Known as Mr. Rum in some circles, Rob Burr has worn out a passport or two traveling the world in search of fine spirits and good times. Here’s our interview.
How and when did you become interested in rum?
In the early 1970s the official drinking age was 18. I had already decided rum was my preferred spirit, but was not settled on which brand or product best suited my taste. I had a slight fascination with Bacardi 151 and making endless variations of punch.
In 1976, I was sitting at the bar of a local TGIF restaurant and ordered a rum cocktail with 151 and Myers’s. The bartender asked, “have you ever tried Barbancourt?” I replied “Baba-who-what?” He poured me a small taste in a shot glass. I gave it the sniff test. I sipped it. I thought, this is not light rum; it’s not dark rum. It’s rum-tasting rum. It was something of an epiphany for me. I started buying Barbancourt 8 and 15 and making my friends try it. Suddenly, I was looking at every brand of rum in the store more carefully. My experimentation phase kicked into a higher gear.
In 1986, Robin and I started publishing Fisheye View Scuba Magazine. Over the next decade we travelled to just about every island in the world that had a coral reef or a good sunken ship-wreck. When I wasn’t underwater, I was asking about rum. That’s when I discovered that every island makes the world’s best rum — and they are always happy and eager to prove it to me. That when the rum collection got a little out of control.
How many rums are in your collection?
I don’t know. I have rum stashed in every corner, crevice, closet, shelf, cabinet and horizontal surface. It’s hard to count them, and we’re acquiring more every week. Certainly in excess of 500 bottles. I have about 250 on my proper rum shelf on display, many of which are the more collectable specimens.
I’ve been blessed with limited editions signed by master blenders, gift boxes with my name engraved, numbered and special bottlings. Pre-production samples. Miniatures. Bob Davies and I have a 195 liter barrel of rum that’s 160 proof currently residing in the Turks And Caicos Islands. We call it DB Cooper. We’ve barely made a dent in it. That’s going to take a while to finish.
My son has inherited another hundred or so bottles via osmosis. Someday, you might see us on that reality show about people who hoard strange things. Maybe there is a twelve step program.
What is your favorite rum (or rums) in each category and why?
This could turn into a very long interview. I’ve been collecting long enough to have many samples of older bottles, older blends, different configurations. Of course, I am always asked which is my favorite. I truly appreciate them all. In fact, my favorite thing is to enjoy a number of very small samples of great rums in flights. The contrast, the complimentary tones, the range of flavors is what excites me most. My appreciation and love of food and culture is expansive and I have no single favorite food. It’s the same for rum. Having said that, I still keep a bottle of Barbancourt 15 in the freezer at all times. I am a sucker for rums made in Guyana from the old wooden pot still — like Black Tot. I cherish the Appleton 30, Opthimus 25, Zafra, Clement Cuvee Homere, Diplomatico Ambassador and Rum Blanco, RL Seale 10, Zacapa XO, Atlantico, Abuelo 12, Plantation 20th Anniversary. I could go on and on.
Do you have a favorite rum bar?
I have not visited them all yet, but I am quite impressed with my UK favs: Cottons in Camden, the Artesian, El Floridita, Kanaloa, Mahiki, Trailer Happiness and Hix in London. No one does a better job than Adam Kanter at Rum Bar in Philadelphia. In NY, it’s PDT, Cienfuegos, Death and Co., Pain Killer. I’m probably most at ease in the little Rum Bar at the Speakeasy Inn on Duval Street in Key West. My home in Miami is surrounded by great places to enjoy good rum, from the Florida Room, the Mai Kai and Reef Road to the Biltmore Hotel or Ortanique on Miracle Mile. On my wish list: Martin Cate’s Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco, Keko Moku in Manchester, the Merchant Bar in Belfast, Marco Polo Bar in Hong Kong, RumClub in Berlin.
What is your regular cocktail?
My son is an enthusiastic mixologist. I’m a sipper. But, I’ve gained incredible respect for great cocktail masters and their ability to build fascinating concoctions with rum. I often compare lighter rums by making or ordering a proper Hemingway Daiquiri. For rich, well-aged, bold rums it’s the Old Fashion. Sometimes, I think rum and ginger beer is as good as it gets.
Where is the best place to buy rum in your area?
We have some outstanding retail outlets in South Florida. Some are notable for their vast variety in stock (Sailfish Landing), some for their ability to quickly gather and deliver hard-to-find items (Sunset Corners), some for their incredible prices (Jensen’s, Total Wine). I deliver my Gifted Rums Guide to every liquor store between Palm Beach and Key West, so I have a pretty good idea who’s selling what. That’s also how I find some great little bargains, left over stock and special deals. I recently bought five bottles of pre-2005 Zacapa 23 for $29 a bottle, five bottles of Cubaney 15 for $22 each and two bottles of 1970s era Lemon Hart for $10 each.
Which rum would you travel to buy?
I get Appleton Master Blender Legacy in the islands, as well as Barbancourt Reserve du Domaine, Plantation rums, Mount Gay 1703, Zacapa XO, Havana Club Barrel Proof, Elements 8, Wray and Nephew Overproof. Until recently, I could only get Cartavio XO in Peru and Black Tot in London. Now those have landed in Miami. I suppose Miami may be one of the best places in the world to buy a wide variety of rum for really good prices. Thanks to our friend Bob Davies, the Turks and Caicos Islands is also a great place to pick up great rum for great prices. Ultimately, you really must travel to find some of the best rums.
When did you launch Gifted Rums and what is your focus?
In 2006, I predicted that rum was ready for a renaissance. Having made that prediction, I’ve been working hard to prove myself correct. People see rums on the shelf that they just don’t know. They have no reference, don’t understand, have no clues about. So, I created a free guide with tasting notes and articles about several hundred of my favorite rums, with an emphasis on top shelf, notable products — the Gifted Rums. We give these guides away freely. It’s had a notable impact on buyers, mixologists, food and beverage managers, bartenders. We’re giving people permission to experiment, giving them recommendations, encouraging them not to pass over some delightful rums on the shelf of which they were not aware.
Our message is that rum is fun. It’s tropical. It’s palm trees, toes in the sand, a hammock, a sailboat, a steel drum band, a lovely sunset. It’s the history of the new world. It’s a bottle of no worries. Rum has by far the most range of any spirits category — and rum is an exceptional bargain. Rum will surprise and delight you beyond your expectations.
What should we watch out for from Gifted Rums in the coming year?
We’re doing all we can to promote rum events, new products, cool cocktails, the home bartender movement. We shine a light on the confluence of rum, food, music and island culture. People need to enjoy life, worry less, spend some quality time with friends and family and reach a comfortable balance between work and play. Perhaps our friends in the islands can teach us something. Take off that suit and tie once in a while and put on a Rum Reggae shirt.
In the coming year, we’ll be expanding our guide to rum, building up our rum tasting events, keeping an eye on new products, sharing our discoveries and promoting the tropical lifestyle. Our Rum XP group (International Rum Expert Panel) is building an infrastructure for rum experts and enthusiasts the world over to efficiently interact and support each other. This makes it easier for small and large rum producers around the world to get the word out about their products to people that really care.
Our Miami Rum Renaissance Festival is a global gathering place for the rum industry and consumers. Our National Rum Examiner blog is a resource for accurate and timely information about rum products, events and new developments. We’re taking over a seven day Royal Caribbean Cruise next November, stopping at a different island every day, with distiller tours, multiple rum tastings every day, rum-paired meals, seminars with the experts and opportunities to collect rare rums of the Caribbean. Royal Caribbean is waiving all the usual rules on spirits that week. The cost of this cruise is dirt cheap, as are the rums we’ll find along the way.
Words of wisdom…….
We’re not here for a long time, we’re here for a good time. Enjoy rum responsibly, share the love and relish the adventure.
To keep up with all of Rob’s adventures check out: