The Miami Rum Renaissance Festival returned for an eighth year on Friday, April 15, through Sunday, April 17, at the Doubletree by Hilton Miami Airport Convention Center. Go to MiamiRumFest.com for more info.
If there was an unofficial theme of the 2015 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival, held April 17-19 at the Doubletree by Hilton Miami Airport Convention Center, it was the impressive innovation and continuing commitment to quality from a new wave of craft rum producers from around the world. In a year when some major players were absent, the young guns definitely picked up the slack and presented products fit for any rum connoisseur.
The festival was less about the big brands flexing their muscle and more about the boutique labels showing off their innovation and commitment to craft. This is the typical scenario at the annual Rum XP Awards, but it’s now overflowing to the convention floor, where consumers had the opportunity to see firsthand what the critics and judges have long known.
Near the end of the three days of public tastings, festival organizer Robert A. Burr was like a kid in a candy store when I ran into him talking to RumXP judge Bernhard Schäfer and enjoying the special trade-only area for rums not yet released in the United States. These rums are the future, he said, pointing to the dozens of brands from around the world seeking entry into the American market. And it was hard to argue with him.
“You have to try the Monymusk,” he said, referring to the aged rum from Jamaica that was on display on the Authentic Caribbean Rums table. Indeed, Monymusk Plantation Reserve was the nectar of the gods, one of the best rums I tasted during the festival. When Burr recommends a rum, my advice is to listen closely. In 2016, he’ll be opening up his private collection for all to taste, which should be a real treat.
Nearby in the industry-only section of the festival were an array of premium rums from around the Caribbean (Barbados, Haiti, etc.) produced by Bristol Spirits in the U.K. and inexplicably not yet distributed in the U.S. Bristol’s Demerara Port Morant from Guyana was amazing, perhaps my favorite of the weekend. I ran into Rum XP judge Suzanne Long, owner of the acclaimed Longitude neo-Tiki bar in Oakland, and we both marveled at the rich complexity of this Demerara-style rum. It would sure shine in a Demerara Cocktail.
But rare rums from the Caribbean were just the tip of the iceberg at the 2015 Miami Rum Festival. Spirits producers came from near and far to show off their products, and many went home with awards for their efforts. The perfect example of this were the white rum categories. The best in class winner for white rum was Skotlander, all the way from Denmark. [See review] One of the brands with a booth in the trade zone, lobbying for U.S. distribution, Skotlander also picked up a gold medal for its premium white rum for the second year in a row. Skotlander also makes a wide variety of other rums, including cask and aged varieties.
The surprise winner of the best in class ribbon for premium white rum was Fwaygo, produced just 30 miles away in Fort Lauderdale. Earlier in the week we got a sneak preview of when The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale served the Grapefruit Julep, a special cocktail featuring Fwaygo during one of the rum fest pre-parties. [Video: See recipe] The flagship rum from South Florida Distillers is funky and clean, a great mixer. It’s right up there with acclaimed expressions such as Plantation 3 Stars, which won a gold medal.
Avi Aisenberg (CEO and proprietor) and Joe Durkin (head distiller and COO) personally manned the Fwaygo booth, handing out samples and chatting up the appreciative tasters. They happily gave out coupons for a fee tour and tasting at their spanking new operations near downtown Fort Lauderdale, billed as the “city’s oldest distillery.” Well, it’s true. It’s also a DIY operation with passion, not profit, driving the creative process. Though widespread retail distribution has been difficult, Fwaygo Rum is available at bars and restaurants throughout South Florida. In 2016, we’re looking forward to trying Fwaygo’s two new premium rums: Single Barrel and Grilled Pineapple.
Other new rums that caught my attention: