California Gold: Cocktails in San Rafael

Finally made it out to California Gold, a beer and cocktail bar in downtown San Rafael. Located in a historic building, there are tons of retro accoutrements and nods to California history.

We arrived at opening on Saturday for a couple rounds and thank goodness since it was quite packed by the time we left. Service was pretty decent and the cocktails were quite good. I loved the grog style Voodoo Western with bourbon, rum, passionfruit, cinnamon, grapefruit, lime, falernum, and voodoo secrets. Mrs. Mai Tai had the Carousel Park Swizzle, a nod the Queen’s Park Swizzle. All great.

This seems like a great place for cocktails in San Rafael’s cute downtown.

I Hate Oddly Shaped Bottles

There’s only so much surface area and height inside the few liquor cabinets I have stashed around the house. So bottles that are wide and short are less ideal than bottles with a small foot and that are taller. But bottles that are extra tall aren’t better, either.

So you know that the rums inside these bottle must be pretty special.

Saint Benevolence Rum Clairin from Haiti is one my favorites, so I always restock when a bottle is finished. Definitely a more savory taste than molasses-based rums from places like Jamaica or Barbados, but so far away from the overly grassy sugar cane juice-based agricole rhums from Martinique. Easy to sip but also great in cocktails. Makes a killer Mai Tai.

The El Dorado single still releases were something I tried at the San Francisco Rum Fest, and when Bitters & Bottles put them on sale I knew I had to buy one from the series. So, I splurged on the Port Mourant. More about this rum in a future post.

Another Use for a Canned Mai Tai: COVID Isolation

This was dinner that Mrs Mai Tai made the other night, which I ate while isolating in my office since the weekend with COVID again. Only a mild case, thankfully.

So, having the option for a Trader Vic’s canned Mai Tai was pretty nice. Add this to the reasons to get these and gave them on hand at home. Plus a reminder that among the canned Mai Tais in this price tier, the Trader Vic’s is the best we’ve tried so far. Available at BevMo and online.

More info: Ready to Drink Mai Tais

Steve the Bartender Reviews the Ultimate Mai Tai

For some reason this video didn’t make it into my ego filters after it was published on Mai Tai Day. Thanks to Australia’s Steve the Bartender for showing off the Ultimate Mai Tai rum blend and recipe to his 600,000 subscribers.

Steve totally gets it.

The Ultimate Mai Tai rum blend features four flavorful rums, including two overproof ones. So it’s a rum blend for rum lovers, as Steve says. I’ll take Steve’s verdict, “it’s an excellent Mai Tai” any day. Cheers, mate.

Ultimate Mai Tai by Kevin Crossman
1 oz Lime Juice
½ oz Orgeat (Latitude 29)
¼ oz Demerara Syrup (BG Reynolds)
½ oz Orange Curacao (Ferrand Dry Curacao)
½ oz Appleton 12 Rum
½ oz Smith & Cross Rum
½ oz Plantation OFTD Rum
½ oz Plantation Xaymaca Rum
Garnish with Mint Sprig and spent Lime shell

Watch the video on the Steve the Bartender channel

Revisiting Tiki Tom’s

We returned to Tiki Tom’s last Thursday when the temps in Walnut Creek were 112°. Thankfully, everything was cool inside.

The interior remains gorgeous and music is on point. We also got a preview of some new special effects that are coming soon in conjunction with some upcoming menu changes. It’s great to see investments continuing here, even after their elaborate renovation last year.

The cocktail prices have come down a bit since our last visit, so the $15 Mai Tai ($10 for Happy Hour) is within reasonable norms in the Bay Area. Especially since this Mai Tai is so tasty, using an aged and overproof Jamaican rums. Mrs. Mai Tai really loved the Ohana Punch, a Pina Colada riff featuring green apples, walnuts. So outstanding she ordered a second. The menu is split between classics and originals.

Our food was pretty good and all items were delivered to the table at the same time, which is an improvement over the procedure on our previous visit. The menu leans into Hawaiian favorites, and I liked the Kahlua Pork Bowl with rice.

Thanks to our friend Tiki with Ray who arrived before we did, we were introduced to owners Darrin and Rick DeRita, as well as Steffani DeRita who is the GM. Suffice to say that they told us a lot about the rebirth of the venue and discussed some of the upcoming menu changes too. There are some very interesting things coming, including the BenZombie cocktail that pays homage to Bamboo Ben who led the renovation build. 

We appreciate the hospitality from the DeRitas who were super accommodating on a couple things during our visit.

Tiki Kon Seminar: The (De)Evolution of the Hawaiian Mai Tai

Recorded July 1, 2022 at Tiki Kon, we’ve combined the professionally recorded audio with the slides so that you can experience it at home. There are a couple bonus slides during the Q&A.

Everyone is familiar with the iconic Hawaiian Mai Tai that features pineapple juice and a dark rum float. This version of the Mai Tai is quite different from the original 1944 Mai Tai created at Trader Vic’s. When did the Mai Tai in Hawaii become the “Hawaiian Mai Tai?” It wasn’t in 1953 when Trader Vic brought the Mai Tai to Hawaii and is later than you might think. Learn more about this iconic cocktail and how it evolved over the years based on contemporaneous reports and published recipes.

Note that this presentation was updated for Mai Tai Day at Trader Vic’s. That presentation wasn’t recorded but you can view the slides on this site.

Additional Referenced Links

The Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai Recipe

The iconic Mai Tai at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki was introduced by Trader Vic Bergeron in 1953. During the 1950s the reputation for this cocktail built such a following that it was described as the “top tourist tantalizer” in 1959. But the Mai Tai you get today at the Royal Hawaiian differs considerably, since it uses the Pineapple Juice and Orange Juice commonly seen in Island-style Mai Tais.

Mai Tais being served at the Royal Hawaiian, June 2022

1956 Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai

The earliest known recipe for the Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai comes via a letter written to a customer by Trader Vic himself. This is still substantially similar to the original 1944 recipe, though with different proportion of sweeteners and notably using both a Dark Jamaican rum and also a light rum. It is light and refreshing and a good dark Jamaican rum does punch through in this recipe. Try Worthy Park 109.

1956 Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai
Juice of One Lime
Dash of Rock Candy Syrup
Dash of Curacao
Dash of Orgeat
1½ ounces Trader Vic’s Puerto Rican Rum
¾ ounce Myers’s Plantation Punch Rum
Stir and decorate with fresh mint

1972 Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai – Classic Recipe

The use of Pineapple Juice became common in Mai Tais in Hawaii starting in the 1960s, but The Royal Hawaiian seems to be a late convert. There’s a published recipe from their sister hotel The Moana Surfrider in 1968 that’s substantially similar to the 1956 version. However, there must have been pressure to include Pineapple Juice from many tourists.

This recipe comes from Drinks of Hawaii, 2nd Ed. 1972, by Paul B. Dick. The entry describes this is “now being used by the Sheraton” implying a recent change. The recipe included in the book did not specify an exact amount of Pineapple or Orange Juice except to say that they should be used in equal parts. The recipe is notable in that it describes using 3 ounces of rum, including two flavorful dark rums. But a rum float is not specified.

This recipe was later used in many books by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, who designated 1 oz each for the Pineapple and Orange Juice. This seems like the correct choice, keeping the balance with the other ingredients.

1972 Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai
½ oz Lime Juice
¼ oz Lemon Juice
1 oz Orange Juice
1 oz unsweetened Pineapple Juice
¼ oz Sugar Syrup
¼ oz Orgeat
¼ oz Orange Curacao
1 oz Demerara Rum
1 oz Dark Jamaican Rum
1 oz Light Rum

1990s – No Pineapple Juice

This recipe comes from a 1997 Honolulu Star-Bulletin article, and curiously doesn’t include any Pineapple Juice.

1990s Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai
5 oz Mai Tai Mix
1 oz White Rum
1 oz Myers’s Dark Rum
Fill glass with ice, add mix and rums

Mai Tai Mix
10 oz Orange Juice
4 oz Orange Curacao
2 oz Orgeat
2 oz Rock Candy Syrup
2 oz Sour Lemon
Combine all ingredients and add water to make 1 quart

Mai Tai Mix (single use)
1½ oz Orange Juice
⅔ oz Orange Curacao
⅓ oz Orgeat
⅓ oz Rock Candy Syrup
⅓ oz Sour Lemon Juice
1¾ oz Water

2010s Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai: Headscratcher

This devolved “secret recipe” was published on the Royal Hawaiian’s website, and includes some curious ingredients. The use of almond-flavored Amaretto liqueur in place of Orgeat syrup is sadly not uncommon in Mai Tais. Amaretto is fine elsewhere but doesn’t add the right flavors or body to the cocktail like Orgeat does. The use of Cherry Vanilla Puree, even in a small amount, is also a noteworthy head-scratcher.

2010s Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai
Build in shaker with ice:
1 oz Bacardi Rum
1 tsp Cherry Vanilla Puree
½ oz Amaretto di Saronno
½ oz Cointreau
1 oz Fresh Govinda Orange Juice
2 oz Fresh Govinda Pineapple Juice
½ oz Whaler’s Dark Rum Float

Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai, 2019

2022 Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai Returns to Normalcy

In mid-2022, the Royal Hawaiian updated their website to include this updated “secret recipe” and thankfully it’s much more of a standard Island Mai Tai. It is nice to see Orgeat coming back, though I don’t find Old Lahaina rum to be particularly good. Nonetheless, I did very much enjoy the cocktail in June 2022 when I sat looking out at Diamond Head.

2022 Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai
2 oz Pineapple Juice
1 oz Orange Juice
½ oz Orgeat
½ oz Orange Curacao
1 oz Old Lahaina Light Rum
1 oz Old Lahaina Dark Rum (float)
Shake all ingredients except the Dark Rum with ice. Pour in a large “bucket” glass. Float the Dark Rum, garnish with a parasol with cherry, pineapple and lime wedge.