Thursday, 1 October 2015

Berlin RumFest 2015 - The Voyage of a Newbie Fest-goer

Last update: okt6th2015
The first RumCorner adventure to far away shores of rum greatness.

Oktober 1st 2015

Tomorrow I am setting out on yet another journey.
Where my journey in rum has been purely metaphorically so far, this new journey is more real.

For the first time ever, I'm leaving safe and familiar Denmark, to join one of the larger RumFests abroad. This year I ended up choosing Berlin. Don't ask me why. It was actually decided pretty much on a wim. A couple of other danish rummies are going, so being a firsttimer, I relied on their judgement and followed suit.

I will be my first time rubbing shoulders with industry pros, aficionados, enthusiasts and other writers, and I'm looking quite a bit forward to it.

Primarily because of the most obvious of reasons: There is going to be a lot of rum in Berlin this weekend.

But just a much because it gives me a chance to meet up with a few like minded people. People who I have never met, but have engaged in both pleasant and furious discussions with over time.

The trendy term would be symposium. But not in the usual, casual, hipster, workshop, get-together kind of way, but the old school greek kind of way.

Deriving from the greek word "symposion", symposium means "to drink together". What a suitable use of the word.

Lastly, I'm considering it a field trip. It would be a shame to go all the way to Berlin without learning something. So I hope, I will return a more educated boozer (experiencing only moderate hangovers in the proces).

Until my journey properly sets off, I guess there is little less to report.
I seriously doubt that my suitcase logistics will be very exciting for the average reader without OCD.

Oktober 2nd 2015:

At oh-600 my alarm went off and even though I would have liked to rack up a few more hours of sleep, it was time to get up.

A day I had been looking forward to for quite some time, had finally arrived.

Coffey and danish.
But before I could take off and set sails for Berlin, like any other family, we had to get everybody up and ready to get out the door.  Just because Dad goes off to another country to get drunk for 5 days, there is still everyday stuff to be done.

At 8:24 I was ready at the train station waiting for my train to arrive. However it didn't. No sign of
delay or anything. Just an absence of train. 10 minutes later the train arrived without making much fuzz about anything, and it was off to Germany.

Looking forward to almost 7 hours of train ride. Seriously. I love travelling by train.

Heavy fog and 25-30 
meters up in the air.

Okay, so it has now been 2 hours and the train has just entered Germany.
My cell phone has just informed me, that data it going to cost me a million if I keep being online.

No problem. I'll just hook up to the wifi on the train instead. Wait, what? There's no wifi on the train?!
Guess the next 5 hours is going to happen in a digital black hole then...
Nevermind. That gives me time to read and write a little. And see beautiful German scenery go by at 200 kph. Not so much in love with train travle now, am I?

Well, fortunately I riding on 1st class. So, at least it will be a luxurious ride, right?

Just short of 200 kph.
I got a full 5 inches of flatpanel screen in front of me broadcasting white noise on two channels. The very friendly train stewards has provided me with not one, but two, thumb sized napoleon wafers AND all the german news papers I could possibly consume. Awesome stuff.
Take that poor people! I'm never going back to monkey class!


At exactly 14:40 the train rolled up to the platform in Berlin, and I had finally arrived after reading a bit, writing on a couple of reviews, being stunned by German nature at 200 kph and would you believe it, taking a little nap. Sweet. Rested and ready to take on Berlin.

1st class entertainment 
First challenge: To find my connecting S-bahn zug, so I could check in at my rented studio apartment.
Or so I thought. Finding the train and the right platform took only a couple of minutes.

First challenge: How to get a damn ticket!

The first 4 machines I found, only spoke German and wasn't really helpful in assisting me in getting the right ticket. It also refused to accept any of my two types of credit cards. Neither would it accept my €50 bill, because it wanted the exact €1,70 for my ticket.

Okay then. Off to a kiosk or something to get my bill broken into change.

Apparently, the food courts and shops at the train station are not allowed to do that. So I had to spoil myself with totally unneeded bottle of water "mit gas" to get some change.

With a pocked full of all kinds of metals in round shapes, I went back to the platform.
However, this time I spotted a more modern ticket machine at the exact same spot where I had exited my first train.

A machine which:
a) Offered assistance in 8 of the most common languages.
b) Could help me get the exact kind of ticket I needed, by entering my destination.
c) Accepted both of my credit cards.
d) Gave back change if you didn't have the exact fee.


One ticket richer I jumped on the first appropriate S-bahn to my destination.
A short 15 minute train ride later I arrived in Schönenberg, and a 10 minute walk later, I was ready to check in.

I was greeted by a very nice lady in her mid-50s, who took her time to tell me everything about the neighbourhood, where to go, where to eat, where to shop, where to go out, and so on.
She even told a great deal about her love for the city and how everything had changed so much the last 10-15 years.

I don't think I have every encountered that kind of hospitality before.

After getting money and the cleaning lady out of the way, I was finally ready to settle in.
I'm no big "unpacker" when away on these kinds of trips. I prefer to unpack as little as possible, and leave everything in the suitcase. So after just a few minutes and a call home, I was ready to go out and check out the area surrounding my base for the next couple of days.


The street just outside.
I spent the rest of the afternoon walking around in the area and trying to get my bearings.
Schöneberg is indeed sehr schön. Super cozy, lots of trees and playgrounds.
Not than many spirits dealers though... except for one.

Just 10 minutes on foot from my center of operations, I found Rum Depot Berlin.
Okay, I admit, I booked the apartment because it was equally close to the Rum Depot and the venue for the Rum Festival.

The little store front did nothing to reveal the heaven it had hidden inside.
I was like a little kid in a candy shop! Every major rum label and a heck of a lot of indie bottlers were  represented. Yet after having been guided around the shop - and the nearby Botucal Lounge - I left with nothing. I think I blew a fuse.


There was simply too much rum to choose from. I went in there with a purpose, and left with my mind completely blown. Guess I'll have to stop by later this weekend and give it another shot.

That almost sums it up for today. I'm back in my apartment getting fed, and I think I might take a stroll around the neighbourhood again later on, and then call it an early night.
I got two very long, hard and fun days of Rum Festival ahead. Better be ready for that.

(Okay, I think I got kids racing office chairs in the apartment above. Hopefully they won't mess too much with my beauty sleep).

Oktober 3rd 2015:

Aaah .... a good nights sleep. Does anything else make you feel this ready to take on the world?

Today is the day. The first day of the Rum Festival.
To the common people like myself, the doors open at 12:00, så that gives me a couple of hours to enjoy a bit more of Berlin.

But first, a bowl of oat meal, some juice and a nice, hot shower.
Unfortunately, the shower is the only thing wrong with this apartment.

I started out spending 20 minutes trying to find the hot water. When it finally came, it was as hot as the sun it self. Fiddling around with the thermostat didn't yield logical results.
One moment it was ice cubes, the next it was magma.

By pure luck I found a setting which was bearable. But that didn't last long, and without even touching the thermostat, it was back to ice cubes and magma.
Guess I won't be be taking long showers while I'm here.

Nevermind, that leaves more time for rum.
Time to get out of this cozy apartment and go on an adventure.
More updates later...

Anhalter Bahnhof. One of 
the few sight seen so far.

Yeah, I know. There hasn't been many updates today.
I got an excuse: It has been an absolutely insane day!

After strolling around a very small part of Berlin for a couple of hours, it was finally time to go the festival. Beautiful day. The sun shining from a clear, blue sky. A perfect excuse to spend the next 9 hours rumming indoors.

My smartphone and its map of Berlin made it fairly easy to find the right place. However, there wasn't any signs of a huge rum festival anywhere. Merely a sketchy looking industrial site.
But then I saw the small banner, and knew I had found the right place.

At 12:00 the doors opened and the insanity began.

The RumFest Flag

The next 12 hours pretty much went by with a combination of scouting stands, meeting people, nosing rum, meeting people, tasting rum, going to masterclasses, meeting people, discussing rum... and finally getting a little bit to eat before falling over on my back.

Thankfully, my rumbuddy Gregers was there to guide me a long way and to make some introductions. It made coping with the whole situation a lot easier.

And then there was the rum... Oh boy.

All the major brands are represented, as well as a few indie bottlers and smaller scale distilleries.
As even though I feel that I put in a huge effort, there is still a lot of stalls I have to visit (and revisit) tomorrow.
A view of the left hand side of the exhibition centre.

Of the exhibitioners, the highlights so far has been:
- Compagnie des Indes. Florent is such a great, down to earth kind of guy. And the products are stellar. No BS, just rum. I'll return to his stall tomorrow for sure.

- Hampden Estate. We had a long, awesome chat with Christelle, about practically everything rum related, and even had the chance to witness her being groped and mildly violated by an obnoxious, semi-drunk german guest. I have never trusted people with schnurrbarts - and for good reason it seems.

- St. Nicholas Abbey. Simon took his time to tell a lot about his products, how he felt about them and a lot of other things. He showed off the 5 year old, which is pure SNA (as opposed to the 10, 12 and 15 years olds, which are Foursquares). And he gave a little taste of SNA Suger Cane Syrup. Oh my, that was tasty. Give me a bottle of that, and a huge stack of pancakes, and you won't see me the rest of the day.

But the most awesome thing of the entire day, was the two masterclasses I attended.

Bailey Prior of
The Real McCoy
First up was Bailey Prior, the owner of The Real McCoy rum. He is actually a film producer, and got into the rum business after making a documentary on The Real (Bill) McCoy. You know, the rumrunner from the prohibition era of US history. Of course you do. Otherwise, go see his documentary. I won 5 Emmy awards, so it can't be that bad.

He spoke a lot about the prohibition, how it was spawned, by who, what happened, how people circumvented the legislation, how the mob slowly took over, how McCoy was the only person to ever carry out the maximum sentence (and the only one to even serve a sentence) for breaking the prohibition, but also about his entry into the rum world, the cooperation with Richard Seale of Foursquare and what makes their products special. Fortunately we got to try all three of their products, and I have to admit that I'm going home with a bottle in my luggage.

The single best part of the day, was the Plantation Masterclass hosted by Alexandre Gabriel, the cellar master and master blender of Plantation Rums.

Alexandre Gabriel of
Plantation Rums
In front of me were 10 glasses - and only one real product sample: The Plantation Barbados XO.
The other nine glasses was however much more interesting.

The subject of the class, was how many, many different techniques are used when blending and aging.

So, the first 9 glasses were split up into 4 pairs and a single glass.

The first pair showed the difference between maturing rum in a humid or dry cellar.
The second pair showed the difference between diluting from cask strength in one go, and doing it over a very long period of time.
The single was an example of barrel aged water, which is what the use to dilute the cask strength rums. Water put in wet barrels which previously held rum. The result is "water" with an ABV for 19% in this case.
The third pair showed the difference between using new american oak barrels and old (reused) american oak barrels.
The fourth pair showed the difference between using new french oak barrels and old (reused) french oak barrels. Which also served the purpose of showing the difference between american and french oak.

St. Etienne 1959. Oh my...
I would never have guessed how huge an impact these things have on the end product, if I hadn't attended this masterclass. It was superb. Highly informative and educating.

Other notable stuff going on:
- Cocktail making
- Bottle your own single cask rum featuring (briefly) the famous Don Pancho
- A special type of dishwasher (?!?!?). I'll have to go back tomorrow and ask them what they are doing at a rum festival.
- A travel agency specialised in Africa.
- Have a sample of a Saint Etienne rum from 1959.

I have pictures coming - but right now I'm an insanely tired, and really want to sleep. So that will be a job for the morning. Good night!

(update: a few photos uploaded)

Oktober 4th 2015:

Breakfast and blogging

Time for day 2 of the festival.

So, what is planned for today?
Not much. Except for a very strong desire to take it easier. I do not want to burn out as quickly today, as I did yesterday.

I know that a large group of the people I talked to yesterday, plan on going to Lebensstern tonight, and I really want to be part of that! Why? Because Lebensstern is a bar which has around 800 rums on their shelves. And some pretty rare ones. So naturally I got to go check it out.

I accidentally signed up for a masterclass which will be held in german, so I'll have to see if they will let me exchange my ticket for something else. I'm hoping to get a seat at the Nine Leaves masterclass instead.

I also have to go by a few booths, which I skipped yesterday. Plenty of stuff to do still.
Perhaps even af few more hands to shake. We'll see.

First up is breakfast!

(Learning from yesterday, where I actually fell asleep at the laptop a couple of times, I won't promise any updates before tomorrow)

Arriving at the venue I notice that there wasn't nearly the same crowd as yesterday.
Perhaps a lot of people only bought one day tickets or perhaps the were out partying hard all night, and simply hadn't woken up yet. I don't know. The fact was, that the crowd was very thin.

So, what to do on day 2 of the festival? Well, obviously, I'm going to get around and try more rum. That's part of why I'm here, right?  And I left a few pieces of liquid candy out of the equation yesterday, so over the course of the next few hours, I have to catch up on those.

There should also still be a few people that I need to shake hands with, so better get started.

Daniel of Ekte and Florent
of CdI having a little pour
First, a stop at the "Danish camp" at Ekte Rum.
Ekte rum is managed by a great guy called Daniel, which owns the best bar in Denmark: Rum Club Copenhagen. Huge collection of rums. Unfortunately, I still haven't been there due to the fact, that been from a part of Denmark called Jutland (and a town which is less than 3 hours away from Copenhagen), it is actually cheaper to go to London - airport shuttle included.
Public transportation is insane in Denmark.

I won't be going more into the Ekte rum brand at this point. As soon as I get hold of a bottle of their finest nectar and do a review, I take my time to go more into detail.

This second day of the festival felt a whole deal more casual than yesterday. Fewer people, more calm atmosphere and everybody just seems a bit more mellow about everything.

Yoshi taking the stage
So for the first few hours I didn't do much but circulate the area, talking to people, having a few sips and not much else. And the only thing planned for today, is a masterclass with Yoshiharu Takeuchi of Japanese rum company Nine Leaves.

A what a masterclass it was. Well, masterclass might be a stretch.
Frankly it was more an introduction to his company and his vision as a whole, tasting his products and finally a Q and A.

Nothing wrong with that. It was still very entertaining and a great experience.

If you want to know a great deal more about Nine Leaves, you can visit this great article written by Lance of The Lone Caner blog. It goes into a lot of detail about Nine Leaves and gives you a great insight to what Yoshi does.

Fun fact: The Nine Leaves company name and logo is derived from Mr. Takeuchi's family name and crest. At the tasting session he told us, that almost every family in Japan has a family crest. But that none of them use that family crest in its original form.
Why? Because only the Yakuza does that.

So, non-Yakuza families often make variations of the crest for e.g. business use. And that is also the case with Nine Leaves, as the Takeuchi crest is a ring consisting of nine bamboo leaves ("Take" apparently is Japanese for bamboo), where as the Nine Leaves logo consist of nine fanned out leaves.

After the tasting session it was time for grub. And what better way to honour that, than to visit the in-house popup restaurant of the boys of Chicago Williams BBQ Berlin.
Pulled chicken burgers. Yum. Greasy as fuck, but insanely tasty.

The few hours of the festival went by with more talking and more rum sipping.

René and Gregers geeking
At the very end of the show, there was one last great experience to be had.
My rumbuddy, Gregers, had bought a ticket for an exclusive rarity tasting session with renowned dutch spirits expert and collector René van Hoven. Unfortunately - or well, actually VERY fortunately - Gregers was the only one who bought a ticket for the tasting.

René had a booth on the festival, where you could buy samples of some very, very rare and old rums. He had brought a part of his personal collection for people to try. Seriously fucking awesome stuff.

So, instead of doing a 1-to-1 session with Gregers in one of the tasting room, with the already planned couple of rums, René generously offered Gregers to take his picks from the huge line up of rare rums, which René had at his booth.

30 year old PM from 1964

Being the generous man René is, he offered Gregers some rather large samples, which he had no way of actually drinking. So, Gregers asked if I and another one of his rumbuddies could tag along and share the samples with him. And being the great guy René is, there was no problem in that.

The result: I got to try a lot of very rare, very old rum and very great rums.
Thanks René, you are a fucking awesome guy!

(To my more delicate readers: Sorry, about all the fucks. René told me, that if I wrote about this, he would expect at least two fucks somewhere in the text. So there you go René. You got four).

Reaching the end of the day, things started to mellow out again and a tiny sadness started to grow. We were close to the end. Both for good and for bad.

The end of a great festival

Sore feet, sore throat (from talking, not drinking), a longing for proper food and sleep.
But also, gratitude, happiness and awesomeness.

Many feelings and many sensations was present when making the final rounds saying goodbye to the many awesome people I had met during these intense couple of days.

Thank you Dirk for putting together a great weekend. And I hope to get the chance to be back next year. No matter what, I will be back Berlin.

When the festival ended, it was once again time to get some grub.
We ended up being some 12-15 people, who went the the actual Chicago Williams BBQ place near Oranienburger Tor.

Meat for the boys at Chicago Williams

Daniel arranged for some huge platters of meats with a lot of heavy, american accessories to be brought to the table as fast as we could chow down on it.

Pulled pork, roast chicken, ribs, sausages, slaw, baked beans and mac'n'cheese. Heavy stuff, but crazy good.

When the check was delivered, we ended up only paying some €20 a head for a all the food we could eat and all the beverages we could consume. That is value for money!

Awesome rums at
Last stop on the schedule was the famous Lebensstern bar, with their more than 1.800 different spirits and over 600 rums alone.

We started out with a Daiquiri to get our palates cleansed from the greasy, meat fest we had just completed at Chicago Williams.

But then it was time to sip some amazing rums. And we did. Huge pours at more than reasonable prices. I can't find a single thing to complain about with that place.

They were supposed to close at 2 AM, but the manager Thomas let us stay an extra hour to be able to finish the quite extravagant collection of spirits we had floating around among us.
What a great place. What an experience. What a day!

At 4 AM the day had come to an end. But there is another day to
morrow and a last thing to do, before I head home to my family again. Stay tuned.

Oktober 5th 2015:

Day 4 of this, so far, incredible journey of mine. One day of travelling, two days of intense symposium, and now, today, another hard days work ahead.

Not at the festival mind you, but at a very private tasting session hosted by none other than my fellow rum review buddy, Lance of The Lone Caner.

Being born a German, he actually still has some roots in Berlin. And since he is now living in a country so far away, that alcohol is considered contraband there, he has to go ”home” to Berlin to satisfy his habit.

This year I was lucky enough to be invited to an afternoon of rum talk, rum awe and rum tasting along with Gregers the Rumgeek and Cornelius of the Barrelproof blog.

After S-bahn’ing al the way to an undisclosed Berlin suburb, and a 20 minute walk, we finally arrived at the location. And after formal greeting has been exchanged, we went to the holiest cathedral I ever saw in Berlin: The livingroom!

Lance tearing the head of
a Black Tot
Since Lance lives in a place where you go to jail for possession of alcohol, everything he has purchased since moving there, is now hidden away in this Berlin cache.

Out of respect for his privacy, his work and his ability to surprise his readers with his next reviews, and probably also to keep his insurance agent from having a heart attack, I won’t reveal what was actually there, except for the ones actually shown on the pictures here.

The next 6 hours went by in a blink of an eye.

20+ rums had been examined. A lot of sampling had been done. Opinions had been exchanged on several occasions. Thoughts about the rum industry,  rum consumers, and rum reviewing had been aired. Geeking around was mixed in when appropriate. And friendships were spawned.

When Gregers and I left in the very late afternoon, we agreed on something rather preposterous: We have had enough rum for now. 3 days of constant rumming takes its toll. On our 20 minute walk back to the train station, we tried to recap what had been done, but it wasn’t actually very easy.

So we quickly stopped talking rum, and started talking family. After all it was very soon time to go home to our loved ones again (sorry Lance, I just don’t feel that way about you just yet).

And I look very much forward to that. I have never been away from my familie for so long before, so I miss them all quite a bit. I just don’t hope that my kids have grown up or learned anything new while I was away. I would regret to have missed that.

Just one last schnitzel
When we finally landed in central Berlin again, we went out for one last dinner of the trip, and then we called it a night. It’s not like we needed to deposit on our drinking account, so we departed and went home to our respective apartments.

The evening was spent doing absolutely nothing. I fired up Netflix with the intent of watching a movie. I ended up choosing a BBC show called South Sees (or something like that). Saw around 20 minutes of it. Fell asleep on a very unpleasant couch. Woke up 3 episodes and a stiff neck later, and crawled to bed.

Good night Berlin. For the last time this visit.

Oktober 6th 2015:

Last day of the trip and time to go home.

I sprung for an early start to make absolutely sure, that I wouldn’t end up being in a hurry.
Funny thing about going on these kinds of trips. I always end up going home with a much heavier suitcase than I brought here. How the… ?

This time I even brought a couple of rums which I didn’t intend on bringing home with me, so I must have accumulated quite some shit these past few days. I know, I bought a couple of things and sampled a shitload of great rums, but I didn’t realise it would end up being more than I came with.

Oh well, as long as I can still close the damn suitcase, then all is well.

When slamming the door to the apartment I set out on the first of four legs of my return trip: The transit to Gesundbrunnen train station. First a short walk to the Yorckstraße station, then the purchase of a ticket – which went by without any kind of trouble this time.

One thing I learned about Berlin: Always have fucking cash with you! Creditcards are worth nothing in Berlin. You can’t use them anywhere. Restaurants, cafés, stores, clubs, ticket machines, whatever! Apart from a very few, and insanely inconsistent exceptions I wasn’t able to use my creditcards anywhere. Even ATMs were a challenge. Some didn’t accept VISA, some didn’t except neither VISA nor MasterCard. Come on, Berlin. Would you please transcend into the 21st century?

I went to Turkey, London, Mallorca, and goddamn Frillesås in Sweden. I have never had any problems not dragging a lot of cash around. VISA and/or MasterCard would also be enough to get by. But Berlin? No way. Nur cash, bitte!

So with that piece of precious knowledge in the bag, I made sure to have a pocket full of coins, before I went off. Didn’t want to be caught with the "wrong money" again. It’s not like Deutsche Bahn will let you do the dishes, if they catch you using their services without having paid.

Sharing my puff pastry with a nice
pigeon friend
The time it took me to think up this rant, was exactly the amount of time it took for my S-bahn to transport me from Yorckstraße to Gesundbrunnen.

Next task: Figure out where and what to buy for the train ride. 2 hours of spare time should be enough to get it done. Actually 10 minutes were, and I suddenly had a lot of spare time on my hands, that I didn’t plan on. So I decided on a short trip to Gesundbrunnen shopping centre, which was just beside the train station – and barely even open yet.

5 minutes later I was back at the trains station. 15 minutes later I was munching away on several kinds of healthy puff pastry treats and an XL cup of cappuccino.

Light at the end of the tunnel
One thing I really love about Berlin: Their street coffee is super cheap! The XL cappuccino, which
was probably half a litre, cost me around 20 Danish Kroner. I Denmark you can’t even get coffee in these sizes, but a similar cappuccino at a smaller size easily sets you back 35-40 Danish Kroner.
Hurray for German coffee. I want to bring one of these small kiosks home with me!

With my train arriving in 90 minutes, I chose to spend the time writing up all of this crap. That way, hopefully, I could get a chance to take a long nap on the train home.

The train home to my beautiful family. Just 6-7 hours to go. 

Base established and ready to roll out

Baby, I’ll be home soon.

(Pictures added)

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