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As the first boatload of visitors to this year’s festivities walked up to the Cooper Island Beach Club on Nov. 18, they were greeted by a live band singing “Welcome to Rum Fest.”
Patrons milled among the half-dozen stalls manned by connoisseurs of the iconic Caribbean libation, who offered samples and twists on classic rum-based cocktails.
One popular option was the Madagascar pineapple-infused aged rum by Plantation Rum distillery, featured by Proudly African.
Vendor Josh Ridgway said what makes the spirit special is how the dark aged rum first hits the palate, followed by a second wave of fruit flavour that is not overly sweet.
The distillery’s rum comes from small family-owned businesses in several Caribbean islands but is aged in cognac-soaked casks in France.
Mr. Ridgeway said he was glad to see residents and tourists enjoying the festival as the tourism high season gets under way.
“It’s a great event,” he said. “The more we support it, the better it will be, because there are so many rums to try. Obviously, the Caribbean is a leader in that spirit.”
Other vendors included Caribbean Cellars, Botella, TICO BVI, Roadtown Wholesale Trading and Rum Java.
Several rums offered at the celebration are manufactured in the Caribbean, including the beloved Mount Gay rum from Barbados that RTW promoted.
RTW Manager Colin Campbell said he wanted to bring a familiar favourite to the table and encourage amateur mixologists to try their own recipes, like the rum punch with a dash of coconut milk featured at his booth.
He noted that Mount Gay had garnered accolades for good reason, producing a Barbados-based line of rums that is one of the oldest in the region.
“A good rum starts with a good story,” he said.
He also shared his appreciation that the company has promoted one of its first female master distillers, Trudiann Branker.
“She has elevated all the rums in a more complex way,” Mr. Campbell said.
Another stalwart of the rum cocktails is the “dark and stormy,” and TICO BVI vendor Steve George had tasters try it with Gosling’s Black Seal Rum.
He said even a simple drink can be elevated with a well-paired rum, and he found the sweetness of the dark rum complemented the gingery bite of Old Jamaica’s soda.
Mount Gay wasn’t the only one lauding a longstanding legacy of rum production.
Lewis Crone, offering Doorly’s from the Barbados-based Foursquare Rum Distillery, said the company has gained support by not using artificial flavours or colours.
Alex Klas, Cooper Island Beach Club’s food and beverage manager, encouraged attendees to venture outside their typical drink order.
“For me, it’s all about the interactions between our visitors and vendors, and them introducing the rums that we stock here and getting people to try more different rums rather than just the well-known brands,” he said.
As he swirled an orange peel around the rim of a 10-year Gelas rum-based old-fashioned, Mr. Klas explained that the festival has been going for the past decade, pausing only briefly during the pandemic and Hurricane Irma aftermath.
At the heart of the beach club is the bar which stocks various rums and other liquors stacked along the back wall to the ceiling.
Even larger than the rum collection at the bar is the private collection curated by Mr. Klas. The current record for the most varieties in a single collection in the Caribbean is about 480, he said, adding that the resort is only about two dozen away from besting it.
Throughout the day, visitors chatted with one another about their favourite rums while getting their glasses filled, meandering along the beach, sampling Mount Gay-marinated short rib tacos, and learning new drink recipes.
Sam and Louisa Gundry said they moved to the VI from the United Kingdom about six months ago, and they enjoyed getting to pay their first visit to Cooper Island.
In addition to the exterior booths, Mr. Klas prepared craft cocktails inside the beach club bar.
“We tried one of the cocktails from the rum bar, and we still have two more samples to get, so we’re excited to try them,” Ms. Gundry said.
Cooper Island Beach Club Assistant General Manager Chanel Greig said organisers were pleased with the turnout and energy for this year’s festival.
“Every year it’s getting better and better,” she added. “Next year will be better, but this is going to be hard to top.”