Out of all the world's spirits, rum may have the most romantic history. Associated with both pirates and naval sea captains, tropical ports and literary giants, rum is bigger than ever, with small, artisan distillers exploring the many expressions and flavors this spirit is capable of. You may say that rum is having a renaissance.
With that said, Miami's Rum Renaissance Festival, which returns to the Doubletree by Hilton/Miami Airport Convention Center on April 17 through 19, is having its own renaissance of sorts. This year's multi-day event, which features entertainment, seminars, and rum tastings, is getting more focused on the true appreciation of rum.
Festival director Robert Burr says that the big news this year is the amount of rums from smaller distilleries available for tasting — many of which aren't even available in the United States. yet. "There's a plethora of boutique rums from many countries. It's a real discovery of rum theme. Consumers will find many new and exciting brands that are with us for the first time, as well as new expressions from established brands." In all, about 200 rums will be available to try from around the world.
Burr says that this is because the rum industry, itself, is changing. "We're seeing some evidence that the market is fracturing. Some of the big brands are cutting back. This is great news for small and medium sized brands that could never get noticed in the past. More American boutique rums are sticking their necks out to get noticed. Many brands that never ventured into the US market are exploring an entry into the world's number one rum market — Florida, and by extension, the United States."
With that said, many distillers are traveling to Miami to introduce their spirits to both consumers and industry professionals in the hopes of getting a fan base — and possibly distributorship. "This year, the Miami Rum Fest features an expanded trade expo for rum within the show. There is a section of the exhibits that are for the trade only. Numerous brands from around the world that do not yet have an importer, a distributor or retail presence in our markets are coming to to the expo. They're bringing rums that we've never seen before, hoping to meet up with importers and distributors that find their products of interest. They're here to show their wares to the trade."
True fans of rum can also go toe to toe with the experts at the consumer rum jury, new for 2015. In the past, master distillers, brand managers, writers, and bar tenders came from around the world as the RumXP panel, to judge various rums for the coveted RumXP awards. This year, the festival is inviting a new panel of tasters comprised of rum fans to judge rums. Burr explains, "We're putting them in a blind tasting room, just like the rum experts, to see how these top rum consumers rate a notable selection of the best brands on the market. It will be interesting for us, and for the public and the trade, to see how much their results compare and/or contrast to the international rum judges' preferences."
Though the Rum Fest has always catered to a blend of true aficionados and party people, this year the festival director aims to focus on an event that's geared toward true enjoyment of rum. "We're being more conservative on ticket sales this year. We won't sell tickets at the door beyond our limit of 3,000 people per day. So it's a more contemplative atmosphere for those that want to taste rum, learn about new rum and find the rums that they enjoy the most."
And, since rum is a party spirit, the festival has collaborated with Uber to provide a free first-time ride to people who sign up for the service, using code RUMFEST. The festival director says, "We think it makes a lot of sense to consider using a reliable car service for transportation to and from the rum tasting event."
The Miami Rum Renaissance Festival runs from Friday, April 17 - Sunday, April 19 (although the Friday session is open to the trade only). Saturday's grand tasting runs from 1 - 6 p.m. and is $75. Sunday's grand tasting runs from 1 - 6 p.m. and is $50. A three-day VIP ticket costs $100 and includes access to the trade-only Friday session. Tickets can be purchased in advance at rumrenaissance.com.
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Leading up to the festival are a series of parties and tastings, dubbed Miami Cocktail Week. On Monday, April 13, the festivities kick off at the Starlight Drive-In at the Coconut Grove Theatre with Tiki Horror Night, featuring good cocktails and bad horror movies.
On Tuesday, April 14, the Mai Kai in Fort Lauderdale hosts Tiki Tuesday. On Wednesday, April 15, enjoy elegant rum cocktails at the Regent Cocktail Club's Havana Night. Thursday, April 16, VIP ticket holders are invited to the Broken Shaker for special rum cocktails. Friday, April 17, the Shops of Mary Brickell Village hosts a party with live music and giveaways, sponsored by Rums of Puerto Rico.
On Saturday evening April 18, rum enthusiasts are invited to Ball & Chain for specialty rum cocktails. Finally, the Rum Line hosts a closing party on Sunday, April 19. For full details, visit miamicocktailweek.com.