Rum has been undergoing a slow and steady makeover for the past few years, as its advocates have sought to show drinkers how the spirit is much more than a Tiki staple or necessary part of adolescent missteps. There are now tangible clues to its imminent ascendance: In 2006, there were only 50 rum brands on shelves in the U.K.; now, there are more than 150.
As The Guardian writes, “U.K. sales of rum reached £991M [$1.4B] for the nine months to the end of September, according to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), which expects the annual figure to top £1B [$1.42B] for the first time before the first salvo of fireworks ushers in 2018.”
That’s great news for Nikos Arvanitis, a Greek-born bartender who has been spreading the rum gospel around Europe. After getting his start in the industry in 2006, he became enamored of the spirit and moved to Barbados to deepen his knowledge. He now seeks to not just promote the drinking of rum but the entire culture of the Caribbean that surrounds its production.
“I was traveling all over Europe for rum tasting, rum festivals and bar shows,” says Arvanitis. “I was reading about distillation and generally about the production process of rum, but at the end of the day, there was always something missing.”
That’s when he decided to give up his normal day-to-day life behind the bar and head to Barbados with $172, a backpack, some clothes and three notebooks. At the time, he was 25; he’s now almost 30. He chose the island because English is spoken there and it provided a home base for exploring more of the Caribbean via direct flights.
While he spent years “wandering around the tropical zone,” as he says, he was struck by the singular histories and heritages of each island and how they correspond to their respective traditional methods of making rum. He now seeks to teach others in the industry about the significance of that small-batch approach versus the more popular multicolumn distillation. “From the West Indies to the World,” his paper on the subject, is forthcoming.
“My first concern is to try to make as many people as possible fall in love with rum and the tropic zone,” he says, as well as encourage more interest in the spirit’s long-standing connection to the Caribbean’s turbulent history.
Arvanitis never fails to stress the importance of that connection. Rum, he likes to say, is not meant to be collected but experienced. “Rum should be shared with friends and sometimes with strangers,” he says. “I always have a bottle of rum in my bag. It can be drunk with colleagues or a bartender that I meet for the first time or even by the guy in the garage who’s working on my motorbike.”
As of late, Arvanitis has been bringing his rum reveries to France’s capital. “In Paris, consumers really love rum, and this gives me the opportunity to share my project with them,” he says. He’s preparing presentations on rum and Caribbean culture to give in neighboring European countries. Arvanitis is also launching a new project called #for_the_people.
“It includes photojournalism and memories from my travels to every part of the world and the societies who shared with me the local life, the everyday life of people and the way they perceive life, love and generally the existence of man in the search for his happiness.” These notes on memories and locations are overlaid on his images.
In the name of that project, he hopes to throw events that will see their revenue returning to the islands that welcomed him and taught him about rum as a way of life. “I do not like to mention it as charity,” he says. “They have nothing to envy from us.”
As for what he’ll be drinking while he prepares his presentations, events and new project: “Leave me alone with a nice chilled Daiquiri mixed with a proper traditional rum, a Mai Tai with high-ester Jamaican rum or a single-blended in my snifter glass,” he says. “I’ll be happy for sure.”