This special release of an aged Kō Hana rum from O’ahu comes via a partnership with our friends at Skull & Crown Trading Company and their Dagger Club. Issued at a fab 61% ABV, you’re going to taste every bit of the Pakaweli sugarcane spirit aged 2 years and 7 months in the barrel (second use American Oak, char level 2). It’s delicious stuff, with some very fine spice notes.
Aged rums from Kō Hana don’t come around every day and come in a 375 ml bottle at a premium price. Sometimes you have to splurge.
If you’re a Honolulu local, you can get pours at Skull & Crown Trading Company, one of the best tiki bars on planet Earth, and also at Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco. Don’t procrastinate, though, these won’t last long.
Bottles are available for purchase for a limited time through a secret link to Kō Hana’s website. DM @skullandcrowntradingco for the link.
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.
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
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.
My Official Mai Tai Number is 34 Mai Tais consumed in the State of Hawaii on my 11 day trip.
We had three correct guesses in the Mai Tai Contest (I should have considered a tiebreaker). Congrats to the winners: @we.shall.tiki, @farbrorfuzz, and @wishiwastraveling84. I’ll be sending out a prize package with coasters, cocktail napkins, and stickers (bummed nobody seems to be giving out swizzle sticks or matchbooks anymore).
You can see the chart with the plot of all the guesses. Thanks again to everyone for playing along.
Oahu: 19, Kauai: 14, Hawaiian air space: 1 23 different venues, some who served more than one type of Mai Tai, and others where I consumed more than one 1944 Style: 13, Island Style: 15, Original Riffs: 2, RTD: 4
1. Aulani (Island style) 2. Monkeypod Mai Tai (Island style) 3. Splash Bar at Sheraton Princess Kaiulani (Island style) 4. Tipsy Tiki (Island style) 5. Tiki’s Grill and Bar (1944 style) 6. Deck (1944 style) 7. Mai Tai’s (1944 style) 8. Dagger Mai Tai at Skull & Crown (Original riff) 9. Maunakea Mai Tai at Skull & Crown (1944 style) 10. Vic’s ’44 at Mai Tai Bar (1944 style) 11. Casa Crista (1944 style) 12. ‘Awa’Awa Mai Tai at Skull & Crown (Original riff) 13. Halekulani (1944 style) 14. Halekulani (1944 style) 15. Trader Vic’s Bottled (RTD) 16. Koloa Bottled (RTD) 17. Arnold’s Beach Bar (Island style) 18. Arnold’s Beach Bar (Island style) 19. Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai (Island style) 20. Hawaiian Airlines / On the Rocks (RTD) 21. Bamboocha Mai Tai at Lava Lava Beach Club (Island style) 22. Hilton Garden (Island style)nn Welcome Mai Tai at Mamahune’s (Island style) 23. Trader Vic’s Mai Tai at Mamahune’s (1944 style) 24. Koloa Tasting Room (RTD) 25. Welcome Mai Tai at Mamahune’s (Island style) 26. Vic’s Top Shelf at Tiki (Island style)nikii (1944 style) 27. Vic’s Top Shelf with Denizen and heavy Orgeat at Tiki (Island style)niki (1944 style) 28. Tahiti Nui (Island style) 29. Welcome Mai Tai at Mamahune’s (Island style) 30. Trader Vic’s Mai Tai at Mamahune’s (1944 style) 31. Kalapika Mai Tai at Duke’s Kauai (Island style) 32. Classic Mai Tai at Oasis at the Beach (1944 style) 33. Welcome Mai Tai at Mamahune’s (Island style) 34. Stinger Ray’s Tiki Bar & Lounge (Island style)
During our two nights were were convinced that Skull & Crown is one of the best tiki bars on planet Earth. We already discussed the amazing Mai Tais, but the craft cocktail experience at Skull and Crown is top notch.
Mrs. Mai Tai loved the Koloa Colada, a Pina Colada riff with Spiced Rum, Coconut Rum, Pineapple, Lemon, and Coconut Cream. Topped with a flower and Toasted Shaved Coconut. This was excellent both times we visited and is a wonderful example of the care the S&C team put into the cocktails. Toasting the Coconut shavings really added another aspect to the cocktail.
I also tried the Trader Noa’s Old Fashioned, a great Hawaiian Agricole cocktail. So very flavorful.
We must salute S&C’s dynamic duo, Trader Noa Laporga and Angelina Khan. We felt so welcomed to see these special people for the first time in months. Noa play host and welcomed us and introduced us to some fellow tikiphiles. Noa shared some historical cocktail recipes he uncovered, and we liked seeing Noa behind the bar as well. And Angelina made sure that the service was prompt and totally set us up for a relaxing experiencing. Mahalo.
Food is available at S&C, and we enjoyed our food. We’d have preferred forks be issued rather than just chopsticks, but that was our only gripe. During our second night we celebrated Skull & Crown’s third anniversary with some live music from Don Tiki’s Kit Ebersbach (Perry Coma) along with local favorite Starr Kalahiki on vocals. Simply fantastic.
We had the pleasure of visiting the best tiki bar between San Francisco and Tokyo twice during our visit. Skull and Crown is located in Honolulu’s Chinatown and is a treasure, such a welcoming and immersive space that transports you to historic Hawai’i. The vintage elements and decor helps you feel like the bar opened in 1920 and never closed.
There are three Mai Tais on the menu, so we had to sample all of them.
Dagger Mai Tai Developed in conjunction with Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco, this is a Mai Tai featuring some exotic spices and… well, that’s all we know. All the ingredients are redacted on the menu. Quite good.
‘Awa’Awa Mai Tai Featuring KoHana Hawaiian Rum Agricole, Campari, Grand Mariner, Lime, Orgeat, and Lilikoi, this bitter Mai Tai is served flaming and is quite wonderful. The Campari for sure is the forward tasting note but this is still approachable even if Campari isn’t your thing.
Maunakea Mai Tai Featuring Appleton 12, Clement Select Barrel, Smith & Cross Jamaican Rum, Dry Curacao, Lime, Orgeat, and Demerara Syrup. This was by far my favorite Mai Tai on the list, and obviously hews most closely to the classic 1944 Mai Tai recipe. It is so wonderful, a flavorful Mai Tai that allows you to savor the ingredients. Doesn’t make me sad that this leans into the Jamaican rums. I liked this Mai Tai in 2019, but love it this time. One of my Top 5 Mai Tais served anywhere. Really. This is truly excellent.
The longtime Mai Tai Bar at the Ala Moana Shopping Center went through ownership changes and is now known as Mai Tai’s. It’s a shaded but open air restaurant and bar that frequently has live music. Among the things that haven’t changed are the hemlines of the tight dresses worn by the waitresses.
One item that’s changed is that the Mai Tai on the menu is a 1944, served with a dark rum float. It wasn’t great, though improved after mixing the float into the drink and after stirring to chill the cocktail. Nonetheless, this is a positive change in direction and it is still only $9. There’s also a Makai Tai that seems to be an Island Mai Tai made with Blue Curacao.
Our visit coincided with the start of the NBA Finals game, so the crowd was lively. Under typical circumstances this is a nice place to relax when your spouse is shopping.
We have to thank Christa for the tip on Deck, a restaurant and bar located at the far end of Waikiki on the 3rd floor pool deck at the Queen Kapiʻolani Hotel. This was around the corner from Tiki’s and proved to be an elevated cocktail experience.
The Mai Tai is a ’44 made with three rums from local favorites KōHana. This superior Mai Tai allowed the rum blend to shine brightly and lets you savor the unique taste of these Hawaiian Agricole rums. Really great.
Mrs. Mai Tai ordered the R&R, which is a Gin cordial with raspberry and thyme, topped with soda. Quite interesting and refreshing. We also tried their Basque Cheesecake which was just right for desert, and quite good.
Our service at Deck was great, and we appreciate the host who sat us in quieter portion of the restaurant rather than at the bar where there was a lot of hooting and hollering. Quite a nice place to relax, and during daylight hours there’s a fabulous view of Diamond Head.
We missed this family-style tiki restaurant on our last trip so we ventured over for dinner just past sunset. Tiki’s is a very large restaurant with a large interior space that is mostly closed for refurbishment, along with a very large patio. We were seated right away and enjoyed some live music playing and some second floor views of Waikiki beach. Our service was very good.
Our food was moderately priced and a good value for the quality and portion. Less kind things can be said about the “1944 Mai Tai” which is served with a heaping portion of passion fruit foam, along with tourist-friendly Cruzan Light rum and Bacardi Dark rum. Far too sweet, even without any pineapple or orange juice. A plus of sort is that you can keep the plastic glass.
The interior portion that is visible is very nicely decorated with a lava rock and red paint theme that I think looks great. Lots of Shag artwork and other nods to Hawaiian and tiki culture. So, not bad at all.
This is the former Myna Bird Tiki Bar location in the food court at the International Marketplace. There was an ownership change for the food court and this bar was rebranded as being part of the La Pina Cantina next door. So I was surprised to see a new name here and also a new menu.
And, friends, I’m here to tell you that Tipsy Tiki is fantastic. Our bartender Lee told us his Mai Tai is made from fresh ingredients and while I’m no Island Mai Tai fanatic, this one was pretty great. One of the best I’ve ever had. Mahalo Lee!
Mrs Mai Tai had the Cool n Fresh with Tequila, lavender syrup, cucumber syrup, lime, and coconut water and it was really amazing. We will return to try more of the menu.
This venue may not scratch the itch for the hardcore tikiphile, but I’m always ready to welcome a new tiki place when the cocktails are outstanding. Check it out in Waikiki!