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Miami Rum Congress is in session: First annual event presents top industry experts

Updated Feb. 21

Some of the biggest names in the spirits world flocked to South Florida for the first annual Miami Rum Congress, a two-day event featuring tastings and educational seminars dedicated to the burgeoning booze that may finally have outgrown its “party like a pirate” image.
Atomic Grog photo gallery, event recap
NEW: VIPs, connoisseurs of fine spirits flock to first Miami Rum Congress

Feb. 8-9 – Miami Rum Congress at the Ronald W. Shane Center, 6500 Indian Creek Drive, Miami Beach. Tickets, schedule, more |
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Main events | Tiki Takeover | After party
The Tiki Times: See all the upcoming events

Miami Rum Congress 2019

About Miami Rum Congress

Rum has forever been touted as the “next big thing,” a more economical and (some would argue) tastier alternative to whiskey in the hearts and glasses of aficionados of brown spirits. But, perhaps to its advantage, rum’s popularity has come at a more slow and steady pace, built from the ground up through an expanding group of devotees, event organizers and well-regarded industry loyalists. All of those folks will converge on Miami Beach to network and learn more about the world’s most diverse spirit.

Rum’s diversified, worldwide appeal is what keeps it near and dear to many. Our 2019 events calendar includes rum gatherings around the globe, from Jamaica to Czechoslovakia to The Netherlands to Madrid. And that’s just the next four months. In the United States, the Rum Renaissance Festival (set for May 17-18 in Coral Gables) has been the torch-bearer since launching in 2009 and deserves credit for being ahead of its time and paving the way for what has followed.

The Rum Lab's 2019 Rum Festival Tour

Miami, always a top market due to its proximity to the Caribbean and historic appreciation for rum, has been a step ahead of the rest of the country. But the word is out. Rum is not only fun, but it’s incredibly diverse and quickly gaining traction as a premium spirit. Smaller boutique festivals have become the norm, appealing to premium tastes.

Enter Federico Hernandez (of and Ian Burrell (the award-winning global “rum ambassador”), who have joined forces to bring South Florida its second major rum festival. It’s clear that the demand is warranted. Tickets are selling briskly and several price points are sold out.

Ian Burrell, aka the global rum ambassador, welcomed The Mai-Kai to London in October for a special event leading up to his 12th annual UK RumFest. (Photo by The Mai-Kai)
Ian Burrell, aka the global rum ambassador, welcomed The Mai-Kai to London in October for a special event leading up to his 12th annual UK RumFest. (Photo by The Mai-Kai)

Hernandez and Burrell are on the cusp of the explosion of rum festivals worldwide. In 2007, Burrell founded The UK RumFest, widely considered to be the godfather of all rum events around the globe. In the years since, the charismatic ambassador has been on a one-man crusade, traveling to every continent on Earth on behalf of spirits companies and earning the 2018 Spirited Award as Best International Brand Ambassador. The 13th annual UK RumFest is set for Oct. 19-20.

Meanwhile, Hernandez began eyeing the vast U.S. market after launching the Rum Lab as an educational initiative in Puerto Rico in 2007. He has grown his brand to include five boutique rum festivals across American soil, including San Juan (March 2), Chicago (April 27), New York City (June 15), and San Francisco (Sept. 7).

The next logical step for Burrell and Hernandez in their efforts toward the “premiumization and education of rum” is Miami Rum Congress. “After years of attending and hosting rum events, we are combining our experiences and expertise to bring consumers and tradespeople the finest rum event in the Americas,” said Burrell in a press release. “We are bringing in expert guest speakers from around the world so that Miami Rum Congress attendees will not only have the opportunity to taste a wide array of exotic rums but can interact with and learn from top industry experts and thought-leaders. This unparalleled spirit event will be an exciting moment for the industry and monumental in shaping the modern-day rum landscape.”

Miami Rum Congress is the newest addition and the first event of the 2019 rum festival circuit. It’s not hard to lure anyone to sunny Miami Beach in February, but the lineup of VIPs and experts is nevertheless extremely impressive.

Miami Rum Congress highlights

Veteran rum importer Ed Hamilton (right) offers Hurricane Hayward and other guests at The Hukilau a tasting of his full Ministry of Rum line of spirits in June 2018 in Fort Lauderdale. (Atomic Grog photo)
Veteran rum importer Ed Hamilton (right) offers Hurricane Hayward and other guests at The Hukilau a tasting of his full Ministry of Rum line of spirits in June 2018 in Fort Lauderdale. (Atomic Grog photo)


Ed Hamilton at The Mai-Kai: The rum festivities actually begin a day early, on Thursday, Feb. 7, when Ed Hamilton (aka the “minister of rum”) hosts a sold-out private tasting at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale. Hamilton earned his rum cred in the 1990s as a book author and creator of the Ministry of Rum website, long before either was trendy. He later became an importer with his Caribbean Spirits Inc. and now has his own line of Hamilton Rums. The event starts at 6 p.m. in the restaurant’s Samoa dining room, but expect attendees to congregate in The Molokai lounge before and after.
* Related: The story of Hamilton rums from Guyana at The Mai-Kai
* Hear Hamilton on the Shift Drink Podcast

The Rumdown: Miami Beach’s acclaimed craft cocktail bar Sweet Liberty, winner of multiple Spirited Awards, will launch the Miami festivities on Thursday, Feb. 7, with sponsor Plantation Rum. This kickoff party will include two of the world’s top Tiki bartenders: Scotty Schuder, owner of Dirty Dick in Paris; and Jeanie Grant, bar manager of Pagan Idol in San Francisco. Celebrate the wide range of Plantation’s acclaimed rums, toast Sweet Liberty’s late leader John Lermayer, and get your first taste of Miami Rum Congress from 8 p.m. until the wee hours.
* Facebook event

The Rumdown at Sweet Liberty during Miami Rum Congress

The events at the Shane Center are divided into two parts. Both days feature some of the top industry guest speakers.


Day 1 features industry-oriented symposiums geared toward rum producers, distillers, importers and other professionals. It kicks off with a cocktail session from 12:30 to 1 p.m., followed by five symposiums.

* Women Leading Rum: A unique gathering of female rum professionals, moderated by Gayle Marshall-Seale of Foursquare Distillery in Barbados and featuring panelists Karen Hoskin (Montanya Rum), Kate Perry (La Maison and Velier), and Maggie Campbell (Privateer Rum).

Alexandre Gabriel made a special appearance at The Mai-Kai during The Hukilau 2018 in June to talk about Plantation Rum. (Atomic Grog photo)
Alexandre Gabriel made a special appearance at The Mai-Kai during The Hukilau 2018 in June to talk about Plantation Rum. (Atomic Grog photo)

* How Rum is Actually Made: An in-depth discussion of production techniques from large and small producers. Moderator: Bailey Pryor (The Real McCoy rum). Panelists: Ian Burrell, Richard Seale (Foursquare), Roberto Serralles (Don Q).

* Behind the Green Curtain: Speaker Josh Miller, author of the Inu a Kena blog and expert on water treatment, speaks about sustainable rum production.

* 300 Years of Rum Production: An esteemed panel of experts from distilleries representing three centuries of rum heritage discuss the traditions that shaped the style and taste of their products. Moderator: Ian Burrell. Panelists: Alexandre Gabriel (Maison Ferrand and Plantation Rum), Winston Harrison (National Rums of Jamaica Group and Long Pond Distillers), Ben Jones (Spiribam and Saint Lucia Distillers), Karine Lassalle (Rhum J.M.).

* Changes in the Rum Market: Ed Hamilton (Caribbean Spirits and Ministry of Rum) contrasts today’s explosive rum scene with the 1990s, when there were far fewer choices.


Rums at Miami Rum Congress 2019

The second day of activities is designed to appeal to rum connoisseurs and features premium rum tasting and seminars. There will be three independent sessions from 1 to 7:30 p.m. In addition, there will be a main stage event featuring competitions with local mixologists from South Florida bars at 2:45 p.m. and an international competition at 4 p.m.

Taste sponsor rums: From Abeulo to Wray & Newphew, there will be more than 30 premium rums available for tasting.

* Top 10 Myths about Rum: Ian Burrell will entertain and inform attendees, attacking those long-held beliefs that are actually false.

* Hampden Estate: The Art of High Ester: Kate Perry of La Maison and Velier presents an exclusive seminar on the legendary Jamaican distillery.

Dunderstruck – The Miseducation of Jamaican Rum: Nicholas Feris – a Seattle-based rum educator, author and blogger (The Rum Collective) who imports Rum Fire from Hampden Estate in Jamaica – leads VIP guests on a discussion of the world’s funkiest spirit.

Lessons in Rum: Richard Seale, the outspoken master distiller and blender of his family’s Foursquare Distillery in Barbados, will share his knowledge and opinions on the state of rum today. The great-grandson of Reginald Leon Seale (who founded the company in 1926) oversees the production of an array of acclaimed rums including Foursquare, Doorly’s, R.L. Seale’s, The Real McCoy, and many others.

Jeff "Beachbum" Berry presents his symposium on Planter's Punch at The Hukilau 2015. (Atomic Grog photo)
Jeff “Beachbum” Berry presents his symposium on Planter’s Punch at The Hukilau 2015. (Atomic Grog photo)

A Real Conversation About Rum: Bailey Pryor, a five-time Emmy Award-winning documentary film producer who launched The Real McCoy rum in 2013, presents his take on the spirit he knows and loves.

Brigands, Barons & Beachcombers – The Many Faces of Planter’s Punch: Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, the celebrated author and one of the prime movers of the modern Tiki cocktail revival, reprises his popular seminar on the “big bang of rum cocktails.” The owner/operator of Latitude 29 in New Orleans takes guests on a wild ride that inclues Caribbean pirates, British nobles, the novelist Graham Greene, and (of course) Tiki cocktial pioneer Don The Beachcomber.

The Tiki Takeover: Two bartender battles pitting South Florida and international competitors, sponsored by Real Cocktail Ingredients and The Hukilau, the annual Tiki and rum cocktail festival in Fort Lauderdale. Hosted by Ian Burrell, this action-packed three-hour event will include competitions, interviews, music and (naturally) cocktails. International competitors reportedly include Robin James Wynne (Miss Thing’s, Canada), Georgi Radev (Laki Kane, London), and Juan J. Lastra (La Casita De Rones, Puerto Rico). The local competition will likely feature bartenders from The Broken Shaker (Miami Beach), Sweet Liberty Drinks & Supply Co. (Miami Beach), Tiki Ono (Lake Worth), and others. Beachbum Berry will be among the judges.
* Facebook event | More on The Hukilau 2019


Miami Rum Congress 2019 after party

Jamaican rum dance party: Celebrate Caribbean style with Jamaica native Ian Burrell and his friends at Appleton Estate and J. Wray & Nephew at Segafredo in Miami Beach. Caribbean and dance hall music by Silent Addy and DJ Gravy. Cocktails by Daniele Dalla Pola of Nu Lounge Bar (Italy) and Esotico (coming soon to Miami).
* Facebook event


Press coverage
* Recap from Rumy Journey NEW
* Rum Congress, a two-day rum celebration, debuts in Miami Beach

The Rum Lab
* Official website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Ian Burrell
* Official website | Instagram | Twitter | YouTube
* Facebook: Rum Ambassador page | Personal page
* UK RumFest: Official website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

The Atomic Grog
More rum coverage
* Demerara rum flows at The Mai-Kai’s magical retro event
* Florida bartender wins Chairman’s Reserve Mai Tai Challenge at The Mai-Kai
* Rum Renaissance Festival news, updates
Special features
* Rums of The Mai-Kai include potent, funky flavors from Guyana and Jamaica
* 5 questions with Ian Burrell, the global ambassador of rum
* Navy Rum and Black Tot Day
* Need a punch recipe for 200? Ask the Rum Rat Pack
* Rum news and reviews, 2015-2016
* The Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide and 100+ recipes

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