Miami Rum Festival boldly explores the next frontier of cane spirits

UPDATE: RumXP Awards announced at eighth annual Miami Rum Renaissance Festival

The Miami Rum Renaissance Festival returned for an eighth year on Friday, April 15, through Sunday, April 17, at the Doubletree by Hilton Miami Airport Convention Center. Go to MiamiRumFest.com for more info.

Here’s our look back at the 2015 festival
Jump below: Special cocktail recipe: Mai-Kai Moai | Photo gallery | Award-winning rums

A Bayou Rum representative prepares cocktails.
A Bayou Rum representative prepares cocktails. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

If there was an unofficial theme of the 2015 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival, held April 17-19 at the Doubletree by Hilton Miami Airport Convention Center, it was the impressive innovation and continuing commitment to quality from a new wave of craft rum producers from around the world. In a year when some major players were absent, the young guns definitely picked up the slack and presented products fit for any rum connoisseur.

The festival was less about the big brands flexing their muscle and more about the boutique labels showing off their innovation and commitment to craft. This is the typical scenario at the annual Rum XP Awards, but it’s now overflowing to the convention floor, where consumers had the opportunity to see firsthand what the critics and judges have long known.

Near the end of the three days of public tastings, festival organizer Robert A. Burr was like a kid in a candy store when I ran into him talking to RumXP judge Bernhard Schäfer and enjoying the special trade-only area for rums not yet released in the United States. These rums are the future, he said, pointing to the dozens of brands from around the world seeking entry into the American market. And it was hard to argue with him.

Miami Rum Renaissance Festival organizer Robert A. Burr (left) with longtime judge Bernhard Schäfer.
Miami Rum Renaissance Festival organizer Robert A. Burr (left) with longtime judge Bernhard Schäfer. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

“You have to try the Monymusk,” he said, referring to the aged rum from Jamaica that was on display on the Authentic Caribbean Rums table. Indeed, Monymusk Plantation Reserve was the nectar of the gods, one of the best rums I tasted during the festival. When Burr recommends a rum, my advice is to listen closely. In 2016, he’ll be opening up his private collection for all to taste, which should be a real treat.

Nearby in the industry-only section of the festival were an array of premium rums from around the Caribbean (Barbados, Haiti, etc.) produced by Bristol Spirits in the U.K. and inexplicably not yet distributed in the U.S. Bristol’s Demerara Port Morant from Guyana was amazing, perhaps my favorite of the weekend. I ran into Rum XP judge Suzanne Long, owner of the acclaimed Longitude neo-Tiki bar in Oakland, and we both marveled at the rich complexity of this Demerara-style rum. It would sure shine in a Demerara Cocktail.

But rare rums from the Caribbean were just the tip of the iceberg at the 2015 Miami Rum Festival. Spirits producers came from near and far to show off their products, and many went home with awards for their efforts. The perfect example of this were the white rum categories. The best in class winner for white rum was Skotlander, all the way from Denmark. [See review] One of the brands with a booth in the trade zone, lobbying for U.S. distribution, Skotlander also picked up a gold medal for its premium white rum for the second year in a row. Skotlander also makes a wide variety of other rums, including cask and aged varieties.

Avi Aisenberg (right) and Joe Durkin make their first appearance at the festival with their new Fwaygo Rum.
Avi Aisenberg (right) and Joe Durkin make their first appearance at the festival with their new Fwaygo Rum.

The surprise winner of the best in class ribbon for premium white rum was Fwaygo, produced just 30 miles away in Fort Lauderdale. Earlier in the week we got a sneak preview of when The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale served the Grapefruit Julep, a special cocktail featuring Fwaygo during one of the rum fest pre-parties. [Video: See recipe] The flagship rum from South Florida Distillers is funky and clean, a great mixer. It’s right up there with acclaimed expressions such as Plantation 3 Stars, which won a gold medal.

Avi Aisenberg (CEO and proprietor) and Joe Durkin (head distiller and COO) personally manned the Fwaygo booth, handing out samples and chatting up the appreciative tasters. They happily gave out coupons for a fee tour and tasting at their spanking new operations near downtown Fort Lauderdale, billed as the “city’s oldest distillery.” Well, it’s true. It’s also a DIY operation with passion, not profit, driving the creative process. Though widespread retail distribution has been difficult, Fwaygo Rum is available at bars and restaurants throughout South Florida. In 2016, we’re looking forward to trying Fwaygo’s two new premium rums: Single Barrel and Grilled Pineapple.

Other new rums that caught my attention:

Continue reading “Miami Rum Festival boldly explores the next frontier of cane spirits”

UPDATE: RumXP Awards announced at eighth annual Miami Rum Renaissance Festival

Updated May 9
A full recap of the eighth annual Miami Rum Renaissance Festival is coming soon. In the meantime, here are the winners of the annual RumXP Awards announced on Friday, April 15. Also check out our photo gallery on Facebook.
See below: The Mai-Kai pre-party and Santeria Rum cocktail recipe | Full preview
UPDATE: Koloa, Plantation and Don Q dominate awards at eighth annual Miami festival

2016 RumXP Award Winners and Consumer Rum Jury Awards

For the third year in a row, Plantation won a festival-best eight RumXP awards. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
For the third year in a row, Plantation won eight RumXP awards. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

White Rum
Best In Class:
Bayou Silver
Gold: Blue Chair Bay, Pito Rico Elite, Don Q Cristal, Ron Cartavio Silver

Premium White Rum
Best In Class:
Puerto Angel
Gold: Caliche, Fwyago, Plantation 3 Star, Skotlander Rum VI, Koloa White

Gold Rum
Best In Class:
Siesta Key Gold
Gold: Wicked Dolphin, Puerto Angel Amber, Don Q Gold, Koloa Gold

Spiced Rum
Best In Class:
Siesta Key Spiced
Gold: Siesta Key Distillers Solara, Bayou Spiced, Siesta Key Limited Edition Spiced, Koloa Spiced

Flavored Rum
Best In Class:
Koloa Coffee
Gold: Plantation Pineapple Stiggins’ Fancy, Don Q Pasion, Blue Chair Bay Banana, Koloa Coconut

Continue reading “UPDATE: RumXP Awards announced at eighth annual Miami Rum Renaissance Festival”

The Week in Tiki (Jan. 16-31, 2016): The Mai-Kai mugs and history book, The Art of Tiki updates, Shag events and art, plus more!

The Week in Tiki Exciting news this week for fans of The Mai-Kai with the release of new Tiki mugs and pre-orders for a long-awaited history book. News on The Art of Tiki event in South Beach includes a new rum sponsor and the return of last year’s champ. We recap events from N.Y.C. to L.A., including new Doug Horne Tiki mugs. Upcoming events include a tribute to Steve Crane, South Florida’s Polynesian Cultural Festival, and a new Trader Vic’s seminar. In other news, a tree crashes the party at VenTiki, plus Bacardi and Havana Club duke it out. Regular features spotlight eclectic artist Sam Gambino; groundbreaking exotica ensemble Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica; Brooklyn bar Fort Defiance; and online group Poly Hai. The Rum of the Week, Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva 15, is featured in the Pineapple Express cocktail.
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* Weekly features: Artist | Band/music | Bar | Website | Rum | Cocktail | Events

Note: For 2016, The Week in Tiki will remain bi-weekly, but we’ve simplified the schedule. Look for blogs recapping the first and second half of each month.

New Mai-Kai mugs released, history book coming in July

Tiki Diablo's new Mai-Kai mugs come in three glazes: Tobacco Brown, Lagoon Green, and Black Velvet.
Tiki Diablo’s new Mai-Kai mugs come in three glazes: Tobacco Brown, Lagoon Green, and Black Velvet.

As promised, the new mugs inspired by The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale have been released to the general public by California-based artist Tiki Diablo. The mug is available in three different glazes for $75 each and can be purchased online via Tiki Diablo’s store. They should also be available in the restaurant’s gift shop, The Mai-Kai Trading Post, within the next week.

In December, a limited number of artist proofs were released and quickly sold out. The mug, which comes with its own pendant, pays tribute to the historic Polynesian Palace’s iconic Tikis. Tiki Diablo, aka Danny Gallardo, has previously created mugs that pay homage to memorable Tikis at The Mai-Kai in 2014 and 2015 (see story). He’ll also be crafting the official mug for the upcoming book on The Mai-Kai by Tim “Swanky” Glazner.

Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of The Iconic Tiki Restaurant

UPDATE: The book, Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant, will be released Sept. 28. The 176-page hardcover book (11 inches wide by 8 1/2 inches high) is being issued by Schiffer Publishing. It’s available for pre-order online via Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Glazner will be hosting a release party and special events at The Mai-Kai on Sept. 17-18. Advance copies of the book will be available at the release party.

In the book, the longtime Mai-Kai historian reveals never-before-seen photos and stories that he’s gleaned from more than 13 years of research on the 59-year-old Tiki temple, which was recently named to the National Register of Historic Places. It’s a fascinating story of the brash young men who in 1956 created The Mai-Kai for a million dollars, making it one of the most expensive restaurants of its day. By sparing no expense and creating a one-of-a kind Tiki paradise, Bob and Jack Thornton created an acclaimed playground of celebrities and playboys during the mid-century heyday of Polynesian Pop.

The Mai-Kai's original mystery girl. Find out more in "Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant," coming July 28.
The Mai-Kai’s original mystery girl. Find out more in “Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant,” coming July 28.

Glazner also spotlights the beautiful women who worked there, many who used the experience as a jumping-off point for adventure and fame. The book includes exclusive first-hand stories on more than 400 images, documenting not only The Mai-Kai but the history, allure, and enduring legacy of the original Tiki era. Focusing on 1955 to 1971, the book traces the genesis of the restaurant and its key employees back to Tiki bar pioneer Don the Beachcomber. Many of The Mai-Kai’s original key managers and employees came from the Beachcomber outpost in Chicago, where the Thorntons called home. This includes bartender Mariano Licudine, who created the acclaimed bar menu (based on Donn Beach’s original “rum rhapsodies”) that remains intact at The Mai-Kai today.

Continue reading “The Week in Tiki (Jan. 16-31, 2016): The Mai-Kai mugs and history book, The Art of Tiki updates, Shag events and art, plus more!”

The Week in Tiki (Sept. 21-Oct. 4, 2015): The Hukilau passes going on sale, Hulaween is back at The Mai-Kai, Ohana flock to the sea

The Week in Tiki Get ready to book your trip to The Hukilau 2016: Tickets and rooms could be available as early as this week. The latest news also includes details on Hulaween, The Mai-Kai’s annual Halloween party. Also in South Florida, Ohana: Luau by the Sea just wrapped up its first annual gathering. Event previews include Mod-Palm Springs, Mahaloween at Trader Sam’s, and the UK RumFest. We also look back at a memorial for The Pizz, the Tonga Room’s 70th anniversary, Thee Hot Rod Luau in Huntington Beach, Dapper Day and Tiki Day at Disneyland, and Rome Rumfest. Regular features honor the artist of the week, Eekum Bookum; Northeast surf band 9th Wave; Kreepy Tiki Lounge in Fort Lauderdale; and the Cocktail Kingdom website. Cockspur Fine Rum is featured in The Mai-Kai’s Moonkist Coconut.
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* Weekly features: Artist | Band/music | Tiki bar | Website | Rum | Cocktail | Events

Passes, special event tickets and rooms available soon for The Hukilau 2016

It’s time to gear up and make your plans for The Hukilau’s 15th anniversary event, coming June 8-12 to the historic Hyatt Regency Pier 66 hotel and The Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. Weekend passes and several special event tickets may go on sale as early as this week, along with special room rates, organizer Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White told The Atomic Grog.

The Hukilau 2016 artwork by Shag
The Hukilau 2016 artwork by Shag.

Keep an eye on The Hukilau’s official website and Facebook page for updates.

In August, White announced the dates and some details on the East Coast’s oldest and largest Tiki weekender, including special guest Shag. The acclaimed artist will be creating a special 15th anniversary print and designing the event mug, White said, along with hosting several signings of his books and art.

But the most anticipated Shag-related activity may be “Shag’s SkyLounge,” an exclusive cocktail party in the 17th floor rotating Pier Top Ballroom at Pier 66. Built in 1965, the space-age tower has already been depicted by Shag in promotional artwork for the 2016 event. “The Pier Top Ballroom will be transformed into a mid-century modern sky lounge,” White said. “Guests will have the opportunity to actually be a part of a live Shag painting.” Shag will also be presenting a separate symposium, his first ever at a Tiki event, White said. He plans to talk about his life and times and art, she said.

Steve Yamada (left) and Jeff
Steve Yamada (left) and Jeff “Beachbum” Berry from Latitutde 29 serve up their signature T.O.T.C. Swizzle at the Tiki Tower Takeover in June 2015. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The other signature event in the Pier Top Ballroom will be a reprise of last year’s Tiki Tower Takeover, which brought together four of the country’s top Tiki barmen for an exclusive happy hour event featuring their signature cocktails. While enjoying spectacular views of Fort Lauderdale, guests were treated to full-sized and fully garnished drinks personally mixed by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry (Latitude 29), Martin Cate (Smuggler’s Cove), Paul McGee (Lost Lake), and Brian Miller (“Tiki Mondays With Miller”.

For 2016, Berry is confirmed to return, White said, and he’ll be joined by five more top Tiki cocktail bars from around the world. That expands the lineup of bars (and selection of drinks) from four to six. White said the Tiki Tower Takeover and Shag’s SkyLounge will both take place on Thursday, June 9.
* Atomic Grog recap: Photos, recipes, full report on the 2015 Tiki Tower Takeover

Continue reading “The Week in Tiki (Sept. 21-Oct. 4, 2015): The Hukilau passes going on sale, Hulaween is back at The Mai-Kai, Ohana flock to the sea”

The Week in Tiki (June 15-28, 2015): Summer events in full swing with The Hukilau, Ohana: Luau At The Lake, more

The Week in Tiki The year’s two major East Coast events, The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale and Ohana: Luau At The Lake in upstate New York, dominate June’s news. We also have an update on the ill-fated Rapa Nui Reef in Deerfield Beach, plus news on October’s Ohana: Luau by the Sea. Also announced for October: Mod-PalmSprings and The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown in the Big Apple. Regular features spotlight the artist Squid, exotica ensemble Waitiki, the venerable Tiki-Ti in Los Angeles, and the Fraternal Order Of Moai website. The rum of the week, Rhum Barbancourt 5 Star, is featured in the 1862 Rhum Punch.
Note: Updates are now being published twice a month, but don’t worry. We won’t miss any of the latest news.
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* Weekly features: Artist | Band/music | Tiki bar | Website | Rum | Cocktail | Events

The Hukilau soars at mid-century marvel Pier 66 hotel

Close to a thousand fans of Tiki and mid-century culture from around the world gathered in Fort Lauderdale for The Hukilau on June 10-14, with events centered around the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 and The Mai-Kai restaurant. The 14th annual event seemed fresher than ever thanks to the vintage charm and modern amenities of Pier 66. Here’s a day-by-day recap:

Gold Dust Lounge from Miami play a rousing set of instrumental surf. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Gold Dust Lounge from Miami play a rousing set of instrumental surf. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* Wednesday, June 10: Registration opened at Pier 66 and Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid (Medusirena) performed her first exclusive swim show only for guests of The Hukilau at The Wreck Bar at the nearby B Ocean Resort, the former Yankee Clipper on Fort Lauderdale Beach. The reserved-seat, ticketed event was a hit with guests, who all had clear views of Marina and her pod of aquaticats as they performed their “Aquacade Swimshow” featuring special guests Crazy Al Evans, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and more. The evening party moved to The Molokai lounge at The Mai-Kai, featuring live surf music from Miami’s Gold Dust Lounge. Emcee King Kukulele kept thing lively, and the bar was filled with guests and VIPs, including the crew from the upcoming Tiki Tower Takeover and food TV celeb Jim Stacy (Offbeat Eats with Jim Stacy).
* The Atomic Grog’s photo recap: See more images from Wednesday

The Tiki Tower Takeover's all-star cast of bar professionals joins The Hukilau's Christie "Tiki Kiliki" White (center) for a group photo
The Tiki Tower Takeover’s all-star cast of bar professionals joins The Hukilau’s Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White (center) for a group photo. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* Thursday, June 11: Registration at Pier 66 got a little more interesting thanks to The Real McCoy rum, who provided tastings and cocktails from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. One of this year’s signature events, the Tiki Tower Takeover, was held from 4 to 6 in the 17th floor revolving Pier Top Ballroom. Four of the country’s most recognized Tiki cocktail barmen set up shop for a very special happy hour: Martin Cate (Smuggler’s Cove, San Francisco), Jeff “Beachbum” Berry (Latitude 29, New Orleans), Paul McGee (Lost Lake, Chicago) and Brian Miller (“Tiki Mondays With Miller”, New York City). The lively party lived up to expectations, providing guests a one-of-a-kind opportunity to enjoy full-sized, fully-garnished signature cocktails personally made by these acclaimed mixologists all at one event. Pablus, King Kukulele and Crazy Al Evans provided the entertainment, and the drinks were all outstanding: The rummy Formidable Dragon from Martin Cate, the mysterious and exotic T.O.T.C. Swizzle from Beachbum Berry, the complex yet perfectly balanced Lost Lake from Paul McGee, and the creative yet accessible Pandanarama Daiquiri from Brian Miller. You know you’re tasting some of the best drinks in the business when just before the event three of the four were nominated for Spirited Awards by Tales of the Cocktail: Smuggler’s Cove (Best American Cocktail Bar) and both Latitude 29 and Lost Lake (Best New American Cocktail Bar). After The Hukilau, it was announced that both Smuggler’s Cove and Latitude 29 had survived the cut and made the final four. The winners will be announced at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans on July 18.

Continue reading “The Week in Tiki (June 15-28, 2015): Summer events in full swing with The Hukilau, Ohana: Luau At The Lake, more”

The Week in Tiki (May 18-25, 2015): New Beachbum Berry barware, The Hukilau 2015 merchandise now on sale

The Week in Tiki Cocktail Kingdom has joined forces with Jeff “Beachbum” Berry for the release this week of some cool vintage Tiki cocktail gear. The Hukilau’s official mug and pendant are now on sale as the June 10-14 event announces a new rum sponsor and updated entertainment schedule. Other news includes a special cocktail event at The Mai-Kai, the reopening of the Tiki-Ti, a historic unveiling at the Caliente Tropics hotel during Tiki Caliente, plus new Shag artwork at a Palm Springs party and New York City exhibit. Weekly features spotlight artist Mookie Sato, the Southern Surf Stomp! blog, instro icons Los Straitjackets, and Psycho Suzi’s Motor Lounge in Minneapolis. The rum of the week, Wicked Dolphin Silver, is featured in the Piña Colada.
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Cocktail Kingdom launches new line of Beachbum Berry Tiki barware

New from Beachbum Berry and Cocktail Kingdom: Pearl Diver Glass, Skull Bar Spoon, and Swizzle Cup
New from Beachbum Berry and Cocktail Kingdom: Pearl Diver Glass, Skull Bar Spoon, and Swizzle Cup. (From CocktailKingdom.com)

Just in time to jazz up your summer cocktail creations, premium barware company Cocktail Kingdom has teamed up with Tiki’s leading tropical drink historian, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, for a new collection of vintage barware. The Swizzle Cup, Pearl Diver Glass, and Skull Bar Spoon join the Navy Grog Cone Kit (released in 2013) as worthy additions to any bar, Tiki or otherwise.

As with all of Cocktail Kingdom’s retro-inspired items, much care was taken to recreate the original, classic items. The combination of Berry’s meticulous research and the dedication of Cocktail Kingdom, which is owned by cocktail history enthusiast Greg Boehm, results in the best possible products. The publishing arm of Cocktail Kingdom also released Berry’s sixth book, Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them, in late 2013. In November 2014, the author became a Tiki bar proprietor with the opening of his first exotic lounge and restaurant, Latitude 29 in New Orleans.

From a mid-century Don the Beachcomber menu
From a mid-century Don the Beachcomber menu.

The skull-topped barspoon is not based on any particular vintage item, but rather was inspired by pirate history and headhunter lore. You could put it to good use mixing a floater of 151 rum into a Shrunken Skull [See recipes] or other ominous concoction. It joins Cocktail Kingdom’s extensive selection of premium barspoons.

The arrival of the new glassware will likely be toasted at home and commercial Tiki bars across the land, where these rare items have been sought-after for years. The Swizzle Cup is made of lightweight stainless steel to the same specifications of the heavier metal versions that were popularized in the 1940s and 1950s. Newer versions of the sleek and stylish cups are used in a select number of the world’s top Tiki bars, such as The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale, but the more common variety found on eBay just don’t measure up to the original. The new cup should allow for many more cocktail enthusiasts to enjoy a perfect 151 Swizzle, the deadly drink most commonly featured in the steel vessel to keep its contents ice cold. [See classic, Mai-Kai recipes]

Continue reading “The Week in Tiki (May 18-25, 2015): New Beachbum Berry barware, The Hukilau 2015 merchandise now on sale”

2015 Miami Rum Festival spotlights explosion of new brands

The Miami Rum Renaissance Festival has always been a unique opportunity to sample some of the best new cane spirits before they gain widespread distribution across the country. But this year, festival organizers have taken that coming out party to a new level with dozens of emerging rum brands from South Florida, Georgia, Antigua, Barbados, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, Panama, St. Vincent, Trinidad, Guyana, Suriname, Austria, Denmark, Japan, the Philippines and India all making their U.S. debut.

Miami Rum Festival

There will be 35 new rums making their U.S. debut at the festival, said Robin Burr, who organizes and hosts the event with husband Robert A. and son Robert V. Burr. In addition to those, another 28 rums will be making their Miami Rum Festival debut, giving attendees plenty of new products to peruse during next weekend’s Grand Tasting events. [See the full list of new rums below]

Considered the largest rum festival in the world, the event will also feature celebrity seminars, live music and entertainment, island lifestyle vendors and interactive cocktail demonstrations. It’s a rare chance for enthusiasts to meet and mingle with rum experts and professionals to learn about rum, cocktails and the surrounding culture.

2015 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival: Friday, April 17, through Sunday, April 19, at the Doubletree by Hilton Miami Airport Convention Center. Tickets, hotel and more info at MiamiRumFest.com and Facebook. Miami Rum Fest Cocktail Week is Monday, April 13, through Sunday, April 19, at venues throughout South Florida. More info at MiamiCocktailWeek.com and Facebook.
2014 Atomic Grog recaps: Cocktail Week | Rum Fest | Photo gallery | All past coverage

Miami Rum Renaissance Festival

HOW MUCH: Tickets are $50 for Sunday general admission, $75 for a Saturday VIP pass, and $100 for a three-day VIP pass. In a change from past years, tickets must be purchased in advance via MiamiRumFest.com or by phone at (877) 855-3378. No tickets will be available at the door. Parking at the convention center is $5 per day, including in and out. Rooms at the Doubletree are sold out, but there are still rooms available at host hotels on Miami Beach.

Here’s a rundown on all the week’s activities:

MIAMI RUM FESTIVAL COCKTAIL WEEK

Now in its second year, Cocktail Week features special rum cocktails and activities for VIPs and rum enthusiasts spread over seven venues in seven nights, from Fort Lauderdale to Coconut Grove.

* Monday, April 13: Tiki Horror Night at the Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In, Coconut Grove. Enjoy Tiki cocktails while watching a kitchy horror movie.

The Grapefruit Julep, created by The Mai-Kai for the Miami Rum Festival featuring Fwaygo Rum, grapefruit juice, grenadine and bitters
The Grapefruit Julep, created by The Mai-Kai for the Miami Rum Festival featuring Fwaygo Rum, grapefruit juice, grenadine and bitters. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* Tuesday, April 14: Tiki Night at The Mai Kai in Fort Lauderdale, featuring happy hour cocktails in The Molokai bar followed by the famous Polynesian Islander Review dinner show . Happy hour runs from 5 to 7 p.m. and the show starts at 8. Rum Fest attendees get half off the show charge and a complimentary Fwaygo Rum cocktail, the Grapefruit Julep. There will also be bus transportation between the Doubletree and The Mai-Kai for $25. Rum Fest guests must RSVP in advance by calling the restaurant at (954) 563-3272.
Related: The Atomic Grog’s Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide

* Wednesday, April 15: Havana Night at The Regent Cocktail Club at the Gale Hotel (Miami Beach), 7:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Continue reading “2015 Miami Rum Festival spotlights explosion of new brands”

Three ‘secret cocktails’ drop in for a night of flights at The Mai-Kai

In the heyday of Tiki in the 1950s and ’60s, having one of the most extensive and iconic tropical drink menus was not enough. At The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale, where the list of classic exotic cocktails runs to nearly 50, there were always requests for off-the-menu concoctions that everyone had heard about. To meet this demand, recipes were created but never added to the menu.

lost-cocktails

Decades later, there aren’t many requests for the Fog Cutter, Singapore Sling and Suffering Bastard. But that didn’t stop the Gumbo Limbo Chapter of the Fraternal Order of Moai from organizing an event that gave guests a taste of all three of these “secret cocktails.”

On Saturday, Feb. 21, starting at 5 p.m., The Molokiai bar filled up with more than 50 eager participants for a chance to taste a flight of the three mid-century classics that have never appeared on the 58-year-old tropical drink menu. For just $15, we received roughly half-sized samples of all three drinks. In addition to a large turnout of FOM members, several VIPs were in the house after participating in Emeril Lagasse’s “Tiki Showdown” the night before in Miami Beach: Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and Martin Cate.

Though the event was billed as “The Lost Cocktails of The Mai-Kai,” these three drinks were not really “lost,” manager Kern Mattei pointed out. “We’ve always had them, but nobody knew it,” he said. Their popularity fell by the wayside and people stopped requesting them. All three recipes date back to the early days of the restaurant, when famous mixologist Mariano Licudine worked with owners Bob and Jack Thornton to create a unique cocktail program based on Licudine’s experience as a bartender for decades for Tiki bar pioneer Don the Beachcomber. “They’re Mariano’s recipes,” Mattei said.

Here’s a look at the flight, and the special menu prepared by Mattei:

Each of the three drinks not only has its own distinctive taste, but also a unique and interesting back story:

Continue reading “Three ‘secret cocktails’ drop in for a night of flights at The Mai-Kai”

Special event at The Mai-Kai takes guests on a flight back to classic ‘Potions of the Caribbean’

Updated on Sept. 22

Since its release last December, Beachbum Berry’s Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them has set a new standard for cocktail history books. Chock full of vintage photos and artwork, detailed research and stories, not to mention 77 recipes, the 317-page hardcover opus was recognized in July as Best New Cocktail/Bartending Book at the annual Spirited Awards during Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans.

Drink Flight at The Mai-Kai featuring 'Beachbum Berry's Potions of the Caribbean'

While critics raved, fans devoured the cocktails along with the stories, creating a unique drinking and reading experience. At Fort Lauderdale’s famous Mai-Kai, which is featured in the the book, general manager Kern Mattei was so impressed with the classic recipes he decided to feature some of them during a one-night-only event on Saturday, Sept. 20.
See below: Virgin Island Kula recipe

From 6 to 8 p.m. in the restaurant’s Molokai bar, Mattei and his staff presented a flight of three cocktails straight from the pages of Potions of the Caribbean. It was the first time ever that these drinks were served in the nearly 58-year history of The Mai-Kai. And at just $12, it was a great bargain. The bar’s regular happy hour started at 5 and revelers stayed well past 8 as they enjoyed many of The Mai-Kai’s nearly 50 acclaimed tropical drinks. Tables were also filled with Pupu Platters and other small plates as a crowd of more than 50 filled the back section of the bar.

Continue reading “Special event at The Mai-Kai takes guests on a flight back to classic ‘Potions of the Caribbean’”

Lost Cocktails of The Mai-Kai: Take a journey to the exotic Island of Martinique

This is the final review of the drinks that appeared on original 1956-57 era menus but were later retired.

See below: Ancestor recipe | Review
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide | More “lost cocktails”

Of all the cocktails that disappeared from The Mai-Kai’s bar menu since the famed Polynesian restaurant opened in Fort Lauderdale in 1956, perhaps the most elusive has been the Martinique Cocktail. It lasted into the 1980s, but disappeared without a trace.

A menu from Don the Beachcomber's Chicago restaurant, circa 1963
A menu from Don the Beachcomber’s Chicago restaurant, circa 1963.

A 1979 menu described the drink as “a small, yet robust creation of Martinique Rum, fresh juices and harmonious syrups” (see image below). I was able to identify this drink as a descendant of a classic cocktail by tropical mixology’s founding father, Donn Beach, aka Don the Beachcomber. Although I haven’t seen it on many Beachcomber menus, I was delighted to find the Martinique Cocktail listed as one of the “original rum drinks” at the Chicago location in 1963, seven years after The Mai-Kai opened.

It’s highly likely that this was the same drink, and not just because of the name. Mariano Licudine, The Mai-Kai’s original bar manager and mixologist, had a history of borrowing recipes from his days working at Don the Beachcomber, which began in 1939 in Hollywood. He was the No. 2 bartender at that very same Chicago location from 1940 until 1956, when he joined owners Bob and Jack Thornton at The Mai-Kai.

The Mai-Kai's 1956-57 menu
The Mai-Kai’s original 1956-57 menu includes 33 cocktails still served today, and 10 that are no longer offered, including the Martinique Cocktail.

However, finding a recipe was another matter entirely. I discovered many “Martinique Cocktail” recipes online, but none attributed to Donn Beach. But, of course, Tiki cocktail historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry once again came to the rescue with his most exhaustive research effort to date, the voluminous Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them, published in December by Cocktail Kingdom. The hardcover opus deservedly won the 2014 Spirited Award for Best New Cocktail/Bartending Book at Tales of the Cocktail in July.

Included in the chapter on the influence of the Caribbean on early Tiki cocktails is a recipe for Don the Beachcomber’s Island of Martinique Cocktail, along with the backstory. Like many Donn Beach drinks, there were multiple recipes over the years, including an early version based on the classic Caribbean drink the Ti Punch (aka Petit Punch), which dates back to the late 1800s in Martinique. It was a simple combination of rum, lime and sugar, what Berry calls the “holy trinity” of tropical mixology.

Continue reading “Lost Cocktails of The Mai-Kai: Take a journey to the exotic Island of Martinique”