The UK Rum Fest, TIKI MADNESS & London Hotel Bars!
Updated: Mar 29
The bar industry is an absolutely crazy place sometimes & we always knew that the Rum family were always the most fun-loving criminals of our global bar community. There is something about the people involved with creating, selling & drinking rum that makes them unique individual that are always smiling, dancing & brings happiness to any room they enter. So you can imagine when theres a gathering such as UK Rumfest, organised by none other than Ian ‘Global Rum Ambassador’ Burrell, then the event has all the ingredients for an absolute hell of a party! As Cocktails For You travelled to London to cover this annual spectacle we also took the chance to visit some of our favourite bars & bartenders in one of the global capitols of cocktails.
Day 1 - Total Tiki at Laki Kane: Early morning flights, long transfers & rush-hour traffic wasn’t going to stop us from the opportunity from jumping behind the bar, distilling our own spiced rum or trying some delicious cocktails at London’s newest Tiki bar - Laki Kane! The owner & good friend Georgi Radev has been behind some of London’s best Tiki bars over the years & is well nick-named “Big Papa G” of Tiki in London. Laki Kane is probably one of the most innovative Tiki bars in the game that is both tropical cocktail den on the ground floor as well as rum distillery workshop above. The cocktails are world class, the food is incredible & most importantly the rum workshop we attended hosted by Big Papa G himself educates about the history of rum all while tasting some delicious libations along the way. The final task is to spice & distill your own personalised rum to take away home all under the watchful eye of the rum Gods! The evening took a turn in a move mischievous direction as we were one of the privileged line-up doing 1-hour guest shifts behind the bar of Laki Kane alongside the likes of Jeff ‘Beachbum’ Berry, Ian Burrell & Oriol Elias. It can be confirmed that were blessed that night as Eddie’s daiquiri twist was so delicious that the Beachbum was personally asking for the recipe…
Name: Smack-Quiri Ingredients: 50ml Don Q Crystal 20ml Fresh Lime Juice 20ml Fresh Grapefruit 10ml Réal Pineapple Syrup 7ml Réal Ginger Syrup 5ml Campari
Method: Shake & Double Strain Glass: Coupe
Day 2 - The Hukilau at Trader Vic’s: The night before was heavy, the rum was flowing & good times were had by all but you cannot let that top you from attending the Réal Cocktail Ingredients sponsored Hukilao Pop-Up at the original Trader Vic’s at the Hilton in Mayfair. Opened in 1951 as the first international outpost in the UK by the now infamous Trader Vic’s restaurant chain it remains largely unchanged all these years later. This was our first time in the legendary location that is Trader Vic’s & the masterclass we were invited to was genuinely a one-of-a-kind experience. Eve Bergeron the grand-daughter of Trader Vic himself took us through the history of the chain showing us some authentic behind-the-scenes photography, menu design photography & inspiration behind the Trader Vic’s brand. There is something truly inspiring about seeing the human side behind such a historic & globally known name. Tiki in itself can be seen as a quite ‘young’ aspect of cocktail culture in the grand scheme of things so to learn about the man who made it truly global is a thing is beauty. Need I mention there was plenty of rum to try on hand, delicious cocktails from bar, Tiki mugs on sale & a one-man-band Ukelele mad man!
Day 3 - Rumfest: At this point it was too late to back down from the rum fight! We had won the first two battles but the real war started at Rumfest for there was rum to taste, seminars to attend & competitions to witness. Early through the door & getting our education out of the way first we attended the Trailer Happiness seminar by Sly Augustin where he discussed the history of this grand-daddy of rum bars in London, about the mindset & the creativity that goes behind running such a fantastic venue. Need I also mention we were first row tasters to the delicious cocktails made on stage! Jumping from one educational session to another upstairs in the dedicated tasting room from Don Q rum. Alexx Mouzouris took us though the full history of the Serrallés Distillery in Puerto Rico recalling the history of the family involved, the unique location of the Distillery in Ponce where the is perfect from distilling & aging rum to tasting some of the unique expressions Don Q had created annual in the last 4 year’s. It is truly one of the most honest rum producers out there! With education out of the way we managed to catch a one of kind Daiquiri challenge between Barbados & Jamaica. Speed & taste were key here & the final competitors had to head to head in battle. The drink chosen was the Passionfruit Daiquiri & the light were set as the room clearly divided in two in support of the bartenders. Although clearly cheating the crown went to organiser of the show Ian Burrell as the representative of Jamaica. It was all in good fun after all & one of the best things to mention about the global rum family is that they see no borders between each other. Everyone toasted to each other with a sip of rum & simply partied on!
Day 4 Rumfest 2.0: They say if you drink rum before noon you’re a pirate not an alcoholic. We love rum at Cocktails For You but we definitely didn’t have any before lunchtime! The final day of UK Rumfest saw an heavier start from the partying the night before but this did not deter the rum family as everyone turned it up a notch! First up Jeff ‘Beachbum’ Berry took us through the history of the Mai Tai, its origins & evolution throughout the years until the rebirth of Tiki in the 2000s in London as well as worldwide. After that there was a charity auction as the global rum producers sold off selected rare bottles to raise money with some fetching as much as 450GBP per bottle! Then we had the annual Réal Cocktail Challenge on the show with 4 different bartenders facing off in a battle of cocktails for the bragging tights of 2019 champion. There was blenders going everyone, syrups flying around, rum in judges mouths & a lot of shaking going on. The guests were getting more rum at one point than even the judges as towards the end of the show things definitely got rowdy. Oriol Elias from Barcelona was the king of the hill in 2019 & took it home for the Spanish. Until next year!
The culmination of the day was probably the best was I’ve ever seen a bar event close out a show. Now normally an event of this size just starts to slowly break down with organisers packing things away & guests start to make their way out. NOT AT UK RUMFEST! There was another competition of a different kind staged by Parabola Dance Events where all participants still standing were joined by carnival dancers from the Caribbean islands in a battle of hip-moving, bum-shaking & hand-flailing.
Day 5 Tiki Deep Dive: We were at the last hurdle, there was more rum than blood in our veins & the end was in sight BUT NONE of this before we took the opportunity to dip our toe in the mystical history of Tiki one more time. The living mythical walking Tiki-Wikipedia that is Jeff ‘Beachbum’ Berry had a 2-hour mega history Tiki session back in the Trader Vic’s. This was no ordinary book reading or google-search style affair. What sets apart Jeff from others is that all his information is research to the minute detail of visiting living relatives of infamous tiki-bartenders, personally scouring antique auctions for menu’s, tiki mugs & tropical paraphernalia in order to unlock some of the secrets of Tiki culture. We own a few of Jeff’s books but nothing comes close to understanding the real thing than listening to the man explain personally with the ability to ask obscure questions. This is truly a one-of-a-kind opportunity & we highly suggest if there is a Jeff ‘Beachbum’ Seminar coming to a bar near you that you attend. We’d like to thank Réal Cocktail Ingredients for the support & offer to attend!
Ultra Specific Mentions: Although the nature of our visit was rum-soaked & of that nature you cannot visit London without visiting some of the most iconic bars & bartenders currently behind the bar today. On our trip we were privileged enough to do visit the Holy Grail’s of Hotel bars everywhere & those bars specifically were - The Donovan Bar by Salvatore Calabrese, The Connaught Bar with Ago Perrone, The American Bar & The Beaufort Bar at the Savoy hotel. Each of these venues & the bartenders behind them deserve books to be written about them but we’ll try to speak just from our experience here at Cocktails For You.
The Donovan Bar by Salvatore Calabrese The Maestro is not only a living legend of the business but possibly the worlds best host when it comes to Hotel & cocktail bars. The bar itself is inspired by its namesake, celebrated photographer Terrance Donovan, this stylish drinking den is adorned with his iconic 1960s prints and sleek, photography-themed accents. As we were sat in what Salvatore called ‘The Naughty Corner’ we were taken through the tasting of the key drinks in the menu. The design of the entire place, from the sectioned menu, to the bar itself made from 125kg crystal slabs to the carefully curated live music accompaniment as well as intimate lighting made for an experience like no other. The stand-out hit drink for me is called ‘The Sparkling Side of the Moon’ & designed after the album cover of the infamous Pink Floyd album of a similar name. Luckily for us we were also invited behind the bar to see some of the intricacies that make this establishment stand out from a bartending perspective.
“Check the floor” Told us Salvatore. We did & there it looked as if the bar had literally just opened. Impeccably clean. This was a 5-star Hotel Bar experience both in the front & the back as every aspect of the venue is carefully thought about instead of anything being an after-thought or simply hammered on to cover up mistakes. The pioneering Salvatore-Sink was also present as well as his own unique glassware range that makes has become a signature of the Maestro style. All we can say is that he didn’t earn that moniker for no reason…
The Connaught with Ago Perrone If you have never had a Martini at the Connaught Bar then you have never had a Martini.
We were lucky that on this day our Martini was prepared by the man behind the revival of the drink itself in London - Ago Perrone. This man changed our perception of what a Martini was, could be & raised the bar on what we think a Martini SHOULD BE. As the Martini Trolley rolls slowly towards you & you’re taken on a journey with Ago step-by-step from choosing a unique bitters created specifically for this Martini serve. Ice-cold Gin, lemon zest from lemons grown in the Amalfi coast & a technique that would make most bartenders green with envy. Find the video below in all its glory…
He also showcased us his latest creation in the Connaught’s ever forward thinking quest for perfection & exploration. The Number 11 Martini is the latest creation in that journey & the cocktail itself although pre-batched is possibly the highest form of self-expression in drinks we’ve seen to date. The glass itself is painted daily in a Jackson Pollock style painting by the bartender on shift that day & dispensed through a special aerating device first spotted by Ago & his crew in Spain. Ago shares that every bartender has his own individual style & form of expression, he could even correctly name the ‘painter’ of the glasses from that day.
The American & The Beaufort bar at The Savoy Hotel This was Mount Everest of Hotel Bars on our trip. We had already been blown away twice in totally different ways so we thought we were prepared for the final chapter in our Hotel bar excursion. HOW WRONG WE WERE!
The service at the Savoy is something that ANY hospitality professional worth his self needs to witness in person. Every second you spend in the hands of the team behind both bars as well as the floor is like receiving a university education in how you should treat guests in your venue. We were recognised on sight by the hostess & before we could even get to our chairs there were welcome drinks already available for us as we were taken on journey through the latest menu of the American bar based on music. Before one drink was finished there was a tasting of small house of Champagne, as the last bubbles slipped into our throats we were already presented with the next beverage of choice & shepherded over to The Beaufort Bar in the other room.
Every since step the staff take, every single moment in our experience was like a dream that you don’t want to wake up from. The Beaufort bar had just launched their new menu completely inspired by magic with the core based on the interpreted magic - The Pledge, The Turn & The Prestige. Just like a magician the bartenders made cocktail appear from thin air in a multitude of vessels & colours as we tried to find the ‘trick’ to this masterful sleight-of-hand in hospitality. The trick is that there is no trick, the trick is that arguably the best service in the world is in The Savoy hotel & we’re talking about the entire team that makes up this intricate & complicated beautiful machine.
Cocktails For You has been truly blown away. Long live cocktails!