Every year, bartenders, rum enthusiasts, and fans of a little fun-in-the-sun converge on Miami Beach for the annual Miami Rum Renaissance Festival held at the Deauville Resort. Though events have been going on all week, the real action lies in the two-day grand tasting this Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 7 p.m. For $40 in advance ($50 at the door), you'll be able to sample more than 200 different rums, which is enough to keep even Captain Jack Sparrow happy for a while.
In the days leading up to the weekend, spirits professionals, bartenders, restaurant owners, authors, and professional rummies gather for three days of judging the various rums presented at the grand tasting event. These closed-door sessions are not open to the public. However, I was once again invited to judge a session. Here, for your reading enjoyment, is the secret life of a rum judge.
It's 3 p.m. and 30 industry professionals, most in tiki-shirts, are
gathered inside one of the meeting rooms at the Deauville Hotel. The
room is filled with the scent of rum -- it hits you through the closed
door. At each judge's station is a mat numbered 1-18, along with water
and crackers and grapes for palate cleansers. There's a glass on 17 of the
18 positions. Robert Burr, director of the festival, explains the rules. We'll have one hour to judge 15 white rums and 2
cachacas in the following categories: color and clarity (up to 10
points), aroma (up to 20 points), taste (up to 50 points), and finish
(up to 20 points), for a possible total of 100 points. The group is
jovial...until they get down to the judging. At that moment, the
kibitzing stops. It's as quiet as the SATs, to be exact.
the task is a little daunting, especially with white rums, which are
aged for a short amount of time in plain oak or stainless steel caskets
instead of the usual charred oak. This makes the rums easily mixable
with anything, but also makes judging more difficult. The flavors are
less pronounced. You really have to stop and analyze each one. But, like
anything in life, if you really take the time to look, smell and taste,
you start to see distinct differences.
Color and clarity, at
first, might be difficult, but bring the glasses to the light and swirl
the rums and you'll see changes in color and viscosity.
for aroma, you really have to get your nose into it. Some rums had
strong citrus notes, while one had a distinct scent of fresh pineapple.
Another one brought me back to a bar in Jamaica, nestled in the Blue
Mountains. One smelled sour - like yeast. And rum number nine assaulted
my nose by smelling like gasoline!
Taste is obviously the most
enjoyable part of the competition (and the easiest). While you would
expect to get sweetness from the rum, there were some surprising turns.
For instance, rum number one had such a distinct coconut flavor, I
thought it was a flavored rum at first (none of the rums were considered
"flavored" rum). Rum four had a distinct lemony note, while rum five
tasted like honey. Rum eight had a distinct pineapple flavor, and rum
number nine surprised me by tasting exactly like an English gin.
is important in rum and any spirit. Do you want the taste to linger,
or instantly be gone? Thought most dark rums have a sweetness and
warmth that stays, these white rums were, for the most part, dry with a
subtle finish. Again, rum number nine (yes, the one that smelled like
gasoline), had a dry, smooth finish that won me over in the end.
we had completed our task, which took about 45 minutes (in which time
the room started to get really warm and my penmanship started to get
really lousy), we were free to walk into the "reveal" room, where the
rums that we had blindly judged were set out for us to identify.
Rum number nine, which got my highest score, turned out to be Clarke's Court, a light rum from a small distillery in Granada. This was the rum that tasted like a fine English gin -- dry with herbal notes.
Rum number 14, which had a fake lemon taste - like furniture polish - was Tiki Lover's rum. It received my lowest score by tasting like furniture polish.
did our hometown entrant fare, by the way? Miami Club
Rum did well against the big boys. It had light herbal notes, and a dry
finish, these local guys are doing a fine job of bringing the islands to Miami.
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the end, judging is all subjective, so don't take my word for it -- go
over to the festival and conduct your own tasting. I'd like to hear what
your favorites were -- and why!