Summer of rum: South Florida hotspots give cool spirit a chance to shine

Updated Aug. 16, 2014

Several of the area’s most respected cocktail bars are embracing rum this summer, giving the sometimes maligned spirit its moment in the sun and providing guests with a jolt of bold and sweet flavors to match the season’s sizzling intensity.

Perhaps spurred by the success of the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival and a growing respect by mixologoists and serious drinkers, rum is poised to break away from its stereotypical niche and reach a broader audience. It’s the prefect fun summer spirit, and it offers many ways to enjoy its versatility.

See below: Kapow UPDATE | Dada | The Mai-Kai | Miami

Bar Stache welcomes an array of rums, brand mixologists for special events

Don Q rum event at Bar Stache

Bar Stache in Fort Lauderdale is offing the most ambitious summer events, dubbed Rum Takeovers. They kicked off July 9 with a Rhum Clément tasting and drink demo by Nick Nistico. Then on July 23, Ron Zacapa from Guatemala was featured along with artesian cocktails by Brijette De Berardinis. Aug. 6: brought Brugal from the Dominican Republic, presented by Bar Stache mixologist Brian Sassen. On Aug. 13, Freddy Diaz of AlambiQ Mixology in Miami brought some of his signature cocktails featuring Mount Gay Rum, joining brand ambassador Karlene Palmer-McLeod.

These Wednesday night tastings (from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.) feature not only some of the top rum brands in the world, but also include cocktails created by special guest mixologists who will also answer questions about each brand. RSVP to vip@stacheftl.com.

Here’s the current schedule (as of Aug. 16):

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Upstart spirits share spotlight with major players at sixth annual Miami Rum Renaissance Festival

Miami Rum Renaissance FestivalIt’s a rum enthusiast’s dream: Seven days of nothing but tasting hundreds of rums and cocktails in sunny Miami, learning about the colorful history and culture that envelop every aspect of the industry.

But the sixth annual Miami Rum Festival also revealed a key component of rum’s burgeoning success: It’s rare for an industry to simultaneously embrace both tradition and innovation, giving upstarts equal footing with the industry’s revered giants. In the world of rum, this is possible, and it was on full display in late April.

This story covers my adventures at industry parties during the first Miami Cocktail Week, plus an in-depth look at the festival’s signature Grand Tastings and seminars. Click here for reviews of the week’s best cocktails, including some tasty recipes.

Miami Rum Renaissance Festival was held April 25-27 at the Doubletree by Hilton Miami Airport Convention Center. Miami Cocktail Week was April 21-27 at venues throughout South Florida.
Jump below: Rum reviews | Seminars | Photo gallery | Tasting competition results
Related story: Cocktails reach new heights of creativity at Miami Rum Festival

MIAMI COCKTAIL WEEK: Welcome to the jungle

Daniele Crouch and Matt (Rumdood) Robold serve Caña Rum Bar cocktails featuring Plantation Rum during the Miami Rum Festival party at The Broken Shaker on Monday, April 21
Daniele Crouch and Matt (Rumdood) Robold serve Caña Rum Bar cocktails featuring Plantation Rum during the Miami Rum Festival party at The Broken Shaker on Monday, April 21. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The week of rum-soaked festivities commenced on Monday, April 21, with a kick-off party sponsored by Plantation Rum and featuring a pop-up bar with cocktails from Caña Rum Bar in Los Angeles. Held at The Broken Shaker in Miami Beach, the laid-back event gave early arrivals and locals a chance to mingle and sample some inventive concoctions.
* Click here to check out my review of the cocktails

The vibe and weather were perfect as attendees soaked up both the atmosphere and complimentary cocktails with equal gusto. Rum fest organizers Robert A. Burr and Robin Burr, along with son Robert V. Burr, chilled out and entertained guests as if they were hosting an informal backyard party at their home. At the time, I thought the Burrs were enjoying the calm before the storm, but a storm never arrived. The weather was perfect all week (clear and sunny days, mild nights), and the festival seemed to run without a hitch.

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Cocktails reach new heights of creativity at Miami Rum Festival

Miami Rum Festival Cocktail WeekFueled by the first Miami Cocktail Week, mixologists upped their game at the 2014 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival in April, presenting new and classic drinks with a modern flair. From the full week of events hosted by area bars, to the three-day Grand Tasting exhibits attended by more than 10,000 enthusiasts, there were plenty of opportunities to sample some of the best rum drinks being created today.

This story covers my search for the tastiest and most creative cocktails of the entire week. Click here for an overview of the festival and reviews of the best rums.

Miami Rum Renaissance Festival was held April 25-27 at the Doubletree by Hilton Miami Airport Convention Center. Miami Cocktail Week was April 21-27 at venues throughout South Florida.
See recipes below: Don Q Cocktail | Miami Swizzle | Passion Fontaine | Good Head
Jump below: The Grand Tastings | The Top 10 cocktails
Related coverage: Upstart spirits share spotlight with major players at Miami Rum Fest
Atomic Grog photo gallery | RumXP International Tasting Competition results

Matt Robold pours Plantation Rum as he mixes up Caña Rum Bar cocktails
Matt Robold pours Plantation Rum as he mixes up Caña Rum Bar cocktails at The Broken Shaker on Monday, April 21. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

THE PRE-PARTIES: Cocktail Week kicks off

It’s fitting that the first event of the week was held at Miami Beach’s The Broken Shaker, one of the most acclaimed cocktail bars in South Florida. But this was not just an ordinary evening at the funky indoor/outdoor bar, which would have been just fine. I did manage to squeeze in one of the establishment’s carefully hand-crafted rum cocktails before I left, but the main attraction of the evening was the pop-up bar sponsored by Plantation Rum and featuring mixologists from Caña Rum Bar in Los Angeles. [See the flyer]

There were four complimentary drinks [see menu] expertly mixed by Daniele Crouch and Matt Robold, aka Rumdood. This was no easy task considering the temporary bar set up on the patio, not far from the pingpong table and quite a distance from any traditional bar fixtures and plumbing. But the drinks were spot-on, made to order and consummately garnished. This pair deserves an award for most impeccably produced drinks under strenuous circumstances. I noticed Rumdood sweating in the Miami heat, but he and Daniele never lost their cool. My only complaint would be that they ran out of their homemade peach cordial before I could try the Gypsy Cab cocktail, which got high marks from the folks I talked to.

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Miami mixologist shows how to jazz up your tired old cocktails with exotic liqueurs at Epcot Food and Wine Festival

Xanté Pear Sidecar, Blood Orange & Sand, Singapore Sling, and Xanté Old Fashioned
The results of Freddy Diaz’ handiwork during his cocktail seminar at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival in October 2012 (from left): Xanté Pear Sidecar, Blood Orange & Sand, Singapore Sling, and Xanté Old Fashioned.

A worthy New Year’s resolution for any mixologist would be to break away from the norm and explore alternative ingredients to make your cocktails stand out from the crowd. Today’s explosion in creative craft cocktails makes it difficult to decide what direction to take, but luckily there are some great experts in the field to guide us.

I had the opportunity to learn from one such expert recently at the 2012 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival at Walt Disney World, where Freddy Diaz of AlambiQ Mixology in Miami presented an educational and entertaining seminar on behalf of the Peter F. Heering Co.

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