SB meets… Federico J Hernández, The Rum Lab
The founder of The Rum Lab shares his passion for rum, details of rum events planned in the US this year, and his thoughts on the category’s premiumisation.
For anyone who isn’t familiar with Rum Fest events, what can visitors expect?
At our events, visitors will have the opportunity to learn about each rum brand and the expression they are tasting. During the tasting sessions, many of the key people (who are directly involved with the brand) explain in depth why their expression is so unique.
In addition to this, we have amazing seminars with stellar speakers. Some are tailored for professionals, others are for consumers.
Have you seen interest in rum at events change over the years?
In the past 18 years that I have been involved, certainly. We are seeing many rum groups popping up in different states and cities in the US and other countries on social media.
This is great, as it means a few individuals are taking the lead in their local markets. This really helps grow a community, which is important.
Also, each year, the percentage of consumers looking for unique expressions (such as higher-proof releases, and limited editions) is increasing.
There is more interest in education. Before it was hard to fill up the spaces in the seminars we would organise. Today, interest in rum education is great, and many seminars are being filled up quickly.
How many shows does The Rum Lab have planned for 2024?
Miami Rum Congress – 9-11 February
Taste of Rum – Puerto Rico Rum Fest – 9 March
Dallas Rum Fest – 16 March
Chicago Rum Fest – 20 April
Spain Rum and Gin Expo – 26 April
New York Rum Fest – 8 June
Los Angeles Rum Fest – 29 August (pop-up and rooftop version)
San Francisco Rum Fest and Congress – 31 August to 1 September
What is on the agenda for February’s Miami Rum Congress?
We moved the event to the Miami Beach Convention Center. This is a big move for us. We believe it was the correct decision to have more space for rum brands to participate.
We have also partnered with Park Street University to host two seminars. Matt Pietrek (Cocktail Wonk) once again helped to curate the remaining seminars. Many of our seminars are tailored for professionals in the industry.
Plus, we are integrating a Spanish series of seminars, Congreso de Ron, which last year had 12-14 people, and we expect that number to grow to 20-24.
How would you describe the rum market in the US?
The US is so massive, with so many different cultures and backgrounds. North Americans that already like premium rums: many are looking for the ideal rum expression that is higher proof.
What are the biggest rum trends you’re seeing at the moment?
A desire to try rums from countries where we barely have access to their products. And there is a desire to obtain as much information from the producers as possible about what’s being poured.
Which rum-producing regions are you most excited about?
Always Puerto Rico. Then, everything around the world. I am really enjoying finding distilleries in random cities that are able to create delicious rums.
What is your overall outlook for the category over the next year?
As long as rum producers continue to produce great-quality rum, the category is going to continue growing. sb