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.

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.

Ultimate Kuleana Rum Mai Tai

We worked hard at Ultimate Mai Tai Headquarters to come up with a great Mai Tai using Kuleana’s rum expressions. With four Kuleana rums to work with it was difficult to hone in on the right formula, but after exhaustive testing this one really stuck the landing. The cocktail has complex and fruity flavors that will remind you of the islands, but still remaining true to the original Mai Tai formula.

I wanted to use at least two Kuleana rums, especially their Hawaiian Rum Agricole that I find delightful. But that rum has such as unique taste it can overpower other rums, even Kuleana’s premium aged expression Hōkūlei. So we dialed the Rum Agricole back and added Kuleana’s lightly aged rum, Nanea.

To give the cocktail a tropical twist, we replaced the ¼ oz of rock candy syrup with liliko’i/passionfruit syrup. Because sometimes you want the flavor but not the foam.

Ultimate Kuleana Rum Mai Tai by Kevin Crossman
1 oz Lime Juice
¼ oz Passionfruit Syrup
½ oz Orgeat
½ oz Orange Curacao
½ oz Kuleana Hawaiian Agricole Rum
½ oz Kuleana Nanea Rum
1 oz Kuleana Hōkūlei Rum
Shake with crushed ice and garnish with pineapple and cherry

Products used: Small Hand Foods Passionfruit Syrup, Latitude 29 Orgeat, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao.

If you have these rums, give this recipe and try and drop a comment with your impressions.

Interestingly, these same rums are used in the Kuleana Mai Tai at Kuleana Rum Shack. Wonder what the proportions are, and what’s in Kuleana’s “secret mix” in that Mai Tai. Hmmmmm.

The bottles were provided by Kuleana but this is not a sponsored post.

Dr. Funk Mai Tai Still Delivers

It seems impossible to believe that Jamaican’s leading rum brand is having supply chain issues, even with being owned by liquor superpower Campari Group. Yet that’s exactly the situation for Appleton Estate 12 year Rare Casks and also Appleton Estate 8 year Reserve. Bars cannot get these popular rums in volume. Perhaps Appleton is running short of their iconic bottles and getting bottles to Jamaica is tricky (can we start a bottle return program, stat?). In any case, let’s hope this gets resolved soon.

In the meantime, bars that use Appleton 12/8 in their cocktails need to find alternatives. Appleton’s lightly aged Signature blend seems to still be in ready supply, but may not be a perfect sub for the longer-aged expressions.

Such is the case for the Mai Tai at San Jose’s Dr. Funk where they replaced Appleton 12 with another longer aged Jamaican-led rum, Denizen Merchant’s Reserve. It is then blended 50/50 with Smith & Cross Jamaica Rum. And nothing against Denizen, a fabulous rum blend of mostly Jamaican and some Martinique rum, but Appleton was a better companion to the Smith & Cross.

Nonetheless, the new formula Mai Tai at Dr. Funk is still outstanding. The house orgeat really shines in this bright cocktail that highlights delicious Jamaican rum. And a reminder that it’s only $10 during happy hour – a total bargain.

It sometimes seems passé to include a Mai Tai on the menu at a tiki bar that serves craft cocktails. Of course they can make it, why take up space on the menu? But to me it is important to include the specs on the menu, not just to show newbies this isn’t a pineapple/orange juice Mai Tai, but also to make a statement with the rums being used. Denizen and Smith & Cross? You know this is a serious Mai Tai. And it’s one of the best anywhere.

Don’t Switch the Rum

Regular readers will know we have Mai Tais all the time and love to play with using different rums. Some are better than others, of course, but you rarely get a dud when doing a Mai Tai that’s been formulated to support the rum in the cocktail.

With more complex cocktail recipes you’d think switching out a little bit of rum for another wouldn’t make a difference. Well, for this one I did find that the swap was definitely noticeable and for sure not an improvement.

I didn’t have any limes the other night so I made this cocktail by Laura Miller that uses lemon juice. I’ve made it before and it is a delicious blend of flavors.

Monkey Business by Laura Miller
¾ oz Lemon Juice
½ oz Pearl’s Hideaway Falernum
¼ oz Dry Curacao
1 oz Giffard Banane du Brésil Liqueur
½ oz Hamilton Pot Still Black Rum
1 oz Plantation 5 yr Rum
2 dashes Forbidden Bitters
Ideally, garnish with banana wedge, dehydrated lemon wheel, and plastic monkey.

I subbed the Plantation rum with Real McCoy. I don’t have Forbidden Bitters myself but used 1 dash each of Angostura and Peychaud’s.

Regarding the aforementioned rum swap, when I made a second round I used Doctor Bird Jamaican Rum in place of the Hamilton Pot Still Black from Jamaica. Both rums use Worthy Park distillate and are known to be flavorful and funky. I thought that maybe the higher ABV Doctor Bird would be a possible improvement. It turns out that it really left the entire cocktail a little flat.

I don’t know if this is a credit to the flavorful Hamilton rum or something about Doctor Bird’s Moscatel cask finish, but for sure it was a noticeably poorer experience. Who would have guessed that half ounce would make a difference?

Makai Santa Cruz Waterfront Dining and Cocktails

Celebrating Mai Tai Monday with a real good one that we sampled on lunch on Saturday. Makai Island Kitchen & Groggery is a Hawaiian and tiki themed restaurant on the Santa Cruz pier. We’ve been there a few times and had a good experience, so seemed like a great time to visit again and reconnect with friends. Our meal and service were great.

The cocktail menu is refreshed and there are even more originals here now, plus a very well appointed rum tasting list. I went for the Mai Tai and found it quite good, using Appleton Signature Jamaican rum. Meanwhile Mrs. Mai Tai had the Kahanamoku featuring vanilla rum, lemon, lime, coconut cream, and spiced rum float. Leaning sweet, but still pretty good if you like it that way.

The rum list is extensive and priced competitively. We went a little upscale for some Appleton Hearts 1995, only $62 for a 1½ oz pour. Plenty enough to split between the two parties.

I know that purists hate tiki bars with windows, but I can never penalize a place that has ocean-front views (see also: Trader Vic’s Emeryville). And Makai’s view is really worth it. We saw flocks of pelicans and also hoards of sea lions nearby. It was a beautiful day on Saturday, perfect for a friendly meal and tasty food and drinks.

Thatch Roof Cocktail at Legends Bay Casino

The new Legends Bay Casino is right across from our hotel in Sparks, so we went over to try some cocktails. There’s a bar with food trucks and a great selection of beer, but we went into the elegant bar at Duke’s Steak House. Our service from the bartender here was outstanding.

There’s a good selection of cocktails here, and the team can make classics not on the menu (I ordered a Sidecar). Mrs. Mai Tai immediately spotted the coconut rum drink called Thatch Roof, and this was an excellent choice. The Thatch Roof cocktail has Kasama Small Batch Rum (from the Philippines), ginger, coconut cream, lime, and soda. The blend of coconut and ginger worked great, and the soda and lime gave it a lightness. It was fantastic.

Kasama is a rum brand that I wasn’t familiar with, so I got a little pour of the rum for the second round. I don’t think the “small batch rum” label is quite accurate since research indicates there are big bucks and industry vets behind this brand (see also: Tito’s “Handmade” Vodka). The column-still rum is heavily dosed with sugar and added flavors, so this isn’t really a rum to sip neat. But I can’t complain at all about the flavorful Thatch Roof cocktail.

Golden Devil New Yarnmouth Single Cask 26 yr Jamaican Rum

Thanks to rum mensch Cory Schoolland for turning me on to this limited release of a rum that’s typically unusual to find on the market. You see, New Yarnmouth is one of the two distilleries owned by the J. Wray & Nephew (you might have heard of the other distillery, Appleton). It’s where they produce the famed Wray & Nephew Overproof, but aged rums from here are basically unheard of.

But K&L Wines was selling this Golden Devil release and after Cory gave me a sample to try I thought that I’d be remiss about not obtaining a bottle before it goes away forever.

This rum was distilled in November 1994 and aged for 26 years. There’s no specific documentation on the location of the aging, though deduction indicates the majority was probably in Europe. The rum has plenty of aging notes, but not so much that this age would indicate compared to rums aged completely in the tropics.

There’s no clear marque either, though this is what I’d characterize as a medium ester Jamaican rum. Plenty funky for the average spirits drinker, but for sure not anywhere as a high as you see from other local distilleries. There aren’t notes about the still type, but I’d guess column still just based on the relative lightness of the body.

There’s plenty of flavor here. The ABV is 66.3% so it is a truly a full strength cask strength release. There are amazing lingering flavors that your tongue continues to get notes from for what seem like minutes. Little sips provide a deeply satisfying tasting experience. If you love Jamaican rum this fits right in. The slightly lighter body would be comparable to Appleton, if they issued at cask strength (which they don’t). It’s astonishing.

K&L still has a few of these for sale at the SF store or via mail order. Price is less than you’d expect for a 26 year rum from a distillery that literally doesn’t issue long-aged rums. Below the Mendoza line, baseball fans.

More info: Jamaican Rum Distillery Cheat Sheet (Cocktail Wonk)

Kuleana Rum Works Hōkūlei

The latest blended rum release for Kuleana Rum Works will appeal to those who love barrel notes in their rum. This rum combines distillate from six countries, including a unique aged version of Kuleana’s Hawaiian Rum Agricole. Issued at 46% ABV, this is reminiscent of quality Barbados rums but with a slightly lighter overall character. No added colors, flavors, or sweeteners.

As noted there is a complex and interesting set of seven rums in this bottle:

  • Base rums: Molasses rums from Panama, Nicaragua, Barbados, and Venezuela and aged 2-3, 3-8, 5-8, and 8 years respectively.

  • Body rums: Kuleana’s Hawaiian Rum Agricole made from sugar cane juice and aged 18 months in Cognac barrels, plus a 15 year molasses-based rum from Barbados.

  • Accent rum: Molasses-based rum from Trinidad, aged 18 years.

I can’t say that the Hawaiian Rum Agricole hits me over the head, and honestly I’d love to try some of that just by itself. But overall, Hōkūlei is a really great sipping rum with great spice and oak notes.

In a Mai Tai, Hōkūlei doesn’t really punch through in the assertive way that Kuleana’s Hawaiian Rum Agricole does, though there’s plenty of general rummy flavor. On the other hand, this rum shines in a Daiquiri where you can taste those same spice and oak flavors alongside the brightness of the lime and sugar.

Hōkūlei retails for around $70-80 and is just coming to market this year. You can order from Kuleana’s website as well.

The bottle was provided by Kuleana but this is not a sponsored post.

Recipe: Blue Hawaii (Modified)

Went out to dinner last night in the Bay Area suburbs. Lazy Dog Restaurant has a “Blue Hawaiian” on the menu that’s pretty close to Harry Yee’s original blue cocktail. Pineapple, Sweet & Sour, Rum, Vodka – and OJ. It came out really green but the taste was just fine.

At home I made one with a modified recipe that was even better.

Blue Hawaii (Modified)
½ oz Lemon Juice
2 oz Pineapple Juice
½ oz Simple Syrup
½ oz Blue Curacao
1½ oz White Rum Blend
Shake with crushed ice.

My white rum blend is made from almost empty bottles of Denizen 3, Wray & Nephew Overproof, Myers’s White, and Three Rolls Estate. So a bit more flavorful than your standard Puerto Rican White. And way better than Vodka.

I used Giffard Blue Curacao. For this drink, I think adding another half ounce of Blue Curacao for a float would look nicer and add a bit more sweetness to the cocktail.

Note that Harry Lee celebrated his 104th birthday this week. You can read an essay about Yee from Hawaiian journalist Rick Carrol, circa late 1990s, on this website.

“Blue Hawaiian” from Lazy Dog