Kona Club Ups Cocktail Game with ’44 Mai Tai

Always described as a gorgeous bamboo tiki bar, Oakland’s Kona Club hasn’t embraced the cocktail trends most tiki bars have. Famous for their sugary Macadamia Nut Chi-Chi, neighborhood bar clientele, and music that doesn’t lean exotic, Kona Club sometimes draws ire from hardcore tikiphiles. But, friends, I’m here to tell you that some updates to the cocktail menu mean that it may be time to revisit those assumptions and opinions.

There’s a new section of Select Classics on the menu which include a Saturn, Jungle Bird, and Three Dots & a Dash. Plus a ’44 Mai Tai made with Jamaican rum, fresh lime, Dry Curacao, and orgeat. Having had plenty of cheap but ultimately not very good Kona Mai Tais here in the past, it was nice to see an option without pineapple, guava, and amaretto.

The standard ’44 Mai Tai is still made with small cubes, but nonetheless is still way better than the old Kona Mai Tai (which remains on the menu, if that’s your jam). Kona Club actually has a pretty decent rum selection as well, and I ordered a second ’44 with Hamilton 86 Demerara Rum and that too was pretty good (though needed more shaking/dilution). While they do measure the ingredients, they’re doing the fresh squeeze of “juice of one lime” bit, so your mileage might vary on the balance.

’44 Mai Tai and Undertow

Mrs. Mai Tai ordered two highballs. These are prepared in the glass with minimal stirring, so this can be detriment to the cocktail. That said, we both thought the Undertow with platinum and coconut rum, guava, passionfruit, lime, and orgeat was pretty good. Fruity in a good way, but not stickily sweet like the infamous Chi-Chi. She also tried the Left Bank with gin, elderflower liqueur, lemon, and soda. She thought it needed more elderflower, and I guess I would agree. It definitely tasted better after additional stirring and a squeeze of the lemon wheel garnish.

Thursday evening around 8:30 was quite fun, with lots of people cycling through and having a great time. Music was better, more of a mix of instrumental/retro tunes and no hip-hop or classic rock. I’ve had service issues here many times, but this time the staff was super attentive and friendly.

Kona Club still isn’t “craft cocktails” but at least is now a lot better. Definitely a lot of fun in a good neighborhood where parking isn’t a problem. I’ll be back.

Is Budapest’s New York Café the Most Beautiful in the World?

The New York Café has been in Budapest for over a century and has a reputation for being the most beautiful in the world. We were staying two blocks away and made it over for some drinks and dinner. Indeed the intricate frescoes and glamorous chandeliers do seem more reminiscent of a palace than a restaurant.

It was nice inside and we had pretty reasonable service considering how busy it was, plus the piano player set a great mood. Our food and drinks were … serviceable. Not really bad but not at the level of the decor inside.

We have a Beefeater Problem

I only started procuring gin to make certain exotic cocktails, such as the Saturn shown here. I picked up a bottle of Beefeater London Dry Gin and haven’t looked back. I like the flavors that it imparts and I like the bottle design. Even better was how it was issued at 47% ABV, a step up from many retail spirits, giving this spirit a lot more flavor than vodkas and light rums. I’ve tried other gins but found that I like Beefeater and while I have dozens of rums, I didn’t feel like I needed to do much exploring in the gin category.

A couple years back Beefeater dropped their ABV to 44%, which I didn’t bat too much of an eye at though I will say I did buy a couple bottles of the 47% version that I found at a local liquor store. All seemed to be okay.

But Beefeater recently dropped their proof again and is now a paltry 40% ABV! This is a bridge too far, though I did go back to that store to buy a couple more 47s they still had in stock. But I can’t recommend the brand per se anymore. I do see that brands like Tanqueray are still at 47%, which is where I guess I’d stand from a recommendation standpoint, even though I haven’t done a side by side comparison.

What do you think, dear reader? What are your recommended gins for mixing?

Papalin Réunion 10 Year Rum

Picked this beauty up at Tara Spirits in Munich. I’d heard good things about this bottle which includes four different rums all aged ten or more years on Réunion, a French island in the Indian Ocean. There are some of the rich raisin flavors I get from aged pot still rums from Appleton and Mount Gay, but the overall body is a little lighter. There is supposed to be some Grand Arome in here, and all the rums in the bottle are pot still rums aged in French Oak. No sugar or other additives are present, and the bottle comes in at 50% ABV.

I really love these aged flavorful rums, which means they go straight into a Mai Tai. As expected, the aromatic character of the rum works wonderfully in the cocktail and imparts rich flavors.

Papalin Réunion 10 Year Rum is worth seeking out if you can find it.

Havana Club 7 Restock

I’d like to thank the customs agent who didn’t ask any questions and allowed me to bring this Havana Club 7 Cuban Rum back from Germany with ease. I brought back from 12 year old Santiago rum from Cuba last year but I like the overall flavor and body of the Havana Club 7 better, so I made sure to bring back this bottle before my current one is finished. The current bottle is almost gone, and I’m also not sure when I’ll be out of the country so I had to make sure I stocked up.

Some people seem to pooh-pooh these Havana Club rums as only being desired due to scarcity in the United States, but having tried a lot of rum the Havana Club 3 and Havana Club 7 do stack up quite well and are very nice for these lighter style of column-still rums. The HC3 does make a fabulous crisp daiquiri and the HC7 is a very nice sipping rum that’s perfect when you want great flavor but don’t want the rum to be overly assertive. Sometimes you don’t want cask strength spirits.

One bummer was that the HC3 in Germany was only 37.5% ABV, less than the 40% that I got last year in U.K. I’m all for having a little more HC3 but I do draw the line at rum less than 40%.

Blue Mai Tai for July 4th

There were a couple parties last night that I could have attended but wasn’t feeling great. All the fireworks going off in our neighborhood were disturbing, including some that went off right over our house thanks to neighbors. I really hate the 4th of July.

The Mai Tai was the consolation prize.

Blue Mai Tai
1 oz Lime Juice
½ oz Orgeat (Latitude 29)
¼ oz Simple Syrup
½ oz Giffard Blue Curacao
½ oz Rum Fire Overproof Jamaica Rum
1 oz Leblon Cachaça
Shake with crushed ice and garnish with mint.

Normally I make this with the overproof as the featured spirit, but wanted to see if the more savory Cachaça flavors would come through in this format and they surely did. Still very flavorful and leaning sweet (omit the Simple to reduce sweetness).