Ian Burrell, global rum ambassador, on what makes a great bartender and his Sydney Bar Week visit

Ian Burrell enjoying the sugar cane.

When it comes to rum, there’s one guy who is pretty much the global authority on the sugar cane stuff: Ian Burrell.

He’s recognised as the global rum ambassador, and has championed the good stuff for as long as we can remember. Burrell recently won the title of International Brand Ambassador of the Year award at Tales of the Cocktail’s Spirited Awards, and is one the globe’s great rum educators (he’s also the guy who started the UK RumFest).

You can catch Burrell next month at Sydney Bar Week, which takes place between the 15th and 19th of September this year. He’ll be conducting a great masterclass on rum for Australian Bartender on the Tuesday 18th of September (make sure you don’t miss that one) and will be speaking at the Indie Spirits Tasting at Restaurant Hubert on Sunday the 16th.

Below, we chat to him about what makes a great bartender, his first experiences with rum, and what to expect from him when he’s in town.

Burrell’s events are a couple of the 29 great events lined up over five days of Sydney Bar Week, taking place between Saturday the 15th and Wednesday the 19th of September. It’s set to be the biggest Bar Week yet — get over to the Bar Week site here and get your RSVPs and tickets sorted before they run out.


When was the last time you were in Sydney, and what did you think of our bar scene?
I was last in Sydney early March, on my way back from New Zealand to London. The Sydney bar scene has always been amazing. The best thing is the guys behind the sticks. Their enthusiasm, attention to their craft and the ability to make their guest feel like a million bucks.

What is it that you think makes a good bartender become a great bartender?
For me the most important quality is good customer service. All good bartenders should be able to make a decent drink. Great bartenders make decent drinks while making their customers feel good too. I know a few bartenders that make great drinks, but have attitude or the personality of a road kill. They are not great bartenders in my book. But that’s just my opinion.

What do you look for in a good cocktail?
Balance in taste and flavour, a pleasurable experience and no vodka.

What was your first experience with rum?
My Grandma said that my mum put a little rum on her nipple while breast feeding me. So when I was about 4 weeks old. Maybe this is the Jamaican way, but I don’t recommend anyone else doing this. Unless you want to grow up like me.

Do you ever get tired of rum? Why/why not?
Never. Because it’s the greatest spirit in the world. It has moulded nations, it’s a way of life, it brings economy to many developing countries and it’s the base for many of my favourite cocktails. Even Australians in 1808, overthrew their government once because of rum. #RumRebellion

Congratulations on being named Best International Brand Ambassador at the Spirited Awards at Tales of the Cocktail. Can you describe what that means to you?
Cheers Thanks. Well it was a great honour for my peers to award this title to me, but in reality I don’t think I deserved it as I don’t actually work for any one rum brand. Being a category ambassador means I get to pick and choose who I want to work with and who I don’t. It also means that I can’t be nominated for my 8th consecutive time, as you’re not allowed to win the award twice in a row. I supposed I should try for the mentor of the year next, as that’s what I really do while travelling around the globe spreading the gospel according to rum.

What should we expect from your masterclass at Sydney Bar Week?
A great insight into the current state of the rum industry and new and new way to classify rums beyond white gold and dark.

Ian Burrell will also be in Australia for some REA’L masterclasses in the lead in to Sydney Bar Week, and serving up great drinks at the REA’L pre-drinks at the Bartender Magazine Australian Bar Awards on Tuesday 18th September — for more details on Burrell’s tour for REA’L, check back online soon.