Spice up your tequila cocktails with fiery gourmet syrups

A great margarita or tequila drink never goes out of style. Long a staple at the ever-growing legion of Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants, tequila has also been embraced and elevated by the craft cocktail movement, with great results. One tasty sub-genre is the spicy cocktail, typically infused with hot peppers and myriad spices.

Spicy tequila cocktail recipes below: Habanero Lime Margarita | The Ghost Host

The simple ingredients for a spicy tequila cocktail party

The simple ingredients for a spicy tequila cocktail party. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, July 2014)

Indeed, spicy tequila drinks are among my favorites at area craft cocktail bars. I love the flavor, heat and inventiveness of the Spicy Lover at Kapow! in Boca Raton, the Mexican Cockfight at Sweetwater Bar & Grill in Boynton Beach, and The Hutchins at Hullabaloo in West Palm Beach. But especially, I love the heat.

Not every bar can pull this off, however. On a recent visit to an acclaimed pizza palace, I was sorely disappointed by an attempt at a spicy tequila drink that was mixed with cheap tequila and bottled juices, then topped with a sprinkling of crushed red pepper. Ugh. But it’s possible to whip up some quality, heat-packed tequila drinks quickly without an elaborate array of peppers and spices.

The secret is to use some of the spiced syrups that have appeared on the market in recent years. Of course, there’s nothing better than fresh ingredients. But making your own syrups and infusions, or even chopping and muddling peppers, can be time-consuming and unwieldy. And unless you’re experienced with these ingredients, you also run the risk of making wildly erratic drinks. These gourmet syrups ensure consistency, quality and ease of use that will make mixing up a spicy tequila drink a whole lot easier.

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Tales of the Cocktail’s signature drink packs a wallop, but can it tame a Hurricane inspired by The Mai-Kai?

Tales of the Cocktail

Nobody can accuse the organizers of Tales of the Cocktail, arguably the world’s premiere festival for bartenders and spirits professionals, of being elitist snobs. The “official cocktail” of 12th annual festival, expected to attract more than 20,000 people to New Orleans this week, is not some highbrow cult classic or trendy new concoction. It’s the mighty yet maligned Hurricane.

Created in the French Quarter in the 1940s, this sweet and potent potation harkens back to other Tiki classics that devolved over the decades as they became a popular yet bastardized staple in bars around the world. But in 2014, as both the cocktail and Tiki revivals show no signs of slowing, why not celebrate both with a drink that screams Bourbon Street excess?

Reviews and recipes below: Hurricane Caesar vs. The Mai-Kai Hurricane

Tales of the Cocktail and New Orleans are the perfect venues for such a celebration. Spotlighting “what’s new and what’s next in bartending,” the festival proudly keeps its reverence for traditions intact, never overtly pandering to its sponsors and the spirits companies. It gives everyone from experienced professionals to fledgling bartenders to laymen a unique chance to mix and mingle with the biggest names and brightest minds in mixology for seminars, dinners, competitions, tasting rooms, and product launches.

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Summer of rum: South Florida hotspots give cool spirit a chance to shine

Summer of rum: South Florida hotspots give cool spirit a chance to shine

Updated July 12, 2014

Several of the area’s most respected cocktail bars are embracing rum this summer, giving the sometimes maligned spirit its moment in the sun and providing guests with a jolt of bold and sweet flavors to match the season’s sizzling intensity.

Perhaps spurred by the success of the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival and a growing respect by mixologoists and serious drinkers, rum is poised to break away from its stereotypical niche and reach a broader audience. It’s the prefect fun summer spirit, and it offers many ways to enjoy its versatility.

See below: Kapow | Dada | The Mai-Kai | Miami

Bar Stache welcomes an array of rums, brand mixologists for special events

Ron Zacapa event at Bar Stache

Bar Stache in Fort Lauderdale is offing the most ambitious summer events, dubbed Rum Takeovers. They kicked off July 9 with a Rhum Clément tasting and drink demo by Nick Nistico. These Wednesday night tastings (from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.) feature not only some of the top rum brands in the world, but also include cocktails created by special guest mixologists who will also answer questions about each brand. RSVP to vip@stacheftl.com.

Here’s the current schedule (as of July 12):

* July 23: Ron Zacapa from Guatemala, one of the world’s top sipping rums, will be featured along with artesian cocktails by Brijette De Berardinis. A former mixologist at Meat Market in Miami Beach, De Berardinis now works for Marnier Lapostolle Inc., the makers of Grand Marnier.

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Miami’s Gold Dust Lounge sets sail on adventurous journey with ‘Lost Sunset’

It’s been a memorable past few weeks for Russell Mofsky and his eclectic Miami combo Gold Dust Lounge.

Lost Sunset by Gold Dust Lounge

On June 12, the band was honored to be one of the few rock bands to ever perform on the show stage at the historic Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. Then, on June 21, Mofsky celebrated the realization of years of hard work with the release party for the band’s Kickstarter-funded Lost Sunset album.

* Buy Lost Sunset now (download, vinyl and CD) | iTunes store

The band’s music, described as “a fusion of wailing ambient instrumentals stamped with retro surf rock and acid jazz,” defies classification. Mofsky’s roots go back to the heyday of Miami’s punk rock scene in the ’80s and ’90s (he was a member of the acclaimed band Quit). Perhaps it’s this anything-goes attitude that lets him approach his music with no preconceived notions.

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The Hukilau offers a deep dive into the history of porthole cocktail lounges and their mysterious mermaids

Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid (Medusirena) and her pod of Aquaticats perform during The Hukilau in The Wreck Bar at the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel

Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid (Medusirena) and her pod of Aquaticats perform on Friday, June 13, during The Hukilau in The Wreck Bar at the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel, aka the Yankee Clipper. (Photo by Pat Duncan)

“Cocktails & Fishtails – The Untold Story of the Porthole Cocktail Lounge,” a symposium at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday, June 14. Held at the Bahia Mar Beach Resort, the presentation was hosted by Vintage Roadside and Medusirena, aka Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid.
* The Atomic Grog at The Hukilau 2014

Guest review by Tom Duncan (TikiTomD)

If you’ve ever wondered about the origins of the porthole lounge, or where you can still find one inhabited by live mermaids, then “Cocktails & Fishtails” was a must-see among The Hukilau’s 2014 symposiums.

Billy Rose's Aquacade

The audience was treated to an entertaining event, as might be expected anytime the effervescent Marina is part of the act. Underlying the fun of this presentation, however, was the serious work of Vintage Roadside’s Jeff Kunkle. He spent nearly a decade sifting through the flotsam and jetsam of history to make the connections with people, places and events that enlivened the story.

Jeff kicked things off by tracing the inspiration for the porthole lounge back to Billy Rose’s Aquacade, a music, dance and swimming show in the late 1930s. Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller, who also played Tarzan in the movies, was a star in the version of the show that played at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. [See video] The success of Aquacade at the World’s Fair spawned similar shows across the country over the next decade.

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Returning to The Hukilau, Jeff Berry proves he’s never too busy to be a ‘Beachbum’

In an ironic twist of fate, the man who built a career on his image as a carefree bum is now one of the busiest people in the cocktail world. Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, who will be making appearances Thursday through Saturday at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale, is simultaneously promoting his sixth book, a new cocktail app, and an ingenious bar tool … all while planning the opening of his first bar this fall in New Orleans.

Beachbum Berry

See below: Potions of the Caribbean
Total Tiki app | Navy Grog Ice Cone Kit
Related: Navy Grog ice cone is revived by cocktail enthusiasts, handy gadget

Berry will also be a whirlwind of activity this week at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale, where he’ll be making his ninth appearance at the annual Polynesian Pop extravaganza. His symposiums on cocktails and culture are always the hottest ticket at the event, and this year’s presentation (“Tiki’s Dark Ages: From Fern Bars To Rebirth”) was sold out months in advance.

The Hukilau: Wednesday through Sunday, June 11-15, at the Bahia Mar Beach Resort and The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets and info at TheHukilau.com and Facebook.
* Atomic Grog preview | Full coverage

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Navy Grog ice cone: Lost art is revived by cocktail enthusiasts and a handy gadget

Author and cocktail historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry solidified his standing as the “Indiana Jones” of Tiki mixology with his first branded product, unearthing a long-lost gadget from the catacombs of mid-century bar culture: Beachbum Berry’s Navy Grog Ice Cone Kit.

See below: Putting the ice cones to the test | Vintage Navy Grog recipes
Related: Jeff Berry proves he’s never too busy to be a ‘Beachbum’
Mai-Kai cocktail review: Even landlubbers can appreciate a strong ration of Yeoman’s Grog
* Buy the Navy Grog Ice Cone Kit now from Cocktail Kingdom

The Navy Grog Ice Cone Kit from Cocktail Kingdom

The Navy Grog Ice Cone Kit from Cocktail Kingdom. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, August 2013)

The Navy Grog (aka Yeoman’s Grog, Captain’s Grog, et al.) “was one of the most popular drinks until the Mai Tai came along,” Berry said during a symposium at The Hukilau in June 2013. “It’s a lovely combination of three rums, two fruit juices, a little spice, a little syrup.” But just as much as its taste, it’s distinguished by a cone of ice protruding from the glass, neatly encasing a straw. The cocktail emerged in the early 1940s and was a mainstay of Tiki bars well into the 1970s. But as mixology in general, and Tiki cocktails in particular, devolved during the ensuing decades, the ice cone disappeared.

When Berry began gathering recipes for his first book, this technique had been long forgotten. As far as Berry knew, only the historic Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale was still serving a drink with a traditional ice cone (a descendant of the Navy Grog called the Yeoman’s Grog) when he put together Grog Log, released in 1998.

Some 15 years and five books later, Berry teamed up with Cocktail Kingdom to create a metal mold that perfectly re-creates a vintage ice cone. The finished product works not only in the Navy Grog, but any drink that fits in an 8-ounce rocks glass as well as a larger Mai Tai glass.

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Artists pay tribute to The Mai-Kai with one-of-a-kind mugs

The Mai-Kai Mug by Tiki Diablo

The Mai-Kai Mug by Tiki Diablo comes in a choice of glazes and includes a resin toucan.(From TikiDiablo.com)

Updated June 21, 2014

Just in time for The Hukilau, two of the most acclaimed artists in the Tiki scene created hand-crafted mugs that pay tribute to The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale and its iconic imagery.
See below: Now, a chance to take a Molokai Maiden home
Related: Missed The Hukilau? Mugs are the next best thing

Southern California’s Tiki Diablo (aka Danny Gallardo), who created the 2012 and 2013 official mugs for The Hukilau, has a new Mai-Kai Mug based on an old fallen carving from the restaurant’s tiki garden (see photo below).

Featuring a distinctive toucan perched on its head, the original tiki was among the many giant carvings at The Mai-Kai by Barney West, a legendary mid-century artist. Barney West tikis that are still standing at The Mai-Kai were the inspiration for Gallardo’s 2013 mug, plus the 2008 official mug for The Hukilau by Munktiki. Another famous tiki by West that fell in 2009 was transformed into The Huiklau’s 2010 mug, also by Munktiki.

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Missed The Hukilau and The Mai-Kai? Limited edition Tiki mugs are the next best thing

Updated June 21, 2014

The 13th edition of The Hukilau, the East Coast’s largest annual event dedicated to mid-century and Polynesian Pop culture, rolled into Fort Lauderdale last week for five days of “the most authentic Tiki event in the world.” But if you didn’t make it down to the beachside festivities or the historic Mai-Kai restaurant, you still have a limited-time opportunity to pick up some exclusive merchandise.
Related: Artists pay tribute to The Mai-Kai with one-of-a-kind mugs

The Hukilau was held June 11-15, at the Bahia Mar Beach Resort and The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale. Check the Facebook page for photos and recaps.
* The Atomic Grog at The Hukilau 2014

The Hukilau 2014 Commemorative Mug by Eekum Bookum

The Hukilau 2014 Commemorative Mug by Eekum Bookum comes with a choice of two different glazes. (Photo by Nomeus)

For many, the one piece of merchandise most closely associated with Tiki culture is, of course, the Tiki mug. Every year, The Hukilau has produced one of the most distinctive (and valuable) mugs on the market, designed by noted artists and produced in limited editions by the top mug manufacturers. [Click here to see some of the past designs]

First released only to ticket-holders and registered guests, The Hukilau 2014 Commemorative Mug is available (while supplies last) to the general public. Designed and produced by Oregon’s Eekum Bookum, the mug comes with two different glazes (Lava and Sunset) and features “The Final Aloha” on the back. In production before it was announced that the event will continue next year, this mug is likely to become a collector’s piece. [Check out the value of past mugs]

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The Hukilau says ‘Aloha’ but not goodbye, adds more entertainment to lineup for June 11-15 event

Updated June 13

In Hawaii, aloha can mean both hello and goodbye. For the annual Polynesian Pop gathering that returns to Fort Lauderdale in less than two weeks for its 13th annual celebration, both definitions are particularly apropos.

The Hukilau: Wednesday, June 11, through Sunday, June 15, at the Bahia Mar Beach Resort and The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale. Get tickets and more info at TheHukilau.com and Facebook. | See all of The Atomic Grog’s coverage

The Hukilau

For the many devotees who will be traveling from around the world to attend the retro-themed festivities on June 11-15, aloha has quickly gone from meaning a lamented last fling to a promising new beginning. After regretfully deciding late last year that 2014 would be the “Final Aloha,” organizer Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White announced in April that The Hukilau will continue in 2015 with new partners and new energy. Look for more details at this year’s event.

But the focus now is on the expanded five-day bash that’s rapidly approaching. Featuring live music, symposiums, artists, vendors, special events and performances, The Hukilau is the East Coast’s largest Tiki-themed event. Thousands of mid-century and retro culture enthusiasts have made the annual pilgrimage since 2002 in search of the most authentic Tiki experience.

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