General admission tickets cost $50 and include unlimited rum and food samples during the 3 hour event. VIP tickets are $75 and get you 1 hour early admission and an event logo shot glass. We opted for VIP tickets to have more time to sample rums during the less crowded, early-entry hour of the event.
This event draws smaller local companies along with a few larger national brands. Most offered cocktails that showcased their rums as well as samples of each expression served neat. It is a casual and friendly event where you can talk with many of the company owners about how they make their rums. Despite a few no-show rum brands, we found that there were plenty of different rums to fill the 3 - 4 hour sampling event.
We were excited to discover two new rum companies at this year's event. Sandy Feet Rum Company (http://www.sandyfeetrumco.com), based in Lauderdale By The Sea, Florida, had only been on the market for 6 weeks at the time. Their Barrel Finished Rum is rested in virgin charred American oak barrels for 12 months and has a soft, slightly sweet flavor with subtle oaky notes (with no added sugar or color). But their Mango-Cilantro Rum was the stand-out of the event for us, with its smooth, natural mango flavor and just a hint of cilantro on the finish. The second new company, Lost Harbour Spirits (http://www.lostharbourspirits.com) from West Palm Beach, Florida, has a white rum with a touch of vanilla added resulting in a clean, smooth base rum that is perfect for cocktails. They also produce a vodka, a gin, and a unique product called Capistara which is a tasty vanilla-caramel flavored vodka.
One notable feature of this event is that unlimited food samples are included in price of admission, which is very beneficial when sampling multiple types of rums. There were over a dozen local food vendors but we did not sample much food because our focus was on the rums. However, we were a bit disappointed to see that many of the vendors ran out of food just 1 - 2 hours into the event. We did see a lot of people eating during those first 2 hours rather than sampling rums so the event organizers may have underestimated the demand for food. There was also a cash bar available for those who did not want rum, but that was definitely not us so we cannot offer any feedback on it.
Overall, we really enjoyed the local, small-business atmosphere of this event and found it to be an excellent networking opportunity for both rum enthusiasts and spirits industry professionals.
When: January 12, 2019 (2020 dates to be announced)
Where: RP Funding Center, 701 West Lime Street, Lakeland, Florida 33815
What: The Central Florida Rum and Food Experience is held annually in January in Lakeland, Florida. Over 20 different rum brands and many local food vendors participate, and 100% of the net proceeds benefit local non-profit organizations through the Kiwanis Club of Lakeland.