Make it a double: Ascension of Miami Rum Renaissance Festival mirrors explosive growth of cane spirits

2013 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival: Monday, April 15, through Sunday, April 21, at the Doubletree by Hilton Miami Airport Convention Center. For more information, go to RumRenaissance.com.
April update: Rum’s best and brightest stars take center stage at annual Miami festival

Miami Rum Renaissance Festival

The popularity of rum has exploded over the past five years, reaching heights not seen since the mid-century heyday of Tiki. If you need proof, just look at the annual Miami Rum Renaissance Festival, which made its debut in 2009 and has doubled in size each year.

For 2013, the largest gathering of rum experts, professionals and enthusiasts in the western hemisphere will be moving to a venue with 40,000 square feet of event space, twice the size of last year’s event. Festival organizers say they expect attendance to double from last year’s 8,000 to more than 15,000 rum-loving faithful.

Consumer interest in sugar cane spirits is growing faster than any other category of liquor. “We’re proud to say that our prediction of rum’s resurgence in popularity was on the money,” said festival organizer Robert A. Burr in announcing his fifth annual event. “An incredible range of fine rums, from casual and fun mixers to luxurious top-shelf sipping rums, will be on display. There is no better opportunity for the rum enthusiast to sample such a vast selection of spirits in one place.”

Appleton was one of many brands serving tasty cocktails at the 2012 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival

Appleton was one of many brands serving tasty cocktails at the 2012 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival. (Photo by Michael Lawrence, LawrenceImages.com)

But with success comes challenges. Because of the rapid growth, Burr and his co-organizers and founders – wife Robin and son Robert V. Burr – have been forced to find a bigger and more accessible venue than the Deauville Beach Resort on Miami Beach, site of the past two festivals. They’re betting on the Doubletree, with its vast floor space and proximity to the airport for the many out-of-town VIPs. This comes at the risk of losing a bit of the South Beach allure, but don’t be surprised if many of the week’s VIP parties end up in some swank beachside locales.

For the general public, the festival offers two full days of Grand Tasting events on Saturday and Sunday featuring more than 200 rums from the Caribbean and around the world. Besides the free samples of spirits and cocktails, the bustling ballroom will offer booths serving up island-style cuisine and vendors selling tropical clothing and decor.

The festival attracts rum brands and experts from around the globe who come to Miami to present their products to experts, critics and consumers. All the enthusiasts also have the opportunity to attend VIP parties, tasting sessions and celebrity seminars.

A tasting event at the 2012 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival

A tasting event at the 2012 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival. (Photo by Michael Lawrence, LawrenceImages.com)

Grand Tasting tickets are $50 for a regular one-day pass and $65 for a VIP ticket that gives you early access to the exhibits plus admission to the seminars. VIP ticket-holders will also have access to a private area with free food and drinks. If you want to go for the gusto and participate in the entire week of VIP events, just plop down $250 for an Executive VIP Pass. If you love rum and want to rub elbows with the world’s top experts, it’s worth every penny.

The quality of rums being offered at the Grand Tastings is impressive. The latest list includes light rums, gold rums, black rums, aged rums, spiced rums, navy rums, flavored rums, cachaça, and rhums agricole from more than 100 brands, from 1 Barrel to Zaya.

Another highlight of the weekend Grand Tasting events is the World Tiki Team Championship bartending challenge, which pits competitors from the best Tiki bars in the United Kingdom against a team of stateside mixologists. The U.K. team has won this grueling, multi-part test of skill and daring for two straight years, so look for the U.S. team to make a determined effort to prevent a “three-peat.”

Past Atomic Grog coverage
* 2012: Miami festival offers many lessons in rum appreciation
* 2011: We be Jammin: Rum Renaissance Zombie fest at The Mai-Kai

Official sites
* Miami Rum Renaissance Festival | Facebook page
* Robert Burr’s Rum Guide | National Rum Examiner | Rum Expert Panel

About Hurricane Hayward

A professional journalist and Florida resident for more than 30 years, Jim "Hurricane" Hayward shares his obsession with Polynesian Pop and other retro styles on his blog, The Atomic Grog. Jim's roots in mid-century and reto culture go back to his childhood in the 1960s, when he tagged along with his parents to Tiki restaurants and his father's custom car shows. His experience in journalism, mixology, and more than 20 years as an independent concert promoter make him a jack-of-all-trades in the South Florida scene. A graduate of the University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications, Jim is a longtime web producer for The Palm Beach Post. In his spare time, he has promoted hundreds of rock, punk, and indie concerts under the Slammie Productions name since the early 1990s. In 2011, he launched The Atomic Grog to extensively cover events, music, art, cocktails, and culture with a retro slant. Jim earned his nickname by virtue of both his dangerous exotic drinks and his longtime position producing The Post's tropical weather website.
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