The Miami Rum Renaissance Festival has always been a unique opportunity to sample some of the best new cane spirits before they gain widespread distribution across the country. But this year, festival organizers have taken that coming out party to a new level with dozens of emerging rum brands from South Florida, Georgia, Antigua, Barbados, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, Panama, St. Vincent, Trinidad, Guyana, Suriname, Austria, Denmark, Japan, the Philippines and India all making their U.S. debut.
There will be 35 new rums making their U.S. debut at the festival, said Robin Burr, who organizes and hosts the event with husband Robert A. and son Robert V. Burr. In addition to those, another 28 rums will be making their Miami Rum Festival debut, giving attendees plenty of new products to peruse during next weekend’s Grand Tasting events. [See the full list of new rums below]
Considered the largest rum festival in the world, the event will also feature celebrity seminars, live music and entertainment, island lifestyle vendors and interactive cocktail demonstrations. It’s a rare chance for enthusiasts to meet and mingle with rum experts and professionals to learn about rum, cocktails and the surrounding culture.
2015 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival: Friday, April 17, through Sunday, April 19, at the Doubletree by Hilton Miami Airport Convention Center. Tickets, hotel and more info at MiamiRumFest.com and Facebook. Miami Rum Fest Cocktail Week is Monday, April 13, through Sunday, April 19, at venues throughout South Florida. More info at MiamiCocktailWeek.com and Facebook.
2014 Atomic Grog recaps: Cocktail Week | Rum Fest | Photo gallery | All past coverage
HOW MUCH: Tickets are $50 for Sunday general admission, $75 for a Saturday VIP pass, and $100 for a three-day VIP pass. In a change from past years, tickets must be purchased in advance via MiamiRumFest.com or by phone at (877) 855-3378. No tickets will be available at the door. Parking at the convention center is $5 per day, including in and out. Rooms at the Doubletree are sold out, but there are still rooms available at host hotels on Miami Beach.
Here’s a rundown on all the week’s activities:
MIAMI RUM FESTIVAL COCKTAIL WEEK
Now in its second year, Cocktail Week features special rum cocktails and activities for VIPs and rum enthusiasts spread over seven venues in seven nights, from Fort Lauderdale to Coconut Grove.
* Tuesday, April 14: Tiki Night at The Mai Kai in Fort Lauderdale, featuring happy hour cocktails in The Molokai bar followed by the famous Polynesian Islander Review dinner show . Happy hour runs from 5 to 7 p.m. and the show starts at 8. Rum Fest attendees get half off the show charge and a complimentary Fwaygo Rum cocktail, the Grapefruit Julep. There will also be bus transportation between the Doubletree and The Mai-Kai for $25. Rum Fest guests must RSVP in advance by calling the restaurant at (954) 563-3272.
Related: The Atomic Grog’s Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide
* Wednesday, April 15: Havana Night at The Regent Cocktail Club at the Gale Hotel (Miami Beach), 7:30 to 8:30 p.m.
* Thursday, April 16: The Broken Shaker (Miami Beach), 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. World-class cocktails in the acclaimed bar’s outdoor lounge.
* Friday, April 17: The Shops at Mary Brickell Village (downtown Miami), 8 to 9 p.m. Sponsored by Rums of Puerto Rico, the event will feature live music and giveaways.
* Saturday, April 18: Ball & Chain (Calle Ocho), 8 to 9 p.m. Special rum cocktails in a legendary jazz and blues venue.
* Sunday, April 19: The Rum Line at the Lowes Hotel (Miami Beach) will host the closing party from 8 to 9 p.m.
SEMINARS AND OTHER ACTIVITIES
Miami Rum Renaissance Festival features 50,000 square feet of exhibit space with more than 120 exhibitors, two stages and four seminar rooms. There’s a wide range of free seminars open to all attendees during the Trade Expo and Grand Tastings on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Here’s the lineup:
Friday, April 17 (Trade Day)
* Navigating the U.S. Distilled Spirits Market: An overview of understanding the regulatory framework of the three tier system, by Park Street Importers.
* Reál Rum Cocktails: A look at how to use Reál ingredients, by mixologist Dean Serneels.
* Understanding how to Classify Rum: What this means for authenticity and real intrinsic value, by master distiller Richard Seale.
Saturday, April 18 (Grand Tasting session)
* Live the Rums of Puerto Rico Experience with brand ambassador Jamil Cole.
* The Real Rum Running Roaring ’20s: The story of seagoing smugglers, by Professor Mike Beach.
* Anthropology of the Caribbean and Rum by Professor Frederick Smith.
* How the Wood and the Char Affects Aging, a talk by master distiller Federcio Schulz.
Sunday, April 19 (Grand Tasting session)
* How to Elevate Your Home Bar: Tips and advice by members of the Fraternal Order of the Moai.
* The Art and Technique of Evaluating Rum by spirits judge Bernhard Schäfer.
* The “Heart” Makes the Difference by Dan Termini, Wicked Dolphin Rum distiller.
Click here for more information on all the seminars. If you’re attending Trade Day, you’ll also see the annual RumXP Tasting Competition Awards on the main stage. Last year, the results were shared online, giving Saturday-Sunday guests a great roadmap of the best rums to check out.
* Past coverage: 2014 RumXP International Tasting Competition results
Also, don’t forget the merchandise, artwork and more at the Island Lifestyle Showcase. On the main convention center floor, you’ll also find live music and other entertainment during the weekend. There’s food inside the venue, plus many nearby hotel restaurants. Here’s a map of the exhibition space (the escalator leads upstairs to the seminars).
TRADE EXPO AND GRAND TASTINGS
The festival has become noteworthy for showcasing new products and attracting experts from around the world. The International Trade Expo is designed to help rum producers, importers, distributors and retailers network and unite to boost rum’s growing popularity. On Saturday and Sunday, enthusiasts and the general public get a chance to be part of the Grand Tastings by visiting the many booths, sampling nearly 200 rums and talking to brand representatives. Check the weekend schedule here.
Only a few years ago, there was a growing fear that smaller rum brands were in danger of being trampled by the bigger companies, which were receiving preferential government regulations – particularly in the Caribbean. I wrote about the issue after the 2013 Miami Rum Festival.
But the likelihood of this happening seems to have diminished. Over the past few years, smaller rum brands have been thriving – especially in the U.S. and new markets. At the Miami festival, we’ve seen a never-ending stream of new award-winning brands make their debut, including The Real McCoy, Papa’s Pilar, Koloa, Don Pancho, Lost Spirits, and many more. In the meantime, rum giant Bacardi just announced a layoff of 15 percent of its North American staff, mirroring similar cuts made recently by rivals Diageo and Pernod Ricard.
Craft spirits and emerging brands seem to be doing just fine. “We’re seeing a huge increase in brands from other countries and new craft spirits that have not previously presented their products in North America,” said Robert A. Burr, Miami Rum Festival organizer, rum judge and noted expert.
In 2014, around 26 million cases of rum were sold in the United States, with the premium category growing 14.8 percent and the lower end spiced rum category growing 11.6 percent, according to Burr. The growth in premium rums was due mainly to new entrants into the U.S. market from emerging rum producing countries – from North, Central and South America to the South Pacific and Asia.
What will be the hot new rums of 2015? Here are several to watch:
* The United Kingdom’s Bristol Spirits makes boutique rums from the Caribbean that have gained acclaim in Europe for 20 years. Now headed to U.S. shores are Bristol’s Demerara Port Morant from Guyana, an aged Barbados rum, a fine Haitian rum, a Caroni rum from Trinidad, and a dark spiced rum blend known as Bristol Black.
* Look for a range of Authentic Caribbean Rums from the West Indies Rum and Spirits Producers Association. These include: English Harbour 5 from Antigua, Doorly’s XO and St. Nicholas Abbey 5 from Barbados, Westerhall Vintage and Clarke’s Court Old Grog from Grenada, Hampden Gold and Monymusk Plantation Reserve from Jamaica, Captain Bligh XO from St. Vincent, and Borgoe 8 from Suriname.
* Amrut Distilleries from India will debut two unique products that combine rums from India and Barbados in an “East Indies meets West Indies” blend.
* California’s inventive Lost Spirits will unveil a new expression, Prometheus Rum.
* Other American craft distillers – Richland Rum (Georgia), South Florida Distillers (Fort Lauderdale), and Citrus Distillers (Palm Beach County) – will be presenting their boutique spirits in Miami for the first time.
RUMS NEW TO THE U.S., MIAMI RUM FESTIVAL
Here’s the full list of the rums that are new to the U.S. market and making their debut at Miami Rum Renaissance Festival:
Amrut White, Amrut Two Indies, Amrut Two Indies Old Port, Borgoe 8, Bristol Barbados 2004, Bristol Black Spiced, Bristol Port Morant Demerara 1999, Bristol Reserve Rum of Haiti 2004, Bristol Trinidad Caroni 1996, Caray Reserva Del Artesano, Caray Platinum, Don Papa 10, Duran, Mezan Jamaica 2000, Mezan Jamaica XO, Mezan Panama 2004, Monymusk Special Reserve, Mutineers Gold XO Special Reserve, Nine Leaves Clear, Nine Leaves Half American Oak Cask, Nine Leaves Half French Oak Cask, Opthimus Artesanal 25, Opthimus Artesanal 21, Opthimus Artesanal 18, Opthimus Artesanal 15, Opthimus Malt Whiskey 25, Opthimus OportO 25, Skotlander Rum III (Sea Buckthorn), Skotlander Rum IV (Liquorice), Skotlander Cask, Skotlander White, St. Nicolas Abbey 10, Stroh 160 Spiced, Travellers 5 Barrel, Westerhall Estate 10 XO.
In addition to those listed above, here are the rums that are new to the festival. Many already have U.S. distribution, but now have a new expression or two.
AfroHead 7, AfroHead XO, Bayou Satsuma Rum Liquor, Bayou Select Barrel Reserve, Blackwell, Blue Chair Bay Banana, Blue Chair Bay Vanilla, Blue Water Ultra Premium, Blue Water Caribbean Gold, Citrus Spice, Citrus Chocolate, Club Caribe Silver, DonQ 151, Fwaygo, Lost Spirits Prometheus, Plantation Pineapple Stiggins Fancy, Pusser’s Gunpowder Proof, Pusser’s Spiced, Richland Single Estate Artesan Georgia, Siesta Key Distiller’s Reserve, Siesta Key Toasted Coconut, Siesta Key Spiced Beer Barrel Finish, Wicked Dolphin Coconut, Wicked Dolphin Crystal, Wicked Dolphin Florida Spiced, Wicked Dolphin Strawberry RumShine, Yolo Gold 10, Yolo Silver.
On the Web
* Rum Renaissance Festival returns with discovery of rum theme (New Times)
Past Atomic Grog coverage
* 2014: Upstart spirits share spotlight with major players at Miami Rum Festival
Cocktails reach new heights of creativity at Miami Rum Festival
Take 5: Ian Burrell, global rum ambassador and organizer of the UK RumFest
* 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