I know it has been way too long since my last post. Focusing on a new job must always take priority if I want to buy more rum and attend rum events! I have a lot to say but I’ll start with what has been on my mind these last two months: The Miami Rum Renaissance Festival 2017. In addition to attending, I was provided the opportunity to sit on the Consumer Rum Jury, and I am so thankful I got to be a part of such a wonderful group of rum enthusiasts.
A few observations…this event was very-well organized by the Burr family. I expected a big event but I was extremely pleased with the communication, seminars, and variety of brands at the event. The brand representation was not only expansive but led by brand ambassadors, owners, and highly-passionate individuals that clearly love their product. Not having a lot of experience attending rum festivals, I was glad that every pour I received was by someone willing to talk to me about their rum. I was disappointed at another unrelated rum event where people were hired to pour; not know the product.
My experience started with a pre-festival event held by Rum Java in downtown Miami’s Pawn Broker. I had the chance to meet a number of the festival’s attendees and it was exciting to see how enthusiastic everyone was; most of whom were very familiar with the festival and attend annually. Rum Java had some good cocktails and while I’m not crazy about flavoured rums, coffee is my next-favorite drink after rum and only consumed more frequently because of the whole work thing. I was impressed with Rum Java’s Signature Rum. I tried the various cocktails offered for the evening but found myself most pleased with a simple old-fashioned. I will do another write-up on the brand soon, but as one of the opening events for the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival, the energy was great, and the gift box of samples was a pleasant surprise.
The day before the festival, I had the chance to attend a seminar on nosing rum. Led by one of the creators of the Neat Glass, attendees and fellow rum jurors received information on the science of the glass we would be using for our judging. If you are not an experienced drinker or have ever felt intimidated about identifying the various aromas experts find in glasses, the Neat Glass may become your new best drinking friend. I have always felt a wider and shorter glass such as a lowball or old-fashioned work best but as a non-expert, I would wonder if I had a bad sense of smell or if I just need years of practice. Having been served spirits in taller glasses which aren’t best-suited for rum, the Neat Glass seminar explained not only why their glass is better, but why we shouldn’t use a pretty whisky glass for rum and expect great results. In addition to being a practical glass, it is also affordable!
After the seminar we moved into judging. With two sessions of rum sampling, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m accustomed to drinking rum for long periods of time but judging is very different. I would like to say it is hard work but it really isn’t; teaching high school students is far more difficult! No, it was challenging because over time, you are trying to be fair in how you assess the rum in front of you. You want to pick up the flavors and aromas that the distiller and master blenders hope for; some are meant to be sipped while others are judged on their own even when they are best suited in a cocktail. As a consumer, the brand wants to know the rum they have spent so much time and money on, is one that consumers will love. Relating this to life beyond spirits, it is easy for us to pick up the brands we know or have heard of. Do we pick Behr paint or an odd-sounding name that doesn’t line an entire shelf at Home Depot? Will we pick a bottle of San Pellegrino sparkling water or Fiuggi? Fiuggi, by the way, is my absolute favorite sparkling water that most never see unless in an Italian market. Judging rum requires you to focus on appearance, aroma, and taste. While you can certainly drink the entire sample, you also don’t want to take forever or get too tipsy. You want to be fair, even when faced with one that seems like a complete dud. I drank a lot of water and tried my best to cleanse my palate after each rum. I loved some, and was baffled at others. I went back to sample some that I thought I hated and while they may not ever be my favorite, it is easy to see why it is important to gather the data of many jurors rather than just a few.
The festival itself was lively, fun, and educational. While it would be very easy to over-imbibe, one can easily pace his or herself if they take the time to learn about what they are sampling. Some brands had huge lines which highlighted their popularity, and others would have benefited from better branding in their booth. Mostly, however, there were some very creative displays that represented the brands well. Diplomatico looked very VIP-ish while Rum Java looked like it was ready to take its patrons on a rum safari in the Caribbean. Always the fan of Barbados, I was sure to pass by and say hello to the folks at the Barbados Tourism booth and of course, Mount Gay. I spoke with the ambassadors for Maggie’s Farm and snagged a bottle of their excellent Falernum which was on sale.
Both Robert and Robert Jr. were extremely helpful in giving me some feedback on other available rums for sale via Jensen’s Liquor. Their VIP tasting booth was full of an excellent array of premium rums which truly is a great opportunity to sample some of the more expensive-rums without having to invest in an entire bottle. One always hopes a $100 bottle will be great, but whats great to one person can’t always be great for another. Also helpful was the seminar led by Dave Broom who gave us a map on tasting notes. Much in the same way the rum jury was guided to become better at nosing, Dave went through some of the nuances of rums from different regions. In looking at areas of the map and identifying rums I’m very familiar with, I could quickly say, “minty…that is exactly what I taste but couldn’t place!” Without getting too detailed in stating a flavor that might appear stretching like pound cake or blackberry creme brûlée, I am interested in reading Dave Broom’s book, Rum, soon.
Speaking of books, Warren Bobrow, the author of Cannabis Cocktails, Cocktails & Tonics: The Art of Spirited Drinks & Buzz-Worthy Libations, gave a presentation of the role of one of Mother Nature’s favorite herbs in the world of spirits. While I’m not passionate about cannabis, the idea of cocktails or mocktails as a smoking alternative was interesting. The orange concoction that was provided (with adequate warning) was flavorful and nothing like I have ever had before. From the reviews I’ve read, the book is full of information and it is not simply a guide to get stoned. While I’m sure some would hope for the latter, it is on my summer reading list.
The Miami Renaissance Rum Festival 2017 was a great experience and being a part of the Consumer Rum Jury was an honor. For those interested in attending next year, I would highly recommend taking advantage of the hotel specials the organizers offer as the attendees are so warm and pleasant. I am anxious for next year’s event and looking at how time is passing so quickly, I know it will be here in no time.