After nine years in Miami-Dade County, the country’s largest celebration of cane spirits is moving up the coast to link up with the East Coast’s most esteemed gathering of Polynesian Pop and Tiki enthusiasts. June 2018 promises a monumental mash-up when the Rum Renaissance Festival and The Hukilau collide near Fort Lauderdale Beach.
The thousands attending the Rum Renaissance Festival on June 9-10 at the Broward County Convention Center will be just a mile from the hordes of Tikiphiles at the 17th edition of The Hukilau at the iconic Pier 66 Hotel, separated only by the whims of the 17th Street Causeway bridge. For the past five years, the Miami Rum Festival was held in April at the DoubleTree Hilton Miami Airport Convention Center.
Organizers of both events say the move will create a synergy beneficial to everyone (with the possible exception of the temperance movement). Just 7 miles away is the historic Mai-Kai Restaurant, the icing on the cake of any rum and Tiki lover’s ultimate weekend.
See below: Hotels, pricing, schedules | Rum XP Awards revamped
2018 Tiki and rum events in Fort Lauderdale
June 6-10 – The Hukilau at the Pier 66 Hotel and The Mai-Kai restaurant.
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June 9-10 – Rum Renaissance Festival at the Broward County Convention Center and Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina Hotel.
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* Atomic Grog: 2017 recap, photos, video | More past coverage
MORE: The Tiki Times 2018 events calendar
“There’s lots of crossover potential,” said Robert A. Burr, who with wife Robin founded the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival in 2009. “We can bring more people in” to the rum, cocktail and Tiki scenes, he said, noting that cooperation is the key. While logistics are still being worked out, “we’re going out of our way to not step on each other’s toes” and “not cross swords,” he said.
The Hukilau’s head honcho, Richard Oneslager, stressed that the longstanding Tiki event is not changing. “Our first priority is to our villagers and The Mai-Kai,” he said. “We’re not a joint venture.”
However, he was quick to add: “We want to make it beneficial to guests of both events. We’re neighbors. I don’t see them as being competition. I want to work with them as best as we can.” Many villagers will enjoy both, he said. “If The Hukilau isn’t enough, rum fest is close.”
One possible benefit will be the drawing power of the tandem events among industry VIPs and experts. Why wouldn’t a rum company send representatives to both, killing two Tiki birds with one stone? “We hope brands are receptive to coming to both,” Burr said, adding that there may also be some co-branded events.
“There will be economies that make sense for everyone,” Oneslager said, adding that The Hukilau will focus more on cocktails than rum, along with the event’s core emphasis on music, art, history and Tiki culture. “We’re still working out details on how to best work together.”
One possibility are perks for people who attend both events. “There will be some sort of benefit if people hold tickets to both,” Oneslager said. Burr also mentioned “fringe benefits” for attending both.
Burr agreed that the move to Fort Lauderdale and close proximity to The Hukilau and The Mai-Kai “will be much better for the Tiki junkies.” The host hotels are just across the Intracoastal Waterway bridge from each other. “It’s an easy walk,” Burr said. There’s also the possibility of a dedicated bus shuttling guests between the festivals, he said.
According to Google Maps, the Rum Renaissance Festival and the Greater Fort Lauderdale / Broward County Convention Center are almost exactly a mile from The Hukilau and the Pier 66 Hotel. The trip takes roughly 6 minutes by car, 9 minutes by bus, and 17 minutes on foot. The rum fest’s official hotel, the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina, is near the mid-point between the two.
Both sites are also conveniently located within 5 miles of Fort Lauderdale International Airport and the cruise ships at Port Everglades. The public beach near the B Ocean Resort (home of the famous Wreck Bar and Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid‘s swimshows) is just a mile north of Pier 66 on Seabreeze Boulevard (aka State Road A1A). [See map] Roughly 7 miles due north is The Ma-Kai, the 60-year-old historic landmark that serves equally historic rum and Tiki cocktails. [See map]
Before the name change to Miami Rum Festival and the move to the Airport Convention Center in 2013, the Rum Renaissance Festival spent its first four years at Miami Beach hotels. The Burrs have always run their event with assistance from son Rob V. Burr, who also contributes to his father’s rum guide and online video show (Rob’s Rum Guide and Rum Minute).
Since the change to the larger convention space, they’ve constantly received requests to move back to more of a beach setting. “The main reason we are moving is people did not like the atmosphere at the DoubleTree after time,” Robin Burr said. “They want to be back by the water again.”
The convention center in Fort Lauderdale has been making a pitch for the rum fest for years, Robert Burr said, and the original decision to move included keeping the event’s traditional April timeframe. “But we thought, why not do it in June” to coincide with The Hukilau, he said. The state-of-the-art center nearly matches the cavernous 50,000-square-foot Miami location, offering 43,000 square feet of floor space. It also features covered parking, creative food and beverage options, and a half dozen nearby hotels.
Fans of both events may remember that The Hukilau moved from June to April in 2012, overlapping with the Miami Rum Festival. But the events were still some 30 miles apart, making it difficult to easily attend both. The Hukilau moved back to June the following year.
Southern Broward County has long been considered the geographic center of southeast Florida’s sprawling population. At 6 million, it’s the No. 8 most populous metropolitan area in the country. South Florida is considered to be the top rum market in the world, and it also serves as the gateway to the dominant rum-producing regions: The Caribbean, Central America and South America.
The convention center offers not only easy access to the beach and The Hukilau, but also Fort Lauderdale’s airport and cruise port. After years of promoting the event only to enthusiasts and the spirits industry, the Burrs said they plan to “strategically reach out more the general public this year.”
As for moving out of his home county after nine years, Robert Burr put it into perspective with a football comparison: “It’s like the Orange Bowl moving to the Dolphins’ stadium on the Dade-Broward line.”
Hotel and ticket prices, schedules designed to be accessible
Check the official websites of both events for updates in the coming weeks as details are confirmed. RumRenaissance.com already includes all the basics, including a link to get the festival’s $119-a-night rate at the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina Hotel.
TheHukilau.com is due to be updated later this month when the entertainment lineup is announced and tickets go on sale. A special rate on Pier 66 rooms should also be available at that point. Last year, room rates ranged from $129 for a marina view to $226 for a tower suite.
Attending both Rum Renaissance and The Hukilau won’t necessarily cost guests twice as much money, or time. The rum festival is offering one of its lowest one-day general admission tickets: $50 in advance for unlimited tastings of some 200 rums from more than 40 countries, plus live entertainment, from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday or Sunday. The same ticket was $75 last year. “We hope that The Hukilau people will find that compelling,” Robert Burr said.
A two-day pass to the “Grand Tastings” is $100 in advance. VIP tickets (which include early admission, two $15 seminar tickets, and five $5 VIP tasting coupons) go for $75 and $150 in advance. Prices at the door will be higher, so be sure to order in advance. The annual Rum XP Awards will continue to be presented early on Saturday, allowing attendees to see who the experts consider the cream of the crop.
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The rum fest’s newest signature feature, the VIP Tasting Bar, was introduced in 2016 to give hardcore enthusiasts a chance to “taste something really great,” Robert Burr said. This includes many high-end rums that retail for well over $100, if you can find them. Guests can buy tickets to sample these rare, vintage and limited-edition rums from the Burrs’ private collection.
For 2018, look for a new general tasting bar, featuring rums in the $50-$80 range, included with the price of admission. It’s designed as a way to include rums and brands that don’t have booths at the festival, Robert Burr said.
This is in addition to the many dozens of rum brands, both fledgling and established, who set up sometimes elaborate booths on the convention center floor to tout their latest and greatest products, offering sipping samples as well as creative cocktails. Many send their top brand representatives, as well as props and immersive environments that give rum aficionados a chance to take a deep dive into their product lines.
Also new for 2018: The rum fest will be offering smaller, low-budget spaces for new and independent brands that may not have the promotional budget or means to offer up a larger tasting booth. The end result: Many more rums will be available for tasting, from the largest worldwide brands to the smallest indie bottlings, from the latest release to the ultra-rare.
The convention floor also features a stage with live entertainment, from live Caribbean music to Polynesian dancing. Seminar rooms are conveniently located on the main show floor near the entrance, featuring experts giving lectures and teaching classes that offer fascinating looks at rum history, production and appreciation.
With the lower admission price, the seminars (previously free) will now require a $15 ticket. But it’s not unusual for these educational events to include up to a dozen rum and cocktail samples. Previous presenters include acclaimed experts such as global rum ambassador Ian Burrell, Tiki cocktail historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, award-winning bar owner Martin Cate, distillers from brands such as Foursquare (Barbados) and El Dorado (Guyana), plus authors including Dave Broom and Warren Bobrow.
Rum Renaissance is also not limited to the two days of Grand Tastings. Earlier in the week, the festivities kick off with “Tiki Night” at The Mai-Kai featuring a happy hour gathering in The Molokai lounge to sample the restaurant’s acclaimed rum cocktails, plus a group seating for the Polynesian Islander Revue, the longest-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States, including Hawaii. Look for more info to be announced soon, including other possible special events.
Rum judges and experts arrive early in the week to participate in the annual RumXP tasting panel, which includes three days of intensive judging, parties hosted by rum brands, and nightly cocktail crawls. It’s not unusual for the judges and VIPs to end up at The Mai-Kai. In 2018, The Hukilau will also offer more nightly diversions and rum offerings.
The Hukilau will also stick to the same basic schedule it has followed in years past: A Wednesday night pre-party at The Mai-Kai; Thursday and Friday special events, symposiums, cocktail classes and Tiki Treasures Bazaar at Pier 66; plus Saturday’s main event and Sunday finale at The Mai-Kai. Signature events include Thursday’s Tiki Tower Takeover in the rotating 17th floor Pier Top Lounge, plus Friday’s daytime Rum Island Pool Party and evening High Tide Party.
But Oneslager also has a few new surprises in store when tickets go on sale and an updated website is launched by the end of November. All of the performing bands and the lineups for the major parties will be announced, he said. Included will be 50 percent more pop-up Tiki bars from around the country. Symposiums and classes will be announced in December. Ticket prices will remain similar to last year’s event, he said. These ranged from a $159 three-day pass to a $379, all-inclusive five-day pass. Many events and symposium tickets are also sold ala carte.
If it all works according to plan, regular attendees of both festivals will discover the other. “We’ve had rum fest people ask, ‘What’s The Hukilau?’ Many either haven’t heard about it or want to know more about it,” Robert Burr said. And many attendees of The Hukilau are passionately interested in rum.
Rum XP Awards revamped to reflect new categories, outlook on cane spirits
The RumXP Awards are one of the industry’s most coveted, featuring many top brands and experts participating in the annual blind tastings. For 2018, the Rum Renaissance Festival plans to introduce not only a new categorization system that reflects new trends in the industry, but also a more inclusive competition that will allow many more brands to participate.
At past competitions, high-profile brands such as Plantation have dominated the awards, which many (myself included) feel is well-deserved. But it’s also true that these companies boast aggressive promotional campaigns that typically include large tasting booths that automatically have granted their many fine rums easy entrée into the competition. This will change in 2018.
No longer will Rum XP Award entrants be required to have a booth on the convention floor. Robert Burr said that all exhibitors at the event, including those with a small table and even those sending a few bottles to be featured in the tasting bar, will be eligible.
And in a major change from past years, the traditional-but-now-obsolete categories (such as white, gold, dark, et al.) will be replaced by a new system inspired by a growing grassroots movement to make rum producers more transparent and give consumers the best possible information on a rum’s true origins and characteristics. For example, Burr said, he plans to revamp the awards based on distillation method and origin/type of cane (molasses vs. sugarcane juice, for example).
This has been a hot topic for several years among rum devotees, with many new ideas floated to better inform consumers and keep producers accountable for their products. While the global nature of rum production makes such methodology largely voluntary, it will only encourage honesty and openness in production and give enthusiasts a much deeper understanding of what they’re drinking.
For example, Martin and Rebecca Cate’s James Beard Award-winning book, Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum and the Cult of Tiki, features a ground-breaking new system that breaks down rums by production method, raw materials and aging. Under the general grouping of “molasses and evaporated cane rums,” there are 13 categories (from “pot still unaged” to “black blended overproof”). Under “fresh cane juice rums,” you can find eight categories (from “cane Coffey still aged” to “pot still aged cachaca).
Other rum experts have proposed similar systems. And informed rum bloggers, such as Matt Pietrek at Cocktail Wonk, have raised the profile of rum’s flawed categorization system by questioning the status quo. As more awards and rum festivals push for new ways to categorize rum, it can only add to this discussion and push the industry forward.
Along with the move of their signature event to Fort Lauderdale, the Burrs have also announced a new itinerary for their Rum Renaissance Caribbean Cruise, which unfortunately was canceled this fall due to the extensive damage caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. For 2018, the cruise will also move to Fort Lauderdale and Port Everglades, Rob and Robin announced, and will hit the eastern Caribbean on Nov. 19-30. The immersive exploration of cane spirits will feature VIP tours of distilleries and shops, plenty of tastings, plus lots more on Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas. It will include stops in Puerto Rico, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, Grenada, Barbados and Antigua.
Previous Rum Renaissance Festival coverage
* 2017: Miami Rum Festival and Trade Expo turns 9
* 2016: Koloa, Plantation and Don Q dominate awards at annual Miami festival
* 2015: Miami Rum Festival boldly explores the next frontier of cane spirits
Rum aficionados gather for 7th annual Miami festival
* 2014: Upstart spirits share spotlight with major players at Miami Rum Festival
Cocktails reach new heights of creativity at Miami Rum Festival
* 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