Hawaiian Airlines “Signature” Mai Tai

Looking at the menu of cocktails on our Hawaiian Airlines flight back home I could see that the Daiquiri, Aviation, and Old Fashioned were from well-known ready-to-drink cocktail suppliers. But the Mai Tai, not listed as being from either On the Rocks or from Kō Hana. You’d think the “Signature” Mai Tai would be something different, but in the back of my mind I guessed it would be from one of the brands already on the menu. That wouldn’t be a bad thing, since both On the Rocks and Kō Hana Mai Tais are pretty good RTD Mai Tais.

So, I ordered the Mai Tai and it was… On the Rocks.

Not sure why Hawaiian Airlines can’t just say this, but you could do far worse for an airplane cocktail.

Update

We were told by a reader that Hawaiian Airlines is in the process of switching from On the Rocks to Kō Hana, which explains the ambiguity as they wind down inventory.

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.

2023 Hawai’i Trip Mai Tai Recap

Someone commented about all the Mai Tais from our recent trip to Hawai’i and asked which was my favorite.

The Banyan Mai Tai at the Skull & Crown Trading Co. pop up at Don’s Treehouse at the International Market Place was by far my favorite. This one really hit all the right notes and was complex and so full of flavor. It also features three outstanding rums, all of which are amongst my favorites: Appleton Estate 12 Jamaica rum, Kō Hana Kea Hawaiian agricole rum, and Smith & Cross Jamaica rum.

Others that were top-tier included Heyday, Skull & Crown’s Maunakea Mai Tai, Hau Tree Lanai, and the Halekulani House without a Key. For those with pineapple, I liked Duke’s ’44 and the Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai best.

Only one I wouldn’t recommend was the Royal Hawaiian’s $40 Ali’i Mai Tai. Not that good period, much less for a premium price.

Cocktails and Hula Pie at Duke’s Waikiki

We had a little free time after the Tiki in Waikiki cocktail competition and went to Duke’s Waikiki for drinks. We enjoy this restaurant but it is always really crowded and hard to get in without a reservation. But the bar is open seating and we were lucky that server at the bar let us sit at a table that technically wasn’t open. Our service was very prompt and he was super friendly, too.

The very good Duke’s Vintage ’44 Mai Tai is made with Koloa rums from Kauai, lime, and a splash of fresh pineapple. I don’t mind a little bit of pineapple juice in a Mai Tai, though of course it really shouldn’t be called a ’44 if there’s pineapple in there. Nevertheless, this was the right balance and I thought this Mai Tai was pretty good. Definitely different than the traditional Duke’s Mai Tai made with POG juice.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Mai Tai had the pretty and sweet Lava Flow. Nothing fancy but this is the kind of drink she loves.

We couldn’t leave Duke’s without some Hula Pie. There’s something about a Hula Pie in Hawai’i that makes it taste better than one you have from a restaurant in California. Maybe it is how it melts just a little faster, but boy it was fab.

Afterwards, we wandered out to the for some photos and great views of the beach and Diamond Head.

Return to the Tipsy Tiki at International Market Place

Tipsy Tiki is the bar located in the food court at the International Market Place, previously known as Myna Bird. When we visited last year we appreciated that while this location was connected to the nearby La Pina Cantina there was also a separate list of tropical drinks under the Tipsy Tiki moniker. We enjoyed the Hawaiian-style Tipsy Tiki Mai Tai made by the bartender last year.

This year the Tipsy Tiki-specific menu has gone away, so when you ask for a cocktail menu it’s a Margarita-heavy menu for La Pina. There isn’t even a Mai Tai on the menu, which seems shocking given the still-present Tipsy Tiki signage.

Nonetheless, I’m pleased to report that my friendly bartender was easily able to make a Mai Tai and even went to extra effort to procure an orchid for garnish. It was an entirely serviceable Mai Tai that tasted just fine.

While a food court tiki bar doesn’t really scratch the itch of the hardcore tikiphile, there are far worse “tiki” experiences in Waikiki than this one (hello Cuckoo Coconuts!). I like the tiki touches here and did find the service to be very good. Plus my 11:00 am Mai Tai wasn’t half bad.

Heyday at White Sands Hotel

The White Sands Hotel was the host hotel for the Tiki in Waikiki weekend event, a refurbished historical hotel with plenty of midcentury design goodness. We chose not to stay there because we wanted someplace more modern and larger, but we spent plenty of time there. We thank Mike and Holly for hosting a fun room party with great drinks on the Friday evening as well as during the Saturday pool party.

Heyday is a round bar in the middle of the White Sands grounds, adjacent to the pool. Food is available after 3:00. A notable feature are the swings that serve as barstools for most of the circumference of the bar. They look great, but are practically not as fun as you’d think – and they make it hard to get to your drinks. They have a good selection of spirits and had a special on Real McCoy 12. The bar has a varied menu with some inspired recipes. The common use of free-pouring most of the ingredients means this isn’t quite as “craft” as maybe they aspire to, though both Mai Tais I had here were well-balanced.

the backside of Heyday

The Mai’i Tai is a riff featuring tea-infused rum, aged Kō Hana Hawaiian rum, orange and lime juice, and orgeat. This didn’t blow me away but I thought it was worthwhile and nicely leaned a little light which seemed to hit the spot around the pool. And there was plenty of booze, too.

The 1944 Mai Tai features aged Jamaican rum, Hawaiian rum, and Martinique agricole, plus Dry Curacao, orgeat, and lime. This is a formidable Mai Tai with a great blend of rums, worth seeking out the next time you’re in Waikiki. Heyday also offers a Beachside Mai Tai with pineapple juice and a Cool Kid Mai Tai featuring Campari.

White Sands has another bar with a camouflaged entrance called the Green Lady Cocktail Room. “Ask for Room 8.” We poked our head in and this small space was packed and had a cool vibe inside. Hard to beat the relaxed ambiance of the poolside bar Heyday, though.

Hanging at Heyday with Bob and Ashley

Hau Tree Lanai Brunch at Kaimana Beach Hotel

Years ago I visited the Kaimana Hotel located in the shadow of Diamond Head. Those visits were to see lunchtime solo performances by the legendary Arthur Lyman. He’d roll in, plug in the vibraphone and then play for a couple hours. Always the gentleman, Lyman would play his famous songs such as “Taboo” and “Yellow Bird” before asking for requests for those in attendance. It was such a pleasure to see Lyman play before his passing.

For this year’s O’ahu trip I wanted to return to the Kaimana hotel, so we jetted over for brunch at the Hau Tree Lanai. This is a wonderful location in the morning, since the patio is situated in shade and we were just feet away from the lapping waves. We were seated right next to the Hau Tree itself.

Brunch was fantastic, led by some Ube Cinnamon Buns that were to die for. Mrs. Mai Tai had a Mango Mimosa and I tried the Mai Tai that I remembered as being better than average from my visits years ago. The 1944 Mai Tai is made with Appleton and Kuleana rums, but I found this to be a little flat. Not really bad, but it didn’t hit me like I expected. As noted in a previous post I same reaction at some other places so it might have just been me.

As we ate, we noticed part of the beach being closed off but we couldn’t see exactly why. When we finished we walked out onto the beach to see a Hawaiian Monk Seal taking a siesta on the beach. Nice to see the folks keeping everyone away from the seal.

We really enjoyed our visit to the Hau Tree Lanai, a place we find very special. It’s pretty far off from the main drag of Waikiki but we felt the travel was totally worth it.