Painkiller Navy Rum Shootout

I had some Valencia oranges so was looking for a recipe only using OJ. Why not a Painkiller?

And why not experiment with the rum?

As has been well-documented (and well-litigated!) the Painkiller is supposed to be made with Pusser’s Navy-Style rum. They have a trademark on it, too.

There is nothing wrong with a Pusser’s Painkiller, and I prefer the higher percentage ABV of Pusser’s Gunpowder Proof for any of my Pussers-based cocktails. But since I had some extra OJ I thought I’d try giving the Gunpowder Proof a challenge but making one with Smith & Cross Jamaican Rum to compare to. Their ABVs are similar, but how about the taste?

Verdict: Everything is better with Jamaican rum!

It wasn’t even close; the Painkiller made with Smith & Cross was so much more flavorful and satisfying than the one made with Gunpowder Proof. I know I’m totally biased for Jamaican rum, but honestly I think anyone would prefer this.

Don’t Sue Me Painkiller
3 oz Pineapple Juice
1 oz Orange Juice
1 oz Coconut Creme
2½ oz Smith & Cross Jamaican Rum

Glassware by Trader Vic’s and B-Rex. I like this blue color on this style glass.

Pagan Idol Visit

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.

Return to the Village

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.

Black Tot 50th Anniversary Rum

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.

Clinch Cocktail

Made this simple cocktail to watch the San Francisco Giants clinch a playoff spot. I had oranges but no other citrus, which I guess is poetic considering that orange is the Giants’ main color.

1 oz Valencia Orange Juice
¾ oz Passionfruit Syrup (Liber & Co)
1½ oz Myers’s Platinum White rum
Shake with ice and strain
Buster Posey figure optional

There is no doubt this one goes down easy. It leans sweet, that’s for sure. Balanced cocktails can come by later.

Gatekeeping the Mai Tai

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.

Cocktail Wonk Matt Pietrek autographing my copy of Minimalist Tiki

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.

Read the article:
Cocktail Wonk: Gatekeeping the Mai Tai

Call for Mai Tai Riff Recipes

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!).

Listen and Download
The Good Bottle Podcast: The Gang Does Rum-Fest

Mai Tai Riffs Wanted

Chris and Drew are looking to an upcoming episode featuring riffs on the Mai Tai recipe, which they’ve invited me to help discuss and judge. I’m totally down for that.

Send your recipe suggestions to:


California Rum Fest Recap

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.

And so nice to see Cory Schoolland who participated in our 5 Bottle Rum Challenge earlier this year. Cory recently launched a Bad Mai Tais group on Facebook which serves to educate others on how NOT to make a Mai Tai.

Saint Benevolence Rum

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.