Sci-Fi Theme Leads Major Menu Change at Oakland’s Kon-Tiki

The Kon-Tiki Oakland today is officially launching a new 5th edition of their printed cocktail menu, the first since October 2021.

I don’t know if anyone else cares about this at all, but I’m always interested when one of my favorite places updates a menu. And since I have the older menus, it is interesting to see what’s coming, going, and staying. I’ve done this each time they’ve changed menus but as you’ll see below this time was quite a bit easier. There are 22 items on this menu, including sharables and “low/zero gravity” cocktails, compared to a total 27 on the last one.

Most notable for us is the continued presence of an ultra-premium Mai Tai on the menu. We are saying goodbye to the $44 Samaroli Mai Tai which is being replaced by the $38 Captain’s Reserve Mai Tai made with Kon-Tiki’s fantastic private barrel Worthy Park Jamaica rum. I’ve had Mai Tais with this rum and it is a big improvement.

Only four cocktails are carrying over to the new menu, all of which were on the original menu when the Kon-Tiki opened in 2017. The menu’s design and the cocktail names are leaning into a Sci-Fi theme which I find… well, unexpected. I’ve loved the graphical design of the Kon-Tiki’s menus, cocktails, and website. This is something altogether different.

Be sure to try some of the new cocktails the next time you visit.

Original Menu Holdovers
The Kon-Tiki Grog
The Kon-Tiki Zombie
Uma Uma
Virgin’s Sacrifice

New Exotic Drinks
Cadet’s Grog
Captain’s Reserve Mai Tai
Cherry Coco-Naut
Cosmo Ship Yamato
Cotopaxi Caldera
Crater of Excalibia
Event Horizon
Heyerdahl Maneuver
Lunar Camel
Nova’s Nexus
Pale Blue Dot
Pop Star
Princess of Mars
Sunset of Risa

Thanks for the memories
Blush Crush
Donnie’s Element
Golden Gong
Golden Snitch
Haitian Hi Ball
Island Old Fashioned
Ma Kua (for 2 or 4)
Mai Tai
Martinique on Fleek
Mezcal in the Banana Stand
Plantation Stiggins Fancy Pineapple Rum on Nitro Draft
Phoenix Bowl
Ring of Fire
Rum and Spice
Rum Club Cooler
Samaroli Mai Tai
Saint Lucia’s Fox
Sea Shandy
Sea Shandy Jr.
Stormy Keone
The Kon-Tiki Spritz
Virgin Painkiller

SF Rum Fest Presentation: The Mai Tai in Hawai’i

Today was an add-on experience connected to the San Francisco Rum Festival and Congress held at Trader Vic’s Emeryville. Rum Education for a Cause was a fundraiser for Maui and included three sessions.

Mai Tai: The Official (Unofficial) Cocktail of Hawai’i

“The Mai Tai has been coined the “national drink of Hawaii” and is often referred to as the “king of tiki drinks” according to Dine with Drinks. Join our panelists to learn more about the history of this iconic cocktail in Hawai’i and from today’s Hawaiian rum producers who are advancing drink’s cornerstone ingredient into the 21st century.”

My portion included a presentation about the history of the Mai Tai in Hawai’i including how the cocktail continues to evolve and feature the fine rums from local rum producers Kuleana Rum Works and Kō Hana Distillers. Steve Jefferson from Kuleana and Kyle Reutner from Kō Hana discussed their rums and included more details about how sugar cane came to Hawai’i and how it is used today.

Download the Presentation (PDF)

Mai Tai from Kuleana at the Rum Education for a Cause event

The Evolution of the Mai Tai on Make and Drink YouTube

We were pleased to be the inaugural guest on Derek Cole’s Make and Drink channel on YouTube. In the video we discuss how the cocktail evolved in Hawaii and even make the original Hawaiian Mai Tai that did not include Pineapple juice. Make and Drink is a really great cocktail channel and Derek’s production values are off the chart.

The thumbnail for the video includes some “Easter Eggs” about the Mai Tai and even some forthcoming content. Stay tuned for future collaborations.

Now is also a good time to recommend subscribing to the Make and Drink Patreon, where you can support high-quality content like this as well as being able to interact with other patrons and Derek who is also producing patron-exclusive content. Check it out.

House without a Key at Halekulani Hotel Waikiki

We wanted to revisit House without a Key, having been able to score walk-up seats the pool bar on our last trip but wanting to sit closer to the performances that start at 5:00. Our reservation was for 5:30 and we saw that “drinks only” guests were seated up front in the sun and many used the provided umbrellas to shade themselves. When we were seated for dinner, we opted to sit in the shade under covering.

The performers sing a variety of Hawaiian songs and at 6:00 a former Miss Hawaii comes out to dance. This is a very nice and relaxing locale and once you’re in shade a little is quite pleasant, so consider a slightly later reservation.

I ordered the Mai Tai, made to a 50s style Hawaiian Mai Tai spec (no pineapple) but with a dark rum float. I normally love these but found it to be flat this visit, and they’re probably still not using Lemon Hart 151 for the float, a rum that I think is essentially for adding a lot of flavor. It most definitely not Bacardi 151 per the menu, since Bacardi stopped making that years ago and for sure the float had more of a smoky flavor (I’m guessing it was Myers’s). We enjoyed the rest of our dinner and desert with the Halekulani’s famous coconut cake.

Top Hawaiian Mai Tai at Don’s Treehouse in Waikiki

One of the highlights of Tiki in Waikiki was the Friday cocktail reception at the International Market Place‘s treehouse. This was set up as a tribute to Donn Beach, who envisioned the original market place back in the 1950s. A treehouse for two was a key feature back in those days, used by honeymooners and others who wanted a private dining experience. A. Private. Dining. Experience. You know…

We can thank our friends at Skull & Crown Trading Co. for setting up the cocktails being served in the treehouse for the first time in decades. There were a series of delicious options, including a very nice Zombie, but I was totally blown away by the Mai Tai on the menu.

The Banyan Mai Tai was made with Appleton Estate 12 rum, Kō Hana Kea rum, Smith & Cross rum, Dry Curacao, Lime, Orgeat, Demerara Syrup, and a topping of Angostura Bitters. Purists would say that bitters don’t belong in a Mai Tai, but I’m here to tell you that it was just fine to add them. With three rums amongst my favorites, this Mai Tai totally hit me perfectly. Especially considering the setting, too. Cocktails, in a treehouse under the banyan tree, what’s not to love? One of the top Mai Tais of 2023 and it will for sure make the yearly top 10 list.

Skull & Crown will be doing cocktails here on Fridays and Saturdays through the rest of the year, so if you’re in Waikiki be sure to check it out.

Mai Tai Myths

Today is Mai Tai Day, celebrating the birth of the Mai Tai in 1944. It was the day selected when Oakland recognized the cocktail and declared Mai Tai Day in 2009.

To celebrate, here’s the series of Mai Tai Myths articles that ran last year. They provide historical perspective on the cocktail and sadly we continue to see misinformation being spread.

Mai Tai Myth: Hawaiian Mai Tais have Always had Pineapple Juice
First up is the myth that when Trader Vic introduced the Mai Tai to Hawaii in 1953 that it was created with pineapple juice. Pineapple juice is certainly the ingredient that changes a 1944 style Mai Tai to an “Island Mai Tai” and these are common in Hawaii and other tourist destinations. But pineapple juice wasn’t commonly used in Hawaiian Mai Tais until the 1960s.

Mai Tai Myth: Hawaiian Mai Tais have Always had Pineapple Juice

Mai Tai Myth: Nobody knew the Mai Tai Ingredients Until 1970
Trader Vic Bergeron issued a press release in 1970 describing how he original developed the Mai Tai and he also included the original recipe. We’ve seen speculation that this means that body knew what was actually in a Mai Tai. There are numerous 1950s-1960s published recipes in newspapers and books that provided Mai Tai recipes featuring the original ingredients: lime, rock candy syrup, orgeat, orange curaçao, and rum. This isn’t like the Zombie where nobody knew about Don’s Mix or even what was in it.

Mai Tai Myth: Nobody knew the Mai Tai Ingredients Until 1970

Mai Tai Myth: Trader Vic Kept the Recipe a Secret
While there was a great deal of secrecy around cocktail recipes at Don the Beachcomber locations, there was a different practice with Trader Vic’s. A customer wrote to Bergeron in 1956 requesting the recipe for the Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai and Trader Vic himself signed the letter sent back to the customer.

Mai Tai Myth: Trader Vic Kept the Recipe a Secret

Mai Tai Myth: The Mai Tai Created a Worldwide Rum Shortage
Trader Vic Bergeron stated “The success of the Mai Tai and its acceptance soon caused the 17-year-old rum to become unavailable, so it was substituted with the same fine rum with 15 years aging.” This is where the myth originates, with people doing a shorthand to say that “rum” had a shortage due to the Mai Tai.

Mai Tai Myth: The Mai Tai Created a Worldwide Rum Shortage

Mai Tai Myth: a 1944 Mai Tai Must be Made with Jamaican Rum
In this case we’re using the term “1944 Mai Tai” to mean a recipe along the lines or the original and to differentiate from an Island Mai Tai. Trader Vic’s themselves have recently had a 1944 Mai Tai on their menu using non-Jamaican rums. If using rums made outside of Jamaica is good enough for Trader Vic’s, it should be good enough for you. The Mai Tai does not have a geographical origin, like the Ti Punch or Daiquiri, so use whatever rum is your favorite.

Mai Tai Myth: a 1944 Mai Tai Must be Made with Jamaican Rum

Paradise at the Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai Bar

First stop after landing in Waikiki was the Mai Tai bar at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel for a cocktail and some eye candy. We love the tables at the edge of this bar that are adjacent to the beach with great views of Diamond Head.

Ali’i Mai Tai and Royal Mai Tai

The Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai remains a competent island-style Mai Tai, with Pineapple and Orange Juice but also with real Orgeat and Orange Curacao. Mrs. Mai Tai enjoyed the Pink Palace, which is a Pina Colada with Grenadine added for color.

We have less positive things to say about the $40 Ali’i Mai Tai, which features Kō Hana Koho barrel aged rum, El Dorado 15, Ferrand Dry Curacao, orgeat, and fresh lime. Sounds good? There’s also “freshly muddled pineapple” which to my taste didn’t seem that fresh, along with a generous toping of Coco-Loco foam. The fruity topping tastes good on its own but doesn’t really work with the rest of the cocktail, and then completely overpowers the flavor once it gets incorporated into the cocktail. The color and notably also implies a great deal of pineapple juice, otherwise the two aged rums would turn this darker. I couldn’t really taste the rums in this, poor since it is supposed to feature them considering the price.

So, word of advice – skip the $40 Mai Tai and just go with the standard. There’s plenty of to enjoy here, including live musicians playing most days. Seating is open, so keep a look out for the tables right next to the beach.