For years I wanted to attend the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival. I looked at photos, read write-ups, and regretted not going. The invitation to participate in their inagural Consumer Rum Jury was just the push I needed to convince myself to make the journey. Now, having been, I know that I will be back again next year and many years to come!
Day 1 (Wednesday, April 15th)
I probably should have flown to Miami Rum Fest but I decided to make the 9.5 hour drive so I would have transportation around town and so I could bring back as much rum as I wanted. Traveling with my brother-in-law, we split the drive over two days. We had an excellent evening at The Grind Gastropub in Ormond Beach. We ate well, drank well, and capped our relaxed evening with The Grind’s decadent Campfire Pizza (Smores Pizza). Cinnamon, roasted marshmallow, and chocolate chunks covered with drizzled chocolate on a thin pizza crust. Magnificent!
Day 2 (Thursday, April 16th)
The Consumer Rum Jurists were asked to arrive to the blind-tasting at 2:30pm so we were on the road early. We arrived in Miami with time to check into our room early then grab a quick bite to eat. As I headed downstairs to the conference room, I found myself more anxious than nervous about participating in my first official rum tasting.
When Robin Burr led the twenty Consumer Rum Jurists into the tasting room we each found twenty rums pre-poured into NEAT tasting glasses laid out in front of us. Robert Burr and his son Rob Jr. chatted with the jurists to keep things lite. Bernhard Schäfer and Rob Sr. then provided us with some tasting and judging instructions. We used a 100 point scaled broken down into four criteria: Color/Clarity (10), Aroma (20), Taste (50), and Finish (20). Before we began, we all were reminded to relax and have fun.
I’ve tasted 100s of rums in my life but this was the first time that I spit out the rum instead of swallowing it. If judges swallowed all of the rums tasted they would be drunk before the end of the session. We had a good assortment of gold, aged, spiced, and dark rums to judge. After smelling and tasting the first few rums I was concerned that my sinuses might be askew because I could not make out many discernible aromas. To test my olfactory receptors I sniffed a few of the darker rums which assured me that my senses were still working. I found it difficult to score younger rums against the older rums. Once I established my highest scoring rum, I revisited a number of lower scoring rums to confirm their scores. I changed a few scores but mostly I felt my totals were accurate.
When we finished judging, the jurist moved into the reveal room to see the rums we had sampled. I will not disclose all of my scores but I will say that I rated Opthimus Ron Artesanal Solera 25 Anos as my top rated rum. Everyone chatted a bit over some samples and then we joined the RumXP judges to talk rum with the Importer and Head Distiller from Peruvian-based Ron Cartavio. We then made our way to the hotel pool to meet the folks from Bayou Rum and bond with our fellow judges over cocktails.
During Rum Fest week, the Burrs also organize Miami Cocktail Week. They designate a different bar each night to visit for some quality cocktails. Thursday night many of us went to South Beach’s Broken Shaker. The Broken Shaker is a Hostel by day and a relaxed, poolside bar at night. I was lucky enough to be introduced to some members of the Fraternal Order of Moai – Gumbo Limbo Chapter tiki fan club. We talked rum and tiki until almost 2am.
Day 3 (Friday, April 17th)
Up early to explore Miami, I ran into fellow Consumer Jurist Bill Mohler and we decided to head out on a rum hunt. We visited a few Little Havana liquor stores before dropping into Miami Club Rum Distillery. We had a good tasting tour led by Miami Club Rum’s owner and Master Distiller Matt Malone. Afterwards we grabbed a quick bite to eat and headed back to the Convention center for the start of the Festival.
There was a short delay entering the festival but I finally was free to roam the convention hall and sample some rum and cocktails. I had a number of “must try” rums so I visited those booths first: Afrohead, Opthimus, Richland, Plantation, and Dzama among others. I was so overwhelmed with rummy goodness that I missed Richard Seale’s thought provoking seminar about rum categorization and authenticity; bummer. 7pm soon arrived and it was time to go. Everyone was off to the Mary Brickell Village for dinner, drinks, music, and rum provided by Rums of Puerto Rico. Another fun night with new friends that did not end until after midnight.
Day 4 (Saturday, April 18th)
I got up early to cruise South Beach and grab some breakfast. Saturday’s tasting session opened at noon so we quickly got back to the Convention center to enjoy a long day of rum.
With so many rums, and great rum people, the day absolutely flew by. I visited every booth and tried nearly every rum. When one of the seminars was cancelled, Richard Seale graciously agreed to present a shortened version of his Friday seminar. Afterwards I made the full tour of rums in the Trade-only area. I spent quality time tasting some terrific rums like Nine Leaves (Japan), Skotlander (Denmark), and Bristol (England).
As the tasting session neared the end it was time to announce the winners of the RumXP and Consumer Rum Jury’s blind-tasting competition. Everyone gathered on the stage to receive judging medals and to hear the results. It was exciting being on stage as the winners picked up their medals. I would love to do it again!
With the winners announced, it was back to the rum. I would be heading home in the morning and would sadly miss Sunday’s tasting. We were having so much fun talking with our new friends from Pusser’s Rum and Gubba Rum we did not notice that the convention center was nearly empty. Eventually the festival volunteers asked us to leave. A quick trip upstairs to drop my swag and freshen, then back downstairs heading out to eat.
A large group of us ate an authentic Cuban meal accompanied by fresh Mojitos in Little Havana. My new friends and I then headed to Ball & Chain for cocktails. Our attire almost kept us out of Ball & Chain but flashing our RumXP medals got us through the door in time to hear a fantastic Latin band over some tasty Tobacco Rum Old Fashioneds. Full of good food and lots of rum had slowed everyone so we headed back to the hotel bar for a night cap.
My final thoughts on Miami Rum Renaissance Festival are nothing but praise. I was glad the festival expanded to include a trade area that showcased rum producers hoping to enter the U.S. market. I liked that attendance was capped at 3,000 per day. The limited crowd allowed attendees to speak with representatives about their rums rather than just downing shots. The atmosphere was fun and jovial while also being quite personal.
Lastly I want to thank Rob Sr., Rob Jr., and Robin Burr for presenting a wonderful festival. I truly thank them for including me in the Consumer Rum Jury. I also want to thank my fellow Consumer Jurists and all of the RumXPs for sharing their knowledge and experience. I hope to see all of you again next year!