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Downtown Miami, Florida.

Miami Rum Renaissance #2 May 2010

Diplomatico hostess displaying her rum.
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South Beach, Miami, Florida was once again the setting for the much anticipated second annual Rum Renaissance Rum Festival, held from May 5th to May 9th, 2010. The festival attracted many of the top rums from all around the world as well as rum enthusiasts, experts, distillers, blenders, distributors and just about anybody who has an interest in rum. Last year's festival organized by Robert, Robin and Robert V. Burr was considered a huge success by all those involved. Could this year's festival live up to last year's success?

The schedule for this year's festival included endless VIP parties, rum seminars, rum judging competitions and of course the main rum tasting festival itself, amongst other things. The venues for all these events were spread out all over Miami Beach, Miami and Coral Gables, from premium restaurants to exclusive hotels.

The Rumelier was invited to the festival to be a member of the Rum Expert Panel (Rum XP's) who were to be responsible for the rum judging competition this year, where the judges had the opportunity to taste over 80 rums from many large rum distillers and some from unique boutique small batch distillers. However, another highlight for The Rumelier was finally getting to meet all the Rum XP's he had never metbefore in person.

Day One

The Rumelier travelled up the short 575 miles to Miami on the Wednesday morning so that he would be in time for the first nights VIP parties. This year The Rumelier had decided to stay at the Albion Hotel which was situated very close to all the scheduled rum events on Miami Beach and was also very close to many great restaurants and shops on the famous Ocean "Deco" Drive and Lincoln Road.

Before the much anticpated first party, which was to be hosted by Ron Zacapa from Guatemala, the Rum XP Panel of judges had been invited to meet with Zacapa's Master Blender Ana Lorena Vasquez (shown below right) at STK Steakhouse at the Gansevoort Resort on Collins Avenue. Lorena gave a short seminar on how Zacapa rums are distilled and most importantly how the complex aging system Zacapa use to age their world famous rums is performed. Of course there many samples of rum to be tasted that displayed the different types of barrels and stages in the complex aging system.

Ana Loreana Vasquez, Master Blender at Zacapa.
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Meeting Lorena was a special treat for the Rum XP's who all listened attentively to all the in-depth information Lorena was delivering to the group through an interpreter. It was interesting to hear many of the unique techniques used in the making of what undoubtedly is one of the world's finest rums. The rum is distilled at sea level from virgin honey juice and then transported up to 7000 feet up in the Guatemalan mountains where it is aged for up to 25 years or more. Zacapa uses the Solera method of aging it's rums, which can be expensive and very time consuming, but undoubtedly it is certainly worth the effort. 

Once Lorena had finished her presentation the group of XP's extended their appreciation to Lorena and her colleagues before they moved onto the roof of the Gansevoort Resort. Once upstairs they gathered at the Plunge rooftop bar and pool for the Ron Zacapa party where many other VIP's were already enjoying the hospitality being displayed by the party's organizers and beautiful hostesses.

From the roof top of the resort there were amazing vistas of Miami Beach in all directions. Samples of Zacapa 23 and 25 Year Old rums were flowing and all the guests were enjoying the tasty food, especially the slow roasted pork which makes a great combination with fine rum.

Unfortunately due to the busy schedule of VIP events the Rum XP's shortly had to move onto the next party and bid their farewells to all those present at the party.

They proceeded downstairs to catch a courtesy bus kindly provided by "The Rums of Puerto Rico" Promotion Board. The bus was probably the most appreciated act of generosity shown to the Rum XP's all week long and was very much appreciated by those who took advatage of it. The air conditioned courtesy bus was certainly an unexpected treat and proved to be the glue that kept the RumXP Panel together all week long.

The Barcelo hostess trying some fruit with her rum
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The next party for the VIP's was organized by Ron Barcelo from the Dominican Republic and their public relations company Creativas. This party was held at the Epic Hotel, situated alongside the Miami River. Upon arrival the Rum XP's were ushered upstairs to a private section of the bar which provided good views of the bar below and of the Miami River. The Barcelo and Gran Anejo were to be main rums of choice for this event.

Once again the rum was flowing and food was circulating. The pretty Barcelo hostesses (one shown left) were handing out generous portions of both to the lucky attendees. This was a fun time for The Rumelier as Barcelo rums have long been one of his favourites and it was a pleasure to meet some of the people behind the scenes at Ron Barcelo. Barcelo Anejo was one of the first rums that originally sparked The Rumelier's love affair with rum, so this indeed was a special treat for him.

Some of the Rum XP's were provided with a small bar of their own where they were invited to mix various cocktails for the thirsty guests and many of them obliged mixing up various concoctions. It was pleasant to see the experts at "work" and to sample some of their unique concoctions.

After a couple of hours it was time to depart for the final official event of the evening, the Ron Atlantico party, which was held on the rooftop of the Betsy Hotel, Miami Beach. After the bus-ride back to the Beach the XP's proceeded to the rooftop of the Betsy Hotel where the Atlantico party was in full swing. Atlantico cocktails were being created and consumed in large ammounts and cigars were being created and handed out to all the guests who wished to partake. There was also a chance to meet the young owners and developers of Ron Atlantico, Brandon Lieb and Aleco Azqueta, who have managed to develop a fine tasting, premium, solera rum from the Dominican Republic.

This was a nice relaxing party and made a great finale to a busy day of travel and parties for The Rumelier. After a while it was time to head back to his nearby hotel in order to get some much needed rest before Thursday's very busy scehdule of rum events.

Fransico "Don Pancho" Fernandez from Zafra Rum.
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Day Two 

After an early rise and a hearty breakfast buffet accompanied by several cups of coffee, day two of Rum Renaissance began for The Rumelier and many of the XP's with a stroll down the very famous Ocean "Deco" Drive, where they were to have breakfast with the creators of one of the newest fine rums to hit the market in recent months, Zafra 21 Year Old Master Reserve.

The refreshing stroll had the group of XP's walking south, down "The Beach" to News Cafe, the setting for breakfast on the patio with Zafra's Master Blender, Fransico "Don Pancho" Fernandez (pictured right) and many of his colleagues from Panama, home of this particular rum. One of the important parts of the festival for The Rumelier was the opportunity to sample rums that he would not normally have access to, this included many from Central and South America. 

The XP's and other invited guests who had assembled at the busy restaurant were given an ample breakfast and refreshments before they were given a presentation about Zafra Rum including an interpreted speech by "Don Pancho" himself. It is always a pleasure for any rum lover to listen to the people who are responsible for producing any rum, especially a rum so interesting as Zafra. Unfortunately time was short for the XP's and it was not long after the group had a chance to meet "Don Pancho" and ask him some questions before they had to head back up the "The Beach" to begin the first session of the tasting competition. It had been a pleasure to meet the "Don", a Cuban by birth, who had been employed by Havana Club Rum in Cuba for 40 years before he emigrated to Panama to develop his own fine rum. The XP's were promised a hand signed bottle of Zafra Rum before they News Cafe.

The Delano Hotel where the rum judging was held.
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The most important part of Rum Renaissance for the Rum XP Panel was the judging of all the rums that were partaking in the tasting competition. The XP's took the fairly long walk north to the Delano Hotel (pictured left), home for the second straight year of the tasting competition. As for last year the tasting was to be held downstairs in the Florida Room.

While the conditions in the Florida were not perfect for tasting rums, the first tasting session began with white sugar cane spirits. Before the first session began the Rum XP Panel had all been briefed by event organizer Robert Burr about each rum category and how each rum was to be scored. The judges listened carefully as this the first ever Rum XP judging event and they all wanted it to be a success, but most importantly they all wanted to be consistent in their grading of the rums to be tasted.

Paul McFadyen from England was very generous in taking charge of the distribution of the first flight of rums. The Rumelier's judging partner this year turned out to be local Miami native Joey Casanova, who was judging in his first event. As always, the judges took their time tasting and scoring the rums infront of them, giving respect to the peolpe who have often put their life's work into many of the rums.

Rum tasting session number one.
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The first group of rums tasted consisted of white molasses based rums, agricole rhums and cachaca's (pictured right). There was a great variety of flavours and tastes amongst this group and it is probably the hardest group of rums to judge, as most people do not normally drink white rum straight up as it is mostly used as a mixer in a favourite cocktail. Very few white rums are often drunk or sampled on their own. This challenge was good to have as the first group of rums while everybody's pallett was fresh and healthy.
Once all the rums had been poured it was time to judge them. The Rumelier took his time giving each rum a fair tasting. After all the judges had finished scoring the rums and all the score sheets had been handed in, the bottles of rums were presented to the judges so that they could see how they graded the rums as this was conducted as a blind tasting with no judges seeing the bottles before tasting the rums.
After the judges had compared notes and discussed any surprises amongst the rums, the judges were given an hour off to go and have a quick lunch and refresh their pallets before the second session of tasting began.
The second session in the afternoon was to be the flavoured and spiced rums, which is probably the least favourite group of rums amongst the judges. Once all the judges had re-assembled in the frigid conditions of the Florida Room they got down to work, tasting the wide variety of spiced and fruit flavoured rums. The session passed fairly quickly without any real surprises once the rums had been revealed to the judges after the session had been completed.

R&D Rum Reviews taste Martinique Rhums.
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Another quick break was afforded the judging panel before the first VIP party of the day was to begin. This gave the judges a chance to go and freshen up and change clothes before they assembled at the Raleigh Hotel where they would catch their "Rums of Puerto Rico" courtesy bus to the Ritz Carlton on Key Biscayne. The first party was sponsored by rhums of Martinique, Rhum Clement and Rhum JM. The party was held in the beautiful Rum Bar inside the foyer of the Ritz Carlton. The bar can only be described as every rum lovers dream. The wooden glass cases that surrounded the beautifully ornate bar contained rums from all over the world. Each shelf was labelled with the country of origin for all the rums. There was also several smaller glass cases where patrons could store their personal favourite bottles of rum and other mementos. Scattered around the walls were old black and white photographs of sugar cane fields, tobacco fields and various other related old photographs that gave the room an old feeling. 
The party itself was hosted by two of the better known agricole rhums from Martinique who were sharing the party. Rhum Clement and JM Rhum were sampled in abundance with many special cocktails being made available to the guests. This was a beautiful, relaxed setting for a rum party, made better by the interesting cocktails made with agricole rum. 
However time flew by and before long it was once again time to hop on the courtesy bus and head off to the next VIP party.

The Rumelier meets the Diplomatico hostess.
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After a short bus ride the Rum XP's arrived at the location for the second party of the night, which was once again at the Epic Hotel alongside the Miami River. This time the party was on the 16th floor and was being sponsored by Diplomatico rums from Venezuela. From the vista deck of the 16th floor their were amazing views of Downtown Miami and all the skyscapers that dot the landscape.

The Rum XP's made themselves welcome and began sampling the very fine rums of Diplomatico. Over his years of travelling and tasting various rums, Diplomatico rums have always stood out as amongst some of the best rums in the world. Along with the great rum there were some delicious food creations made only better by the view of Downtown Miami. The beautiful hostesses circulated often with samples of food and rum making it a party to remembe,r with many Rum XP's taking the opportunity to have a photograph taken with the hostesses or with the models showing off their traditional dancing costumes. There were also several small satellite bars that several members of the Rum XP Panel decided to take full advantage of and proceeded to make cocktails for the assembled crowd of party goers. Watching some of the most creative and knowledgeable bartenders at work was an experience not to be soon forgotten.

However, once again it was time for the Rum XP's to bid their farewells and head off to the last VIP party of the night at the Raleigh Hotel, Miami Beach.

Beautiful Abuelo hostesses display their rum.
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After another bus ride back to the "Beach" the Rum XP's arrived at the Raleigh Hotel where Ron Abuelo from Panama was hosting a party poolside at the rear of the hotel, right next to the world famous Miami Beach. Once again there were beautiful hostesses (pictured left) handing out samples of rum and food. This location was where the Grand Rum Tasting event would be held later in the week.
Ron Abuelo is a very unique style of rum from Panama that is very distinct in its flavour profile, rather unlike any other type of rum and could be described as very light in body and style. The Rumelier was keen to try the older versions of this rum as they are not normally available to him in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Once again the rum samples were flowing and the food was being distributed to all the guests. The music was pumping and the crowds began to roll into this lively party. Miami is a late night party town and this party was a signal for the real party goers to start arriving. For the Rum XP's the day was beginning to wind down. It had been a long day of rum tastings, judging and VIP parties. Slowly but surely many of the XP's started to head back to their respective hotels so that they would be relatively fresh the following morning and ready to repeat the day all over again. The day had been a very long one, but one that most people who had been involved will remember for a lifetime. The Rum XP's were creating a special bond ignited by the Burr family and flamed by the noble spirit rum.
The Rumelier decided he should also head back to his hotel via the famous nightlife on Lincoln Road and managed to take a brief visit to a bar that stocked over 200 imported beers. After sampling a cool Kalik from the Bahamas he decided to call it a night and headed back to the Albion Hotel. Day two of Rum Renaissance for him had concluded.

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Day Three
The schedule for day three was to be very similar to day two. For The Rumelier he rose early for his usual buffet breakfast and numerous cups of black coffee, so that he would be prepared again for the day's very full schedule of events.
The first official event of the day was a breakfast hosted by Ron Cartavio from Peru, on the beautifully austere outside dinning deck of the Delano Hotel. Ron Cartavio were to unveil their brand new XO Rum (pictured right) to the eagerly awaiting group of international rum experts.
This event was hosted by Artisan Brands, the US imported for Ron Cartavio. To help with the presentation Cartavio had invited international renown spirits expert Jurgen Deibel from Germany to explain the in and outs of how this rum is produced and the reason for introducing their XO Rum to the market. Jurgen proceeded with the presentation while the Rum XP's enjoyed their breakfast refreshments and licked their lips at the potential tasting of this outstanding Peruvian rum. Peru is not thought of as being a country at the cutting edge of rum production, but this rum coming from Destilerias Unidas, who began production in 1929 can quickly change ones perception of traditional rum producing countries. 
Master Blender Federico Schulz also gave a brief speech through an interpretor to the gathered group before the buffet breakfast was presented to all those gathered.
After breakfast it was time for the XP Panel to once again gather downstairs in the Florida Room for session number three of the rum judging competition. Session three were the gold/amber rums, one of the judges favourite groupings.

Joey Casanova, The Rumelier's judging partner.
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While many people may think it is easy tasting a group of well over 20 rums, this is a more difficult task than may first appear. The judges are not only tasting the various rums, but they are trying to give an unbiased, fair score for every rum they taste. The nose and the pallet become easily fatigued, so regular breaks, such as smelling coffee beans, drinking lots of water, or eating crackers are often necessary to refresh the senses. The most difficult task is trying to compare the first rums in the group to the last rums in any group and trying to remember how the early rums tasted. Many judges will go back regularly to the early rums so as to refresh their memory on each rum.

Session three began on time and was to come and go very quickly for the judging panel. This is the category that is one of the most pleasant to judge. Once the judges had finished scoring all their rums they handed in their score sheets and waited for the rums to be revealed. Once the rums were revealed the judges compared their individual scores with the rums, noting any pleasant surprises or any disappointments.

Straight after session three of the rum judging the Rum XP's were to take the short walk upstairs to the Blue Room of the Delano Hotel where they were to be given a  presentation by Ron Botran of Guatemala. Ron Botran is made by the same company as Ron Zacapa in Guatemala but is distributed by the parent company, unlike Ron Zacapa.

Ron Botran were to reveal two new rums (one shown right along with their representative) that have not been released to the US market at the time. Along with the presentation the Rum XP's were provided with delicious cocktails and a superb buffet lunch.

Botran representative displays her fine rum.
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Along with the cocktails, samples of the two fine new rums were also being made available. The presentation by Ron Botran included many informative details about the complex production and aging system developed by the company over many decades. Once the presentation had finished, the Rum XP's were each presented with a beautiful wooden gift-box that held two smalls bottles of Botran Rum.
However, it was quickly back to work for the judges, who made their way back downstairs to the Florida Room, for the very much anticipated final and fourth session of tasting, the extra old/aged rums. This proved to be a very large group of rums, but at the same time very enjoyable. It was enjoyable to save the finest rums until last. Once again the judges took their task very seriously, taking their time evaluating ech and every rum. The Rumelier recognized many of his favourite rums, but was also pleasantly surprised by many new rums he was tasting for the very first time.
Many of the judges had also been pleasantly surprised at the quality of many of the new rums they tasted especially the growing amount of homegrown rums that are popping up all over the USA. 
Very enjoyable session four came quickly to an end, which meant the tasting competition had been completed by all the judges. The competition had been very ably organized by the Burr family of Robert, Robin, Robert V. and his girlfriend Amanda, who kept track of all the scores.
The "work" for the judges was over and it was time to head off to the first VIP party of the night. The Rumelier and the other judges made a very fast sprint back to their respective hotels for a quick change of clothes and headed off to the Raleigh Hotel where their courtesy bus was awaiting them.
The first party of the night was at the Penthouse of the brand new Bacardi Headquarters in Coral Gables.

An old Bacardi barrell in the Bacardi Museum.
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Last year the Bacardi VIP party was held in the old Bacardi Headquaters in their beautiful, historic downtown location, where partygoers were given a special treat by being allowed in to the Penthouse to see the famous Cuban mural on the wall and also receive a guided tour through the extensive Bacardi family museum. Over the last year Bacardi have moved their headquarters to a new location in Coral Gables and the Rum XP's were all looking forward to exploring this new venue.
Once the courtesy bus had arrived in Coral Gables and the group of judges had figured out where the entance to the well hidden new building was, they had to pass through tight security before proceeding to the first party of the night.
As usual the rums were flowing and food was circulating. The Rumelier managed to join the first group of people to be given a guided tour of the newly located Bacardi Family Museum. The Bacardi historian, Pepin Argamasilla would be the personal guide through the somewhat smaller but information packed museum. The group listened attentively as the party began to liven up in the main room.
In a small section of the museum Bacardi Brand Master Apprentices David Cid and Juan Coronado were providing samples of Bacardi's premium rum, Reserva Limitada. The Rumelier has spent a great deal of time with these two very knowledgeable Bacardi representatives in Puerto Rico in recent years and it was a pleasure to be reacquainted with them in such a beautiful location.
Unfortunately time passed by very quickly and it was time to head off to the nearby historic Biltmore Hotel for the second party of the evening.

Ron Matusalem owner Dr.Alvarez.
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The second party for the night was hosted by Ron Matusalem from the Dominican Republic. It was held in a very large, ornate room overlooking the beautiful grounds of the hotel. Matusalem were showcasing their brand new 18 Year Old Rum. The Rumelier was eagerly anticipating the unveiling of this rum, as Matusalem's Gran Reserva has always been one of his favourites in years passed. The new 18 Year Old did not disappoint, a premium rum from a company that has experienced many difficulties since the Castro regime took control of Cuba.
After some short speeches The Rumelier had a chance to speak to the owner of the company, Dr. Claudio Alvarez (pictured right), great grandson of the original founder of the company Evaristo Alvarez, who has managed to resurrect the company after the family were forced into exile from Cuba. 
These days their rums are aged using the solera system in the Dominican Republic by Cuban Ron Maestros, who use Trinidadian rums for their base, a real example of Caribbean teamwork coming together to produce a unique style of rum.
Once the speeches had concluded an enormous cake with a replica of the 18 Year Old Rum acting as a crown was cut up and distributed amongst the guests.  Once dessert had been devoured it was once again time for the Rum XP's to board their awaiting bus and head off to their final destination for the evening.
The final party was hosted by the Rums of Puerto Rico Promotion Board at the Evolution Room of the Ritz Carlton in South Beach, Miami. Upon arrival the group of judges were given the VIP red carpet treatment with many photo opportunities for group photographs. Once inside the the judges found the party was in full swing and as expected the rum was flowing. Trying to decide what to drink at the end of a very long day was probably the most difficult decision for many judges as they did not want to miss any of the fine rums and cocktails that were available.
The Rumelier decided to leave this party early and try and retire at a reasonably early time by taking the short walk back to his nearby hotel, this way he would be relatively fresh for the Grand Rum Tasting the following day. Day three had been an amazing day of rum tastings, presentations and parties. Could the Grand Tasting possibly manage to top this?

Day Four

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Flor de Cana hostesses showing off their rums.
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Day four began with some much needed free time for the Rum XP's. The Rumelier took full advantage of this by partaking in by now his usual buffet breakfast with friendly hotel chef Juan, before he headed out onto Lincoln Road to find some presents for his family. After this feat was accomplished it was time for a stroll along Ocean "Deco" Drive, taking in all the views that Miami Beach had to offer. After an entertaining walk, The Rumelier headed back to his hotel to meet up with his fellow Rum XP's to plan the rest of their day and try and squeeze in a little lunch before heading off to the Raleigh Hotel for the most anticipated event of the week.

Just after midday a small group of judges headed off on the short walk to the Raleigh Hotel. The Raleigh was to be the setting for the Grand Rum Tasting. This is where all the partaking rum companies have a booth or tent where they give away samples of their rums, often along with cocktails and various advertising items to keep as a souvenir. Upon arrival at the Raleigh  Hotel the majority of Rum XP's held a short meeting to discuss the scores of the Tasting Competiton, amongst other topics. Many were keen to begin their tour of the Grand Tasting before the general public were allowed in two hours later, so the meeting was kept as brief as possible before all the XP's sprinted out to be poolside at the rear of the hotel.

Zacapa hostess with her fine rum.
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Upon arriving poolside The Rumelier hooked up with Scottish friend John Sterling who had flown in to Miami earlier in the week especially to experience his first Rum Renaissance. Together they began to tour all the rum tents, taking in the views and sampling many of the rums on display. The weather was clear this year, but extremely hot and uncomfortable near the beach. There was only one thing to do, drink more rum!! Another tour of the Grand Tasting was undertaken incase the pair had missed any of the tents the first time around.
Slowly the venue filled up with rum enthusiasts from all over the world, the music started getting louder and the rum was really starting to flow. Lines grew longer at each tent and it became easy to see which rums were the most popular.
The Rumelier and John took what they thought would be a short break from drinking rum by attending a Bacardi Seminar hosted by David Cid and Juan Coronado. This was held in a conference rum upstairs in the Raleigh Hotel and was, as expected, a very interesting seminar hosted by the two Bacardi experts, where even more rums and cocktails were sampled.
Eveybody appeared to be enjoying themselves in the sweltering heat of Miami Beach. Time passed by quickly and before long the sun was setting on what can only described as a fantastic afternoon of rum tasting and newtworking between rum enthusiasts from all corners of the earth.
Before everybody started to leave the Grand Tasting there was the final leg of the Tiki Face-Off between Team USA and Bacardi UK Tiki Team. This was held on the main stage poolside and was highly entertaining for the gathered crowd. After much acting, mixing and performing the eventual winners turned out to be the visiting Brits and Bacardi UK Tiki Team. A day to last in the memories for deacades had come to an end for many. It was time to try and wind down for many. The final party of the week was to be held in the Florida Room of the Delano Hotel, sponsored by Appleton Rums from Jamaica.
Although The Rumelier had every good intention of heading south to the Delano Hotel with drinking partner John, they never made further than the National Hotel which is adjacent to the Raleigh Hotel where another party was in full swing. Miami Beach proved to be a very active, lively location on Saturday nights. 

Day Five

For many of the Rum XP's day five was an early trip to Miami International Airport for an early flight to various corners of the globe. For a lucky few who remained behind they had a chance to spend a few hours back poolside at the Raleigh Hotel, where they were given the use of a few cabana tents for a relaxing few hours of camaraderie and of course copious amounts of rum. This proved to be a chance to compare notes from all the events from the week, aswell as the previous night. It also provided a chance to talk about future events, especially the upcoming Rum Festival in London, England being organized by Ian Burrel, one of the Rum XP judges.

Credit must be given to the whole Burr family of Robert A., Robin and Robert V. They did an amazing job of organizing such a great rum experience for all those lucky enough to be involved. How this festival will get better is hard to imagine, but as many people who know Rob A. Burr will testify, he will certainly try his best for next year and beyond. Rum was done proud on South Beach, May 2010, a festival to live long in the annuals of rum history.

Avalon Hotel on Ocean Drive, Miami Beach.
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Rum XP transport kindly provided by Rums of Puerto Rico.