Bartender Profile: Tom Bulmer

When he’s not spreading the love of rum around the country, he’s consulting around the globe. Meet Tom Bulmer, President of the Rum Club in our Bartender Profile series.

Tom Bulmer
Tom Bulmer at Rematch Beeyatch 2012 – Photo © by Kevin Burke

Tell us a little about yourself, your family and where you grew up.
I grew up in inner-west Sydney and was always getting into mischief in school. I realised early on that the most important thing was to just be happy and make those around you feel the same way and I guess that’s still what I focus on today. I’ve always been fairly light-hearted person which probably comes from my parents. They would always reason with me rather than tell me what to do when I was growing up, even giving me my own choices in big life decisions from a early age. I’ve always been told me to make sure I enjoy my life and I certainly have done that through these years in the hospitality industry.

How did you get started in bartending?
Before bartending.. umm High School? I already had a healthy selection of spirits at home, granted, peach schnapps and curacao were more heavily featured in those days, so when I turned 18 it just seemed like a natural progression. My first bar gig was the Ashfield Hotel, one step up from the Crocodile Farm down the road, I think that’s based on the fact we had less fights on weekends and I still remember the happy head cocktail bartender Herman he taught me the invaluable skill of how to make chocolate patterns on top of a Toblerone cocktail, delicious!

Tell us a little about your bartending career.
I’ve definitely hopped around, working in over 30 bars in the last 12 years. The places that really stand out for me were those that had the strongest & craziest teams Mahiki (London), Zeta Bar, golden era of Ivy Pool and without a doubt one of my first, the Marlborough hotel, it was 8 years ago and the team still keeps in touch. The toughest competition I’ve ever been involved in was the IPB UK Bartender of the year which involved a brutal 10 rounds of competition finishing with a final challenge of bartending in a foreign country to win the crowd. Even to this day I keep in my mind that I came 2nd place to a bartender that produced a flaming watermelon, well played!

Where am I working now? Well I’m actually speaking to you from China, I’m out here teaching a hospitality training program for Sweet&Chilli. I love working with the Cam Northway and the boys, plus they know how to party! When I get back I really want to focus on seeing Rum become even bigger in the Pacific. Whether through the Rum Club, which we are hoping to see in Hong Kong, Singapore and Brisbane soon, seeing more rum parties and hopefully working on more rum bars at home. When I’m not doing Rum Club or on events you’ll still see me doing shifts around town, on Daiquiri Duty with the Pelicano boys in Double Bay or getting Tiki at Lobo Plantation.

You’re considered the expert on rum and you have run Sydney Rum Club since 2010. How did you develop your interest and extensive knowledge?
I was always curious about rum. Early on there was only Bacardi, Mt Gay and Bundaberg. But it was odd for me that they tasted so different, while other spirits tasted much the same as each other. After learning that it was all about the Caribbean, culture, and pirates I was hooked on it. Learning about the flavours of rum was a lot more about history & culture of the people making it. I was put through my paces at Mahiki a tiki rum bar in London and began to really engage the rum category after spending time at the original Notting Hill Rum Club in London.

When I arrived back in Sydney I was offered the chance to begin running the Sydney Rum Club in 2010 by a friend Wally Pack who was the president at the time. I was a little uncertain how it would go but quickly realised I loved it and love sharing the rum love with everyone. I wanted to make it something easy for people to enjoy & attend so we started moving it around Sydney and inviting anyone who had a curiosity or a passion to attend. Now it’s great to see everyone embrace it both in the industry and just regular rum enthusiasts. We are even working towards a Rum Club in Hong Kong & Singapore next.

What is your most memorable bartending experience to date?
Working a one-man pop up bar at a random dancehall party in Jamaica. Amazing! We were taken to a local Kingston market to buy local produce (and in my case a lot of reggaeton cds). Then setup on a cricket pitch as local DJs started to play funky tunes we mixed up different Jamaican cocktails until sun down and then got to dancing late into the night with all the locals. Just seeing such a different culture of drinking and a celebration of life in the Jamaican culture is something I hold in my mind always.

Who has been an influence or a source of inspiration to you?
Every positive person that I meet whether its customers, bartenders or industry leaders. I think the passion in this industry is amazing and the dedication of people like Phil Bayly, Ian Burrell, Dan Woolley & Reece Griffiths. Who are each putting something back into each spirit category & this industry is a real driving force for me. Whether you call them ambassadors, advocate, or just good peeps; I’ve always had the highest praise for those that love their job and spend their own time educating & giving something positive back.

What are some of the challenges you face as a bartender?
Hangovers are brutal and Daiquiris are delicious! It’s a lifelong problem..

What are your favourite ingredients that define your style of cocktail?
Tiki as F*#%!! I like to just make drinks a celebration, always with fresh ingredients and simple flavours. I think its the way people match the brands they like to flavours is the most important thing. I’ve always loved reminiscent cocktails & ingredients as well, things that remind people of their youth.

What excites you about the Sydney bar scene?
Its diversity of styles and expression of culture throughout a extremely competitive bar scene. I truly believe Sydney has some of the best bartenders and we a chance to grow even further. With distinct regions throughout the suburbs I feel like we are still only scratching the surface of what Sydney could offer into the future locally & globally.

Is there anything about it that you’d like to see change?
I feel like more people should cheer up. There should be less negativity and more Hawaiian shirts. Less ‘legislated drinking precinct’ and more getting along. People should feel comfortable with the people around them and I think there is a better chance of that happening over a beer in a bthan locked out on a cold street at 1.30am.

What cocktail trends in the rum category interest you at the moment?
I think the 60s & 70s revival has definitely brought the rum cocktail era out in drinks. We have seen many rum classics come back like the Blue Hawaiian, Mai Tai, and the noble daiquiri. We have accepted that when you feel like a Pina Colada, it means a Manhattan just won’t do. The thing I love about this is how much everyone is having fun ordering these drinks! The way this Caribbean culture is growing beyond just cocktails into a culture is something that truly makes me happy.

When you’re not behind the bar, what do you like to drink?
In summer I’ll drink my weight in Daiquiris! In winter a Bishop (rum, red wine & sugar). I’m really stinging for a Guinness at the moment, first stop will be Dirty Nelly’s when I get back home.

And finally, is there a special cocktail of your creation that you’d like to share with Gourmantic?
Going into winter I love making up different types of Rum Hot Chocolates this is one of the easier recipes which you can keep in the fridge.

Carib Chocolate
Take one bottle of aged smooth rum, use a Demerara rum if in doubt. Pour remainder into a saucepan and heat to about 70C (no higher!) add 200gr of dark chocolate, 100ml of sugar syrup & 50ml of water. Stir until fully dissolved and serve as desired in coffee cups after dinner.

Otherwise allow to cool slowly stirring and pour the rum/chocolate mix back into the bottle, there will be leftovers for you to share and this mix will last about 1 week. Whenever desired you can reheat or shake with ice and serve. It also tastes delicious when shaken with espresso, served with hot milk or poured over ice cream.

The Bartender Profile series continues.

About the author

Corinne Mossati

Corinne Mossati is a drinks writer, author of GROW YOUR OWN COCKTAIL GARDEN, SHRUBS & BOTANICAL SODAS and founder/editor of Gourmantic, Cocktails & Bars and The Gourmantic Garden. She has been writing extensively about spirits, cocktails, bars and cocktail gardening in more recent years. She is a spirits and cocktail competition judge, Icons of Whisky Australia nominee, contributor to Diageo Bar Academy, cocktail developer and is named in Australian Bartender Magazine's Top 100 Most Influential List. Her cocktail garden was featured on ABC TV’s Gardening Australia and has won several awards. She is a contributor to Real World Gardener radio program and is featured in several publications including Pip Magazine, Organic Gardener, Australian Bartender and Breathe (UK). Read the full bio here.