Fifteen Rums, Two Cachacas in One Hour: Judging at the Rum Renaissance Festival

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All photos by Laine Doss
Which rum won the judges' hearts and tastebuds?
Every year, bartenders, rum enthusiasts, and fans of a little fun-in-the-sun converge on Miami Beach for the annual Miami Rum Renaissance Festival held at the Deauville Resort. Though events have been going on all week, the real action lies in the two-day grand tasting this Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 7 p.m. For $40 in advance ($50 at the door), you'll be able to sample more than 200 different rums, which is enough to keep even Captain Jack Sparrow happy for a while.

In the days leading up to the weekend, spirits professionals, bartenders, restaurant owners, authors, and professional rummies gather for three days of judging the various rums presented at the grand tasting event. These closed-door sessions are not open to the public. However, I was once again invited to judge a session. Here, for your reading enjoyment, is the secret life of a rum judge.

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Rum Renaissance Festival director Rober Burr giving us the rules of the game.
It's 3 p.m. and 30 industry professionals, most in tiki-shirts, are gathered inside one of the meeting rooms at the Deauville Hotel. The room is filled with the scent of rum -- it hits you through the closed door. At each judge's station is a mat numbered 1-18, along with water and crackers and grapes for palate cleansers. There's a glass on 17 of the 18 positions. Robert Burr, director of the festival, explains the rules. We'll have one hour to judge 15 white rums and 2 cachacas in the following categories: color and clarity (up to 10 points), aroma (up to 20 points), taste (up to 50 points), and finish (up to 20 points), for a possible total of 100 points. The group is jovial...until they get down to the judging. At that moment, the kibitzing stops. It's as quiet as the SATs, to be exact.

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At first, the task is a little daunting, especially with white rums, which are aged for a short amount of time in plain oak or stainless steel caskets instead of the usual charred oak. This makes the rums easily mixable with anything, but also makes judging more difficult. The flavors are less pronounced. You really have to stop and analyze each one. But, like anything in life, if you really take the time to look, smell and taste, you start to see distinct differences.

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Color and clarity, at first, might be difficult, but bring the glasses to the light and swirl the rums and you'll see changes in color and viscosity.

Location Info


Deauville Resort

6701 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, FL

Category: General

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Robert A. Burr
Robert A. Burr

I've been very impressed with the growing quality and quantity of good white rums lately. We're past the days of white rum being a common commodity. Many of these well crafted spirits have a unique profile that will subjectively appeal to different palates and combine with various mixers to create good cocktails.


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