Rum connoisseur interview of the week: Kevin Upthegrove – The creator and voice behind ‘5 Minutes of Rum’! Also, an enthusiast and advocate of fine rum and rum cocktails!

 Pictures by: Brian Di Maggio
Kevin Upthegrove

    The creator and voice behind ‘5 Minutes of Rum’! Also, an enthusiast and advocate of fine rum and rum cocktails!


1) Who is Kevin Upthegrove?

Kevin Upthegrove is the voice behind the completely inaccurately named podcast: 5 Minutes of Rum. The 5 Minutes of Rum podcast is now in its 4th year of letting listeners know that fine rums and delicious cocktails are completely in their grasp in their own home bar. Additionally, Kevin has conducted rum-focused symposiums at Los Angeles’ Tonga Hut and Tiki Caliente, as well as conducted private rum and cocktail classes for small groups.

2) What made you fall in love with rum and when did it happen?

Falling in love with rum was a direct result of my involvement in the tiki community, combined with an introduction to Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s groundbreaking work where he deciphered classic recipes from tiki’s heyday in his book The Grog Log. The endless variations and creativity associated with rum and using it in cocktails is a fascinating rabbit hole that I see no escape from. The sheer amount of variety and creativity associated with rum as a spirit and as an ingredient means never having to get bored if you have a cocktail shaker and fresh citrus.

3) The biggest achievement you personally feel you have accomplished for the rum industry.

Ideally, I’ve not yet accomplished my biggest achievement in the rum industry, but to this point, I hope that through my show I’ve highlighted the fact that there are innumerable quality rums on the market and that there are almost an equal number of ways to enjoy them. I like to highlight the work of artists in the tiki and bartending communities and I also hope I help people understand more about the spirit of rum and encourage them to make better cocktails at home. With a little effort, a hobbyist home bartender can make a cocktail ‘to be proud of’ and delight their friends. I also hope my listeners take away that there are so many delicious and interesting rums available that there’s no need to spend the energy to dwell on the not-so-good stuff on the shelf.

4) What is that thing that makes you want to continue in the rum industry?

The sheer depth of the category means there always seems to be new rums to try. I also enjoy the challenge of adapting classic cocktail recipes and creating new ones to highlight various rums. I’m also excited by the influx of newer distillers who bring a lot of energy and creativity to the rum category.

5) Favorite Rum Drink?

My favorite cocktail is the 1944 Trader Vic’s Mai Tai. With the introduction of Denizen Merchants Reserve rum into the market in the last couple of years, I’ve modified my preferred version to use that rum, but I still enjoy a Jamaican/Agricole blend from time to time in my Mai Tai.
2 oz Denizen Merchants Reserve
1 oz lime juice
1/2 oz Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao
1/2 oz orgeat
1/4 oz rich simple syrup

Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin with ice cubes. Shake and strain into a double old-fashioned glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with half a lime shell and fresh mint.

6) Where do you see the rum industry today and in the next 5 years?

Rum is at an interesting inflection point – it seems poised to breakthrough in a bigger way as a spirit category as “tiki nights” are becoming more popular at cocktail bars. It feels like rum is starting to shed some of the baggage it carried with it in the 70s and into the early 90s. That said if it does break through in a manner similar to whiskey that could lead to rum losing some of its “affordable luxuries”. Ask any whiskey drinker what they spend on a top shelf bottle and you’ll quickly remember that quality rum is a relative bargain! Over the next 5 years, I think rum’s reputation will continue to grow in a positive way and proliferate in cocktail bars, but I don’t think it’ll reach the same level of exposure as whiskey and vodka. I also appreciate the efforts of those in the industry like Richard Seale from Foursquare Distillery to bring better transparency to the production and bottling process of rum as that can only help rum’s reputation in the market.

7) Share some (2-3) of your mentors and how they have helped you. 

I have 2 sets of 2 primary mentors, 1 set indirect and 1 set direct. My biggest indirect mentors are Jeff Berry and Martin Cate. When I really dove into rum full-time it was on the strength and guidance derived from Jeff Berry’s Grog Log and Intoxica. Once Sippin’ Safari and Beachbum Berry Remixed hit the shelves there was no looking back for me. Those books made the complicated seem approachable and achievable. At the same time, seeing my first 2 Martin Cate presentations at Tiki Oasis 9 showed me that information can be fun and can be presented in an entertaining way that combines education and laughter (with a cocktail chaser). I learn something each time I see a Martin Cate presentation and it never feels like I’m in school.My biggest direct mentors are Kelly “HipHipaHula” Reilly and Marie King. Both have “endured” numerous rum discussions and cocktail experiments with me and have pushed and prodded me out of my initial comfort zone. They’ve both provided me opportunities that have subsequently opened more doors and they’ve have given me valuable feedback that’s, in turn, made me a better cocktail creator.

8) What 3-5 things do you have on your bucket list for the next 12 months?

Well, firstly the 10th annual UK Rumfest on the 22nd & 23rd Oct will be my first bucket list item, then Mexico in May where I will be rooting out rum and tequila, I would like to attend at least two European rum festivals in 2017, and I will certainly be open for rum orientated events.

9) Any last words?

Life’s too short to hoard the good rum. Open a bottle and share it with your friends because at least here in Southern California, you’re just one earthquake away from a pile of broken bottles.

10) Where can people learn more about you? Website? Social Media Page?

People can get all of the Kevin Upthegrove and 5 Minutes of Rum they could possibly want at, on Twitter as @5minutesofrum, and on Instagram as @5minutesofrum.

Author: Fede

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