Around the World in a Single RumDay

TheRumDay is Milan’s yearly celebration of rum producers, rum drinkers, and everything in between. New MIXOLOGY contributor Cate Czerwinski travelled to the event to find out just how close Italy and the Caribbean really are.

On the second day of my three-day trip to Milan, I walked out of the main portal of the Duomo and into the rain. Not just a drizzle, either – a full-on downpour of skin-stinging sheets of cold-ass rain.

My first thought? “What a perfect afternoon to be inside and drink rum!”

Nasty weather on a short trip to a (hopefully) warmer destination would typically be grounds for serious crankiness. This time, however, trekking around town to the various tourist destinations took a backseat to my primary target: TheRumDay.

Such is the beauty of traveling slightly off the beaten path as a spirits tourist. Milan would be a perfect destination for a long weekend trip, anyway. I mean, first of all, it’s Italy and it delivers: gastronomic delights, artistic and architectural treasures, hospitality to make your heart melt –  yes, yes, and yes. Unlike other Italian cities that seemingly exist solely for travelers, Milan is a modern city with a life of its own, independent of visitors.

As if all that weren’t enough, on this rainy day I had the pleasure of hopping on a streetcar and riding 20 minutes to spend the rest of the afternoon learning about, chatting about, and of course sampling, some of the best rums on the market. Launched in 2014 by founders and industry legends Luca Pirola, Agostino Perrone, Dario Comini, and Dom Costa, TheRumDay began as a promise to “bring the Caribbean to Milan.” Its mission has since evolved, moving beyond shots and exotic garnishes to the elevation of rum’s status as an artisanal spirit worthy of serious consideration, and advocacy for professional ethics and standards in rum production and use.

Although my sights were set on sugarcane, the event was actually a combination of TheRumDay and TheWhiskyDay. According to Perrone, rather than having one multi-category industry event, “created events focused on a specific category…to better optimise the focus of the visitors and allow the brands to create more atmosphere related to their category.”

This formula has so far been very successful for exhibitors and attendees alike. For brand representatives and presenters like Daniele Biondi of Velier, the narrow focus brings opportunity and unique challenges. Unlike much larger events that can “easily become like fairs, more generic and less appealing for deeper/higher level professionals and passionate people.” Biondi says the scale of TheRumDay means that it can be “difficult to keep the content fresh and energy and interest high…it’s important to always have new ideas and top level seminars, educators, and guests.”

Focusing on one or two categories limits the crowds to true enthusiasts and keeps them manageable; approximately 2500 industry professionals, personal-nosing-glass-wielding collectors, and home mixologists move through the space over two days. “It is not a small event at all,” says Perrone, “however we make it very personal where all bartenders, producers, and consumers get to know each other and have time to engage in a dialogue.”

Even as a professional from outside the rum industry, I had the chance to speak with every exhibitor and several distillers at length, as well as meet (and get tips from) several collectors and bartenders. It was especially exciting to spend time with representatives from smaller brands like Foursquare, Clairin, and Rhum Rhum, who enjoyed as much exposure as the larger brands like Havana Club. I rounded out my rum geek experience with a talk by Foursquare’s Richard Seale, and a seminar on the Gargano Classification by Luca Gargano himself.

As you might expect, all of that learning made me thirsty! Between the 300 rum and whisky labels present, dazzling cocktails from London’s Oriole and Black Rock pop-ups, and the after-hours takeover of 1930 Cocktail Bar by Barcelona’s Paradiso Bar and Athens’s Baba au Rum, it was an embarrassment of rum riches.

Looking for a tasty recipe for a long weekend? Try equal parts Italy and the Caribbean, one dash each London, Athens, and Barcelona, stir it all up in a well-chilled Milan, and enjoy with friends or fellow drinks geeks. I guarantee it will keep you beaming, even on the rainiest of days.

TheRumDay took place over November 5 and 6 2017. Stay tuned to the event website for details on TheRumDay 2018.


Foto: Photo via Dome Di Benedetto