Rum Curious Happy Hour at Kon-Tiki

Fun times on Monday with a rum tasting happy hour at The Kon-Tiki in Oakland, hosted by Bryan Inman as part of his Rum Curious Club event series. The rums available for tasting were from Hawai’i’s Kō Hana and Haiti’s Rhum Barbancourt.

This session was a little different than the typical rum tasting at Kon-Tiki where a rum rep usually sets up and is there for maybe a couple hours. For this one the tasting was limited to one hour as were the special $7 cocktails made with the sponsored rums. As such, it was quite the feeding frenzy to get in to taste the rums. I’m not sure this is a better format, but there’s no doubt there was a certain energy in the room, and the Kon-Tiki bar team certainly did a great job keeping up with cocktail orders.

I’ve tried the entire Kō Hana lineup before so I didn’t partake in the rum tasting, but I really loved the Kon-Tiki’s take on the Royal Hawaiian Cocktail made with Kō Hana rum, orgeat, pineapple, and citrus. It was absolutely delightful, featuring the flavorful sugar cane rum made on O’ahu very much in balance with the pineapple.

As for Rhum Barbancourt, I was interested in Haitian Proof, an unaged expression at 110 proof. This was noticeably different than the aged Barbancourt releases which to me don’t have that “sugar cane distillate” taste. Haitian Proof on the other hand definitely has that flavor that you get from other Haitian rums and clairins. Very interesting and retailing for around $30 plus or minus.

Custom Aged Rum

Mrs. Mai Tai got me this little aging barrel for Christmas and after three months I thought it was aged well enough to bottle. The blend is about two thirds Rum Fire from Jamaica, an overproof rum at 63% ABV with overripe fruit notes, and a third Saint Benevolence Rum Clairin from Haiti, an olive/brine forward rum at 50% ABV. Both pot-still rums are unaged and will put the aging process to the test.

After three months, you can see the rum has turned very dark. I estimate the “angel’s share” loss to be at least 40%, perhaps due to the barrel not exactly being made to distiller’s quality. In fact, the fragrant blend of rum is still present on the barrel today.

In this glass, this is like nothing I’ve ever tasted thanks to the blend of two flavor bombs blended together. Yet this definitely isn’t the same as the two rums together if poured straight out of the bottle. There’s a lot of traditional flavors that you’d expect from barrel aging, but still a lot of the acetone flavor you sometimes get from overproof Jamaican rums. In the Mai Tai, this potent rum made itself known immediately but the cocktail format rounded off some of the hard edges. It is delightful if you really like to chew on your rums in a Mai Tai.

The experiment isn’t over. I’ve refilled the barrel with some Puerto Rican light rum to see how the barrel and any residual flavors from the Rum Fire and Saint Benevolence affect the flavor. We’ll have an update in three months.

Next Up: the barrel was used a second time with a light Puerto Rican rum

Make & Drink: 3 Bottles of Rum Challenge

This is a fun video, as you’ll see if you watch. The idea is to pick just three bottles of rum for your collection, so while this was a tough choice I actually came to my three basically right away. And regular viewers will not be surprised when you compare my list to the video I did almost three years ago called the 5 Bottle Rum Challenge.

The video is part of the Make & Drink channel, where Derek has been producing excellent videos including a couple collaborations with us. See the previous De-Evolution of the Mai Tai and The Recipe That Made It Famous  and World’s Worst Mai Tai videos.

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.

Zanj Cocktails at The Kon-Tiki

In addition to the Zanj rum tasting we talked about yesterday, there were also some special cocktails available at The Kon-Tiki in Oakland on Wednesday. As is the tradition, these were made with the rum from the brand doing the tasting.

I tried the Madame Mueze, named after the sugar cane varietal used in these rums. This one used the excellent unaged San Zanj rum for the base, along with Ayete Bitters, Benedictine, Lemon, and a delightful Lavender Honey Syrup. The honey really shined in this delicious tropical cocktail.

Cocktail specials like this are always a draw for regulars who are looking for something new, and the Kon-Tiki always does a great job with these.

Zanj Rum Tasting at The Kon-Tiki

Seemed like old times to have a rum brand showing off their spirits at The Kon-Tiki in Oakland lats night. Kon-Tiki alum Chris Lane was set up to show off the lineup of Haitian rums coming from High Road Spirits.

All are produced with Creole Column Stills, so they’re a little lighter than some Haitian spirits and all are issued at 43% ABV. The aged rums are produced from a low yield varietal named Madame Mueze and aged in new French Oak and ex-Cognac barrels. There is no artificial coloring, flavoring, or added sugar.

San Zanj: this is an unaged expression that’s a mix of rum and clairin from three Haitian producers and tasted great. This is easy to sip and has a wonderful mix of traditional sugar-cane based clairin flavors but tempered a bit by molasses-based rum. Very similar to the Equiano I wrote about a few days ago and worth seeking out.

AK Zanj: this cane juice rum is aged between 3-5 years and is the entry-level aged product. It is intended to be a cocktail rum.

AK Zanj 8 year and 10 year: Both are quite nice sippers, with the 10 year being a little better. Some nice barrel notes and not much of the Clairin flavor you see in the unaged expression. Overall these two are so similar that it seems that one is pretty redundant.

AK Zanj 15 year: the spicy notes from this incredible expression were impressive to me and fairly unique and really worth exploring. There are savory notes with a finish that is dry and nutty. I really loved this.

Rum tastings like this can be invaluable to trying something new and learning about new styles of rum. At The Kon-Tiki these tastings can also be applied to your Expedition rum list as well.

Mai Tai Mike Completes Kon-Tiki Expedition

Congrats to @coldbrew429 for completing the rum list at The Kon-Tiki. Mike says it took less than a year which is quite an achievement. As is the tradition, there was a special cocktail list tonight in Mike’s honor.

The Kon-Tiki was in fine form tonight and Mrs. Mai Tai and I decided Friday Eve was a perfect time for cocktails and the world famous Kon-Tiki Burger. Just outstanding, and a great eclectic mix of music that spanned Yacht Rock but also 1970s funk, David Bowie deep cuts, and even a little vintage Gary Human. When that vintage music is playing, there aren’t better places than The Kon-Tiki.

I also decided to start a new Expedition rum list. We’ll see how long it takes to complete 100 rums; I’m certainly not going to push too hard to complete it in less than a year like I did last time – but you never know. The Kon-Tiki has a pretty nice selection of rum, so there are plenty that I haven’t had the pleasure of tasting.

The rums tonight were good spirts to start the exploration; the Saint Benevolence Aged Rum Clairin that I raved about the other day was absolutely fabulous as a Mai Tai at Kon-Tiki. The Worthy Park Port Cask expression was less of a hit for me, and you could absolutely taste the port cask influence even in a Mai Tai. It muted the Worthy Park taste that I love, without adding something that elevated the spirt. I’m glad I tried it but probably won’t revisit.