Rum Renaissance Festival 2014: Top Five Coolest Rum Backstories
Sunday concluded the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival, a playground for wannabe pirates, booze-hungry businessmen, and diehard rum enthusiasts to geek out together in drunk bliss. But looking beyond the flashy booths and Tiki merch, I found distilleries with fascinating origins that can get lost amid all the shots and swag. To honor these interesting tales, here are the five coolest rum company backstories from this year's showing.
5. Owney's NYC Rum
After five years as an investor for a global beer, wine, and spirits hedge fund in New York, Bridget Firtle was bored with finance. She fantasized about reviving New York's distillery roots, perhaps down the road as a retirement project. She couldn't stop thinking about the idea, however, and in 2011 she jumped headfirst into establishing The Noble Experiment, a small-batch organic rum distillery in Brooklyn. Firtle was named one of Forbes 30 under 30: Food and Wine in 2013. Her distillery's first product is a white rum called Owney's - named after 1920s New York rum runner Owen "Owney" Madden.
"The exciting thing for me is the tangibility of actually making a product, selling it, and having someone enjoy that as a drink," Firtle said. "It's exactly the opposite of Wall Street to me... Every step of the way has been exciting."
4. Don Pancho of Las Cabras Distillery
Described by Rum Fest's Robert V. Burr as "the Godfather of rum," Francisco "Don Pancho" J Fernandez is the Master Distiller at Las Cabras and has more than 45 years' experience in the industry. Mentored by his father, Don Antonio Fernandez Castro, and later the well-known Cuban Master, Don Ramon Fernandez Corales, Don Pancho became Director of the Cuban Beverage Industry in the mid-1970s and assisted in training Master Blenders in distilleries around the world. After 35 years perfecting the "Cuban method" of making rum, he moved to Panama in the early 1990s and began working as the Master Blender for the Varela Brothers, the makers of Ron Abuleo rum. By the mid-1990s, Don Pancho and PILSA CEO Carlos E. Esquivel G. would transform a neglected sugar mill warehouse into Las Cabras Distillery, where Caña Brava Rum is distilled in classic 1922 copper stills. For the 6th Annual Rum Fest, Las Cabras spotlighted its latest series, Don Pancho Origenes.
"Back in the day when Cuba was making real good rum, it was made by Don Pancho," said Esquivel G. "After making rum for third bodies, private contractors, and other big companies...we decided to make a rum with no compromises, not following any trend. That's why we created the Origenes line, meaning Don Pancho's origins - when he was young and the rums he was drinking."