More than 600 people are expected to gather Saturday in the RP Funding Center's Sykes Hall to get a taste of what organizers call the Central Florida Rum and Food Experience.
LAKELAND — More than 600 people are expected to gather Saturday in the RP Funding Center's Sykes Hall to get a taste of what organizers call the Central Florida Rum and Food Experience.
Sponsored by the Lakeland Kiwanis Club, the fourth Rum and Food Experience is one way the Kiwanis club puts its brand in front of a new generation of adults, said Matthew Cantrall, Kiwanis' Rum and Food Experience organizer and owner of of Lakeland's Century Signs Inc.
Cantrall called the Rum and Food Experience a "sampling event" with 20 rum vendors representing more than 100 flavors of rums registered. He said new rum vendors this year include: St. Petersburg's American Freedom Distillery; Amelia Island's Code Rum; Cooper Bottom Distillery of Holly Hill; Puerto Angel of Oaxaca, Mexico; Kirk and Sweeney from Sonoma, Calif.; New Zealand's Stolen Rum; Filipino Tanduay Rum; and Naked Turtle, from New York, who will have representatives from the home office.
"The club needed something new and fresh to energize our base and this event has become that," said Cantrall, who was Lakeland Kiwanis president in 2000-01 and 2013-14. "There's nothing like this in Central Florida."
Tampa's Republic National Distributing Co., the second-largest beverage alcohol distributor of premium wine and spirits in the United States, solicits rum distilleries to participate in the festival each year. The company represents 3,000 to 4,000 brands and 15 of those will be at the event, said Colleen Karcher, who has been with the company for eight years.
Karcher said the Rum and Food Experience is a good way to get products into restaurants, package stores and bars via owners who attend the event. She said the chance to sample the products gives them one way to determine what they want to stock.
"That way, they know where they can find it and make the contacts they need," she said. "With Lakeland growing, we try to participate in most of the events in that area."
Cantrall said more than 20 local restaurants-bars are participating, two of which haven't formally opened their doors yet — Lakeland's Federal Bar, 124 S. Tennessee Ave. and Revival Cocktail Co., 119 S. Kentucky Ave. New to the event this year is Posto 9, Duke's Brewhouse, Cuban B's Burger Bazzar and Bake Shack, Masons Live, Lakeland Loft, Hooters and Texas Roadhouse Grill.
Cantrall said the various rum samples will be given out in either 2-ounce mixed-drink or half-ounce shot amounts and guests will be able to taste a few fruity rum flavors such as strawberry, blueberry and apple pie, as well as the popular coconut Siesta Key Rum from Sarasota.
"It's like tasting jelly beans only if you're not careful, you might find yourself in a bit of trouble — the products are so sweet," said Cantrall.
At the 2018 event, for the first time, Cantrall said rums will be judged, with awards going for "People Choice" and "signature rum drink," as well as awards for food.
Most importantly, said Cantrall, the Rum and Food Experience has generated an average of $25,000 for Lakeland Kiwanis' projects and programs, such as its back-to-school campaign to help stock children with school supplies, the annual Christmas shopping spree for low-income children and Day Without Disabilities, which offers children with disabilities the chance to visit a ranch and experience recreational activities they normally wouldn't be able to do.
The main point of the Rum and Food Experience, said Cantrall, is to do something a bit unusual and have fun doing it while raising money for important children's programs locally.
"If you're going to put on a good party, there's nothing that says 'party' like good rum," said Cantrall. "More importantly, 100 percent of the money raised goes to the programs. If you want to go to have a hot time in a cool place, this is it."
Live jazz music throughout the night will be provided by Tampa's The Danny Bub Combo. For non-alcoholic drinkers, soft drinks and water will be offered and Cantrall added wine vendors Hess Wines and Terlato Wines will also attend offering an alternative to rum samples.
Paul Catala can be reached at email@example.com or 863-802-7533. He can be reached at Twitter @pcat0226.