Rum festival expands, introduces Miami Cocktail Week in 2014

2014 Miami Rum Festival recaps:
Upstart spirits share spotlight with major players | Cocktails reach new heights

As distillers and brands expand their offerings to meet the public’s ravenous appetite for rum, the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival continues to grow exponentially. Now entering its sixth year, the festival is adding an exciting new feature – Miami Cocktail Week – to its list of events that cater to both industry reps and consumers.

Miami Rum Renaissance Festival

“We’re expanding the size and scope of the festival again this year,” said show manager Robin Burr in a Dec. 30 announcement. “Rum producers from many more countries will participate in the exhibition, bringing an exceptional selection of cane spirits to a larger audience of consumers that appreciate fine rums.”

The event’s major draw will continue to be the Grand Tasting events held Friday for industry and press VIPs, and Saturday-Sunday for consumers. The $50 admission price ($75 for VIP access) gives participants unlimited samples of a dizzying array of rums and cocktails. Last year, more than 200 were on display.
* See The Atomic Grog’s 2013 review and recap

“There is no better way to discover all the best rums in the world from so many different countries,” Burr said in the announcement. “We’re excited to introduce many new upscale luxury rums to our friends that appreciate the finest quality.” The weekend events will also again include expert seminars, live music and island lifestyle vendors.

It will be the second year at the Doubletree by Hilton Miami Airport Convention Center, which doubled the event’s size from its previous Miami Beach hotel location. The center has plenty of room of expansion, enabling an extra 10,000 square feet of exhibits (now totaling 50,0000 square feet) in 2014. Touted as world’s largest rum festival, the event hit 12,500 in attendance last year, Burr said in a follow-up e-mail. That’s an increase of more than 50 percent from the 8,000 who attended in 2012.

A mixologist shows off a Botran rum cocktail during the 2013 festival

A mixologist shows off a Botran rum cocktail during the 2013 festival. (Credit: Tatu Kaarlas/Miami Rum Festival)

This year’s new offerings include a full week of mostly public events at cocktail hotspots around Miami. “Hand-made cocktails are all the rage in the best bars around the world, so we’ll emphasize rums that make the best cocktails as we introduce Miami Cocktail Week,” the announcement said.

These events will replace the private industry parties that were held in the past, Burr confirmed via e-mail. Cocktail Week will be open to anyone who buys a wrist band (costing around $25) that will give them access to specially priced (likely $7) drinks at the participating venues, she said. “Think of it as Miami Spice Week for bars/cocktails,” she elaborated via e-mail. “You can buy special drinks for a set price.”

This first year of Miami Cocktail Week will be a “preview,” she said. “We will have everything in place for 2015.” During the week, there will still be some evening VIP parties hosted by rum companies, but Burr said the focus will be on brand-sponsored venues. “Everyone will be encouraged to visit those bars featured on the list at their leisure when it is convenient for them,” she said. “In-other-words, there is no set time to be at any one single place.”

Burr said organizers hope to sign up about 20 featured bars, such as: Blackbird Ordinary, The Broken Shaker, The Corner, The Cypress Room, Foxhole, Gramps, Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, Patpong Road, Swine Southern Table & Bar, and Yardbird Southern Table & Bar. The event “shines a spotlight on the best of the best cocktail bars and mixologists, offering brilliantly crafted mixed drinks,” according to the newly launched website MiamiCocktailWeek.com.

Jeff "Beachbum" Berry was one of many expert guest speakers at the 2013 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival

Jeff “Beachbum” Berry was one of many expert guest speakers at the 2013 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

In addition, Burr confirmed that like in past years there will also be an event at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale, a popular destination for rum and classic Tiki cocktail enthusiasts.

As the festival has grown, the organizers have tried to make enhancements along the way, Burr said. “We look forward to always improving.” The event needs to appeal to several different audiences: rum producers, industry professionals and enthusiasts. Feedback from each of these groups likely drives Burr and her fellow organizers – husband Robert A. Burr and son Robert V. Burr – to balance key events to keep everyone happy.

One of these enhancements will be the addition of sponsored lounges throughout the show floor during the Grand Tastings. These will replace the VIP lounge that was offered in past years and will give sponsors and attendees more of what they want. For example, Burr said, the Fraternal Order of Moai will sponsor a small lounge with couches and chairs to relax and learn how to make a Mai Tai. The International Rum Expert Panel will have a lounge with an expert on hand to answer questions.

“One of the things we notice by attending the other large rum festivals throughout the world is there are never enough places to sit, other than areas where you eat,” Burr said. “We want people to take breaks, sit down and relax, and we want this to be available to everyone attending.” A few exhibitors plan to have “business-to-business lounges” by invitation for trade professionals only, but most will be open to all attendees, she said.

Organizers Robin Burr (left), Robert V. Burr and Robert A. Burr at the 2013 festival

Organizers Robin Burr (left), Robert V. Burr and Robert A. Burr at the 2013 festival. (Credit: Tatu Kaarlas/Miami Rum Festival)

She also added that there will probably be more seminars in the quieter meeting spaces upstairs, away from the sometimes raucous convention floor. General admission hours have also been reduced. The $50-a-day ticket will get you access for three hours, from 4 to 7 p.m. (down from five hours last year). I didn’t specifically ask Burr about this, but I think it’s a good move. It should cut down on the rowdiness among those with little serious interest in rum who come just to drink. Dedicated enthusiasts should have no problem playing the $75 fee for expanded VIP access, which will begin at noon. A three-day VIP pass ($150) will also give you admission to Trade Day on Friday, which is otherwise not open to the general public.

The goal is not to attract rowdies, but rum enthusiasts from all over the world. “We’re seeing a great increase in travelers attending the rum festival from all the islands of the Caribbean, as well as Europe and Asia,” Burr in the press release that touts Miami as the No. 1 rum market in the world. International Rum Expert Panel judges come from across the United States, Italy, Germany, France, Spain, England, Australia, Sweden and Holland to pick the year’s finest cane spirits and award gold medals to the very best.

2014 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival: Friday, April 25, through Sunday, April 27, at the Doubletree by Hilton Miami Airport Convention Center. Tickets will go on sale this month. For more information, go to MiamiRumFest.com and Facebook.

Miami Cocktail Week: Monday, April 21, through Sunday, April 27, at venues to be announced. For more information, go to MiamiCocktailWeek.com.

More official sites
* Robert Burr’s Rum Guide | National Rum Examiner | Rum Expert Panel

Past Atomic Grog coverage
* 2013: Miami festival showcases a never-ending variety of rums
* 2012: Miami festival offers many lessons in rum appreciation
* 2011: We be Jammin: Rum Renaissance Zombie fest at The Mai-Kai
* The Atomic Grog rates some of the top cane spirits
* More on: Rum | Rum cocktails

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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