- interview by Sara Gorelick
As rum is on the rise (just in time for summer), Sara had a chance to speak with Neil Morris, the Global Ambassador for Authentic Caribbean Rums (ACR). The ACR was created to be a symbol of authentic, quality for rum made in the Caribbean.
SG: Can you tell me about the ACR and why it's important?
NM: It's important because it's about supporting real people from rural communities in small countries. As a collective Marque of provenance, authenticity and quality, it tries to give these small producers a voice in developed markets that are generally dominated by global drinks companies. We try to educate trade people and connoisseur consumers about Authentic Caribbean Rum, its history, heritage and its importance to the social, economic and cultural fabric of the region.
SG: How did you get involved in the world of rum?
NM: By happy accident, I guess. I had a background in both food and drink in Europe but had also worked with a Jamaican beer brand, Red Stripe, for a number of years. I had therefore worked in the Caribbean communities of the UK and Jamaica and developed a keen interest and understanding of the region. Then, up pops an opportunity and the next think I know I have visited over 20 countries and over 30 distilleries in the Caribbean as well as many other brewers, distillers and drinks companies across Europe.
SG: What's it like to live in Barbados?
NM: Absolutely fantastic - magnificent beaches and stunning sea-front restaurants of course, but more than that are the truly genuine people, the vibrant rum shops, the fabulous fish and street food, plus acres of sugar cane bending in the cool breeze and waiting patiently to be turned into gorgeous Authentic Caribbean Rum!
SG: How does your experience in food and beverage play into your current role?
NM: The new breed of bar professional is every bit as determined to create and present beautiful drinks as a top chef is to present stunning food. Understanding the criticality of 'balance' and the appeal to both eye and palate is similar in both areas.
SG: What is the best part about your job?
NM: I love meeting enthusiastic, passionate mixologists at our training sessions in major cities. Their thirst for knowledge of the rum category is seemingly unquenchable.
SG: The worst?
NM: Not a lot, really. Maybe it's that I prefer talking to trade people who already have a decent rum knowledge than to those totally new to the conversation.
SG: Aside from rum, what do you like to drink?
NM: If the sun is still up, it's always tea...good old English 'builders' tea as we sometimes like to call it. After dark it's rum, of course, but I really do drink from a broad repertoire...long mixed drinks like Rum & Ginger Ale, Gin & Tonic, Campari & Soda; simple classic cocktails like an Old-Fashioned (with rum) or a Daiquiri; or late evening a really well aged rum, a single ice cube and perhaps a piece of dark chocolate.
SG: How often would you say you're on the road?
NM: Ah, this is the real downside. Due to our relatively remote location, it's usually two or three days of travel for a few hours of training or trade discussions. I just hate the 'downtime' involved in travel - it's such a waste. However, I love being in new locations, new bars and meeting new people of course. I find the dynamism and enthusiasm of young bar professionals so energizing - I just want to draw all that vitality into me.
SG: What do you want people to know about rum? Steve Olson said in a seminar that he wants people to think of sugarcane when they think of rum – what do you want for that first impression?
NM: I want people to think 'Wow.' Our campaign is about showing people rums that they are not familiar with and I really think that we can 'wow' them. For me, rum is endlessly diverse and I find it really hard to believe that any drinker could say they don't like rum - there are just so many styles, flavors and finishes and all within the regulatory framework that is Authentic Caribbean Rum. The mixability, the versatility and the ability to astound the senses with complex aromas and flavors - it is undoubtedly the most versatile of all spirits.
SG: Where do you see the ACR and rum in general going as a category?
NM: We are a coalition of high quality producers so I think we are well placed to capitalize on the trend toward premium products. Consumers are starting to discover that aged rums offer the complexity of categories like whisky and brandy, yet are less pretentious and more approachable. Actually, I think all sectors within rum will continue to do well. Flavored products continue to draw new people into the category while authenticity is a key element for more discerning drinkers.
Photo credit: WIRSPA