Trader Vic Grog in Trader Vic’s San Jose Anniversary Glass

We had the pleasure of flying out of San Jose a couple weeks ago on the 1st anniversary of Trader Vic’s SJC – the world’s best airport bar. The problem was that our flight was at 7:30 in the morning, so our visit to Vic’s was at opening at 6 am (Mai Tais at 6:15 am!). And the 1st anniversary celebration was at Noon that same day, so all the event merch was held under lock and key. The staff graciously tried to get into it, but no luck.

So we have to thank our benefactor for getting us this amazing Trader Vic’s San Jose Airport glass, and the incredible airline wing-style pin. Mahalo, friend.

To celebrate I made a Trader Vic’s Grog. This is one of the cocktails I’ll sometimes go to at the restaurant when I look for something besides the Mai Tai. It’s a pretty good cocktail in this format, and is basically a crushed-ice and double sized version of the Siboney cocktail that’s served up.

For this version, I used two flavorful Jamaican rums. Some Worthy Park 109, a dark Jamaican rum at 54.5% ABV, alongside Hamilton Jamaican Pot Still Gold. I also made a tiny tweak by adding ¼ oz of simple syrup so that the cocktail was slightly less tart.

Trader Vic Grog
1 oz Lemon Juice
1 oz Pineapple Juice
1 oz Passionfruit Syrup (Liber)
2 oz Dark Jamaican Rum
1 dash Angostura Bitters
Add simple syrup to taste
Shake with crushed ice and garnish with mint.

It is not without a great deal of irony that after being a tiki bar wasteland for decades, that we salute San Jose that now has two very good tiki bars with this Trader Vic’s location and Dr. Funk downtown.

Trader Vic’s Bottled Mai Tai

These seem to only be available in Hawaii, and are significantly different than the canned Mai Tais that have been introduced in the last year or so.

But, this was actually really tasty and pleasant. It is made with rum and orange liqueur and actually resembles a Mai Tai.

Served in a Trader Vic’s mug I picked up at Bailey’s Antiques.

Trader Vic’s Tiki Stem Coupe

Picked up a couple of these very nice Tiki Stem Coupes from the Trader Vic’s online store. The 7 ounce glass is a little larger than my current coupes, and looks fabulous as well. Vic’s also has a couple smaller glass options, while still keeping the tiki stem.

The cocktail is the Blue Caribbean, a Blue Hawaiian riff featuring Rhum Agricole.

Blue Caribbean
½ oz Lime Juice
3 oz Pineapple Juice
1½ oz Cream of Coconut
½ oz Blue Curacao
1¾ oz Clement Premiere Canne (or other unaged Rhum Agricole)
¼ oz Dark Jamaican rum
Shake with Crushed Ice

A bit of a tight fit into this particular glass.

When I first developed this cocktail I served it in a Collins glass with crushed ice and that’s probably a better format than being served up. I do like how the Rhum Agricole works with the Pineapple and Cream of Coconut, provide a more complex flavor. Adding a tiny bit of flavorful Dark Jamaican rum adds an additional bit complexity without darkening up the cocktail.

New Site Feature: The (De)Evolution of the Hawaiian Mai Tai

An important piece of cocktail journalism is launching this week with my article in the latest issue of Exotica Moderne, available today at the Tiki Caliente weekend event in Palm Springs.

The article describes how the Hawaiian Mai Tai evolved from 1953 to present day and also explodes several myths.

  • The Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai was born with Pineapple Juice in 1953.
  • Nobody knew the ingredients for a Mai Tai, so they made due with whatever they had.
  • Trader Vic kept the recipe for a Mai Tai secret until 1970.

All of the above are not true.

Just this week I saw two fresh articles that stated that Trader Vic himself added pineapple juice when he brought the Mai Tai to Hawaii in 1953. This is clearly not correct based on my research, and the Royal Hawaiian isn’t documented to have added pineapple juice until 1972!

So, we’ll be doing our best to get the word out about this. As a starting point, you can catch my appearance on the Pod Tiki Podcast episode from last week. 

Read the Article Online

Since the article was submitted for print publication, we’ve uncovered additional details on the history of this iconic cocktail. Those added items are now included on the version of the article now available on this website:

Experience the Presentation at Tiki Kon

We’ll have even more historical details and context in my presentation at Tiki Kon in July. Come join us if you’re attending and weekend passes for Tiki Kon are still available.

I’m always on the hunt for more historical details. Leave a comment or send me a message if you have any details or breadcrumbs for us to follow.

Pod Tiki Podcast: Hawaiian Mai Tai Chat

It was a pleasure to talk Mai Tais with Tony from the Pod Tiki Podcast. The new episode with my appearance is now available. Check your favorite podcast app or go to shareyourbuzz.com/pod-tiki.

Tony is a new to tiki but is exploring the territory quite well from his home in Nashville. During the show we discussed my new article for Exotica Moderne magazine, which focused on the evolution of the Hawaiian Mai Tai. And of course a little discussion of how to make or find a great Mai Tai.

Listen now: The Pod Tiki Podcast

Trader Vic’s San Jose Airport

Mrs Mai Tai and I are flying to Arizona Tiki Oasis and got things started at the world’s best airport bar. The Mai Tai is especially potent on an empty stomach at 9:00 in the morning. Today is also my birthday and it is hard to beat a great Trader Vic’s Mai Tai as a kickoff.

My grilled cheese sandwich was just okay, but look at the Island Parfait! Greek Yogurt, berries, granola, and Trader Vic’s peanut butter! So good. Mrs Mai Tai made the right choice.

1956 Mai Tai Prep

Prep work for my Tiki Kon presentation starts with revisiting the 1956 Mai Tai recipe. This was provided by Trader Vic himself to a customer and propertied to be the recipe used at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. Definitely different than the classic 1944 recipes, but most certainly not an Island Mai Tai with pineapple juice.

Original 1956 Mai Tai recipe:
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

1956 Mai Tai – Adjusted for 2022
1 ounce Lime Juice
¼ ounce Rock Candy Syrup
¼ ounce Curacao
¼ ounce Orgeat
1½ ounces Lightly Aged Puerto Rican Rum
¾ ounce Hamilton 114 rum or Worthy Park 109 rum
Mix in 16 ounce tumbler glass with shaved ice. Drop half a spent lime shell in the glass. Stir and decorate with fresh mint.

Mai Tai at Dinah’s Poolside Restaurant

I grew up a half mile from Dinah’s Hotel in Palo Alto but have never stayed or eaten on the hotel property. There was a Trader Vic’s adjacent to the hotel from 2001-2012 that I visited several times but during these years I was not a tiki bar regular. The Vic’s was owned by Dinah’s hotel owner as a franchise, and fit in well with the oceanic art that is pervasive on the grounds at Dinah’s. There’s even a remnant from Trader Vic himself (see photo, bottom left).

There’s a “Trader Vic’s Mai Tai” on the menu at Dinah’s Poolside Restaurant, so I decided to check it out over lunch. “Rum, dark rum, orange curaçao, lime juice” is the description and it does seem like maybe there’s no orgeat. But as Mai Tais go, this one wasn’t too bad. My Wagyu Burger was quite tasty.

The grounds are filled with lush feature, ponds, statues, and artifacts from Papua New Guinea, Polynesia, and Africa. The neon sign was something I remember seeing as we drove by when I was a kid.

Tonga Fundraiser at Trader Vic’s

Was pleased to attend a special event last night at Trader Vic’s which was a fundraising effort for the people of Tonga who were affected by the recent volcanic eruption. Trader Vic’s organized a silent auction to raise money through the Fraternal Order of the Moai, and a series of guest bartenders each of whom did a riff on the Trader Vic’s cocktail the Tonga Punch. The event was held in the Cabin room and included a DJ, some small bites from Trader Vic’s, and some rum tasting from Zaya and Bacardi. There were Tongan dancers performing as well.

It is so great that Trader Vic’s continues to be a central point of gathering for the community, and that fellow tiki bars, bartenders, and artists are able to work together for a good cause. There were a lot of great items at the silent auction, including lots of tiki mugs, gift cards, glassware, and even some tikis and masks.

Mrs. Mai Tai and I arrived early, so I had Trader Vic’s Tonga Punch, a sweet cocktail that’s easy to drink with light rum. Marie’s King’s version used heavier rums from Trader Vic’s and Wray & Nephew, along with pomegranate grenadine. This one was the best of the evening that I tried. But I did also enjoy the Tonga Punch from Jeanie Grant, a version using a variety of exotic rums/rhums and allspice dram. The punch from Trader Vic’s alum Ismael Alejandro was fruity with an agricole base that was also very good. So cool to try all these recipe riffs.

If you have the means, please consider donating.