Modern Caribbean Rum

Event spotlight: Miami festival will fill your weekend with rum seminars, tastings

Updated Nov. 14, 2022

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.

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Organizers Robert A. Burr and Robin Burr at the 2021 festival. This year will mark their 13th event. (Miami Rum Festival official photo)
Organizers Robert A. Burr and Robin Burr at the 2021 festival. This year will mark their 13th event. (Miami Rum Festival official photo)

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.”

One of the grand tasting rooms at last year's event at the historic Coral Gables Woman's Club. (Miami Rum Festival official photo)
One of the grand tasting rooms at last year’s event at the historic Coral Gables Woman’s Club. (Miami Rum Festival official photo)

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).

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Photos, recap: Miami festival reunites rum family for one-day tasting event

Photos, recap: Miami festival reunites rum family for one-day tasting event

The 12th annual Miami Rum Renaissance Festival may not have reached the epic proportions of past events, but it was a welcome return as we tiptoe into a post-pandemic world. Like an old friend who had only one day for a visit, the short-but-sweet tasting session on Nov. 14 brought the extended “rum family” back together in a safe space.

The crew from Copalli Rum touted their organic, gluten-free rum from Belize.
The crew from Copalli Rum touted their organic, gluten-free rum from Belize. (Atomic Grog photo)

“Our decision to keep it simple paid off,” co-organizer Robert A. Burr said after the event. “We sold out with 500 tickets and the size of the crowd was very comfortable. It’s so satisfying to gather with our rum friends again.” Burr and wife Robin also welcomed back son Robert V. Burr to the rum fest. His move back to South Florida will enable him to once again be involved in the event, he told us during the festivities.

While socially distant interactions are still awkward, it was clear that both attendees and participating rum brands were very happy to be there. The elder Burr said many “expressed their heartfelt appreciation.”

Hosted for a second time at the historic Coral Gables Woman’s Club, the event was not spread out over multiple days like years past. The Rum Renaissance Tasting Event featured no seminars or judging sessions, but the Burrs definitely didn’t skimp on the rums. There appeared to be even more tasting booths than there were in 2019.

SEE BELOW: Images of Miami Rum Festival
* Atomic Grog gallery, plus official photos

Tobin Ellis welcomes Hurricane Hayward to the Rhum Barbancourt booth at the Miami Rum Festival.
Tobin Ellis welcomes Hurricane Hayward to the Rhum Barbancourt booth. (Atomic Grog photo)

The tasting session for the general public ran from 2 to 6 p.m., and we spent the better part of that time catching up with old friends and sampling many fine rums. We immediately knew we were in for a treat when we entered the first of two event halls to find an elaborate Rhum Barbancourt booth manned by master mixologist Tobin Ellis. The legendary rum from Haiti was making a rare appearance in Miami with Ellis, an influential bartender and consultant from Las Vegas who made a splash at the rum fest in its early days.

I had not seen Ellis since we faced off in 2011 at the third annual Miami Rum Renaissance Festival’s Zombie Jamboree at The Mai-Kai. He won that mixology contest, of course, and I remember him offering this newbie some great advice. It was fantastic to catch up with one of the bar and cocktail world’s most creative minds. It was also comforting to find out that he remains a very humble and down-to-earth guy.

Some other no-less-notable names were in the house, representing dozens of rum brands from around the world. With my time limited, I made an attempt to sample as many new and intriguing rums as possible. It was definitely tough to restrain myself from revisiting the many past favorites, including Diplomatico, Dos Maderas, El Dorado, Pusser’s, and others. Check out our past coverage for all of these, plus more.

Here are seven memories we walked away with from this year’s rum reunion in Coral Gables …

QUICK TAKES: 2021 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival highlights

Haiti's Rhum Barbancourt offered many tasty samples, from the 15-year-old rum to modern cocktails. Karabela by Stella Cho featured the 4-year-old Barbancourt 3 Stars.
Haiti’s Rhum Barbancourt offered many tasty samples, from the 15-year-old rum to modern cocktails. Karabela by Stella Cho featured the 4-year-old Barbancourt 3 Stars. (Atomic Grog photo)

BEST BOOTH: Rhum Barbancourt. The sophisticated kiosk from Haiti’s flagship brand had everything you’d want from a rum festival presenter: Classy and eye-catching displays plus a perfect photo-op spot, the full range of distinctive rums readily available for tasting, and a world-class mixologist shaking up fresh (and delicious) cocktails. It was almost unfair to the rest of the brands. Of course, we’re intimately familiar with the full Barbancourt range from its years as a sponsor of The Hukilau. And we’ve always kept our home bar stocked with the three 86-proof core products – the lightly aged Rhum Blanc, the 4-year-old “3 Stars,” and the 8-year-old Speciale Reserve “5 Stars” – along with the 70-proof Barbancourt Pango, one of the best flavored rums on the market. You’ll find several Barbancourt rums featured in our new Haitian Zombie recipe. But the brand’s crown jewel is the premium sipping rum, the 15-year-old Estate Reserve blend. Like the others, it’s distilled from sugar cane juice in the rhum agricole style and aged in French oak. We were reminded just how good this rum is after tasting the complex, nuanced and very refined sip. Rhum Barbancourt remains one of the most consistent (and reasonably priced) brands on the market.

Trinidad 2009 is one of the newest limited-edition rums from Plantation.
Trinidad 2009 is one of the newest limited-edition rums from Plantation. (Atomic Grog photo)

BEST NEW RUM: Plantation Trinidad 2009. I almost skipped the booth from longtime festival participant Plantation – the popular rum brand from France’s Maison Ferrand. I own or have tasted most of the booth’s award-winning bottlings, which are sourced from islands across the world before a second aging and bottling in France. But I spotted a new one, and I’m glad I stopped to try it. Plantation Trinidad 2009 is a limited-edition blend that was aged for 11 years in ex-bourbon casks in Trinidad before aging for a year in oak barrels in France. Plantation has perfected this somewhat controversial production style, and it serves this release well. Clocking in a 103.6 proof, this is a dynamic yet delicate blend with light citrus and spice notes along with hints of gasoline (in a good way). The latter was something I don’t recall ever encountering in a modern Trinidadian rum (Angostura is now the island’s sole rum producer). It’s an intriguing release, one I definitely recommend. Just for the heck of it, I compared it head-to-head against a similar rum from the festival’s VIP Tasting Bar: the acclaimed Velier Caroni 15. This is a 15-year-old, 104-proof rum from the Caroni Distillery in Trinidad, which unfortunately closed in 2003 after a long history that included many years of supplying its rich, dark rums to the British Navy. This bottling from Italy’s Velier is outstanding, a rich and powerful rum with lots of dark fruit flavors and an oily, gasoline-like punch. One of my favorites from the tasting bar. The similarities in the two rums was clear, particularly the smoky petrol. To me, the Plantation Trinidad 2009 release comes off as a lighter, more approachable version of the Caroni 15. (Note: There’s also a 12-year-old Caroni from Velier that I have not tried.). The ABV is almost identical, and the same unique gasoline notes stand out. When Caroni closed, the majority of its remaining rum was acquired by Angostura, so it’s entirely possible some Caroni stock is used in this blend. All the Plantation website says is the rum “was chosen from the cellars of Trinidad Distillers” (which owns Angostura). There has been speculation that Angostura uses some of its Caroni stock in the “1787” expression, its top-of-the-line rum blend that’s aged for a minimum of 15 years but released at just 80 proof. It’s possible there’s also a tiny bit of Caroni in this new blend from Plantation as well.

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