Cocktails & Spirits

Rum Congress, a Two-Day Rum Celebration, Debuts in Miami Beach

Barbados' Mount Gay Rum
Barbados' Mount Gay Rum Flickr
Does Miami need another rum festival? Of course it does. The Rum Congress is coming to Miami Beach's Ronald W. Shane Center on February 8 and 9, featuring rum from around the globe.

Founded by rum aficionados Federico Hernandez and Ian Burrell — known as the "global rum ambassador" for his freelance work educating the masses about the spirit — the public event gives consumers and alcoholic beverage industry personnel direct access to brand representatives, tastings of various brands of rum, and a chance to learn all about it in a classroom setting.

Burrell and Hernandez have more than 25 years combined of rum industry experience. Jamaican by ethnicity but born and raised in the United Kingdom, Burrell is most known for disseminating knowledge of the spirit to folks in his home country.

Burrell is the founder of the UK Rumfest and Hernandez founded the Rum Lab in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Now they're sharing their expertise for a new event at the tip of Florida's peninsula.

Being the gateway to Latin America, Miami holds a special place in the history of the rum trade. At the height of Prohibition, rum basically ruled city streets. The area was dubbed a "bootlegger's paradise" by the Chicago Daily News, and shoot-outs between smugglers and cops weren't uncommon. Infamous Chicago mobster and the king of bootlegging himself, Al Capone, even moved to Palm Island in 1928 and later died there.

Rum smugglers, called rum runners, lived and died for the sake of delivering their boozy cargo to an eager populace. Marie Waite, otherwise known as the Spanish Marie, was a swashbuckling female runner who is, perhaps, the best known of them all. She took over her husband's liquor operation delivering rum between the Bahamas, New Orleans, and everywhere in between after he was killed by the Coast Guard in 1926, according to Hidden History of the Florida Keys. Waite disappeared from public life sometime in the early 1930s after getting arrested.

Rum is a liquor distilled from sugarcane, which is grown commercially in parts of Florida and various parts of the world, including South America and the Caribbean, where many well-known rum distilleries exist. Some of these include Bacardi in Puerto Rico, Mount Gay in Barbados, and the city's own Miami Club Rum. Some of these brands and their histories will be featured at the event.

From cooking to cocktails, rum is used in a variety of ways, according to Burrell, and there's more to the liquor than just Bacardi or Havana Club. "A lot of small, independent labels, a lot of premium rums are now being recognized by the mainstream," Burrell said in an interview with the Rum Experience in 2015. "You see big companies focusing on premium... and you've seen a lot of smaller companies who really can make premium stuff."

Day one of the Rum Congress kicks off with a cocktail session from 12:30 to 1 p.m., followed by a series of five symposiums, one after the other, from 1 to 7:30 p.m. This day is essentially the educational part geared toward producers, importers, and other rum professionals. Guest speakers will include Burrell himself; Richard Seale, a fourth-generation master distiller from Foursquare Distillery in Barbados; Kate Perry, North American market manager for LaMaison and Velier; and more. Ticket prices range from $60 to $80 for this day.

The second day is for those who want to indulge in tastings and seminars. There will be three independent sessions from 1 to 7:30 p.m. Ticket prices for these range from $35 to $130, which includes individual session prices and VIP.

A main stage will feature competitions with local mixologists from the Broken Shaker, Sweet Liberty, Tiki Ono, and others from 2:45 to 3:45 p.m. There will also be an international competition from 4 to 5 p.m. that includes representatives from Latitude 29 of New Orleans, Miss Things of Toronto, La Casita of Puerto Rico, and Laki Kane of London.

A full lineup of events and breakdown of ticket prices can be found on the Rum Congress website.

Miami Rum Congress. Friday, February 8, and Saturday, February 9, at Ronald W. Shane Center, 6500 Indian Creek Dr., Miami Beach; 305-861-8837; Tickets cost $35 to $110.
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David Minsky is a U.S. Navy veteran and Tulane graduate who has experience reporting on stories from California, South Florida, and the Deep South. He has also won some journalism awards. Email or tweet David with story tips and ideas.
Contact: David Minsky