We won’t even venture to guess what a night out on the town in Miami costs these days. Sure, the bars and clubs are top-notch. But so are the prices. After parking, cover charge and a drink or two, you’re likely already down $100 without even getting warmed up. Never mind the icy stares of the too-hip-for-you crowd jostling for space at the bar.
Here’s a refreshing alternative: You could spend two full days tasting some of the world’s best spirits, learning from premiere industry experts, and hanging out with a friendly gang of easy-going rum enthusiasts. All for not a whole lot more than that C-note.
Our course, we’re talking about the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival, returning to Coral Gables this weekend for its 13th event spotlighting the underappreciated spirit in the perfect setting. Miami may have many vices, but the city’s appreciation for rum is certainly one of its most endearing.
“South Florida is the No. 1 rum market in the world, and its only fitting that we present Miami Rum Fest as the best rum tasting program in the United States once a year in this location, festival co-organizer Robert A. Burr said. “Its also a chance for the international rum community to come together, from the islands of the Caribbean and the Americas to Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa and beyond.”
The traditional “grand tasting” event, which offers guests free samples from dozens of new and established brands, will return for a third time to the quaint Coral Gables Woman’s Club on Sunday, Nov. 13. For at least four hours, you can enjoy tastes of premium spirits and a wide selection of cocktails, chat with reps and label owners, attend seminars and workshops, and simply immerse yourself in the laid-back atmosphere. All for just $49 (or $59 for a VIP pass).
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.
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. PURCHASE TICKETS ONLINE
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.
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.
Many events have been held at The Mai-Kai during its colorful 64-year history, from star-studded Hollywood parties to multi-day conventions of Tiki culture and cocktail enthusiasts. Now, amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and an unprecedented closure for repairs and refurbishment, the historic Polynesian restaurant has been forced to puts its creativity to the test.
Following a string of successful gatherings in its vast parking lot, The Mai-Kai is hosting its first-ever Tiki Marketplace this weekend, welcoming guests to a safe and fun-filled environment chock full of art and collectibles, music and fire-dancing, tasty cane spirits, and a generous spirit of ‘ohana. It’s almost as if The Mai-Kai never closed.
While marketplaces are a staple of Tiki establishments in California, they’re a new concept in stormy South Florida. But mid-April is the perfect time for such an event, a typically mild period before the rainy season and oppressive summer heat kick in. Saturday’s forecast for Fort Lauderdale calls for partly cloudy skies with highs in the upper 80s and a 20 percent chance of rain.
Fans of The Mai-Kai’s famous cocktails have even more reason to rejoice this week. As has been the custom before recent parking lot events, a window of opportunity opened for locals (or ambitious enthusiasts) to pull into the distinctive porte-cochère and take home their own ample supply of four different signature tropical drinks.
It’s now been a year since The Mai-Kai launched the ambitious “Gallons to Go” program during the height of the pandemic shutdowns in South Florida. And it remains a vital source of revenue in trying times, as well as a much appreciated treat for loyal customers, some of whom travel long distances to pick up their favorite cocktail.
And what a great deal for the price. If blended or shaken with crushed ice and served in the appropriate glassware, you can enjoy eight Rum Barrels and Black Magics, 12 Mai Tais, and 14 Jet Pilots from each 128-ounce jug. If you want to sample multiple drinks, grab some 32-ounce containers . They stay fresh in your fridge for at least a week and are impeccably mixed by manager Kern Mattei.
The second generation manager told us he’s personally batching the cocktails, closely following the classic recipes. We can confirm this, rating the Black Magic we picked up March 28 as among the best we’ve ever tasted. All four drinks (in single servings and quarts) will also be available for walk-up ordering at Saturday’s event. You can also grab a beer, wine and water. And as a special treat for the kids and teetotalers, virgin Piña Coladas will be available by the drink and quart.
There will also be plenty to nosh on and pair with your drinks. Dahlquist and The Mai-Kai have lined up three food and ice cream trucks:
* M.C.K. Fusion from Mobile Culinary Kitchens serves Colombian and Latin fusion dishes including tacos, quesadillas and more.
* Inspir-Asian features Chinese dishes done street-food style, such as tacos and shrimp fried rice.
* Good Humor Ice Cream is a throwback treat featuring classic bars, cones and cookie sandwiches.
Vendors include exotic art, Tiki-inspired gifts, clothing, glassware and more
Two dozen artists, craftspeople, collectors and small retailers have signed up to be part of The Mai-Kai’s first Tiki Marketplace.
The Mai-Kai Trading Post will also have a vast assortment of branded merchandise and other items for sale, including clothing and glassware. Look for new T-shirts and many goodies released exclusively at the event along with favorites from the restaurant’s gift shop. Help The Mai-Kai directly with your purchase. Leftover items will be available in the online store, but many sell out during the event, so don’t miss out.
After taking a detour to Fort Lauderdale in 2018, the Rum Renaissance Festival is back in Miami-Dade County for its 11th annual “celebration of cane spirits in the new world” at the Coral Gables Woman’s Club.
The country’s largest and longest-running rum festival moved to Broward County last year to be closer to the center of the South Florida market, and also sidle up to The Hukilau, the annual Tiki weekender in Fort Lauderdale. It created the ultimate rum and Tiki weekend in June 2018, but organizers Robert A. Burr and wife Robin Burr decided to return to their roots for a more intimate experience in 2019.
Last year’s event at the Broward County Convention Center was the sixth straight year at a large venue, reflecting rum’s ever-expanding popularity in South Florida, one of the world’s major markets for cane spirits. From 2013 through 2017, Miami Rum Festival (as the event was also known) spent five successful years at the massive Doubletree by Hilton Miami Airport Convention Center. [See our past coverage below]
Miami Rum Renaissance actually started as small, boutique event at the Shore Club Beach Resort on South Beach in May 2009. It stayed on Miami Beach at the Raleigh Hotel Beach Resort in 2010 and Deauville Beach Resort in 2011-2012. The festival’s origins go back to 2008, when the Burrs held their first major rum tasting event for a modest 150 people at the historic Venetian Pool in Coral Gables.
With industry trends encouraging exploration of higher-end rums and smaller events popping up across the world, the Burrs decided to make the move back to a smaller venue in their home turf of south Miami-Dade. It’s serendipity that they ended up back in Coral Gables at another historic venue. The Coral Gables Woman’s Club was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1990.
Instead of accommodating the thousands of people who attended the convention center events, the 2019 festival will be limited to 500 people per day “for a more intimate and elegant experience,” Robert Burr said in a recent interview with Caribbean Journal. “We’ll feature a lot of new producers, some old favorites and a fine selection of rare, limited edition luxury rums from my collection.”
Venue and tickets:The Coral Gables Woman’s Club is at 1001 E. Ponce de Leon Blvd. Festival hours are 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, with VIP admission at 2 p.m. Tickets are $50 per day for unlimited samples, $75 for VIP access. Friday trade admission is $25.
* Buy tickets online in advance
Miami Rum Renaissance Festival highlights
Rum tastings: For the price of admission, guests can sample hundreds of rums from the Caribbean and beyond, from Abuelo to Zaya. Dozens of distilleries, importers, producers, distributors and boutique brands will show off their products.
* See all the brands attending
VIP Rum Bar: Robert Burr brings back his popular den of rare and high-end offerings, available for $5 for a healthy sample. Among the more than 60 offerings are such gems as Facundo Exquisito (Puerto Rico); Foursquare’s Premise, Probitas and Zinfandel releases (Barbados and Jamaica); Rhum JM Cuvee 1845 (Martinique); plus Velier Caroni 15 (Trinidad) and Velier Worthy Park (Jamaica).
Rum Education: Seminars will be offered on a variety of topics, including a deep dive into the production of Mount Gay rum in Barbados, and an exploration of the diversity of rum with Plantation’s Rocky Yeh. New for 2019, Miami Rum Renaissance is teaming up with Will Hoekenga of American Rum Report to present two seminars (5 p.m. Friday and Saturday) on the emerging U.S. market, which now includes more than 230 distilleries. Also participating in the seminars will be Phil Prichard of Prichard’s Rum (Tennessee), Tim Russell of Maggie’s Farm (Pennsylvania), and Jonny VerPlanck of Three Roll Estate (formerly Cane Land Distilling, Louisiana). In the Caribbean Journal. interview, Robert Burr predicts a “new American Rum Revolution as distilleries pop up in every corner of North America with boutique offerings often made with great pride and ingenuity. The number of rum distilleries in the USA will easily eclipse all those in the Caribbean region.”
* See the schedule of seminars
After nine years in Miami-Dade County, the country’s largest celebration of cane spirits is moving up the coast to link up with the East Coast’s most esteemed gathering of Polynesian Pop and Tiki enthusiasts. June 2018 promises a monumental mash-up when the Rum Renaissance Festival and The Hukilau collide near Fort Lauderdale Beach.
The thousands attending the Rum Renaissance Festival on June 9-10 at the Broward County Convention Center will be just a mile from the hordes of Tikiphiles at the 17th edition of The Hukilau at the iconic Pier 66 Hotel, separated only by the whims of the 17th Street Causeway bridge. For the past five years, the Miami Rum Festival was held in April at the DoubleTree Hilton Miami Airport Convention Center.
Organizers of both events say the move will create a synergy beneficial to everyone (with the possible exception of the temperance movement). Just 7 miles away is the historic Mai-Kai Restaurant, the icing on the cake of any rum and Tiki lover’s ultimate weekend. See below:Hotels, pricing, schedules | Rum XP Awards revamped
“There’s lots of crossover potential,” said Robert A. Burr, who with wife Robin founded the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival in 2009. “We can bring more people in” to the rum, cocktail and Tiki scenes, he said, noting that cooperation is the key. While logistics are still being worked out, “we’re going out of our way to not step on each other’s toes” and “not cross swords,” he said.
The Hukilau’s head honcho, Richard Oneslager, stressed that the longstanding Tiki event is not changing. “Our first priority is to our villagers and The Mai-Kai,” he said. “We’re not a joint venture.”
However, he was quick to add: “We want to make it beneficial to guests of both events. We’re neighbors. I don’t see them as being competition. I want to work with them as best as we can.” Many villagers will enjoy both, he said. “If The Hukilau isn’t enough, rum fest is close.”
One possible benefit will be the drawing power of the tandem events among industry VIPs and experts. Why wouldn’t a rum company send representatives to both, killing two Tiki birds with one stone? “We hope brands are receptive to coming to both,” Burr said, adding that there may also be some co-branded events.
“There will be economies that make sense for everyone,” Oneslager said, adding that The Hukilau will focus more on cocktails than rum, along with the event’s core emphasis on music, art, history and Tiki culture. “We’re still working out details on how to best work together.”
One possibility are perks for people who attend both events. “There will be some sort of benefit if people hold tickets to both,” Oneslager said. Burr also mentioned “fringe benefits” for attending both.
Burr agreed that the move to Fort Lauderdale and close proximity to The Hukilau and The Mai-Kai “will be much better for the Tiki junkies.” The host hotels are just across the Intracoastal Waterway bridge from each other. “It’s an easy walk,” Burr said. There’s also the possibility of a dedicated bus shuttling guests between the festivals, he said.
According to Google Maps, the Rum Renaissance Festival and the Greater Fort Lauderdale / Broward County Convention Center are almost exactly a mile from The Hukilau and the Pier 66 Hotel. The trip takes roughly 6 minutes by car, 9 minutes by bus, and 17 minutes on foot. The rum fest’s official hotel, the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina, is near the mid-point between the two.
Both sites are also conveniently located within 5 miles of Fort Lauderdale International Airport and the cruise ships at Port Everglades. The public beach near the B Ocean Resort (home of the famous Wreck Bar and Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid‘s swimshows) is just a mile north of Pier 66 on Seabreeze Boulevard (aka State Road A1A). [See map] Roughly 7 miles due north is The Ma-Kai, the 60-year-old historic landmark that serves equally historic rum and Tiki cocktails. [See map]
Before the name change to Miami Rum Festival and the move to the Airport Convention Center in 2013, the Rum Renaissance Festival spent its first four years at Miami Beach hotels. The Burrs have always run their event with assistance from son Rob V. Burr, who also contributes to his father’s rum guide and online video show (Rob’s Rum Guide and Rum Minute).
Since the change to the larger convention space, they’ve constantly received requests to move back to more of a beach setting. “The main reason we are moving is people did not like the atmosphere at the DoubleTree after time,” Robin Burr said. “They want to be back by the water again.”
April 1 – Surfeño 2017 in Mexico City. The annual surf music festival features live performances by Daikaiju, The Volcanics, Los Elásticos, Hikury Beach, Los Granujas, Dr. Tritón, The Sonoras, Los Caguama, and many more.
April 2 – Surfin’ Sundays at the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum. A free, all-ages summer concert series at the Huntington Beach Pier in Southern California. Featuring Neptune Cocktail, The Curl Riders, The Riptides, Par Avion, Tiki Creeps, and Tikiyaki 5-0.
EVENT RECAP: Tiki Caliente expands to four days of wall-to-wall Poly Pop parties in Palm Springs
Like the first major college football bowl game (but a lot more colorful), Tiki Caliente kicked off the annual Tiki event season in style with its eighth gathering of the tribe in the tropical mid-century splendor of Palm Springs on May 12-15. Expanded to four days at the historic Caliente Tropics resort, the intimate, sold-out event also featured a pre-party at Tonga Hut as well as more symposiums, an eclectic lineup of performers, art shows, vendors and the usual festive room parties. Tonga Hut also served as Tiki Caliente’s on-site bar all weekend, keeping the party going with authentic Polynesian-style cocktails from 11 a.m. until 1 a.m.
* See below: Tonga Hut, bar of the week/month
Symposiums featured some of the most creative minds in Tiki cocktails, including “From the High Seas to High Tiki: Rum’s Cocktail Voyage” by Martin Cate of Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco, “Finishing Touches” by Marie King of Tonga Hut, and “Punch and the History of the Communal Cocktail” by Chad Austin of Bootlegger Tiki in Palm Springs.
While not officially part of the event, the room crawl has become a fixture and allows guests to meet and mingle as well as show off their mixology skills. Many participants go all-in with full-blown Tiki decor, DJs, live music and more. Organized by the crew from the Zen Tiki Lounge podcast, this year’s crawl spanned three days and featured 15 rooms. Among the more noteworthy parties were hosted by Zen Tiki Lounge (celebrating their 10-year anniversary), Kevin Upthegrove of the 5 Minutes of Rum podcast (serving a riff on the Cobra’s Fang/Cobra’s Kiss called The Snakepit), and the faculty and students from Poly Hai (serving the “Wake Your Tiki Ass Up Coffee Grog” with sponsor Deadhead rum at 9:30 a.m.).
The Mulders collaborated with Horne on the Tiki Caliente 8 War Club, one of the most creative event mugs we’ve seen in a long time. Horne also created the official event limited edition print and limited-edition war club pedants. The art of Shag was also featured in a special reception and party for the massive “Trousdale Twist” painting. Shag, who owns a mid-century modern home in Palm Springs, was on hand to meet guests and soak in the Polynesian Pop atmosphere.
EVENT PREVIEW: Step back into the WWII era at Tiki Kon in Portland
The northwest Tiki scene is gearing up for the 14th annual Tiki Kon, happening July 8-10 in Portland. Themed to Polynesian Pop’s roots in the post-World War II era and the USO, the eclectic event is centered at a new host hotel, the Red Lion Hotel On The River. Guests can enjoy Tiki-themed music, art and fashion, with a rollicking camp show, surf and lounge bands, educational symposiums, themed food and drinks, vendors from around the world, and the longest-running home bar tour of its kind.
Here’s a look at the schedule and highlights of the vintage weekend. Unless noted, all events are at the Red Lion Hotel. Some individual events have tickets available at the door, while others are free and open to the public. Check the online schedule for details.
Late March was punctuated by upheaval in the Tiki bar world, including a fire at Lost Lake in Chicago and the confirmed closing of Trader Vic’s in Portland. We also have updates on the upcoming Pacific Seas in Los Angeles and False Idol in San Diego, among others. Event previews include The Atomic Grog’s fifth anniversary party, Ohana: Luau at the Lake, and Tiki Kon. We investigate the rumored return of Lemon Hart, the upcoming Midwest Rum Festival, plus more rum news. Quick sips include Thor joining the Tiki Farm team, a new bar at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, a new Tiki-flavored pulp novella, and the aborted end of a re-creation of the voyage of the Kon-Tiki. Regular features spotlight legendary carver Milan Guanko; longtime Tiki entertainer King Kukulele; the historic Tiki bar La Mariana Sailing Club in Honolulu; and the video series Rum Minute. The rum the week, Sailor Jerry, is featured in the Wicked Wahine cocktail.
* Keep up with The Week in Tiki: Facebook page | RSS feed | See past weeks | Archive
* Weekly features: Artist | Band/music | Bar | Website | Rum | Cocktail | Events
TIKI BAR NEWS: Lost Lake hit by fire, Trader Vic’s Portland closing confirmed; changes coming to South Florida’s Kreepy Tiki, Psycho Suzi’s owner honored
A near tragedy struck acclaimed Tiki bar Lost Lake in Chicago on March 27, when what was originally thought to be a small electrical fire in the kitchen ended up causing extensive smoke damage that kept the year-old establishment closed for weeks. “The Chicago Fire Department put out a fire that was moments away from taking our beloved Tiki bar all the way down – not to mention two apartments upstairs,” Shelby Allison, who runs the bar with Paul McGee, posted on Facebook. “There are lots of very scientific cleaning methods happening at Lost Lake this week, but it could have been so much worse.” According to reports on a A GoFundMe page, the kitchen of the adjoining Thank You restaurant and the front entrance “were completely incinerated” while the bar suffered smoke damage that sadly forced the disposal of the bar’s vast rum collection. Lost Lake, which was recently nominated for a prestigious James Beard Award, received an outpouring of support from the entire Chicago hospitality community in the wake of the fire, from bartenders and bar owners to chefs, distributors, and brands. Bars as far away as Los Angeles also held Lost Lake support events. Allison reported that every member of Lost Lake’s support staff received temporary positions, and many bars hosted special pop-ups to keep the tip-based employees afloat. Special T-shirts were printed, with all profits going to Lost Lake bartenders. The GoFundMe page campaign received 309 donations and raised $20,000 for Lost Lake employee aid.
* More coverage online: Critiki | Time Out Chicago | DNAinfo
* Lost Lake: Official website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram Don’t miss: McGee and Allison will return to The Hukilau in June, participating for the second year in a row in the sold-out Tiki Tower Takeover at the Pier 66 hotel in Fort Lauderdale. [2015 coverage]
A fire earlier in March had more devastating effects the Portland Trader Vic’s franchise, as reported in the previous edition of the Week in Tiki. The March 2 fire at the medical office above the 8,000-square-foot restaurant burned through most of the ceiling in the bar and dining room, causing damage that would have closed the restaurant for at least eight weeks for repairs, according to reports. Instead, the owner decided that due to mounting debt and high operating costs, he would close permanently. Weeks went by without an official statement from the franchise owner, but on March 21, J. Clayton Hering posted this on Facebook: “It is with a heavy heart that I inform you of the decision to close Trader Vic’s in Portland after four and a half years. This is effective immediately. We can be proud that we provided an excellent entertainment venue to our customers, families, and private parties. Our menu for appetizers, food and drink as well as our atmosphere were a unique addition to the Portland restaurant scene. Our customers enjoyed Trader Vic’s return to Portland because of the fun environment we created which was unique to the city and well received. We thank you for your support over the last four and a half years.” There was no word on what became of the extensive Tiki-themed decor, though in past Trader Vic’s closings most of the major art pieces were returned to the Trader Vic’s corporation. A dozen black walnut dining room tables later turned up on Craigslist. Of the 20 remaining Trader Vic’s locations, only two are in the United States while 18 are overseas. The Atlanta franchise is still going strong after 40 years, while the corporate-owned flagship location has been in Emeryville, Calif., for 44 years. The original Trader Vic’s was opened by Victor Bergeron in Oakland in 1937.
* Why Trader Vic’s closed its Portland location (The Oregonian)
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.
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.