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.

Tiki With Ray Episode 142: Can The Mai Tai Evolve Again?

It’s always a pleasure talk with Tiki with Ray off or on camera. This conversation was on camera for Ray’s YouTube show, and he asked me the provocative question – can the Mai Tai evolve again?

The Mai Tai evolved around a decade after it arrived in Hawai’i, so it seems like a possibility that it could evolve again? Ray put out some theories and I reacted with some opinions. Be sure to check out the video on YouTube.

The episode was filmed at Tiki Tom’s. Be sure check out Ray’s interview episode with Tiki Tom’s owner Darrin DeRita from a couple weeks ago.

Fetch Me a Mai Tai, Ping-Pong

RIP Angela Lansbury

Beloved actress Angela Lansbury died today at the age of 96. The actress was most known for appearing on numerous productions on Broadway and in later years as the star of the Murder, She Wrote television series.

The role I most associate with Lansbury was as Elvis Presley’s mother in the movie Blue Hawaii. Her character was grating at times, though Lansbury convincingly played the mother despite being less than ten years older than Elvis.

Blue Hawaii has some great music and pretty good performances by Elvis and costar Joan Blackman. And of course some gorgeous scenery of Hawai’i. Less good things can be said about the stereotypical and (currently viewed) racially insensitive portrayal of the Hawaiian and Asian characters in the film, notably the Chinese manservant Ping-Pong. Though, the stereotypical portrayal of Lansbury’s character of a Southern wife and mother probably won’t be viewed positively by many as well.

The line that is most memorable is when Lansbury’s character asks for a couple of Mai Tais. I mean it is just so ridiculously awful and insensitive today to hear her say “Fetch me a Mai Tai, Ping-Pong” that just have to shake your head.

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

Kuleana Rum Works Huihui and Nanea

Huihui and Nanea from Kuleana Rum Works are blended rums made from distillate mostly sourced outside Hawai’i. These are semi-premium ($30-40) rums and are a best fit in cocktails.

Nanea is blend of column still molasses-based rums, aged between 2-4 years in ex-Bourbon barrels, giving this a completely different flavor profile that Kuleana’s signature Hawaiian Rum Agricole. The base rum is from Guatemala and aged two years. The “body” rum is from Guadeloupe and aged three years. The “accent” rum is from El Salvador and aged for four years. This is a very pleasant rum to sip, and the 43% ABV gives this a little extra flavor to savor. The column stills give this a light body featuring spice notes.

Huihui is a similar blend of three rums, all unaged and issued at 40% ABV. The base rum molasses-based rum from Papua New Guinea, with the “accent” rum being cane-juice based rhum from Martinique. The “body” rum is Kuleana’s own Hawaiian Rum Agricole, but Kuleana does not break down the percentages.

I’d had Huihui before and rated it 4/5 stars on my Forbidden Island Kill Devil Club rum list, but honestly this didn’t resonate with me as much this time. I think the grassy notes from the Martinique rum are a bit overpowering, even with this just being an accent. Moreover, it sort of overshadows the Hawaiian Rum Agricole that I find much more pleasant. It didn’t work for me in a daiquiri, either. Nice to see some of Kuleana’s own product in the blend, though. 

Tasting these rums in a Mai Tai it should not surprise anyone that the aged Nanea is a better fit than the Huihui. Even with a lighter body, the vanilla and spice notes from Nanea do work well in a Mai Tai that I totally enjoyed. I’d expect Nanea would work very well in any cocktail calling for a gold rum generally or something like a Barbados rum specifically.

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

Kuleana Rum Works Hawaiian Rum Agricole

The production of rum made from native Hawaiian sugar cane has been growing over the past decade. Whereas O’ahu’s KōHana is experimenting with a variety of cane varietals and release types, Kuleana Rum Works on the island of Hawai’i is taking a different approach.

Kuleana’s seminal product is Hawaiian Rum Agricole, a 40% ABV unaged rum made from sugar cane juice produced on the Big Island and distilled in a copper pot still. There are noticeable savory flavors common to other cane juice-based rums, but this product doesn’t have the “grassy” overtones that are sometimes objectionable to consumers and to this author. I taste a mix of green apple, olive, and banana flavors. It’s a crisp rum that works great in a glass by itself, but the bold flavors are superb in cocktails like the Mai Tai too.

This is a blended product designed to have a consistent taste over time, so there aren’t any specs on the specific blend of cane varietals or a harvest date. You can expect bottles you purchase in the future to taste similar. Kuleana products are available in many states including Total Wine locations, and available directly from Kuleana’s website. Hawaiian Rum Agricole run around $50-65 per 750 ml bottle.

Kuleana’s other rum products include distillate sourced from other countries and bottled in combination with the Hawaiian Rum Agricole. We’ll have more to say about those other expressions in the coming days.

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

Tiki Kon Seminar: The (De)Evolution of the Hawaiian Mai Tai

Recorded July 1, 2022 at Tiki Kon, we’ve combined the professionally recorded audio with the slides so that you can experience it at home. There are a couple bonus slides during the Q&A.

Everyone is familiar with the iconic Hawaiian Mai Tai that features pineapple juice and a dark rum float. This version of the Mai Tai is quite different from the original 1944 Mai Tai created at Trader Vic’s. When did the Mai Tai in Hawaii become the “Hawaiian Mai Tai?” It wasn’t in 1953 when Trader Vic brought the Mai Tai to Hawaii and is later than you might think. Learn more about this iconic cocktail and how it evolved over the years based on contemporaneous reports and published recipes.

Note that this presentation was updated for Mai Tai Day at Trader Vic’s. That presentation wasn’t recorded but you can view the slides on this site.

Additional Referenced Links

The Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai Recipe

The iconic Mai Tai at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki was introduced by Trader Vic Bergeron in 1953. During the 1950s the reputation for this cocktail built such a following that it was described as the “top tourist tantalizer” in 1959. But the Mai Tai you get today at the Royal Hawaiian differs considerably, since it uses the Pineapple Juice and Orange Juice commonly seen in Island-style Mai Tais.

Mai Tais being served at the Royal Hawaiian, June 2022

1956 Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai

The earliest known recipe for the Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai comes via a letter written to a customer by Trader Vic himself. This is still substantially similar to the original 1944 recipe, though with different proportion of sweeteners and notably using both a Dark Jamaican rum and also a light rum. It is light and refreshing and a good dark Jamaican rum does punch through in this recipe. Try Worthy Park 109.

1956 Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai
Juice of One Lime
Dash of Rock Candy Syrup
Dash of Curacao
Dash of Orgeat
1½ ounces Trader Vic’s Puerto Rican Rum
¾ ounce Myers’s Plantation Punch Rum
Stir and decorate with fresh mint

1972 Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai – Classic Recipe

The use of Pineapple Juice became common in Mai Tais in Hawaii starting in the 1960s, but The Royal Hawaiian seems to be a late convert. There’s a published recipe from their sister hotel The Moana Surfrider in 1968 that’s substantially similar to the 1956 version. However, there must have been pressure to include Pineapple Juice from many tourists.

This recipe comes from Drinks of Hawaii, 2nd Ed. 1972, by Paul B. Dick. The entry describes this is “now being used by the Sheraton” implying a recent change. The recipe included in the book did not specify an exact amount of Pineapple or Orange Juice except to say that they should be used in equal parts. The recipe is notable in that it describes using 3 ounces of rum, including two flavorful dark rums. But a rum float is not specified.

This recipe was later used in many books by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, who designated 1 oz each for the Pineapple and Orange Juice. This seems like the correct choice, keeping the balance with the other ingredients.

1972 Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai
½ oz Lime Juice
¼ oz Lemon Juice
1 oz Orange Juice
1 oz unsweetened Pineapple Juice
¼ oz Sugar Syrup
¼ oz Orgeat
¼ oz Orange Curacao
1 oz Demerara Rum
1 oz Dark Jamaican Rum
1 oz Light Rum

2010s Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai: Headscratcher

This devolved “secret recipe” was published on the Royal Hawaiian’s website, and includes some curious ingredients. The use of almond-flavored Amaretto liqueur in place of Orgeat syrup is sadly not uncommon in Mai Tais. Amaretto is fine elsewhere but doesn’t add the right flavors or body to the cocktail like Orgeat does. The use of Cherry Vanilla Puree, even in a small amount, is also a noteworthy head-scratcher.

2010s Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai
Build in shaker with ice:
1 oz Bacardi Rum
1 tsp Cherry Vanilla Puree
½ oz Amaretto di Saronno
½ oz Cointreau
1 oz Fresh Govinda Orange Juice
2 oz Fresh Govinda Pineapple Juice
½ oz Whaler’s Dark Rum Float

Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai, 2019

2022 Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai Returns to Normalcy

In mid-2022, the Royal Hawaiian updated their website to include this updated “secret recipe” and thankfully it’s much more of a standard Island Mai Tai. It is nice to see Orgeat coming back, though I don’t find Old Lahaina rum to be particularly good. Nonetheless, I did very much enjoy the cocktail in June 2022 when I sat looking out at Diamond Head.

2022 Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai
2 oz Pineapple Juice
1 oz Orange Juice
½ oz Orgeat
½ oz Orange Curacao
1 oz Old Lahaina Light Rum
1 oz Old Lahaina Dark Rum (float)
Shake all ingredients except the Dark Rum with ice. Pour in a large “bucket” glass. Float the Dark Rum, garnish with a parasol with cherry, pineapple and lime wedge.

1950s-Era Hawaiian Mai Tai

When Trader Vic Bergeron included the Mai Tai on his cocktail menu for the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and Moana Hotel in 1953, he never knew the cocktail would become one of the most famous in the world. The cocktail’s exotic name surely helped get the drink ordered, but the taste is what made the tourists rave.

This style of Mai Tai was similar to the original 1944 recipe, but was adjusted to omit the long-aged rums that had been the featured spirit in the cocktail up to that point. The use of light rum in combination with a flavorful dark rum was common across all published recipes of this era, including in the recipe that Bergeron provided to a guest in a letter in 1956. This affords a lighter style to the cocktail, likely considered more refreshing and approachable for the average hotel guest. 

The dark Jamaican rum of this era was not as ester-forward as what you might find today, and funky rums wouldn’t have been a good choice for tourists. So, think of something like Coruba or Myers’s rather than Smith & Cross. The commonly seen Demerara rums you find today would be a fine substitution. Rum floats were not common during this time-period, but more than two ounces of rum was often seen. So wonder the tourists loved those “tummy warmers.”

Though the recipes of this era vary, there are some common elements. Besides the use of both light and dark rum, the sweeteners were included in equal parts. Before pineapple and orange juice were added to the Hawaiian Mai Tai in the 1960s, we did see that citrus juice was used in healthy amounts. Lime was common, sometimes used in combination with lemon juice.

Looking at the recipes and how they varied, we taste tested some variants and came up with a generic version that is both representative and also easy to prepare. Not too boozy, not too tart. Just right.

1950s-Era Hawaiian Mai Tai (Generic)
1 oz Lime Juice
⅓ oz Orgeat
⅓ oz Rock Candy Syrup
⅓ oz Orange Curacao
1 oz Light Rum
1 oz Dark Jamaican Rum or Demerara Rum

Shake with crushed ice and pour into a double-rocks glass, topping with more crushed ice. Garnish with mint or orchid, and either a pineapple spear or a speared pineapple chunk with a cherry.

The Halekulani Hotel still makes a Mai Tai that’s similar to this recipe, though they do add  a ½ oz float of flavorful Lemon Hart 151 Demerara Rum.