Another bar it’s been too long since I visited. Very welcoming vibe inside Pagan Idol and service remains stellar, along with an exotic music program that plays well for newbies and tiki bar snobs (like me).
I didn’t love the Mai Tai. Like sister bar Zombie Village, this was too Agricole forward for me. But it was more tart than Zombie Village’s so really not in my wheelhouse. I only stayed for one drink, though, and didn’t lean into menu favorites such as the Day Walker which are always on par.
I see that Pagan Idol is starting up some live music performances coming up, featuring the Alcatraz Islanders who play some great swing era Hawaiian and jazz. I took BART for the first time in forever and it was a pretty good experience (everyone wore their masks) so more Pagan visits may be in my future.
Made a return visit to Zombie Village after a long absence and was pleased to see the vibe and overall service levels are still quite strong. On an early Saturday evening the music was peppy but exotic and instrumental, so still in line with the tropical aesthetic.
My Mai Tai was fine – a little heavy on the Rhum Agricole for my personal taste, but quite reasonable. I only stayed for one cocktail but it was nice chatting with some of the staff.
Zombie Village is still one of the key tiki bar destinations for anyone visiting San Francisco. I always love my visits to the village.
I turned some work anniversary spiff money into this release from last year. I’m late to the party but this isn’t a cheap rum so I was sort of on the fence about getting it. But since I got that free gift card money from work I decided to pick up a bottle of Black Tot 50th Anniversary before it is gone.
I’m a big fan of the Navy Rum style releases, and haven’t found one yet that I haven’t at least liked. I’ve also had the fortune occasion to taste some actual Royal Navy rum over the years, so I was looking forward to this release that includes a hefty .5% of pre-1970 vintage Royal Navy rum. Mostly this is a greatest hits of rums from Guyana, Barbados, Jamaica, and Trinidad across various ages and percentages. So it is a special release featuring a mix of rums I already love. It is so rich and flavorful, and very easy to drink at 54.5% ABV. Compares very favorably to the vintage Royal Navy rum.
This rum is special to me because it was the Special Occasion pick from our late friend Alex Fritch on the 5 Bottle Rum Challenge recorded earlier this year. Never got to hoist Black Tot rum with Alex this year but next year I have my bottle ready.
Gatekeeping the Mai Tai is a new article from our friend Matt Pietrek on the Cocktail Wonk blog. It is definitely a good summary of what’s happening online these days, as our tiki community grows and as more newcomers start to explore exotic cocktails.
The Mai Tai is the defacto standard tiki cocktail, so of course is the bellwether for this discussion. Though, Pietrek is quite savvy by changing the narrative to another cocktail in the example:
Newcomer: Check out my Navy Grog! I didn’t have grapefruit juice, so I used pineapple juice. And I subbed cinnamon for honey syrup. Tiki Veteran: Sounds great, but it’s not a navy grog. The grapefruit and honey are core flavor elements of that recipe. Newcomer: Don’t be elitist. I like my Navy Grog the way I made it. Narrator: Off to the races we go!
It is a good example. Newcomers sometimes accuse veterans of being elitist and know-it-alls, and there’s no doubt the shoe sometimes fits. Yet, the particular example is indicative of a newly emerging point of view that the cocktail can be whatever you want it to be.
When it comes to tiki culture, I’m a “big tent” guy. Geeki Tiki mugs based on Star Wars? Love them. Disney inspiration? Totally up for it. But the line has to be drawn somewhere and cartoonish “clown tiki” is my personal line.
Same goes for cocktails. As Pietrek points out in his article, nobody would defend newcomers who make a Manhattan with orange juice or a Margarita without tequila. So why must a Mai Tai made with whatever you want be okay?
It isn’t okay.
If that makes me a snobby gatekeeper then I am totally okay with that.
I do like Pietrek’s example where the tiki veteran says “sounds great, but…” That’s an education the newcomer needs to hear (and quite a few bartenders, I might add). As long as it is said nicely.
Pietrek’s site is a wonderful resource that compliments his amazing book Minimalist Tiki. He concludes that leveraging permanent sources is key for intellectual discourse and not just merely ephemeral social media comments. That’s one of the reasons why we started this site; to document historical facts along with our opinions and recommendations.
It was great to run into the Chris Sinclair and Drew Garrison from the Good Bottle Podcast at the California Rum Fest a couple days ago. Their latest episode covers the festival in detail, including rum brands on the rise and new expressions to seek out. They also cover the top selling rum brands and the results may surprise you.
The episode ended with a little Mai Tai discussion, and a shoutout to our little corner of the internet on their “Dope Follows” segment (mahalo!).
It was so nice to get out and see friends and to talk about rum at the California Rum Fest. Of course it is always nice to see locals, but even nicer when you can catch up with people who traveled to the event.
Big shout out to Will Hoekenga from The Rum Cast. I did their podcast a few months ago and it is still one of the highlights of the year. Will was involved with the event and did a live stream on Zavvy. Check out their online events with rum and other spirits producers. Will also writes the American Rum Report and hosted a seminar on American rums yesterday.
Some of the California Rum Fest vendors offer their rums in a cocktail format, and the best one yesterday was Mai Tai at the Plantation booth. Made with Xaymaca rum from Jamaica, this little Mai Tai tasted great.
Kuleana rum had a nice rum punch that I enjoyed along with some samples of their rum from the Big Island of Hawaii.
One of the highlights of the California Rum Fest was the rums from Saint Benevolence. Two of their expressions are Clairins from Haiti, and profits from the business are funneled back to medical, educational, and economic charities in Haiti. Saint Benevolence is currently available in nine states, Canada, and the U.K. I’m a big fan of the unaged Rum Clairin expression.
I took another pass at tasting on their new aged rum This is the same clairin that’s been available for a couple years, but aged for at least a year. This aged version does present some different tasting notes including vanilla and spice. Totally worth seeking out.
After taking 2020 off, the California Rum Fest returned to San Francisco yesterday. The seminar schedule was a little lighter than last time, but Eve Bergeron had a great presentation about the Mai Tai, including some wonderful historical photos of The Trader himself. More about this presentation in the coming days.
The variety of rums available for tasting was quite reasonable and I got to try some new ones that I’ve been wanting to try. Most notable was the Worthy Park 109, a dark Jamaican rum at higher ABV. The booth also featured a very interesting cocktail called the Park Walk from Jeanie Grant of Palmetto (nice matchbooks too). The new Worthy Park Madeira and Sherry cask editions were also available and quite good.
The entry process into the event included a check of vaccination status and ran very smoothly. Some of the rum brands had giveaways such as stickers and pins, or recipe cards and details on the rum expressions. So, it’s a great way to learn more about new brands or dive deeper into a product line.