While most of the country hunkers down in frigid February with hot toddies, a new tradition has emerged in balmy South Beach: Three days of appreciating and learning about rum at the year’s first major spirits festival, Miami Rum Congress. Social media recap: Photos, coverage of Miami Rum Congress 2023NEW
The event returns to balmy Miami Beach for a fourth time this Friday through Sunday, Feb. 10-12. After skipping 2021 due to COVID, the festival will be held for a second consecutive year at the beachfront Hilton Cabana on famous Collins Avenue. With a setting like that, it’s not difficult to attract top rum industry VIPs and experts from far and wide.
Miami Rum Congress has expanded from its previous two days, adding the closing day “Brunch with a Rum Master” and “Industry Sunday Soiree” featuring a bartender competition at the scenic Allison Bar.
There’s also an event on Thursday away from the hotel. But guests won’t have far to go to enjoy the “Rum Dinner Experience” at the downtown tropical escape Esotico Miami. Note that Esotico is also hosting rum dinners Friday and Saturday after the nightly events conclude. While you’re there, be sure to seek out the bar’s hidden Tiki speakeasy, the Kaona Room.
Friday is loaded with symposiums from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Some are geared toward those in industry but most have wide appeal to everyone from casual enthusiasts to hardcore rum fans. At 6 p.m., the Miami Rum Congress will salute and pay tribute to the best of the best at the “Awards, Recognitions & Cocktails” event. The evening concludes from 6:30 to 8:30 with “Rum-bón” cocktail party hosted by the Florida Rum Society and the Rum Consumers Alliance.
Like most rum events, the big draw is Saturday’s “Grand Tasting,” a smorgasbord of samples from rum labels and producers from across the globe and across the flavor spectrum. Funky Jamaican rum, check. Grassy agricole rhum, check. Sophisticated long-aged rum from central America, check. Whatever style is your fancy, Miami Rum Congress is sure to deliver.
* Click here for a detailed guide to rum production and tasting
The day is divided into three sessions. VIPs get five hours (2-7 p.m.) for $95, the industry session is 2 to 3:30 ($45), and general admission period runs from 4 to 7 p.m. ($75). Last year, we arrived late and had just a little over an hour to browse the booths. But it was still well worth the price of admission. Around 150 different rums will be available for sampling. Just be sure to be mindful of your consumption, pace yourself and have a designated driver if necessary. There are discounts available for “duo” passes for two.
Notable rum brands that will be featured at the event include: Admiral Rodney, Angostura, Barcelo, Black Tot, Bounty, Brugal, Chairman’s Reserve, Clement, Copalli, Diamond, Diplomatico, Don Q, Down Island, El Dorado, English Harbour, Grander, Holmes Cay, Long Pond, Monymusk, Plantation, Rhum J.M., Ron Centenario, Rum-Bar, Saint Benevolence, Saint James, SelvaRey, Tanduay, and Worthy Park.
Importer Ed Hamilton has announced the arrival of a new Hamilton Rum blend bottled for the Florida Rum Society, soon to be available in retail locations across the Sunshine State. Plans call for the rum, a blend of Jamaican and Guyanese rums, to be distributed in 2021 to other states as well.
The first shipment arrived in Orlando on Friday (Dec. 4) from Hamilton’s New York bottling facility, he announced during a Zoom happy hour event that evening. On Thursday, he teased Florida rum lovers with an Instagram post containing the label, announcing that the rum was “on I-75 on the way to Florida.”
The quick arrival pleased the longtime rum connoisseur, author and owner of his own boutique label and import company, Caribbean Spirits. The new rum will be part of Hamilton’s Ministry of Rum Private Collection, containing a similar label but more limited-edition bottlings than his standard Ministry of Rum releases. These include a variety of rum blends sourced from Jamaica, Guyana, St. Lucia and other islands.
He also imports a selections of acclaimed rums from Martinique, including the Neisson, La Favorite and Duquesne labels. Ministry of Rum refers to the website and message board Hamilton launched in the late 1990s that remains an essential reference tool for researching and learning about all rum.
For the Florida Rum Society blend, Hamilton said he went with a modified version of his popular Navy Strength blend, a powerful 114-proof combination of 60 percent Guyana rum and 40 percent Jamaican rum. The new blend is more accessible, clocking in a 45 percent alcohol by volume, or 90 proof. Hamilton said the blend is 65 percent from Demerara Distillers in Guyana and 35 percent from Worthy Park Estate in Jamaica.
Besides the proof and percentages, there’s a slight variation the age of the rum, Hamilton said. The Jamaican component is a 1-year-old rum while the Navy blend contains unaged distillate. The Guyanese rum is the same blend of 2- to 5-year-old rums that Hamilton uses in the Navy Strength bottling, as well as the Hamilton 86 and 151 Guyana rums that are well-known and loved at Tiki bars across the country. Check our in-depth look at Hamilton’s journey in bringing these rums to market, and their use at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale.
The Florida Rum Society blend promises to be more versatile and just as tasty as the Navy blend, its lower proof and added aging making it more assessable as a sipper and all-purpose mixer. It’s also a higher proof than the similar New York Blend, an 84-proof version of the Navy blend. At 65 percent Demerara, it could also make a fine substitute for Hamilton 86 in cocktails. During the Zoom meeting, Hamilton sipped on one of his favorite easy-to-make highballs, a blend of Hamilton 86, Hamilton Jamaican Pimento Dram, and orange juice. I tried a mix of 1 part dram, 3 parts rum and 6 parts juice, and it was delicious.
The new rum should also work well in classic Tiki cocktails that call for a roughly equal blend of non-overproof Demerara and Jamaican rums, such as the Navy Grog (and Beachbum Berry’s The Ancient Mariner), Pearl Diver’s Punch, and Sidewinder’s Fang. The extra 5 percent ABV will give the drink a boost to help it hew closer to the original rums. In the mid-century heyday, it was not unusual for standard mixing rums to be higher than 80 proof, especially those from Guyana and Jamaica. During the Zoom meeting, I enjoyed a Navy Grog featuring three of Hamilton’s signature rums (see recipe below).
UPDATE: Sarasota Liquor Locker and the rum society’s online shop were the first get the rum. Soon after, it was on its way to Five Star Liquor & Wine in Orlando, Primo Liquors in Broward County (multiple ocations), Big Game Liquors in Miami, and Beach Liquors in the Panhandle (multiple ocations).
Hamilton said he expects retail outlets across the state to carry the rum. Part of the goal of the partnership with the Florida Rum Society, he said, is to leverage the group’s influence to persuade more retailers to carry the Hamilton (and Caribbean Spirits) product line. The bottling includes 112 cases, he said, though he didn’t rule out another batch in the future depending on demand. If the store you frequent in Florida doesn’t carry Hamilton rums, or you’d like to request the new blend, ask them to contact the distributor: Progress Wine Group from Opa Locka, (321) 230-4682.
UPDATE: The Florida Rum Society announced an online cocktail contest featuring the new blend, with the winner earning “a hoard” of Hamilton rums. The group has quickly ramped up its activities after forming only in mid-2019. Members began holding in-person gatherings before the pandemic and have continued them online, with Hamilton and other high-profile rum industry veterans, such as Privateer Rum’s Maggie Campbell, joining in.
The Hamilton blend is not the society’s first special bottling. Just last week, a Plantation 2008 single cask rum from Guyana featuring a Florida Rum Society label landed in Orlando. This label release is extremely limited (just 140 bottles) and available at Five Star. There are also a few bottles remaining at Five Star from the exclusive (214 bottles) release in August of a 109.2 proof New England rum from Privateer dubbed Rumdemic. The release marked the return of Privateer’s single barrel program (now known as the Letter of Marque series).
If that’s not enough for Florida rum fanciers, another exclusive release is coming in 2021. The Florida Rum Society Masters Selection from Chairman’s Reserve and St. Lucia Distillers is available for pre-sale at Jensen’s Liquors in Miami. This 115.6 proof blend is expected around April. Shipping and pick-up are both available.
15 things you need to know about Ed Hamilton and Hamilton Rum
As part of the inaugural Miami Rum Congress in February 2019, the “Minister of Rum” (he actually prefers to be called “Administer of Rum”) hosted his first-ever master class at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale on his Hamilton Rum product line, including a discussion of his journey from Caribbean sailboat adventurer to rum importer and label owner.
The hands-on symposium took place in the historic restaurant’s intimate Samoa dining room and included rum and cocktail samples, plus a heaping helping of Hamilton’s wit and wisdom. Here are a few nuggets we gleaned from the presentation:
* After studying chemical and mechanical engineering and getting his college degree, Hamilton worked a job “selling bomb parts” in the mid-1970s. “It really wasn’t something I wanted to base my career on,” he said. When his boss queried him about what he wanted to be doing in five years, he exclaimed: “Go sailing.” Asked how he could make that happen, he replied: “I quit.” He says never spent another day looking for a job after that.