Today we have an interview with one of the most recognisable personalities in the Rum World – Robert A Burr.
In the real world together with his wife Robin and son Robert V Burr , Robert hosts and organises the annual Miami Rum Renaissance Festival the largest gathering of rum lovers in the world. They also host the Rum Renaissance Caribbean Cruise, an adventure for rum enthusiasts to visit distilleries and rum shops on many islands.
Robert very kindly took some time out of his hectic schedule to answer some questions I posed to him (hey I even took the time to ask him some questions specific to him – maybe that could be idea for some other sites to follow!).
As with previous interviewees I have not amended Rob’s answers in anyway nor have I sought any further clarification regarding them.
1. So Robert how has 2015 been for the Burr Empire? Another successful year?
It’s hardly an empire with three people here, but yes, we had a good year in terms of the rum festival and trade show, the rum guide and the rum cruise. It was also a good year for being a judge in international rum tasting competitions. Several new projects are in the works that should bear fruit next year.
2. How do you feel rum has progressed and developed during 2015? I feel that 2015 has certainly been a very big year!
The rum category continues to move forward. Many new distilleries, many new brands, many new expressions, have come to the market and many more are in the pipeline now.
3. Other than Miami Rum Renaissance which Rum Festivals have you enjoyed the most this past year? Any highlights?
Being invited to the 250th anniversary of St. James in Martinique was wonderful — absolutely incredible. Our trips to Haiti to search for rustic clairin distilleries are truly fascinating adventures. Joining my fellow RumXPs for the festivals in Hong Kong, San Francisco, Rome, Berlin, Belgium and London are always top notch experiences. Unfortunately my schedule would not allow for the rums festivals in Paris and Madrid this year. Our exclusive rum seminars at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans were the first to sell out again. Visiting the distilleries of Barbados, St. Lucia, Antigua, St. Croix and San Juan on the rum cruise was over the top. We always end the year with a week in Key West to relax and soak up some rum in the sun.
4. In both the UK and the US rum production seems to have stepped up a notch. Which rum distilleries/producers would be your one’s to watch in 2016?
The myriad private labels and new distilleries in the USA bringing new products to market are nearly overwhelming. Elsewhere, St. Lucia is sitting on a gold mine and since the death of the visionary leader Laurie Bernard several years ago, we’ve been wondering what direction they might take.
I am encouraged that incredible products are forthcoming. Expect more dynamic rums from Richard Seale at Foursquare, from Gordon Clarke at Worthy Park, from Cartavio in Peru. Our friends at Monymusk make great rum, but are a bit short on the marketing skills necessary to get these fine products to the market. Hopefully that will change.
Yoshiharu Takeuchi at Nine Leaves in Japan is winning more top awards than any new brand I’ve ever seen. Anders Skotlander in Copenhagen also has taken many awards for his new rum label and continues innovating and pushing the envelope. Compagnie Des Indes is making a name for themselves in Europe. I hope to see them in the USA some day soon. Of course, we trying very hard to get Bristol, Velier, Silver Seal, Samaroli and other collectible spirits into the USA as well.
5. On that note which “new” rums or distilleries caught your eye in 2015?
Some of the tiny distilleries in Haiti are ready to be discovered by a greater international audience. It’s the last place in the modern world where anyone can make rum legally without a license, oversight or taxation. The very best of these artisanal rustic cane spirits are like a time machine taking you back to the way rum was made three hundred years ago.
6. Have you discovered any new rums in 2015 that have become staples in the Burr household?
Most of our rum enthusiast friends buy spirits to enjoy them. They have their favorites that they choose more often that others according to their preferences for styles, categories and regions. Our modus operandi is a bit different than most. We collect spirits to understand them. Our interest is in knowing every aspect of their production method, their intentions and the business model of every available spirit in the rum category. We evaluate many rums each week and have currently have more than 2100 samples on hand at the home office bar. In this sense, we don’t have any particular favorite rums that we buy from the liquor store each week to enjoy in our leisure time.
7. As well as promoting and encouraging new commercial bottlings how do you feel about the continued interest especially for those on a “Rum Journey” with Independent bottlers? Do you find it strange that so many of them come from the UK and Europe and the US has yet to catch on? Or do you think that is unfair?
Interest in special bottlings is a good sign of coming success for authentic rums. The market in the USA, with 50 states and 3,300 counties makes it difficult for a company that produces only 200, 500 or 800 bottles of a special expression to make economic sense. It’s not a matter of fairness. With so many regulations and hurdles on top of a myriad of distribution challenges, the US market favors very large brands with significant promotional budgets.
8. Going back in time when did your own “Rum Journey” begin? Any influences? Could you have went down another path?
We’re involved in numerous business ventures. Rum is one of my personal passions and one that I predicted was ready for advancement ten years ago. Rum’s reputation was ordinary, average, unremarkable. I knew it to be fascinating, quite varied and far better than its common status might suggest.
Growing up in Miami, rum was always available. Miami is the number one local market for rum in the world, so we’re lucky to see many brands from the Caribbean and elsewhere first breaking into the US market here. Our years of publishing a magazine about scuba diving in the 1980s took us to every imaginable tropical destination on earth where corals and tropical fish might be found. Incidentally, sugar cane flourishes in these places and the opportunities to discover that wide variety of rums made in the tropics was before us at every turn. The rum collection grew significantly during these years of easy international travel, as did our fascination for understanding the various processes of making and aging rum.
9. When you have visitors do you have a signature serve? Any Burr cocktails that you particularly enjoy serving up to guests?
I like rum and gingers, daiquiris, mai tais, rum old fashioneds — plus we make many variations on the classic rum punch formulas. But far and away, when friends visit our Rum Wreck Dive Bar, we have a purpose — to sample small amounts of many interesting rums neat.
When we travel to visit a good bar, we like to order a daiquiri to see if this simple, delicious cocktail is understood. There was a time when 95% of them were horrible. I’d say we’re closer to 50% now as many bars and bartenders catch on the the simplicity of creating classic cocktails using fresh ingredients.
10. More “Authentic” rum seems to be enjoying a bit of a come back with many rum enthusiasts now ignoring the sweeter “Premium” rums. Do you think that rums such as Smith & Cross. The Scarlet Ibis etc will ever become “mainstream” or do you think that we will always have the sweeter rums as the forefront?
We’ve seen trends in whiskey, bourbon and tequila that lead to greater appreciation of authentic, quality products gaining greater appreciation. This trend in rum is a signal that more rum enthusiasts are becoming rum adventurers, looking beyond the most popular expressions and seeking more interesting spirits.
Many begin their appreciation with the “sweet delicious” style rums and move on to others which they discover to be more interesting. Serious rum collectors look for the true signs of authenticity and take an active roll in social media platforms to share thoughts and advice. Time will tell. The market will reward those expressions that meet the needs of consumers.
11. Do you have a guilty pleasure when it comes to rum – a drink or a particular rum that is one that you sip or mix in secret?
Not really. I make a unique cocktail at my home bar using seven relatively inexpensive rums which, when combined, produce a hauntingly complex and delicious libation that one would certainly believe was made from very expensive rum. It’s a potent drink, meant to be sipped in a leisurely manner. Rum Wreck Dive Cocktail
So there you have it. Rob’s views on the Rum World today (not all necessarily agreeing with mine) and a few lighter hearted insights into his life and libations. I hope you have all enjoyed this. Thanks again to Rob for his time and here to another great year for Rum!