Rum aficionado and veteran traveler Robert Burr has tasted his way around the globe in search of the best rum. Wanting to share his secret finds, Burr started the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival six years ago. This year’s weekend-long event (April 25-27) showcases premier rum brands, celebrity seminars, workshops, cocktail competitions, entertainment and more. We recently caught up with Burr, considered one of the world’s top rum judges, to get his tips for selecting, sipping and serving rum, and his expectations for the extravaganza.
How did you become such a rum enthusiast?
In the 1980s, my wife, Robin, and I traveled the world, visiting resorts on many beautiful islands from the Caribbean to the South Pacific. For many years, we collected all these great rums and enjoyed learning about them. Our collection now exceeds a thousand expressions of rum.
You’ve been a rum judge at events all around the world. What is it like to be on the panel?
We’ve been invited to judge events in New York, New Orleans, Tampa, London, Berlin, Madrid, Paris, Rome, Jamaica, Barbados, Grenada and Mauritius. In a blind tasting, each sample stands on its own. Many factors can influence the process — the environment of the tasting room, the type of tasting glass, the order of the samples, even the time of day.
What can visitors expect at the festival this year?
This year, we’re expanding again to 50,000 square feet and have attracted more rums from the far reaches of the world to exhibit with us. Our Grand Tasting Exhibition is the main event [on April 26 and 27]. It’s a chance to discover, sample and learn about hundreds of different rums from around the world. This year, Don Pancho Origenes, produced by legendary Cuban master rum distiller Francisco “Don Pancho” Fernandez, will unveil its Don Pancho Origenes eight-year-old rum.
What are your favorite spots for rum in Miami?
The city is constantly evolving, changing, following some trends and setting others. On Miami Beach, we like The Broken Shaker. Fine cocktails are the signature at The Regent Cocktail Club at the Gale Hotel on South Beach. Radio at 814 First Street on South Beach has a marvelous rum selection. In Coral Gables, we adore Ortanique. In Wynwood, we enjoy a good rum selection at Adam Gersten’s Gramps.
What’s the expert way to taste rum?
Most require a small amount of rum to sample well. In a quiet setting, with no distractions, take your time observing your rum in the glass. We take a lot of time examining aromas. Twirl the rum to coat the sides of the glass. We take two sips. The first prepares the mouth for this sensory experience and offers an initial impression. The second reinforces the spirit on the palate and confirms the experience.
What are some of your favorite sipping rums?
On any particular day my favorites might change. I recently gave my first perfect score during a blind tasting session to Don Pancho Origenes 18.
What’s your favorite rum cocktail to make?
The simplest, which allow great rum flavor to shine, are rum with ginger and the hand-shaken daiquiri.
Dark and Stormy. Fill a collins glass with ice and add two dashes of Angostura bitters. Pour in a good ginger beer, like Barritt’s from Bermuda, three quarters of the way full. Top by slowly pouring your favorite rich dark rum on top to float the spirit. Traditionally, that will be Gosling’s Black Seal.
Classic daiquiri. A real daiquiri is made of lime, sugar and rum. Squeeze fresh lime juice and balance with simple syrup or sugar to your own taste. Add a very good white rum in generous proportion until the spirit shines through. In a shaker, combine with lots of ice and shake vigorously for at least 30 seconds. Stop shaking immediately and pour into a well-chilled cocktail glass neat. I use fresh key limes and add a single drop of key lime oil extracted from the peel before serving.
What should we look for when buying rum?
First, identify your purpose. The growing selection of fine white rums makes great light mixed drinks. The well-made gold rums and medium-aged rums offer decent sippers or fine mixing spirits. Flavored and spiced rums bring echoes of the tropic to cocktails. For robust flavors, old-aged rums from Jamaica, Guyana and Barbados are among the richest. Puerto Rico offers more subtle and delicate styles. Rums from Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Panama and Venezuela are among the most delicious and rich.
As a world traveler, what are some of your favorite places to visit?
I adore visiting Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad, Grenada, Venezuela, Panama and Guatemala. The countries of Martinique, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Peru, Antigua, St. Lucia and the Virgin Islands are outstanding places to experience the distilleries and the local rums. When I visit London, Madrid, Berlin, Paris, Rome, Prague and Hong Kong, I find exceptional and rare rums. Now we’re seeing more great offerings from the far reaches of Mauritius, Reunion Island, Madagascar, the Canary Islands, Fiji, the Philippines, India, New Zealand and Australia. It seems that everywhere sugar cane can be grown, someone is making rum.
Photos Courtesy of Tatu Kaarlas