Vatos Who Tiki at Kon-Tiki

The crew from the Los Angeles-based lifestyle brand Vatos Who Tiki were up in the Bay Area last weekend and did a takeover at Oakland’s Kon-Tiki after Rum Fest. Having the Kon-Tiki’s legendary cheeseburger after drinking rum all day seemed like a no-brainer. The takeover included some great tunes from DJ Oran and El Nova and a special cocktail menu.

DJ El Nova

I very much enjoyed the Oaxacan in Jamaica, the Vatos’ Mai Tai blend that includes Oaxacan and Jamican rums. I’ve loved all the Oaxacan rums I’ve tried so this one was a great combo especially when paired with my cheeseburger.

Very nice to talk to El Nova in person after years of online discussions. The Vatos Who Tiki merch lineup for this event was full of great items including glasses and stickers – and you can buy shirts in their online Etsy store. Check it out.

We great to see Doc Parks in the house and to visit with Christ from Kon-Tiki.

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

SF Rum Fest 2023

Another successful San Francisco Rum Festival and Congress is in the books. We had a great time at the Hibernia in downtown SF for this year’s event. Everything seemed just about the same as last year in terms of attendance and rum sponsors. So nice to meet many rum reps and to taste some new rums and expressions.

Welcome Mai Tai from Kuleana Rum Works

Having been doing the rum thing for several years now, I try to stick to things I haven’t tried before. So when I went to the El Dorado/Diamond table I unbelievably didn’t ask for a pour of cask strength Port Mourant but Diamond’s new Coconut rum. And I liked it! The Diamond line is a lower-priced product line and everything I’ve tried has been really great, including their two 151 expressions.

Barbancourt from Haiti has an interesting 110 proof white rum expression that I found interesting and had some bold and complex flavors. Same was true for the Monymusks’s forthcoming Overproof rum. This Jamaica rum is issued at 126 proof, but it quite a bit different from Wray/Rum Fire. Definitely a little lighter including Column-still distillate and a more subdued fruit-forward flavor. Worth checking out.

There were several good seminars. I really enjoyed the session from Johann Jobello covering the line of Haitian Clairins from La Maison & Velier. Clairins are wonderful and tasting these expressions side by side shows how diverse they can be – even when they’re just coming from the same country. The session from Monymusk led by blender Robert Gordon and supported by Adrienne Stoner was also quite informative. Based on rums coming from the Long Pond and Clarendon distilleries, Monymusk is relaunching their brand in the U.S. and seems poised for wider availability.

A session about estate-grown rums featured Zan Kong from Worthy Park and was paired with Steve Jefferson and Kyle Reutner from Hawaiian distilleries Kuleana and Kō Hana respectively. This was a little looser in style and more for a Q&A format with some cogent and respectful questions from the audience. Three of my favorite rums companies.

Kō Hana Distillery on O’ahu

One of the highlights of the Tiki in Waikiki weekend event was a tour of the Kō Hana rum distillery in Waipahu. We took comfortable buses our about an hour out of Waikiki and were greeted by the friendly folks from Kō Hana.

The tour includes four components, with about ten minutes in each spot. Our group started with the distilling area with the pot and column stills, where we learned about how they take the wash and turn it into fine Hawaiian rum. Our next stop was the aging room where we saw that some of Kō Hana’s expressions are aged in a variety of barrels including a few made with native Hawaiian wood. There’s a lot more capacity in that aging room, where I hope we’ll get even longer aged expressions of Kō Hana rum in the future.

We also learned about the sugar cane and the dozens of varietals that Kō Hana is using. These varietals are on the grounds of the distillery for reference, but the farms are on the north end of O’ahu. At each stop the experts in each field were available for detailed questions about Kō Hana’s production process. A breezy tour for rum newbies and super cool for the rum nerds to dig into the details.

The last stop was the tasting room where we got to sample three Kō Hana expressions: the unaged Kea, the aged Koho, and the Kokoleka which is made with Kō Hana rum along with pure cacao and raw honey. This liqueur is bottled at 30% ABV and Mrs. Mai Tai was such a big fan that we walked home with a bottle. There’s also samples of Kō Hana’s fine bottled cocktails and some other branded items available for purchase.

Kō Hana is becoming one of my favorite rums thanks to the myriad excellent cocktails I’ve been having lately that are made with this fine spirit. I honestly don’t love their unique square bottles but they’re quite distinctive on the shelf and traveled well in our suitcase.

Big thanks to the team Kō Hana who were super informative and also provided us with a great deal of hospitality during our visit. Mahalo, team.

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.

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

Tiki in Waikiki Recap

Mrs. Mai Tai and I had a great time at the second and half annual Tiki in Waikiki weekender this past weekend. This was our first time at the event, which is produced by Angelina Khan and Noa Laporga of Skull & Crown Trading Co. fame. There were quite a few volunteers who helped with the event, including Adrian Eustaquio who served as MC for most of the events. Sylvia Flores was also omnipresent and also gave us some great tips for things to do in the city.

Friday recap: opening ceremony and tiki vendors at the International Market Place, followed by delicious cocktails from Skull & Crown in the Don the Beachcomber treehouse. First time in decades to have exotic drinks in the treehouse! There was an off-premise event in Chinatown, but we enjoyed the room party thrown by Michael and Holly at the host hotel White Sands.

Saturday recap: fab seminars from Adrian covering the Tiki Ti and Martin Cate’s about Hawaiian tourism, followed by a pool party at the White Sands. Then a bus ride up to Kō Hana rum distillery for a tour and a luau party. We enjoyed the Hawaiian food and especially the musical acts including Thomas Mackay and Vibra Cubana. But we were truly impressed by local favorite Starr Kalahiki who’s really a fabulous singer and entertainer.

Kō Hana rum distillery

Sunday recap: truly incredible seminar from DeSoto Brown, then bartender competition in the International Market Place courtyard. We then were bussed to a theater to see a test screening of the Donn of Tiki documentary. We thought this film about Don the Beachcomber was outstanding. Then we finished the evening with another catered evening in the patio behind Skull & Crown including cocktails from Skull & Crown and also Doc Parks. Sunday also featured a silent auction to raise money for Maui, organized by Chase Samson. I won the tickets to Tiki Oasis 2024!

What a magical weekend! Thanks again to Noa, Angelina, and all the support team.