Sippin Santa at 55 South in San Jose

The annual holiday pop-up with a tiki theme is back at 55 South in San Jose. This craft cocktail bar and restaurant did the decor even more elaborately this year, and staff was ready to serve us at opening on Sunday. Music was peppy and got everyone in the mood.

Sippin Santa comes from the our favorite cocktail historian, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, in partnership with Cocktail Kingdom that also runs the Miracle pop-ups (including two downtown San Jose locations within a 5 minute walk of 55 South, Paper Plane and Miniboss).

This year the Mersanta mug is available for sale after the cocktail debuted on the menu last year. Such a cute mug, and the cocktail with tequila, applejack, and maple-cranberry syrup is quite a delight. I went with the classic Sippin’ Santa cocktail that has Demerara rum, amaro, and gingerbread mix. Really great, and prices for both the cocktails and merch are pretty reasonable.

Sippin’ Santa Cocktail

A new drink this year is Island of Misfit Toys, featuring Jamaican Rum, Chai Tea, cream, cinnamon, and pumpkin puree. If you like Pina Coladas and Pumpkin Spice, this will be your new all-time favorite. I like both, as does Mrs. Mai Tai, so this cocktail is right up there with Sippin Santa’s Kris Kringle Colada as something to go out of your way to try.

55 South has a pretty decent food menu. I enjoyed the Shrimp Roll and we all looooved the Cream Cheese Bread, a small loaf of Olive bread covered with cream cheese. Probably the best thing in the entire building.

Appleton Hearts 1995 and 1999 Jamaica Rum

I had picked up the Appleton Hearts 1995 early this year and found it to be amazing, aged 25 years in Jamaica and 100% pot still with 1400 g/100 LAA congeners. Simply fantastic, but all the bottles have long since been sold out locally.

I went on the hunt and found a 1999 still for sale online. I’d heard it was lighter than the ’95 and it certainly is so, though 855 g/100 LAA congeners is still far higher than most rums. I’m glad I picked it up, as it does impart a little more of the traditional Appleton flavor than ’95’s flavor bomb.

But, needless to say those 585 extra congeners are put to good use in the ’95, which remains one of my favorite rums ever.

And the story ends with a bit of a surprise. I was scanning local retailers for former “daily drinker” pick Appleton 12 (impossible to believe it is in short supply, but here we are in 2022). And while searching for “Appleton” at local chain K&L Wine Merchants I found a bottle of Appleton Hearts 1995 for sale! And for a price lower than when these were new last year. So, I could not resist snapping it up. These vintage pot still Appleton rums aren’t coming back.

Dealer’s Choice Mai Tai by Adrian Castañeda at The Kon-Tiki Room

Had a fab time over at Oakland’s Kon-Tiki Room at Palmetto to send best wishes to local raconteur Adrian Castañeda who is moving to Barcelona in a few weeks. We’ve bumped into Adrian in all sort of places, including tiki bars where he’s worked such as Zombie Village, helping Doc Parks at Mai Tai Day 2021, and once even ran into him at the Midway Antique Emporium in Sacramento.

Last night he was doing a shift behind the bar at The Kon-Tiki Room and made a Zombie variant from the ZV days called the Sparkle and Froth. A very nice pineapple-forward cocktail that was super tasty.

I also asked Adrian for a “Dealer’s Choice Mai Tai” using the rums available at The Kon-Tiki Room. It was great to see a rum expert scan the shelves and pull down three bottles to work with, and to use them in just the right ratios. For the Mai Tai, Adrian used 1 oz of Worthy Park Kon-Tiki Single Barrel (aged 5 yrs), along with ½ oz each of Worthy Park 109 and Uruapan Charandra Anejo. This was a fantastic Mai Tai! So rich with flavors, where the aged Jamaican rum really paired well with the molasses and sugar cane juice-based Charandra from Mexico.

This unique blend was so great it is currently on my top 10 list of best Mai Tais for 2022. Mahalo Adrian and best wishes.

The Kon-Tiki Room now has a subtly placed TV for their regular Thursday Star Trek Nights, and last night was playing a vintage 1960s beach movie. Which then allowed them to play some traditional lounge and Hawaiian music, which was totally fantastic. This place is a lot better when there’s escapist tropical music.

Dinner and Cocktails at Tiki Tom’s

Had a really good experience at Tiki Tom’s the other night, where Mrs. Mai Tai and I went over for dinner and drinks. We both tried the butterfly-shaped Bao Buns, hers with Tofu and mine with Kalua Pork. Though this format was a little messy to eat it was only great on the palette. There’s a really good tangy sauce on these, though note that the peppers are a little spicy. I also tried the fried Tiki Spamsubi, very filling with tempura, rice, and spam. Mrs. Mai Tai had the Chicken Katsu as a fried tofu option and declared it great.

Mrs Mai Tai still loves the Ohana Punch that includes little chunks of green apples and walnuts. It is delicious but the servers always ask if you’ve had it before just to prepare you. Don’t skip past this as a pina colada clone, it’s really great.

We also both enjoyed the Carmen Miranda cocktail, featuring an over-the-top garnish and a side of Dole Whip soft serve. The creamy cocktail with mango and cachaca leans sweet – but not too far. And as noted yesterday, we also got to try the Ultimate Mai Tai, coming soon to the new cocktail menu.

We’ve heard from folks that they’ve had mixed experiences here, though we had no complaints on our visit. Everything came out great. Prices are still a tad higher than average, but we do find the quality of the interior decor, ambient music, and service to be in line with that pricing.

Coming Soon: The Ultimate Mai Tai at Tiki Tom’s

Since Tiki Tom’s let the cat out of the bag on their Instagram Story, we can confirm it is true. Our “Ultimate Mai Tai” recipe is going to be used as a premium Mai Tai on the forthcoming new cocktail menu at Tiki Tom’s in Walnut Creek.

We get a kick anytime someone makes a Mai Tai with our Ultimate Mai Tai Rum Blend, a boozy combination of four heavy rums mostly from Jamaica. So it is our honor and pleasure that Tiki Tom’s is interested in trying this for their new menu. And it is not without some significant challenges most notably the limited availability of Appleton 12 rum.

There are some other interesting things coming to the new cocktail menu so be sure to stay tuned to their social media for updates.

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 Jamaica Rum
½ oz Smith & Cross Jamaica Rum
½ oz Plantation OFTD Rum
½ oz Plantation Xaymaca Jamaican Rum
Garnish with Mint Sprig and spent Lime shell

Kon-Tiki Enters Revised Top 10 Mai Tai List

Perhaps no destination demonstrates the search for the ultimate Mai Tai better than The Kon-Tiki in Oakland. Their Mai Tai has always been good, but self-described constant R&D means their 2022 Mai Tai has leapfrogged into the top 10, replacing sister bar The Kon-Tiki Room.

This sweet and savory cocktail uses Super Jugoso Orgeat, rum-based orange shrubb, and a blend of rums from Guyana, Martinique, and Jamaica. The house Mai Tai is excellent at Kon-Tiki, or try one with their special Kon-Tiki Single Barrel Rum from Worthy Park.

Kon-Tiki is also the place where where a customized Mai Tai was the best we’ve ever had.

Here are the top 10 Mai Tais that you can have right now.

  • Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29
  • Dr. Funk
  • Hale Pele
  • Halekulani Hotel
  • The Kon-Tiki Oakland
  • Rumba
  • Maunakea Mai Tai at Skull & Crown Trading Co.
  • Smuggler’s Cove
  • San Francisco Mai Tai at Trader Vic’s Emeryville
  • Undertow

Mrs Mai Tai and I are going to New York City at the end of the month and expect to visit Sunken Harbor Club, home of Garret Richard’s famed Mai Tai. A possible new entry in this list, so stay tuned.

World’s Best Dive Bar Mai Tai

Friday night found me in El Cerrito at one of their noteworthy dive bars, The Little Hill Lounge. The lounge was recently reopened after being purchased by Matt and Christ of The Kon-Tiki and Palmetto fame.

So many old school touches in this place that looks like it was transported from 1985. Only the modern point of sale system and reliance on holding credit cards for customer tabs would give a time traveler any clue it was 2022. There weren’t even many people using their smartphones.

The atmosphere was raucous but friendly. The group of middle-aged ladies in the booth behind me were doing a whole lot of hooting and hollering. Music was all 1980s-era deeper cut hard rock (Billy Squier/Deep Purple not Bon Jovi/Guns n’ Roses) with some Beastie Boys and Black Sabbath thrown in to spice things up. In fact, when “Paranoid” came on I got to see not one but multiple dudes grooving and air drumming (I can neither confirm nor deny that I was one of said dudes). There’s a vintage CD jukebox inside but is currently out of order.

As the PBR sign outside indicates, this is obviously a beer place with a number of craft beers on tap and a variety of beers in bottles/cans. Yet, the cocktail menu demonstrated that Little Hill Lounge is not your average dive bar. Aside from the Prickly Pear Margarita and house-made Sangria, there at the top of the list is the Little Hill Mai Tai. This may have had something to do with my visit.

It is incredible to drink a 1944 Mai Tai in a bar with wood paneling and Olympia Beer signs all over the place. Yet, something tells me that the Mai Tai I would have ordered in in 1985 would have tasted different. Yes, friends, the cocktail is pretty good at Little Hill Lounge and possibly the world’s best dive bar Mai Tai.

Now, my honest feedback is that leans a little far in the Agricole direction given the clientele. Or maybe boost the orgeat a bit. For a second round I ordered a Wisconsin Old Fashioned that was very well prepared and tasted fantastic. Service was great here.

Best Tropical Cocktail and Food Combo at The Kon-Tiki in Oakland

Landed at The Kon-Tiki in Oakland for my favorite combo meal: The Kon-Tiki Mai Tai and a single patty Kon-Tiki Burger. Pound for pound the best cocktail and food combo you’ll find at any tiki bar. I call it the Ultimate Mai Tai Special.

The Mai Tai – funky with rums from Guyana, Martinique, and Jamaica. And the best cheeseburger I’ve ever had. Still going strong after five years.

There’s been some redecorating of the name plagues of the people who’ve completed the Kon-Tiki Expedition Rum List (see if you can spot mine). Thank you to the Kon-Tiki staff for keeping the flame alive.

Wasn’t overly crowded before six and still always a cool vibe inside. The upbeat 70s vintage tunes included some deep cut Parliament songs that were fantastic. Fine for Friday.

The Kon-Tiki Expedition Rum Explorers

 

Historic John’s Grill in San Francisco

John’s Grill is one of our go-to places in the City, located downtown where we usually park and also because we like the atmosphere and food and cocktails. We totally enjoyed our dinner on Saturday. The place was pretty full but we were able to easily get a reservation earlier that same day.

There aren’t 63 cocktails on their menu but we did enjoy the Gimlet and the Cosmo.

Trying it Once at Dr. Funk

Landed again at Dr. Funk to try more cocktails from the refreshed menu.

Phoenix Rising – mezcal, rum, Aperol, pineapple, lime, coconut cream, cinnamon, serrano tincture. Plus, fire. This is a pretty good cocktail, but too spicy for me. Probably from the serrano – but honestly mezcal isn’t really my bag either. One and done, I guess. Your mileage may vary.

Missionary’s Downfall – white rum, peach liqueur, lime, pineapple, and mint. The original Don the Beachcomber version was blended, a format I’ve struggled with at home. This way may not be as frothy and rich on the tongue, but all the flavors are there. It’s a big plus that they use Probitas Rum, a blend of Foursquare rum from Barbados along with some Jamaican rum from Hampden. Really helpful to stand up to the other ingredients in this tropical cocktail that has plenty of mint.

Note that there’s going to be World Cup Viewing Parties out in San Pedro Square from November 20 – December 18. So, I’d expect a lot of folks to be out cheering for their favorite team. But, thankfully, Dr. Funk doesn’t have any TVs inside so if you’re looking for a tropical escape you still have this option.