An Interview with Jonathan Rees – Organiser of the UK Rum Festivals 2017

An Interview with Jonathan Rees UK Rum Festival Cardiff Rum Festival Exeter Bristol by the fat rum piratUntil recently the only chance of attending a Rum Festival in the UK was at the annual UK Rumfest based in London.  In late 2011 Jonathan Rees had a Eureka! moment to create a Rum festival in Cardiff.

From humble beginnings and numerous increasingly sized venues the Cardiff Rum Festival is now in its 5th year. This years event is the most ambitious yet and promises to be the biggest and best to date.

Not content with extending the size of the Cardiff Rum Festival Jonathan has also added the cities of Exeter and Bristol as well!

We spoke with Jonathan about the ups and downs of organising a successful Rum Festival in the UK and all things rum related.  Enjoy!


1.  The UK Rum festivals are not the first rum festival you have set up.   When and where did it all start and what inspired you?

It all started after our first visit to UK RumFest around 6 years ago. Inspired by the selection of rums available we decided why not start sharing this knowledge with others in Cardiff. Its grown from me talking to small groups in a pub to a more traditional take on a Rum Festival in 5 years.

UK Rum Festivals was an idea that sprouted from the success of our ever growing Cardiff Rum Festival. The feedback from brands and those attending was thankfully great so we thought lets spread our love of Rum further afield. We decided to take the show on the road to Bristol and Exeter, as we have ties to both cities. 

We honestly don’t make enough money to make these events our full time job. We do it because we are all rum fans. Don’t get me wrong there are some perks to doing this but its not a huge money earner. Hopefully one year, it will
pay for us to go visit some rum distilleries and see first hand how rums are made.

2.  Who will be your target audience? Who do you hope to see at these

An Interview with Jonathan Reses UK Rum Festivals Cardiff Exeter Bristol by the fat rum pirateWe have purposely tried to cater for everyone. We believe we have a rum for everyone at our events.  Personally its the people who say ” I don’t like rum as I and a bad experience once on XYZ rum”.  They are the ones we like to open their eyes to the wonders of rum.  That said we have had seasoned rum drinkers comment on what a good time they have had speaking to the brands and learning about the process.

3.  How easy has it been to get exhibitors, venues etc? I imagine it
must be a lot of work?

Yes this is a struggle and what makes a festival a success.  Venues are the easy bit, though having said that finding venues that will allow dry hire and an off license means that you don’t have huge choice! We are really pleased with all past and current venues. We think they will add to the atmosphere of the events

Exhibitors require a little more work to entice away from London where most of them seem to be located. Couple that with the increase of other Rum events, it makes it more challenging to get brands to decide to spend some of their sought after budgets. That said we are really happy with the response we have had this year and will be announcing the brands attending in the up coming weeks. 

Any brand ambassadors reading this do get in touch I’m sure we can accommodate you.

4.  Prior to doing this what is/was your day job? How will this experience help with the successful launch of the Rum Festivals?

We don’t talk about the day job normally as it tends to get people to stop talking to me. I’m an accountant….Guess it should help me work out if I make any money from the events or not!

5.  When An Interview with Jonathan Reses UK Rum Festivals Cardiff Exeter Bristol by the fat rum piratedid your own Rum Journey begin?

In Mexico of all places. After having enough tequila the barman suggested Havana Club and coke. I have been converted ever since though i can’t remember last time i drank rum and coke. Since then i have been fortunate to try many rums and recently have more appreciation for Agricole.

6.  Do you have any favourite rum drinks or special cocktails you

For me the best cocktail is a Mai Tai. I always ask for one when in cocktail bars and depending on what they serve me I might try their other cocktails. If it turns up blue or with pineapple juice I know i’m not staying long. normally I just drink my rum neat but currently I’ve working my way through Beachbum Berry’s Total Tiki App.

7.  Who currently makes up the UK Rum Festival team and what is their background/experience

There are three of us involved in UK Rum Festivals, Aled who
has a background in the bar industry, Debbie who has experience in events and myself

8.  Aside from the UK rum festivals what other Rum related activities are the team involved in?

We are all involved in the pop up Tiki Bar. We take over venues and showcase a new selection of Tiki Drinks each time.  

I have also imported rum and distributed rum here in the UK and I am on half of the The Tiki Cocktail Box team. My passions/hobbies are all about rum

9.  What have you learned over the past few years organising Rum Festivals?

That I am a sucker for punishment. Every year the day after I think its a lot of work maybe enough is enough but then two days later i am sourcing new venues etc. What i learned very quickly is you can’t please everyone so go with what you feel is right. There will always be complaints but as long as they are few and far between you got to be doing something right.

So there you have it. If our discussion regarding the upcoming Rum Festivals has made you thirsty the dates are as follows

Exeter, Exeter Castle 29th July 12:00pm to 8:00pm

Cardiff, SSE Swalec Stadium 5th August 12:00pm to 6:00pm

Bristol, Paintworks 12:00pm to 6:00pm

If you are interested then Early Bird tickets are priced at just £15 per person.  To book please click on the image below









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