Take 5: Ian Burrell, global rum ambassador and organizer of the UK RumFest

There’s nobody better suited to represent rum than the globe-trotting Ian “Rum Ambassador” Burrell, a UK native of Jamaican descent who seems to have the fun and lively spirit running through his veins. If you live anywhere on this planet, he’s likely been at an event nearby, spreading the gospel of cane spirits. Last year, he amazingly made appearances on all seven continents.

Ian Burrell at the 2013 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival
Ian Burrell at the 2013 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

This week, he’s back in South Florida for the annual Miami Rum Festival, where he always puts on an informative and entertaining show, whether it’s at a seminar (this year, he’s presenting “The Wonderful NEW World of Tiki Cocktails: 10 Reasons Why It’s Here to Stay”), or just hanging out and tasting rums. We caught up with Ian at last year’s rum fest directly after his spirited debate with Jeff “Beachbum” Berry over who was the true rum ambassador, and we posed the five questions you’ll find below.

2014 Miami Rum Festival recaps:
* Upstart spirits share spotlight with major players
* Cocktails reach new heights of creativity

Interview with Ian Burrell by Jim “Hurricane” Hayward – April 20, 2013

1. What’s the best thing about being rum ambassador?

“Free rum. No really, the best thing about being rum ambassador is traveling and meeting people. And learning from people around the world: Industry, rum lovers. That’s the best thing.”

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Think you know rum? Step up your game at Miami Rum Fest with tastings, seminars, cocktail events

2014 Miami Rum Festival recaps:
Upstart spirits share spotlight with major players | Cocktails reach new heights

Make no mistake: The Miami Rum Renaissance Festival is the perfect place for newbies to get their feet wet and sample a wide array of styles, learning the basics about an incredibly versatile spirit that’s equally at home in cocktails and sipped neat.

Miami Rum Renaissance Festival

But the real treasure of the sixth annual event – which kicks off Monday with a test run of Miami Rum Festival Cocktail Week and culminates with three days of “grand tastings” attended by up to 15,000 – is the wealth of opportunities to meet and learn from the world’s foremost rum experts. For enthusiasts, it’s a unique opportunity to vastly broaden one’s knowledge of cane spirits and the rum lifestyle.

2014 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival: Friday, April 25, through Sunday, April 27, at the Doubletree by Hilton Miami Airport Convention Center. Tickets, hotel and more info at MiamiRumFest.com and Facebook.
Previous: Six reasons to look forward to the sixth annual Miami Rum Fest
Rum festival expands, introduces Miami Cocktail Week | 2013 recap

Those same newbies may scoff at the notion of a “lifestyle” based on booze. But ignoring the clichéd images of pillaging pirates, the burgeoning rum world offers a surprising sophistication and myriad ways to enjoy the spirit on many levels. At Miami Rum Renaissance Festival, the Grand Tasting booths on the convention center floor are the main draw, but you’re missing out if you don’t check out some of the events during the week, plus the many educational seminars held during the Grand Tastings. Here’s a rundown:

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Six reasons to look forward to the sixth annual Miami Rum Fest

2014 Miami Rum Festival recaps:
Upstart spirits share spotlight with major players | Cocktails reach new heights

It’s an exciting time to be a connoisseur of rum and rum cocktails. There’s no doubt that cane spirits are growing in popularity and respect, best evidenced in South Florida by the rise of the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival. The event expands every year, showcasing a never-ending supply of new and classic rums.

Miami Rum Renaissance Festival

2014 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival: Friday, April 25, through Sunday, April 27, at the Doubletree by Hilton Miami Airport Convention Center. Tickets, hotel and more info at MiamiRumFest.com and Facebook.
Previous: Rum festival expands, introduces Miami Cocktail Week | 2013 recap

Now in its sixth year, the event is expected to attract at least 80 rum producers showcasing more than 200 rums from more than 30 countries. Expanded to include more than 50,000 square feet of exhibition space, it’s possible the event could attract upwards of 15,000 attendees. It’s considered to be the world’s largest rum festival.

So, in honor of six years of rum-fueled fun (and education), here are six of the best reasons to attend next month’s festivities:

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Miami festival showcases a never-ending variety of rums, but what does the future hold?

The Miami Rum Renaissance Festival celebrated its fifth birthday last month, drawing thousands of industry reps and enthusiasts to a weeklong celebration of one of the world’s most popular spirits.

The April 15-21 event marked the occasion with an impressive new venue, some informative and entertaining expert speakers and, of course, hundreds of product samples available at the weekend Grand Tasting events.

Some of the many product samples awating the expert judges at the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival in April 2013
Some of the many product samples awating the expert judges at the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival in April 2013. (Official event photo by Tatu Kaarlas, RefinedVices.com)

The tastings were the big draw, attracting large crowds to the Miami Airport Convention Center (MACC) for every rum under the sun, from Abuelo (Panama) to Zaya (Trinidad & Tobago). It’s this great diversity that has always made rum special, as devotees well know. Unfortunately, a dark cloud threatens to mar rum’s renaissance, but we’ll save that buzzkill for later. First, a few highlights of The Atomic Grog’s experiences during the fest.

The first five days featured the VIP parties and product judging that draw the bulk of the rum industry movers and shakers to South Florida. I caught some of Tuesday’s party at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale and rubbed elbows with a few notables from the Tiki world. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it down to Miami Beach for one of the Broken Shaker’s daily happy hours. This highly acclaimed bar in the Freehand Miami hostel is on my short list of South Florida cocktail hotspots I need to explore in depth.

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Rum’s best and brightest stars take center stage at annual Miami festival

South Florida is about to become the epicenter of the rum world, at least for a week, with experts from around the globe descending for the fifth annual Miami Rum Renaissance Festival next Monday through Sunday (April 15-21).

2013 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival: Monday, April 15, through Sunday, April 21, at the Doubletree by Hilton Miami Airport Convention Center. For tickets and schedule, go to RumRenaissance.com.
Previous story: Rum festival’s ascension mirrors explosive growth of cane spirit

Miami Rum Renaissance Festival

Large portions of the event are geared toward industry representatives (rum tastings, VIP parties, etc.) but there are two very big reasons for ordinary enthusiasts of the cane spirit to be excited:

* First and foremost, there are the Grand Tasting events held from 2 to 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, April 20-21, at the Doubletree Miami Airport Hotel Convention Center. For your $50 admission (plus $5 parking charge) per day, you’ll have the opportunity to taste samples from among more than 200 fine rums, including high-end sipping rums and craft cocktails. In addition, there will be island-style food and vendors selling tropical clothing and decor. Keep an eye out for free giveaways from the rum companies. For the price of three or four trendy cocktails elsewhere in Miami, you’ll enjoy a five-hour total immersion in rum culture and learn a whole lot about what makes the spirit great.

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How big a punch can Tiki Month take?

Every February, Tiki cocktail bloggers gather for Tiki Month at The Pegu Blog to share cocktail recipes, tips, tricks and musings about the state of tropical mixology. Why February? It has something to do with an escape from Mother Nature’s frigid wrath, but I don’t really grasp that concept having been marooned in Fort Liquordale for more years than I can remember.

Martin Cate (right) supervises Rum Rat Pack members Wayne Curtis (left) and Stephen Remsberg as the punch begins to take shape at The 2011 Hukilau at The Mai-Kai
In go the mixers: Martin Cate (right) supervises Rum Rat Pack members Wayne Curtis (left) and Stephen Remsberg as the punch begins to take shape at The 2011 Hukilau at The Mai-Kai. (Photo by Go11Media.com)

Not a bad place to be marooned, however, especially when The Hukilau rolls into town every year. There’s also a little restaurant called The Mai-Kai. Both serve as a beacon, summoning the greatest minds in the Tiki world to an annual bacchanalia of rum and revelry.

The single event that perhaps reached the pinnacle of rum and revelry was the appearance of Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s “Rum Rat Pack” at The Mai-Kai during The Hukilau in June 2011, which brings us back to Tiki Month. This year’s blog contributions have been entertaining and informative, covering such esoteric topics as homemade ginger syrup, garnishes made from ground coconut and orange peel, and more drink recipes than you can shake a shaker at. There was also something about geeks who re-create recipes they’ve never actually tasted, if you can imagine that.

Lost in all these intricate tropical concoctions is a common conundrum: How do you handle a thirsty mob who can’t wait for you to carefully fillet an orange or toast coconut? The Rum Rat Pack’s Rumposium demonstrated how to solve that problem with style and flair. In one fell swoop, they whipped up a Tiki punch for 200, featuring 240 ounces of six different rums, a jaw-dropping bowl filled with 630 ounces of deliciousness.

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Miami festival offers many lessons in rum appreciation

The surging popularity of rum was clearly evident at this year’s Miami Rum Renaissance Festival, which again doubled its attendance in its fourth year to more than 8,000 connoisseurs of the cane spirit. The festival was held April 16-22 at the Deauville Beach Resort on Miami Beach, plus other locations around the area.

Miami Rum Renaissance Festival kick-off party at the Broken Shaker at the Indian Creek Hotel on Monday, April 16
Miami Rum Renaissance Festival kick-off party at the Broken Shaker at the Indian Creek Hotel on Monday, April 16. (Photo by Soul of Miami)

According to the festival organizers, the attendance total included more than 6,000 ticket holders, around 450 VIP passes, and nearly 900 industry passes. Events included rum tastings, VIP parties, celebrity seminars and much more.

Organized by Robert Burr along with his wife Robin and son Rob, the festival is poised to become one of the largest and most prestigious spirits conferences in the country. The festival “surpassed expectations and served to reinforce our message that rum is enjoying a notable resurgence in popularity,” they wrote in a recap sent via e-mail. “We are showing the world that rum is fun – a delightful component of interaction when friends gather to enjoy life.”

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Get a Ph.D in rum appreciation this week at Miami festival

Miami Rum Renaissance Festival: Monday-Sunday, April 16-22, at the Deauville Beach Resort, Miami Beach, plus other locations. Featuring rum tastings, VIP parties, celebrity seminars and more.

Previous: Miami rum festival events include The Mai-Kai, week of VIP parties
Miami festival set for same weekend as Hukilau in April

So what do you do during the weeklong Miami Rum Renaissance Festival, which kicks off today, besides drink rum? You learn about rum, of course.

Miami Rum Renaissance Festival

For many, it’s all about the VIP parties throughout the week, and of course the two-day Grand Tasting events on Saturday and Sunday that will offer hundreds of samples of great rums and rum cocktails. But lesser known are the educational opportunities associated with all the revelry.

Seminars and lectures will be presented by high-profile mixologists, plus experts from the rum manufacturing, distilling, and blending world. You’ll get insightful information geared to both consumers and members of the trade. These symposiums range from “The History of Rum in North America” to one we’re not going to miss, “The Piña Colada Paternity Test.”

Presented by Ian Burrell, producer of the U.K. RumFest, this promises to be a fun and enlightening presentation that answers the burning questions: Who created the Piña Colada? Where was it created? And what rum was used?

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