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Florida festival explores the complexities of rum

Posted by Paul Kandarian  April 9, 2012 07:19 AM

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Got rum? Robert A. Burr does – lots and lots of lots.

Burr, along with his wife and son, created and run the Rum Renaissance Festival, now in its fourth year and being held at the Deauville Beach Resort in Miami Beach, April 16-22.

When it first began, it drew about 150 people sampling 45 rums, Burr said. Last year’s festival had 3,200 people tasting more than 120 rums from far and near.BigCrowd440.jpg

“This event attracts aficionados and mixologists from all over the world,” said Burr, a seventh-generation Miamian and creator of the Gifted Rums Guide. “The rum explosion is now, the rum business grew through the recession, and there’s real growth in luxury rums, which are cheaper than luxury scotches for example.”

Burr knows his rum inside and out, and runs a terrific festival: I was at the one last spring at the Deauville and though I count myself as a rum lover (it is my drink of first choice), most of those going to the event have forgotten more about rum than I’ll ever know.

I always discounted American-made rum, for example. Big mistake.2011JudgingSheetGlasses480.jpg “American rum is good rum, there’s Siesta Key from Sarasota, whose white rum took a silver here in 2010,” Burr said. “Montanya Distillers of Colorado makes a great rum. I tell you, small distilleries, those little guys make gorgeous rums. Think about microbreweries and how they took off. Same thing with rum now, it’s starting to blossom.”

Celebrity bartenders attend, put on workshops, and the events at the festival are many and varied, including regular tastings, seminars, contests and VIP gatherings. Ticket prices start at $40 per day for tastings, and $250 gets you entry into everything, including VIP parties such as the one at Bacardi’s American headquarters in Coral Gables. Last year, I took in one at Tobacco Road, Miami’s oldest bar and fabled for its live blues music.

Deauville Beach Resort is a great venue, wide open and airy, right on the beach, a hotel with a wonderful bit of history (and which is offering festival attendees starting rates of $130 a night), a grand-dame hotel with an uber-glam past: The Beatles, fresh to America, played there in 1964, and is where the likes of the Rat Pack – Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra et al – partied long into the Miami night.

Not to be missed are the seminars outlining the history of rum, or the “Tiki Team Championships,” in which pro bartenders from the UK battle a US team (the Brits won last year’s event). The main goal of the festival, Burr said, is to educate attendees on rum, adding “I want the average bartender to know more about rums, we give them an education year by year, the same for food and beverage managers, and rum lovers from South American to Colorado, I want people in the trade to come and just plain rum lovers. “Rum and Coke is the most popular rum drink by far,” he said. “But there are so many other variations. People are starting to discover the true range of rum.”

For more info, check out www.rumrenaissance.com

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