An Interview with Peter Holland

An Interview with Peter Holland by the fat rum pirateAn Interview with Peter Holland. Normally when conducting an interview (and it has been a while) I note what their rum “connection” is in the title. With Peter that was going to make for a very long title, so instead we’ll just let Peter tell us all about his numerous roles in the UK and Global Rum Scene.

Now, first up Peter is arguably the second most well known “Rum Personality” in the UK. He is beaten into second place by The Global Rum Ambassador  Ian Burrell, who thanks to his regular television appearances on Channel 4 and globe trotting escapades is probably number one in the world as well as the UK.

Peter is one of the “old guard” of Rum Commentators. He started The Floating Rum Shack long before I could even legally drink rum. Okay, okay that’s clearly a blatant lie.

Anyway, I won’t ramble on too long as Peter is way more interesting. So here goes…..

1. Firstly please give an introduction on yourself and your role in the rum world. 

This is not so brief but I think my role is somewhat more complicated than some

So I find myself working full time in the world of Rum, meaning there’s pretty much no limits to what I could do. However I would say that I’m pretty much educational events lead – that might be working Rum Festivals, or hosting Rum Clubs, or drinks industry trainings. I generally work a few days a month for Foursquare Distillery as Brand Ambassador – predominantly trade focused. And a bit more than that for ATOM Supplies in terms of being their Rum contact, and Brand Ambassador for That Boutique-y Rum Company. Throughout 2019 I was pretty much brand focused – and that’s great as both are fab brands to be associated with – but I felt like I was losing my TheFloatingRumShack identity, and so 2020 has seen me try to balance that angle out a little better.

All of this seems loopy given my background is mechanical engineering, and I’d never worked in a bar before starting a Rum Website: TheFloatingRumShack.com. I started dating a lovely lady, who later became my wife – she is of Caribbean extraction – and hanging around her folks kinda started the Rum journey.

A set of personal circumstances lead to the desire to start something that would be a counter point of the stresses of the day job, and perhaps take our minds off the personal circumstances. Registered the website in August 2008, started posting from February 2009 – never really looked back. Found a style, lived close enough to the action to be regularly involved, met lots of people, and generally had a find old time. Our stats on the website were quite amazing I think, however google changed some algorithms and things dropped a lot – fortunately by then, I was a known character, and stats weren’t enough. 2013 the company I worked for was brought by an American corp and the future looked far more stressful than I felt mentally able to keep up with. So, I jumped ship, and as of April 2014, my company started trading, and I looked to earn a buck in the industry. Things became rather complicated with the arrival of my little girl in 2016, but by and large whilst I seem to be mostly skint, I’m generally happy with life.

I consider myself to be an advocate for authentic Rum. There’s money to be earned with brands that are not entirely honest with their approach to Rum making, and for the sake of any perceived image, I really cannot work with or even support them. This means the scope for earning is reduced a fair bit. The thing is I also realise that the world of Rum drinkers vary in their experience and desired, and that nine tenths, or more wouldn’t give a shit who I worked with. I guess I know, and I can only stay true to myself.

2. Obviously COVID-19 has been devastating to the hospitality industry, we cannot avoid this fact, it has had a huge impact on us all. How damaging has it been to your business/role and what have you done to try and minimise this?

As of the middle of March, all the event work I had lined up – thousands of pounds worth of work over the next few months was all cancelled. Not immediately – it took a few days, but I, along with the rest of the drinks industry quite rightly had to accept our place in a lockdown situation. Quite frankly it gave me the willies.

The income of a number of brands has dropped off the cliff, as the on-trade tends to make up quite a lot of their revenue stream, with marketing budgets written off accordingly. The levels of fear for the future is palpable, and the longer things go on, the greater the chances of bars and brands closing permanently, with loss of jobs and livelihoods of people I count as friends.

Retailers such as Master of Malt and The Whisky Exchange have seen their revenue streams increase significantly, as lockdown is far more tolerable with a bevvy in hand, so the impact across the industry is not entirely consistent. I’m lucky and exceptionally grateful in that I’ve the support of my two main clients, and thus far I’ve been able to continue the extra projects that complete the normal month by pivoting somewhat – Twitter Tastings particularly – although I don’t think this is going to be so easy to sustain moving forward. I’m very lucky, many others are in a far worse position.

Keeping people busy mentally is important. If I can lay on events that are an opportunity to learn something, as well as be a nice distraction to the humdrum, then that’s my objective. I’m still looking to bring people to the category, rather than preach to the choir, and that’s actually quite important to me – breaking down the negative image that Rum has in the mass market.

There are plenty of events out there right now that people can pay to be a part of, whether it’s via a tasting set, or buying into a virtual room. I guess I’m still trying to not make cost a bar to education. Brand awareness is a marketing expense, hence me not charging for the Twitter Tastings, and I’ll try to continue that for as long as I can. But I’m keen to add some Rum category chat into the mix – and have just lined up some Instagram Live events, and despite what I’ve just said about cost, I’ve given in – and pointed people in the direction of something they could buy to taste along with us. I just don’t have the money to fund sample sets out of my pocket. The events are chat lead, but I’ve no intention of doing it entirely dry – a tot or two is entirely appropriate.

3. Lets go back to some happier times. What first attracted you to the Rum World? What were your first experiences with rum?

I guess the diversity was the biggest draw. My first UK RumFest was such an eye-opener. Most people end up at RumFest, because they are already into Rum. Pauline and I went the first time, because we happened to be in London that weekend and wanted something interesting to do. Bloody glad I went though. My life would have been very, very different.

My first experiences were mostly a Captain Morgan Spiced and coke, or perhaps a Mount Gay Eclipse, if we could get it. Very simple but it grew and grew post RumFest. I’ve drunk far too much coke over the years. No shame in that though – had a couple this evening.

4. How do you think the Rum World has changed over the past 5 years? Where do you see the Rum World in another 5 years? Where would you like to be in 5 years?

The last five years is all about the flow of information – it’s increased so much – technology makes it all so much more possible. Information and a more exacting focus on sharp practice. The realities are that we are just so much more connected. Increased interest has feedback on itself, and whilst the conversation has moving into the trade and specialist press – regrettably it’s not yet finding its way into the mainstream.

So, my hope is that this will be rectified in the next five years. It may be that EU Regs, or the like will do this for us, but I think all those that care just need to keep chipping away the best we can. Right now, I’m responding to your questions – and I see The Fat Rum Pirate as being a safe port for Authentic Rum.

Just prior to this I was responding to questions from Drinks International, so a different reach, and demographic, not all of which are accepting of change. Fingers crossed most of my responses make it through the edit.

5. What is your stance on additives in rum? Would you like to see more Universal Regulation?

There is no reason to allow additives in Rum. If a Rum is flavoured, then it must be identified as such. Universal regulation is impossible, because there isn’t a global authority – and I’m sure the UN won’t pass a resolution. I live in hope that the big producers get together and mutually agree some descriptors that allow the customer to know that they are drinking something that contains more than spirit and water.

6. Speaking of rules and regulations what is your opinion on the current issues over the Barbados/Jamaica rum GI proposals?

I don’t see any reason to weaken the current Jamaican GI, or to continue to go against the wishes of the majority of Barbados producers in the development of theirs. The world is not black or white – there are shades of grey, and the use of seawater in fermentation for example doesn’t phase me one way or the other – that sort of detail either adds something, or it doesn’t.

The primary sticking points seem to revolve around the addition of sugar in both cases, or the weakening of the country of origins name, but suggesting that you can take the Rum, bugger around with it for years and years and still claim it’s a Barbados or Jamaica Rum. Neither of these really make any sense, except for commercial gain. It’s not in the national interest, just the producer in question.

7. What do you hope to “bring” to the rum community?

I bring a category wide experience, with a balanced view. I also generally find I can explain or break down concepts reasonably easily. My jam is to do it face to face – and there is a thrill in making the breakthrough.

An Interview with Peter Holland by the fat rum pirate8. Where is best to find you on Social Media etc?

I’m reachable via my TheFloatingRumShack, Doorly’s UK, as well as my Boutique-y Pete social media channels. I’m on email, WhatsApp, Facebook messenger etc.

I’ve never really been one for hanging around on forums, and I’m amazed that anyone really has that much time. I certainly don’t. I know I should engage more – but other people seem to be so happy to jump in all the time – so why repeat what has been said? Also, I don’t have the patience to argue with idiots online. Life is too short for that shit. I’m also happier to chat to someone directly.

9. Which rum producers are your current favourites?

In no particular order, and not just limited to: Rhum JM, Foursquare, Worthy Park, Hampden Estate, Mount Gay, St Lucia Distillers, Rhum Clement, Rhum La Favorite, O Reizinho, Engenos do Norte, That Boutique-y Rum Company, The Real McCoy… Honestly, the list of Authentic Rum producers is not short.

10. Finally, what is your idea of the perfect rum drink or cocktail?

There is no single perfect drink – unless we’re talking about a straight measure.

So there you have it some great answers, to a few questions that some Rum Writers are more than happy to continually swerve. Also a useful insight into how the Rum World is dealing with our current situation, under Lockdown here in the UK.

Thanks very much for your time Peter and hope to see you soon!

An Interview with Peter Holland by the fat rum pirate

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