Until its transformation earlier this season, the area adjacent to one of the pools at the oceanfront Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort was vastly underused. “It was basically a dead space,” notes Chris Walling, food and beverage director for the 404-room resort on Florida’s Amelia Island. “We were only using it as a soda station.”
So Walling and his team last fall decided that to better utilize the space, they would design and execute a beverage experience unique for its setting. Opened in early March, the Rum + Tequila Experience is now generating profits and buzz for the resort.
The Experience was inspired by his nine trips to Jalisco in Mexico, where he has watched the jimadores pick and cook the agave used to make tequila and helped select the barrels for storing and aging the spirit. The 34-seat concept (including a four-seat bar) boasts a laid-back vibe, a few used barrels on display, and a selection of 100 tequilas, 60 rums and 10 mezcals.
The Rum + Tequila Experience creates a point of differentiation from the other eight onsite food and beverage concepts, and appeals to true spirit aficionados, Walling says. Tequilas range from a $7 pour of Tarantula Blanco up to a $250 shot of Casa Dragones Gabriel Orozco, Limited Edition, all served in Champagne flutes. Six tequila flights, such as the horizontal Milagro flight ($55), with single-barrel blanco, reposado and añejo, allow flip-flop-wearing guests to compare aromas and flavors.
Don’t look for tequila served alongside a sangrita chaser, though. As a result of his travels and conversations with producers, Walling is convinced that it’s unnecessary as a palate cleanser.
Rums sipped solo are served in cobalt-blue Caribbean glassware that matches the ocean backdrop. Selections range from a $6 pour of Sailor Jerry to $500 for a serving of Appleton Estate 50 Year Old Rum. Three rum flights, priced from $25 to $44, let patrons explore offerings from producers including Bacardi and Matusalem.
Guests can select any spirit to build their own cocktails, or pick from the list of 13 libations on the menu. As with all beverage concepts onsite—even at the nearby high-volume pool bar—cocktail ingredients are fresh and from scratch. “Our bartenders can mix up even a basic Margarita that exceeds expectations,” says Walling.
Other tipples include the Smokey Margarita ($12), with Del Maguey Vida mezcal and Grand Marnier; the Tiki Old Fashioned ($12), with Atlantico Reserva rum muddled with a sugar cube and stirred with Bitterman’s Tiki Spiced bitters; and the Coconut Cooler ($11), with 1800 Coconut tequila, muddled watermelon and club soda.
Are you experienced?
Staff at the Rum + Tequila Experience undergo ongoing tasting and training sessions from distributors and producers. They also have access to a handy binder of tasting notes sheets to help them convey a spirit’s character to guests.
And to distinguish themselves from servers at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort’s larger poolside bar, the Experience team wears a slightly different uniform.
Walling admits that this resort concept is artisanal—and purposely not for the masses. It also poses its challenges, including the expense of many of these difficult-to-source bottles, and crowd flow.
That’s why the Rum + Tequila Experience has limited hours: Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended hours for holidays and special events. But for vacation goers who want to soak up the sun while imbibing on high-quality rum and tequila, it’s the hottest spot on the pool deck.