Think you know rum? Step up your game at Miami Rum Fest with tastings, seminars, cocktail events

Make no mistake: The Miami Rum Renaissance Festival is the perfect place for newbies to get their feet wet and sample a wide array of styles, learning the basics about an incredibly versatile spirit that’s equally at home in cocktails and sipped neat.

Miami Rum Renaissance Festival

But the real treasure of the sixth annual event – which kicks off Monday with a test run of Miami Rum Festival Cocktail Week and culminates with three days of “grand tastings” attended by up to 15,000 – is the wealth of opportunities to meet and learn from the world’s foremost rum experts. For enthusiasts, it’s a unique opportunity to vastly broaden one’s knowledge of cane spirits and the rum lifestyle.

2014 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival: Friday, April 25, through Sunday, April 27, at the Doubletree by Hilton Miami Airport Convention Center. Tickets, hotel and more info at MiamiRumFest.com and Facebook.
Previous: Six reasons to look forward to the sixth annual Miami Rum Fest
Rum festival expands, introduces Miami Cocktail Week | 2013 recap

Those same newbies may scoff at the notion of a “lifestyle” based on booze. But ignoring the clichéd images of pillaging pirates, the burgeoning rum world offers a surprising sophistication and myriad ways to enjoy the spirit on many levels. At Miami Rum Renaissance Festival, the Grand Tasting booths on the convention center floor are the main draw, but you’re missing out if you don’t check out some of the events during the week, plus the many educational seminars held during the Grand Tastings. Here’s a rundown:

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Home mixologists can get crafty with ice molds, retro modern cocktails

As the craft cocktail movement gains fans and aficionados, it’s natural that more and more home bartenders enhance their repertoire with sophisticated drinks that taste (and look) like they just came from the local speakeasy. One of the best ways to do this is with something as simple as ice.

To put the ice spheres to the test, we prepared the appropriate cocktails

To put the ice spheres to the test, we prepared the appropriate cocktails. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, February 2014)

See below: Recipe for Ginger Grant, a craft cocktail from The Atomic Grog

If you’ve been to any modern cocktail den lately, you’ll likely notice many drinks with large blocks or spheres of ice instead of the traditional cubes or crushed ice. While the science is a bit more complicated (check out the links below for further reading), the general concept is that by using one large piece of ice, the result is an overall smaller ratio of surface area to volume that ensures less dilution of the drink. And the sphere’s shape gives it the geometric minimum ratio. It doesn’t hurt that they look pretty darn cool too.

The ice sphere was actually popularized in Japan, and you’ll sometimes see them called Japanese ice balls. They’re traditionally carved from a large block of ice [see video], a skill that’s probably out of the question for all but the most meticulous mixologists. Luckily, there are many affordable products entering the marketplace that make it a bit easier for laymen and professionals alike.

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Six reasons to look forward to the sixth annual Miami Rum Fest

Update: Step up your game at Miami Rum Fest with tastings, seminars, cocktail events

It’s an exciting time to be a connoisseur of rum and rum cocktails. There’s no doubt that cane spirits are growing in popularity and respect, best evidenced in South Florida by the rise of the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival. The event expands every year, showcasing a never-ending supply of new and classic rums.

Miami Rum Renaissance Festival

2014 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival: Friday, April 25, through Sunday, April 27, at the Doubletree by Hilton Miami Airport Convention Center. Tickets, hotel and more info at MiamiRumFest.com and Facebook.
Previous: Rum festival expands, introduces Miami Cocktail Week | 2013 recap

Now in its sixth year, the event is expected to attract at least 80 rum producers showcasing more than 200 rums from more than 30 countries. Expanded to include more than 50,000 square feet of exhibition space, it’s possible the event could attract upwards of 15,000 attendees. It’s considered to be the world’s largest rum festival.

So, in honor of six years of rum-fueled fun (and education), here are six of the best reasons to attend next month’s festivities:

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Dick Dale: The most interesting man in rock ‘n’ roll

Most people know him as the “King of the Surf Guitar,” and for his enduring hit song Miserlou, popularized in the soundtrack to Pulp Fiction. But there’s a lot more to Dick Dale, the seemingly indestructible rock ‘n’ roll legend who will be making his SunFest debut this year at age 77 on Wednesday, April 30.

Dick Dale

Legendary guitarist Dick Dale performs live on his 2013 tour at Grand Central in Miami on April 25, 2013.

March 2013 interview: Cancer survivor, rock legend Dick Dale: ‘I had both feet in the grave’

Dale is still battling the ravages of cancer that sidelined him for several years. But he’s made an amazing comeback, touring relentlessly and hitting South Florida clubs for the past three years. Now he finds himself on the main SunFest stage opening for Kid Rock.
[See the April 30 schedule].

But if you know anything about Dick Dale, his resilience should come as no surprise. Over the course of nearly 60 years in the music business, he has established himself as a renaissance man determined to live life to the fullest, without drugs and alcohol. You probably know that Dale invented surf music and helped Fender develop the modern guitar amp, but here are a few more fascinating facts about a fascinating man:

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Dada in Delray Beach embraces rum with new cocktail menu

If I have one complaint about the proliferation of craft cocktail bars, it’s that many of the mixologists tend to shun perhaps the most versatile and tasty base spirit of them all. Of course, I’m talking about rum.
Related: Innovative watering holes fuel rise of craft cocktails

A barrel of small-batch rum at Dada in Delray Beach

A barrel of small-batch rum at Dada in Delray Beach. (Facebook photo)

So when I heard that Dada in Delray Beach – already one of the best spots for mojitos in South Florida (not to mention the award-winning food) – was expanding its bar menu to include new rums and cocktails, I regained my faith in the new cocktail culture. It took a while to get down there to check out the offerings, but on a recent visit I was pleasantly surprised at the quality and variety of the drinks. Pairing them with delicious food and lounging in Dada’s outdoor dining area only enhanced the experience.

Previous: A Taste Of … Dada in Delray Beach (February 2013)

While Dada is often mentioned among the top restaurants to grab a cocktail, and boasts some acclaimed bartenders, it’s typically not mentioned in the same breath as some of the area’s top craft cocktail spots. The mojitos are great, but there was nothing there for those who prefer a classic, or something a little less fruity. That all changed last summer, when Dada released its own line of small-batch spiced rums.

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A journey back in time on Main Street U.S.A. uncovers author’s ‘Disney side’

The latest marketing effort from the PR folks at the Disney parks urges guests to “show the world your Disney side.” For many fans, that simply means posting photos and video, acting goofy and showing their love for the iconic brand.

A young Hurricane Hayward enjoys his first visit to the Magic Kingdom in December 1972

A young Hurricane Hayward enjoys his first visit to the Magic Kingdom in December 1972. Finding the location of this photo today became quite a challenge.

But to truly show your Disney side, you first have to find it. My search was a bit more complicated than most. It started with my first visit with my future wife in 2009, involved a trip back in time to 1972 in search of a mysterious turn-of-the-century street, and culminated with a simple haircut.

I recalled most of this story in a letter published in the March/April issue of Celebrations, a magazine for fans of the Disney theme parks, resorts, and films. Below are more details along with the story’s conclusion.

My first visit to Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando was in late 1972. I have vivid memories of the Main Street parade, the Haunted Mansion, the monorail, and much more. Over the years, the few photos that remained from that trip continued to remind me of that initial exposure to the magic. But it was another 37 years before I returned, and much had changed by then.

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The Hukilau adds new band, symposium to lineup for June’s ‘final aloha’

With tickets rapidly selling out and Tikiphiles flocking from around the world for the 13th and final edition of The Hukilau, organizers could certainly rest on their laurels. Instead, the annual Tiki event in Fort Lauderdale is getting an injection of new entertainment to add even more value (and fun) to the festivities.

The Sweet Hollywaiians perform at the Bahia Mar during The Hukilau in June 2010

The Sweet Hollywaiians perform at the Bahia Mar during The Hukilau in June 2010. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The Hukilau: June 11-15, 2014, at the Bahia Mar Beach Resort and The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale. Get tickets and make hotel reservations now at TheHukilau.com. Get updates on the Facebook page.
Previous post: Schedule announced for The Hukilau’s ‘Final Aloha’ in June

The Sweet Hollywaiians, one of the most memorable bands in the history of the event, will be making the trek from Osaka, Japan, to perform for the second time. The ensemble, formed in 2002 by a group of street musicians, carries on the 1920s and ’30s string band tradition with their all-instrumental arrangements. They seamlessly combine a smorgasbord of vintage styles such as Hawaiian, Swing, Ragtime, Blues, Calypso and Italian. The foursome plays an array of string instruments, such as lap steel guitar, banjo, tipple, ukulele, mandolin, and bass.

The band first wowed The Hukilau faithful in 2010, when they performed at the Bahia Mar and The Mai-Kai. They will return to both venues in 2014, headlining the Friday night Main Event at the hotel and making a special Mai-Kai appearance on Saturday. Previously announced entertainment includes The Left Arm of Buddha from Belgium, The Smokin’ Menehunes from California, and Florida bands The Intoxicators, Skinny Jimmy & The Stingrays, Slip and the Spinouts, and Gold Dust Lounge. Click here for more info on the bands and special guests.

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Disney World announces refurbishment schedule for Polynesian Resort, but no word on Trader Sam’s

Updated Feb. 22, 2014 (Note: New information throughout)

One year from now, stepping into Disney’s Polynesian Resort in Orlando could be a much different experience. With construction on the 42-year-old iconic hotel’s timeshare additions in full swing, work appears to be moving forward on the resort’s nerve center, the Great Ceremonial House.

Previous post: Trader Sam’s could be key part of Disney’s Polynesian Resort refurb

Construction sign at Disney's Polynesian Resort

Construction sign at Disney’s Polynesian Resort.

Last week, Disney World officially announced that the Great Ceremonial House – the giant A-frame building designed after a Tahitian royal assembly lodge – will be refurbished from March through December. Capt. Cook’s, the 24-hour quick-service restaurant perhaps most well-known for its self-service Dole Whip machine, will be closed during dates to be announced from some time in March until June. The adjacent Wyland Gallery has already closed and won’t be re-opening. No other specific restaurant or store closings or changes have been officially announced.

Disney is tight-lipped, as usual, about exactly what the Great Ceremonial House will look like when work is complete. But Polynesian insider Steve Seifert is reporting on his authoritative Tikiman Pages website that the long-rumored addition of Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar is expected to be completed by February 2015. This report, along with all the official dates, comes with the usual caveat that Disney reserves the right to take as much time as it needs, pushing projects well into the future.

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Schedule announced for The Hukilau’s ‘Final Aloha’ in June, tickets selling fast

Update: The Hukilau adds new band, symposium to lineup for June’s ‘final aloha’

In just over four months, tikiphiles from around the world will flock to Fort Lauderdale for The Hukilau’s 13th and final celebration of authentic mid-century Polynesian Pop culture. If you want to join the party, you might want to act fast. All-access tickets and one special event have already sold out.

The Intoxicators at The Mai-Kai during The Hukilau in June 2013

The Intoxicators at The Mai-Kai during The Hukilau in June 2013. The Tallahassee surf band has performed every year since 2005. (Photo by Go11Events.com)

The Hukilau: June 11-15, 2014, at the Bahia Mar Beach Resort and The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale. Get tickets and make hotel reservations now at TheHukilau.com. Get updates on the Facebook page.
Previous post: The Hukilau announces entertainment lineup for ‘final aloha’

The tentative full schedule was just posted on the official website, providing the first day-by-day rundown of all the festivities. Also recently announced was the sellout of author and historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s symposium on the Tiki cocktail de-evolution and revival. “Tiki’s Dark Ages: From Fern Bars To Rebirth” is scheduled for Thursday, June 12, at 1 p.m. in the dining room at The Mai-Kai restaurant.

But you’re not entirely out of luck if you missed out on tickets to Berry’s final symposium at The Hukilau, and perhaps his last for quite a while as he turns his attention to his upcoming Tiki bar in New Orleans. He will be meeting guests and signing books, including his new Potions of the Caribbean, at the Cocktail Kingdom vendor booth in the Tiki Treasures Bazaar at the host hotel, the Bahia Mar Beach Resort.

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Innovative watering holes fuel rise of craft cocktails in Palm Beach County

The craft cocktail scene in Palm Beach County has come a long way in a very short time. No longer must residents trek south to Fort Lauderdale or Miami to get a wildly creative adult beverage skillfully made by talented mixologists.

Nowhere is this recent explosion more evident than in a list of the Ten Best Bars for Cocktails in Palm Beach County published this week on the food blog Clean Plate Charlie on the Broward/Palm Beach New Times website. Only one of the 10 existed before 2009, a testament to the impact these establishments have had on the local food and drink scene.

The Dead Ringer cocktail (Cruzan Black Strap Rum, Velvet Falernum, fresh lime, Dandelion & Burdock Bitters, plum bitters) at Sweetwater Bar & Grill in Boynton Beach

The Dead Ringer cocktail (Cruzan Black Strap Rum, Velvet Falernum, fresh lime, Dandelion & Burdock Bitters, plum bitters) at Sweetwater Bar & Grill in Boynton Beach. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, June 2013)

While such lists are always subjective, I find myself wholeheartedly agreeing with writer Nicole Danna’s top picks. I’ve been singing the praises of Sweetwater Bar & Grill (No. 1), Kapow! Noodle Bar (No. 2), and Hullabaloo (No. 4) for the past several years.

And I’m eager to check out No. 3 on the list, HMF, which is technically a new venue (est. in late 2012) but is housed in The Breakers, Palm Beach’s historic hotel originally built by railroad pioneer Henry Morrison Flagler (aka “HMF”) in 1896. The grand hotel’s main bar was re-imagined as a swank cocktail den inspired by mid-century style, classic cocktails and delicious small bites (it was featured in an episode of Emeril’s Florida on the Cooking Channel).

The other three joints are a bit more accessible to the Average Joe, but they all offer spectacular food and drinks that are far from pedestrian. Sweetwater, which opened in 2009, remains my second favorite spot in all of South Florida to indulge in those pleasures (trailing only a certain 57-year-old Polynesian palace in Fort Lauderdale). The food menu may be small, but ingredients are always fresh and the dishes decadent and delicious. I can’t get enough of the tacos (pork or fish), sliders (beef or bison) and flatbreads.

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