friday. I got to my hotel around 9am so I had plenty of time before the first rum event. What to do?! First, food. Need to be well fed before drinking rum. Next up, Binny’s!! Oh what a joy. For someone who’s used to Toronto liquor stores, “the rum desert”, this is like heaven. So much choice and quite a bit of quality too. Their website is great, so before I traveled I had already figured out some of the bottles I would buy. I picked up a couple of those (Stolen Overproof and Real McCoy 10) and wanted to add a “hotel bottle”. I couldn’t choose one particular bottle for that purpose, so I got two. Denizen 8 and Grander 12. In the end I never spent any time at the hotel, but that's a whole different story.

When I got back to my hotel with a bag full of bottles, it was almost time to head to the first rum seminar. This one was called “Women leading rum”. It was held in an interesting location called “We Work”. A place where people have meetings and presentations while playing hoops arcade and ping pong. A hipster’s dream.

When I came in I met the great Melissa Pinkerton. She had brought several delicious Clement and JM rums. Great start! The seminar itself was led by several successful women in rum. From bartender, to brand ambassador, to brand owner and distiller. They shared some of their success stories and best practices. I found it especially interesting to hear how it’s challenging for them to be successful in a male dominated industry.

Next up was a Foursquare rum tasting at Sparrow. I really liked this bar with its cozy atmosphere. The Foursquare team had brought Empery, 2007 and Probitas. Quite a few rum people turned up. This gave me the chance to meet some of them while drinking amazing rum, which is the biggest joy for me in going to a festival like this. Meeting fellow rum enthusiasts. This can be people who work in the industry or ones like myself who I might only know from Facebook interactions. In the end there is always too little time to talk to everyone unfortunately.

Saturday was actual rumfest day. I was up early to have some time for wandering in Chicago. I fell in love with the city. It’s beautiful and has a good vibe, but I won’t bore you too much with that.

Rumfest started at 1pm with an industry only session. Three o’clock it opened for the general public, VIP first and everyone else at 4pm. It was held at the characterful Logan Square Auditorium.

When I walked into the venue my first impression was that it was quite small. But upon closer inspection it turned out the booths of each brand were small as well, which ensured a lot of variety. The industry session is perfect for me as it’s a great time to talk to the people behind the brands, taste a few things and increase my knowledge. That is a lot harder to do once it becomes busier, which it noticeably did around 4pm. The buzz remained good throughout the whole event though and I never felt it was too crowded.

There were a few seminars spread out during the event. I missed most of them except “Guardians of rum” with Bailey Pryor, Richard Seale, Kate Perry and Zan Kong. Quite the collection of rum knowledge, which naturally resulted in an informative session.

Did I feel there was something missing? Yes. There weren’t enough food options. A table with some snacks simply isn’t enough for an event where people are drinking alcohol. Seminars were lacking and only available on the event day, so you have to choose between a seminar and tasting time. I personally love the educational side of an event and would have liked more options on a different day. Much better programming at Federico’s NY and Miami rumfest for example. I did hear the festival will be held at a larger location in downtown Chicago next year, which would be a great improvement. Lastly, a plastic cup isn’t ideal for sampling rum.

However, all in all this is such a good event to go to. I had a lot of fun. The atmosphere at rumfest is great, you don’t feel it’s set up for mass crowds which is perfect for a rum enthusiast. There are plenty of opportunities to interact with brands and learn about rum. The late night events in some of the great Chicago bars are an additional treat. Lastly, it’s held in an amazing city. How can you not go?!

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