After 18 months of tasting rum in the privacy of our home bars, it’s about time that South Florida offers a small gathering where enthusiasts can sample dozens of new and long-standing products. Luckily for us, the Miami Rum Festival makes its return this weekend for its first event since May 2019.
NEW: Photos, recap: Miami festival reunites rum family for one-day tasting event
Quick takes and highlights from the 2021 Rum Renaissance Tasting Event, including photos and our favorite sips of the day.
>>> CLICK HERE FOR THE RECAP AND PHOTO GALLERY
More Miami Rum Festival features below
* 2019 PHOTOS AND RECAP: Rum festival returns to its roots
* EVENT HISTORY: Miami Rum Renaissance Festival year-by-year
* The Atomic Grog’s top nine Miami Rum Fest memories
Billed as the 2021 “Rum Renaissance Tasting Event,” it’s limited to one four-hour general session on Sunday at the Coral Gables Woman’s Club, but that’s more than enough reason to celebrate the safe return of one of the rum world’s longest-running festivals.
Established in 2009, the Miami fest pre-dates the recent fascination among fans of craft spirits and the expansion of premium rum brands and events around the world. It presciently anticipated rum’s renaissance in the past decade and offered both enthusiasts and industry VIPs a high-quality gathering place every year, without fail.
The coronavirus pandemic put all that on hold in 2020, but founders Robert and Robin Burr are ready to welcome back their rum family for a scaled-down, one-day event that will continue to celebrate the ongoing renaissance. The general public is welcome from 2 to 6 p.m. Doors open for industry and trade at 12:30 p.m.
Sunday, Nov. 14 – Miami Rum Renaissance Festival at the Coral Gables Woman’s Club, 1001 East Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables. Tickets $39 to $49 per person. Limited free parking. For safety reasons, attendance is limited. Tickets may sell out in advance, so be sure to get them now or by phone at 305-350-0764.
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ABOUT THE EVENT: Miami Rum Festival highlights
The festival includes unlimited small samples of more than 150 products from dozens of brands, from Antelope Island to Zacapa. Participants include such well-known labels as Cockspur (Barbados), El Dorado (Guyana), Plantation (Caribbean and elsewhere), Rhum Barbancourt (Haiti), Ron Diplomatico (Venezuela), Saint James (Martinique), and Tanduay (Philippines).
But you’ll also spot up-and-coming products from craft distillers including Copalli (Belize) and Prichard’s (Tennessee), along with many other small brands. It’s a chance to taste many new releases just coming to market, along with older expressions that are often hard to find.
Hundreds of connoisseurs, collectors, judges and rum lovers are expected to flock to the historic venue, which first hosted the event in 2019. They’ll have the rare chance to mingle with a room full of rum producers, master distillers, importers, distributors, retailers and other members of the spirits trade. All attendees also receive a free tasting glass.
“We’re excited that Miami Rum Fest is celebrating its 12th anniversary of bringing the world of rum to South Florida,” organizer Robert Burr said in an announcement on his longtime resource, Rob’s Rum Guide. “We’ve been visiting rum producers to gather an incredible collection of fine rums to sample for this grand tasting event. It’s an opportunity for rum enthusiasts to enjoy their favorites and discover some delightful new expressions, gain a greater appreciation and share the enthusiasm of these fine spirits with friends.”
Beyond all the booths hosted by visiting rum brands, another highlight of the event is the VIP Tasting Bar, a selection of rare, collectable, and limited-edition rums from the Burrs’ own private stash. There’s an extra fee to sample these hard-to-find and expensive rums, but proceeds benefits a local non-profit organization. If you’ve seen the Burrs’ home collection in their Rum Wreck Dive Bar, you’ll know they have a wide assortment of spirits to choose from.
The venue is a charming historic building that dates back to 1935. With wood flooring and rustic touches, it’s unlike most modern event spaces. The surrounding downtown Coral Gables district features a half-dozen hotels within a short distance of the festival. There are also many restaurants, bars and entertainment venues in the area for mingling after the event.
Rob’s Rum Guide: Expert reviews and news on cane spirits
Rum Minute: See Robert Burr’s video reviews
Rum Renaissance Caribbean Cruise: Set sail for distilleries in rum’s birthplace
Media coverage: Hear Robert Burr on the Drums and Rums podcast
2019 PHOTOS AND RECAP: Smaller Miami Rum Festival offers quality, not quantity
Downsized to a smaller but classier venue after six years at massive convention centers, the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival fit into its new environment like a classic cocktail in vintage glassware. Instead of an over-the-top Tiki drink, guests were treated to a rum Old Fashioned. But the end result was ultimately just as satisfying.
While “less is more” could be a cliché, it seems to work fine in the context of a rum-tasting festival. After all, how many rum samples can you really drink in one or two days? As long as the exhibitors and brands provide top-notch products, including a nice mix of new and classic offerings, attendees should find the festival fulfilling. This was certainly the case at Rum Renaissance Festival, circa 2019.
2019 event preview: Miami Rum Renaissance Festival returns to its roots after 10 years
The Burrs held their first rum-tasting event in 2008 at the historic Venetian Pool in Coral Gables. The return to the Miami suburb in 2019 brought the festival full-circle after a decade in large event spaces across South Florida.
The Coral Gables Woman’s Club may seem like an unlikely site for a rum fest, but it worked out nicely. The crowds taxed the air-conditioning system in the 100-year-old building during the peak afternoon hours and sweltering heat of mid-May, but that’s an issue that can easily be rectified. The charm of the building, which was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1990, outweighs its faults.
As for the event itself, our afternoon visit was marked by a deep dive into an array of spirits, a reunion with old friends and a general feel of an easy-going industry gathering. Sadly, it was our last time seeing the beloved Plantation Rum ambassador, Rocky Yeh, who passed away Dec. 1, 2019, at age 42. He left a huge mark on the industry during his short but vibrant life and will always be remembered.
While it’s technically not a rum, I was thrilled to pick up a bottle of Kronan Swedish Punsch. I had seen mentions of this classic rum liqueur in cocktail books for years, and it was great to finally have one in my arsenal. Another flavored rum product, Rum Java, wowed us with its distinctive flavors. Distilled from Florida sugarcane, it was the best of several coffee rums we sampled – definitely one of the top trends of the festival.
Lemon Hart & Sons made a rare festival appearance, touting its new Blackpool Spiced Rum and the long-awaited U.S. market return of Lemon Hart 1804, the classic Demerara rum from Guyana. Ambassador Miles Maximillian Vrahimis also mixed up some of the tastiest cocktails of the day.
Among the other rums that stood out in our memory were Maggie’s Farm, Prichard’s, and Kavana. Of course, it was also a treat to enter the VIP tasting room and sample some of Robert Burr’s rare elixirs. It was here that I got my first taste of rare Caroni and Habitation Velier releases. Why pay extra for samples when the main tasting room features so many included with admission? Just take one sip of one of these carefully curated spirits and you’ll know why.
PHOTO GALLERY: Miami Rum Festival 2019
Photos by Hurricane Hayward unless noted
RUMS: The best of the fest
The Miami Rum Festival strives to showcase the best rums in the world at its events, and one of the long-standing features is the awarding of medals to deserving brands. From 2010 through 2018, the International Rum Expert (RumXP) panel judged a wide range of submitted bottles during the event. You can find all the results of the judging on the RumXP site.
In 2019, the judging was restructured as the Burrs concentrated on the Rum Jury Awards, a blind-tasting competition including rum professionals and consumers alike. The Rum Jury was established in 2014 as part of the RumXP judging as a way to add an enthusiast perspective. It slowly but surely took on greater importance.
“These super-consumers are important influencers among their own friends and associates and might accurately represent what the public finds most interesting,” Robert Burr explained via email. “Over time, we’ve come to see that their recommendations do offer rum consumers valid guidance based on real-world experience with many rums.”
The jury became the main focus in 2019. Judges were sequestered for two days, carefully evaluating 96 submitted products from the event. Click here to see the award-winning rums. Note that there are no longer categories, simply a list of the gold-medal winners.
“As the rum world has expanded greatly, the categorization of rums into simple categories has become more challenging,” Burr explained. “The simple classifications can be subjective, arbitrary and confusing. To this advancement, we believe it’s best to judge each rum expression on its own merits, to endeavor to discern the intent and result of the producer, rather than against others in a restricted class or category that is open for interpretation.”
EVENT HISTORY: Miami Rum Renaissance Festival year-by-year
Miami’s first rum festival started modestly, but growth was immediate. Within five years, it was the largest such gathering in the world, rivaled only by the UK RumFest in London (est. 2007).
2008: Longtime rum collectors and enthusiasts Robert and Robin Burr hosted their first major rum tasting event at the historic Venetian Pool in Coral Gables, setting the stage for an official festival the next year.
2009 – The first Miami Rum Renaissance gathering was held as a one-day event at the Shore Club Beach Resort on South Beach in May. VIP parties were also held throughout the week.
2010 – The Miami Rum Renaissance Festival as we know it today was launched at the Raleigh Hotel Beach Resort on Miami Beach. Nearly 2,000 enthusiasts from around the world enjoyed nearly 50 brands and a half dozen VIP parties throughout the week.
2011 – The festival moved to the Deauville Beach Resort on Miami Beach with a reported 4,600 attendees over two days of grand tastings. The resort’s more than 12,000 square feet of space featured more than 50 brands, and guests flocked to nine VIP parties during the seven-day event. The week kicked off with an expanded Tiki experience at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale featuring a Zombie history symposium by author and cocktail historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, followed by a Zombie Jamboree mixology competition.
* Atomic Grog coverage: We be Jammin: Rum Renaissance Zombie fest at The Mai-Kai
2012 – The event stayed at the Deauville but doubled in size again, featuring more than 20,000 square feet of exhibits, more than 75 rum brands and attendance exceeding 8,000 rum enthusiasts, professionals and experts from around the world. A growing legion of enthusiasts were joined by professionals and experts from around the world. At Monday’s kickoff party, the festival and its followers quickly fell in love with a fledgling pop-up bar called The Broken Shaker, adopting it as their own before it moved to its current location and achieved worldwide fame and awards. Ian Burrell, producer of the UK RumFest, was among the many experts who hosted seminars.
* Miami festival offers many lessons in rum appreciation
2013 – In order to accomodate the growing demand for more space to showcase brands to a consumer base thirsty for more rum, the 2013 Miami Rum Festival moves to the Doubletree by Hilton Miami Airport Convention Center. The new venue not only doubled the previous exhibit space (to more than 40,000), it also featured easy and expanded parking, budget-friendly hotel rooms, a special VIP section, a larger stage, more food venues and room for even more expansion. The grand tastings expanded to three days with more than 80 exhibit spaces and a Friday session added exclusively for industry reps. More than 12,000 rum enthusiasts and professionals attended the event, enjoying a special VIP section, more live entertainment and food venues, plus an expanded lineup of free seminars. VIPs included California Tiki bar impresario Martin Cate and U.K. bar owner and brand manager Paul McFadyen. The highlight was an on-stage showdown between Beachbum Berry and Ian Burrell dubbed the “Battle of the Ambassadors.”
* Miami festival showcases a never-ending variety of rums
2014 – The festival expanded again, reaching its peak of 50,000 square feet of exhibit space and more than 120 exibit spaces, two stages and four seminar rooms at the Miami Airport Convention Center (MACC). Celebrating the ascendance of rum and Tiki cocktails, the Burrs launched Miami Cocktail Week to coincide with the festival and kick off the festivites at the venerable Broken Shaker. In addition to the popular Tiki night at The Mai-Kai, parties included a rare VIP event at Bacardi headquarters in Coral Gables. Three days of grand tastings featured hundreds of brands showing off their latest releases, plus a suprising number of top-notch mixologists shaking up tasty tockails. Led by a team of Miami bartenders, the U.S. team finally took the World Tiki Team Championship title away from the British in its fourth try. Ian Burrel returned with a new seminar on Tiki cocktails, headlining an impressive lineup of VIPs.
* Upstart spirits share spotlight with major players at Miami Rum Festival
* Cocktails reach new heights of creativity at Miami Rum Festival
2015 – The diversity and global reach of the rum renaissance was on full display in the sixth annual festival, returning to the MACC for three days of grand tastings. One of the highlights was a new, exclusive area devoted to rums not yet available in the United States. Many small labels made a splash on the main convention floor, including niche brands such as Fwaygo, Richland and Lost Spirits. The second annual cocktail week featured the usual outstanding events, from Tuesday’s Tiki Night at The Mai Kai to a Thursday party at The Broken Shaker.
* Miami Rum Festival boldly explores the next frontier of cane spirits
* Rum aficionados gather for 7th annual Miami festival
2016 – Upstart brands made a big splash as independent labels and distilleries took center stage during the three days of tastings and seminars at the Miami Airport Convention Center. This year also marked the debut of the VIP Tasting Bar, featuring a special selection of rare, vintage and limited edition products from Robert and Robin Burr’s private collection of thousands of rums. The festival also featured a large selection of cachaça, the national cane spirit of Brazil, for the first time. The next generation the Burr family, Robert A. Burr, expanded his role with a stellar seminar, “Florida Rum Review,” spotlighting the state’s many distilleries – from Key West to St. Augustine.
* Koloa, Plantation and Don Q dominate awards at annual Miami festival
2017 – The final year at the convention center featured all the Miami Rum Festival hallmarks: grand tasting of hundreds of rums, RumXP Awards, seminars featuring industry insiders, plus more special events. Guests also enjoyed the traditional Tiki welcome party at The Mai-Kai and industry events all week as part of the Trade Expo. American rums were given a big spotlight, putting the seventh annual festival ahead of a national trend. There were many informative seminars, covering diverse topics including Spanish Tiki and pairing rum with chocolate. UK-based author Dave Broom made a rare U.S. appearance to discuss his new book, Rum: The Manual.
* Miami Rum Festival and Trade Expo turns 9
2018 – The Rum Renaissance Festival moved to Fort Lauderdale to be closer to the center of the South Florida market, and also adjacent to The Hukilau, the annual Tiki weekender in Fort Lauderdale, creating ultimate rum and Tiki weekend in June 2018. Many signature features remained, including two days of grand tastings, educational seminars, and the VIP Tasting Bar.
* Spirited mash-up: Rum Renaissance Festival moves next door to The Hukilau
2019 – Returning to its roots in Miami, Rum Renaissance moved to its sixth different venue in 11 years. It turned out to be a homecoming to Coral Gables, where the event had its genesis in 2008. The historic Coral Gables Woman’s Club served as a sophisticated backdrop as dozens of brands and hundreds of enthusiasts packed the small but confortable space.
* See the full recap and photos above
TOP 9: The Atomic Grog’s Miami Rum Fest memories
We’ve had the privilege of attending eight of the 11 festivals dating back to 2011. As the stories linked above clearly demonstrate, we’ve not only covered them thoroughly for the blog but also sampled as many rums and event features as we could.
It’s always a great educational experience, and the social connections have been numerous and memorable. Since this will be our ninth festival, we’ve compiled a chronological list of nine highlights that stand out:
The Zombie horde: There’s nothing like diving into a new experience head-first, which is exactly what we did in 2011 when the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival hosted the Zombie Jamboree at The Mai-Kai, a symposium featuring Tiki cocktail author and historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, and a Zombie mixology competition open to professionals and amateurs alike. Luckily, I was blissfully unaware of the stiff competition I faced and had a great time participating. The Bum’s excellent presentation and the historic site were just icing on the cake.
Greetings, rum ambassador: I got my first taste of the highly entertaining presentations we’ve all come to expect from the self-appointed global rum ambassador, Ian Burrell, at the 2012 festival. The event at the Deauville Beach Resort on Miami Beach was massive. But Burrell’s seminar was an intimate affair in a small conference room, where he schooled us on the history of the Piña Colada. Always full of surprises, Burrell opened up a bottle and treated us to samples of Havana Club rum from Cuba, which remains contraband in Miami.
Battle of the Ambassadors: Burrell returned in 2013 with a tall assignment: Take on Beachbum Berry and Don the Beachcomber in one fell swoop. The premise was a spirted debate between the two over who should hold the true title of “rum ambassador” – Burrell or the late, great Donn Beach. Taking place on the main stage at the height of the fest on Saturday night, the event was a pleasant distraction from the rowdy rum-drinking masses on the convention floor. So what was the final verdict? Judged by audience applause, Burrell managed to hold his own and earn a tie with Tiki’s godfather.
The mad scientist and his muse: One of the fun aspects of a large rum festival is meeting the many creative entrepreneurs who come to show off their products. Easily the most creative and most entrepreneurial rum producer I’ve ever met is Bryan Davis, who co-founded the Lost Spirits brand with longtime partner Joanne Haruta. Their rums, crafted using Davis’ proprietary method of speeding up the aging process via chemical engineering, immediately became the most talked about products at the festival. It was a pleasure to meet them and see them win medals for their ground-breaking spirts in 2014 through 2016. Little did we know that Davis was a budding Willy Wonka. In 2021, the newly relaunched Lost Spirits Distillery – a one-of-a-kind immersive theme park for adults – is one of the hottest tickets in Las Vegas.
Yo, Rocky: I didn’t know him from Adam at the time, but I distinctly remember meeting Rocky Yeh at one of the first rum festivals at the Miami Airport Convention Center, likely 2013 or 2014. He sat next to me in the back of a symposium that is totally gone from my memory banks. But I definitely remember Rocky, the smiling and cheerful rum evangelist who I subsequently saw at many future events. His easygoing attitude and enthusiasm were infectious and sold his brand even better than the product in the bottle. Tragically, we lost Rocky in 2019, less than seven months after the last Miami Rum Festival (see photo above).
The year of the cocktail: In 2014, you could easily have called the event the Miami Rum and Cocktail Festival, there were so many outstanding drinks served – both at the festival itself and a plethora of related events during Miami Cocktail Week. It started on Tuesday at The Mai-Kai and didn’t let up until six days later. Everyone from Ian Burrell to bartenders from Los Angeles and elsewhere participated, pushing the creativity to the max. At a time when there wasn’t a craft cocktail bar in every town, this was a rare point in time when creative bartenders lit a fire that continues to burn in the rum and cocktail scene.
The new wave: As the rum industry gained momentum and recognition, the doors swung open to a explosion of new boutique brands and craft distilleries. While it had been building for years, this movement exploded in 2015, when we noticed a distinct shift in the tasting booths away from the major brands. It also marked the first big push to bring more authentic Caribbean rums into the U.S. market. The rum landscape hasn’t been the same since.
Where the VIPs are: The opening-night party at The Mai-Kai was a longtime tradition during the festival, but attendance by some of the industry’s top movers and shakers could be hit or miss. That was not the case in 2016, when the planets aligned and a who’s who of the rum and Tiki worlds collided in The Molokai lounge. The 150-capacity bar was packed with rum fest attendees – from Martin and Rebecca Cate (Smuggler’s Cove) to Matt Pietrek (Cocktail Wonk) to Marie King (Tonga Hut) to Bryan Davis (Lost Spirits Distillery). The Mai-Kai crafted a cocktail worthy of the occasion featuring Davis’ latest rum.
Saluting American rums: As usual, the Miami Rum Festival was ahead of the curve in 2017 when it showcased a selection of the best U.S. rum producers. With the number of local distilleries growing at a incredible rate, the festival sought to spotlight new producers who are “changing the American rum industry, bringing back the art of craft distilling, presenting American rum in a most favorable light by emphasizing the quality aspects of small production,” Robert Burr said. This focus continued in 2019, when Burr and Will Hoekenga of American Rum Report presented two seminars on the emerging U.S. market, which at that point included more than 230 distilleries.
We’re looking forward to sampling more new American rums, along with rums from around the world, at the 12th annual Miami Rum Renaissance Festival. Not to mention adding some new memories.
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