The largest fest of its kind in the world, the Rum Renaissance Festival runs from Friday, April 15, though Sunday, April 17, and features hundreds of rums from the Caribbean and around the world — all available for sampling. The weekend will also offer live entertainment, cocktail demonstrations, and seminars.
The most interesting feature of the festival is its ability to cater to both rum enthusiasts and industry professionals without slighting the other. Walking into the festival for the first time, you'll see people dressed in grass skirts or pirate costumes while holding rum-filled coconuts.
Delve a little deeper and you'll discover that behind that cheerful, rum-soaked veneer, business is being done.
Many small boutique distilleries participate in the festival to showcase their rums to restaurant owners and bar managers constantly on the lookout for interesting new spirits. Many of these distillers travel from the other states, the Caribbean, and all over the world. Festival founder Robert Burr says these rum producers sometimes spend thousands of dollars flying to the festival in the hopes of catching the eye of a distributor or even a fan base that can go to bat for them. "Many brands that never ventured into the U.S. market are exploring an entry into the world's number one rum market — Florida, and by extension, the United States."
Even though the spirit is most closely attached to the Caribbean, rum is distilled anywhere sugar is grown, and more than 30 countries will be represented at the festival. Burr says this year, especially, you're likely to find rums of surprising origins. "The trend is that more interesting small and medium-sized producers form farther away are showcasing their rums. We're getting rum from Denmark, India, and Reunion Island — really interesting stuff."
For the producers, it's the opportunity to get their small-batch rums in front of industry experts. "They're taking a chance, sometimes winning an award and gaining worldwide recognition."
The everyday rum lover also benefits. "For the consumer, it's a discovery."
This year, Burr says, look for cachaça as a breakout star. "There are ten here from Brazil making a spearhead movement to show, what I believe, is a much more upscale and interesting group of cane spirits."
The rum maven will also bring a selection of rums from his personal collection for exclusive sampling at the VIP tasting bar. "I'm bringing luxury rums from my own collection. For a small fee of $5 or $10, you can taste some upscale rums that maybe you've never been able to try." These rare rums usually cost upward of $150 a bottle. "I picked the ones I think people do aspire to." Some of the rums aren't even available in the United States.
Speaking of not being available in the States, Burr hopes that by next year, Cuban rums will make an appearance at the festival. "Some people think of drinking Cuban rum as endorsing the Castro regime, but we've been seeing a thawing of that on a people-to-people level. There's also a factor of what generation you're from. I hope that next year, we'll have a seminar on Cuban rums. I think a lot of people know Havana Club, but do they know Ron Santiago de Cuba or Ron Cubay?"
In the end, Burr says, there's a rum for every taste and occasion. "People ask if a 30-year-old rum is four times better than 21-year, and that's a subjective question. There's a place for every rum, and we can all celebrate the fact that there are great rums in the $30-to-$50 range. You don't have to go crazy to find a really good rum that you like."
Rum Renaissance Festival
Friday, April 15, through Saturday, April 17. Friday is open to trade only from 1 to 6 p.m., though consumers who purchase a three-day pass can attend. The festival is open to the public Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 6 p.m. Tickets cost $75 for one day and $125 for all three days. Tickets must be purchased in advance at miamirumfest.com or by phone at 877-855-3378. Parking at the DoubleTree costs $5.