Judging Day 2 began with a breakfast presentation by Wicked Dolphin Rum owner Joanne Elardo, Dan Termini (head distiller), and the Wicked Dolphin team. During the presentation, Dan presented the RumXPs with the brands latest editions including Wicked Dolphin Hidden Barrel Reserve, Wicked Dolphin Brewer’s Series, and yet to be released Wicked Dolphin Black. Concentrating solely on rum, Wicked Dolphin produces a great product has sustained grow in size and expressions over the past few years.
Going into judging, I knew that Session #3 – Flavored and Spiced rums would be the most difficult. Being somewhat of a purest, flavored and spiced rums rank fairly low on my rum appreciation meter. With fresh fruit so widely available around the globe, I do not understand why most flavored rums exist. Tasting a variety of flavored rums head-to-head can quickly tarnish the palate so judges must be cautious. Small samples, lots of water, and unsalted crackers help.
With the session complete, the judges enjoyed lunch with Puerto Angle Rum out of the Oaxaca Mountains of Mexico. Puerto Angel is a USDA Organic rum distilled from freshly squeezed cane juice. They offer two expressions: Puerto Angle Blanco is aged in oak casks for 6 months while Puerto Angel Amber is barrel-aged for 3 years. With lunch complete everyone shifted over to the second tasting room to tackle Session #4 – Vintage and Overproof rums. Across the board, the vintage rums were excellent. The overproofs were really good also but the high alcohol content makes them daunting to judge.
Following the session we all gathered for a Happy Hour with Anders Skotlander and his Skotlander Rum. Anders has a great story about the benefits of participating in the Miami Rum Festival. He started his distillery in 2014 and quietly entered his Skotlander I in the 2014 Miami Rum Festival judging. After winning gold medals in 2014 & 2015, Skotlander Rum has became the toast of Denmark. During lunch the judges tasted Skotlander White and Skotlander IV which is aged in casks sent to sea.
After a long day of drinking rum what do judges do to relax? They go bar hoping and drink some of the best rum cocktails Miami has to offer. A group of us went bar hopping beginning in Little Havana at Ball & Chain. The house drink is a tasty rum old fashioned called the Calle Ocho (8th Street). Made with Flor de Cana Gold 4, the bar uses house-made tobacco bitters and garnishes the drink with a tobacco leaf. Our group was hungry so we wandered across 8th Street to the El Exquisito Restaurant for some Cuban sandwiches, plantains, and a Cuban-style beer.
After dinner, Marie King, Executive Bar Manager of LA’s Tonga Hut, drove our group to our next stop, Miami Beach’s Sweet Liberty. Having recently opened, Sweet Liberty still seems to be searching for its niche in the Miami market. Their drink menu was disappointing but I enjoyed my “Beast of Burden”. It’s a twist on a rum old fashioned/traditional old fashioned that’s made with Jim Beam Black, spiced rum, coffee, all spice, ango, and orange oil.
Not wanting to slow down, our group strolled over to The Regent Cocktail Club. The Regent is a small hotel bar which felt even tighter with a three-piece Latin band performing. Our group found solace sitting outside on the patio where we could enjoy the music and conversation. Marie and I decided to splurge by ordering Facundo Exquisito Rum Old Fashioneds. As we sat outside enjoying the late night air I couldn’t help but think about how sweet life can be sometimes. This cocktail, and the company I shared it with, is one of the most memorable moments of the entire week.