Discussing rum with a man like Robert Burr may be simply enlightening for the ordinary drinker. His passion for cane spirits is palpable and expressed with flamboyant tales that go as far back as the formative years of our country. As his story goes, rum is what fueled the American Revolution as colonists turned against the king because of a new tax on molasses. Today, Burr is joined by a growing community of arguably better-behaved rum aficionados enamored by the underappreciated spirit. Rum’s affordability and laid-back character continues to drive sales in the United States to new heights as the economy wobbled its way through the past few years.
“Even the finest rum has a hard time being pretentious. If you bring a bottle of rum to a party, you’re saying ‘let’s party’ without trying to prove anything. This makes it very easy to fall in love with the spirit,” Burr says.
Miami, according to Burr, is the rum capital of the world and the ideal location for the biggest celebration of its distillation, maturation, and blending. Burr’s Miami Rum Renaissance Festival, which takes place every April at the Deauville Beach Resort in Miami Beach, kicked off on Monday and is gearing up for a nonstop weekend of rum-soaked parties, seminars, tastings and discoveries. Nearly 6,000 people are expected to roam through the rum exhibits of the Grand Tasting this weekend, sampling more than 200 rums from every island and category. The festival transforms the Deauville’s 20,000 square-foot ballroom into a buzzing rum wonderland complete with cocktail competitions on Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 7 p.m.
“Once you’re in the door, you’re able to try everything. This isn’t spring break,” Burr says. “We create a true tasting environment where you can discuss butterscotch notes, hear about the distillery and the family, and learn what they’re trying to achieve with their rum.”
In Miami, there’s a paradox when it comes to rum in many social circles. It’s not unusual to overhear groups boasting about their country’s rum and arguing about which produces the best in the world. It’s certainly confusing when you see these proud individuals then reach for their glass of whisky. Burr says his festival is here to help people fall in love with both the rum and its culture of origin. Always wearing his signature Hawaiian shirt, Burr is Miami’s ambassador to the world of rum, tirelessly working each year with his team to unveil products at the Grand Tasting that no one has ever seen before, and offer educational seminars with acclaimed rum personalities.
“Our job is to get new people to take a leap of faith with rum. At the festival, I guarantee they will absolutely discover wonderful rum among more than 70 vendors. It’ll completely take them by surprise,” Burr says. “So many people got caught up in the tequila phase and the vodka phase, but now it’s time for them to get to know rum.”
This year at Rum Renaissance a Florida-based company is in the beta phase with its ready-to-drink rum and cola. Fittingly named, “Libre,” the creators are using the festival as a test lab for rum lovers to weigh in on the new product. You can try it, give feedback and help shape what could be the next big thing. Compare this newbie to the old master, Bacardi, which will be on-site serving up variations of the Cuba Libre to celebrate 150 years of mixing legacy cocktails for the world. There is also a new product from the people who make FlipFlop wines. Their new, cheap and fun brand will only set you back $13 per bottle and should not be confused with anything aged.
On Friday night, close out your adventure at the late-night pop-up bar, the Liar’s Club. The folks from the famed drinking establishment in Manchester, England will be serving exotic rum cocktails with a tiki twist (think whimsical mai tais and coconut shells) from 11 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. at the Deauville’s Jazz Club, perfectly marrying highly technical tropical mixology with mass-accessibility.
A few notables include a class and tasting with Carl Kanto, rum legend from the El Dorado rum label. He has the only wooden still in the world that produces an incomparable type of rum. The seminar takes place Saturday at 5 p.m.
The festival will introduce Diplomatico Ambassador, which the master distiller has been holding on to for years. Aged for a minimum of 12 years in bourbon casks and then an additional two years in sherry casks at the distillery in Venezuela, this rum is for the fledgling segment of aspirational rum drinkers. It’s significantly more expensive ($300 per bottle) than what your typical rum drinker will reach for, but it’s representative of the spirit’s dynamic nature and growth into the premium segment. You can experience it and meet Tito Cordero, the man who created it, during a rare seminar at the festival on Sunday at 3:30 p.m..
And Ian Burrell, one of the most famous men in the rum world, will conduct the Pina Colada Paternity Test. His seminar on Sunday at 4 p.m. will reveal the origins of this famed drink and set the record straight.
So head to the Deauville and discover what Burr affectionately calls “the pirate in all of us.”