The Mai-Kai’s deadly Halloween quarts and gallons, plus more great moments in Zombie cocktail history

The Mai-Kai's deadly Halloween quarts and gallons, plus more great moments in Zombie cocktail history

We’re sorely missing The Mai-Kai’s beloved Hulaween party for the second year in a row, but luckily fans of potent Tiki cocktails will be able to drown their sorrows with a distinctive drink that hasn’t been served since the historic restaurant closed for refurbishments in October 2020.

See below: How to pour a Mai-Kai Zombie at home (VIDEO)
* 5 greatest moments in Zombie history

Halloween 2022 cocktails from The Mai-Kai

The Zombie, which traces its roots all the way back to tropical drink pioneer Don the Beachcomber, is available for a limited time as part of The Mai-Kai’s periodic takeout cocktail program. You can order the deadly classic by the quart and gallon, the perfect addition to weekend Halloween gatherings.

Pickup dates are Friday, Oct. 28 (4-6 p.m.) and Saturday, Oct. 29 (10 a.m.-noon). Call public relations director Pia Dahlquist 954-646-8975 to place your order.

Consume with caution, however, since this is one of the strongest cocktails ever created. Donn Beach’s original 1934 recipe included 4 ounces of three different rums, including overproof, and he famously limited guests to two drinks per visit.

Halloween 2022 cocktail menu from The Mai-Kai

The Mai-Kai’s version, created by former Beachcomber bartender Mariano Licudine for the restaurant’s 1956 opening, is more balanced and accessible yet still packs a potent punch (and a healthy dose of 151 rum). It replaced the equally strong Jet Pilot on the “Gallons To Go” menu for Halloween and is priced accordingly (gallon $156, quart $44).

Also on the menu are three other popular standbys: Barrel O’ Rum (gallon $95, quart $30), Black Magic (gallon $95, quart $30), and Mai Tai (gallon $142, quart $40). Click on the links for our comprehensive reviews and recipes for all the cocktails.

All are among the most acclaimed libations in our Mai-Kai cocktail guide, but the top-rated Zombie is a rare treat. It’s complex and a little difficult to execute in large batches, so it hasn’t been offered as part of the popular to-go initiative, which launched early in the pandemic and has continued during the closing.

The Mai-Kai's Zombie back from the dead for Halloween

It also requires some care for guests to pull off the perfect Zombie at home. Luckily, manager Kern Mattei and former Molokai bar server Claudia Marmolejo showed us how to mix up the perfect Halloween treat in a recent Facebook video:

Continue reading “The Mai-Kai’s deadly Halloween quarts and gallons, plus more great moments in Zombie cocktail history”

The Mai-Kai sale, Oceanic Arts closing among top Tiki stories of 2021

The Mai-Kai sale, Oceanic Arts closing among top Tiki stories of 2021

After the suffering bastard of a year that was 2020, we were primed and ready for some relief and positive Tiki vibes. If 2020 was a house of horrors, then 2021 was a roller-coaster ride. But while we’re still mired in pandemic-related disruptions, many things achieved a “new normal” over the past 12 months.
RELATED: The Year in Tiki 2021 – A look back at the year’s top live and virtual events

We remain thankful for every bit of good news. While a few of the stories below are frustrating (No. 4) or bittersweet (No. 1), they’re far out-numbered by the explosions of creativity and collective talent that drove most of the year’s activity. For that, we toast the entire Tiki community with a new cocktail and The Atomic Grog’s picks for the 10 most newsworthy stories of 2021.
Bonus recipe below: The Tiki Lover

1. ALOHA AND FAREWELL, OCEANIC ARTS

Oceanic Arts closing after 65 years

As sure as the sun rose in the east and set in the west, there was one enduring creative force over the past six decades of Polynesian Pop style. In November 2021, there was a total eclipse and extended period of mourning when it was announced that Oceanic Arts would be closing its doors as its 80-something-year-old founders embark on a well-deserved retirement. Established in 1956 in Southern California by Robert Van Oosting and LeRoy Schmaltz, the company was always the go-to provider of original and imported pieces of South Seas art and decor for everyone from home enthusiasts to theme park giants including Disney (the doors to Trader Sam’s in Disneyland are Schmaltz’ handiwork). Art and woodwork originating from Oceanic Arts has been featured in nearly every legendary Polynesian palace, from Don the Beachcomber to Trader Vic’s to The Mai-Kai. The company put together movie set pieces and provided the distinctive style of many of the mid 20th century’s Tiki-themed hotels and motels, bowling alleys, and countless other establishments. Buoyed by the Tiki revival, the small shop in Whittier became a mecca for Tikiphiles from around the world and inspired a new generation of carvers and artists in the 21st century.

While the closing seemed to have come out of the blue, Van Oosting and Schmaltz had been planning their retirement for some time. They joined forces with longtime friend Jordan Reichek, owner of Peekaboo Gallery in nearby Montrose, for an epic career-spanning retrospective coming in 2022. In the spring, look for what’s being called an “experiential Tiki exhibition” featuring art and artifacts from Oceanic Arts paired with special events that include live music and performances, panel discussions, an “epic Tiki bar,” and more. The events will culminate with the “ultimate Tiki auction” art show and sale. In the meantime, the gallery is taking pre-orders for a mammoth Oceanic Arts history book compiled and written by Reichek, who worked closely with Van Oosting and Schmaltz. Oceanic Arts: The Godfathers of Tiki is a 500-page opus that documents the rich history of Oceanic Arts via thousands of photos, original artwork and historical documents from the archives. After 65 years, Oceanic Arts leaves an indelible mark on pop culture that is likely to last for many more decades to come.

PeekabooGallery.com: Pre-order the book now
Get social media updates: Instagram | Facebook | Twitter
News: Whittier’s Oceanic Arts, the delight of tiki lovers around the world, is closing
Online tribute: Quiet Village podcast dedicated to Oceanic Arts

Past coverage
* Video: Inside the Desert Oasis Room | A Moment of Tiki
Randomland | Huel Howser
* Van Oosting and Schmaltz on the Inside the Desert Oasis Room podcast
* The enchanting tikis of Oceanic Arts (Disney History 101)

2. PARADISE SAVED: NEW OWNERS REVIVE THE MAI-KAI

The entire Tiki community heaved a sigh of relief in September when the announcement came that The Mai-Kai – the historic, 65-year-old restaurant in Fort Lauderdale that has been closed due to storm damage since October 2020 – was saved from extinction by a new ownership team that will pump millions of dollars into a restoration and refurbishment. The year started with much concern after press reports emerged about the roof damage that destroyed the kitchen. A “Save The Mai-Kai” petition gathered more than 10,000 signatures in less than a month as devoted fans united online to share their support and concerns. The skeleton crew of owners and staff continued to offer regular takeout cocktails and began a series of events in the expansive parking lot. The highlights were The Mai-Kai’s first-ever Tiki Marketplace in April featuring vendors, entertainers, cocktails, rum tasting and more. A follow-up event in July kept the momentum going while behind-the-scene negotiations were likely starting to ramp up.

The Mai-Kai fans rejoice as new partnership paves way for reopening
The Mai-Kai fans rejoice as new partnership paves way for reopening

The big announcement came in September, just after hundreds of Tikiphiles from around the country finally returned to Fort Lauderdale for the 19th edition of The Hukilau. Then, a week later, the long-awaited news dropped. The founding Thornton family released details on social media on Sept. 28, outlining the joint venture with a South Florida-based real estate investment and development company known for working with legacy businesses. Its sister hospitality company already operates several vintage venues in Miami’s Little Havana. “We’re looking forward to working closely with the Barlington Group and Mad Room Hospitality to sustain The Mai-Kai the world has come to know and love,” the announcement said. “We’re excited to bring back The Mai-Kai better than ever before — and for you to be a special part of it!” Check out links to our in-depth report above and latest updates below.

Latest news on The Mai-Kai renovations and reopening in 2022
UPDATES: Latest news on The Mai-Kai renovations and reopening in 2022
When will the historic Polynesian restaurant be welcoming back guests? We’ll keep you updated with the latest news.

3. LET’S TIKI! THE RETURN OF LIVE EVENTS

The crushing blow of the pandemic was not easy to overcome for event organizers, but we slowly came out of our homes in 2021 and began to gather again in safe and physically-distanced environments. Longtime online meet-ups – most notably Tiki Trail Live and Spike’s Breezeway Cocktail Hour – continued to thrive. But many longed for live human interaction, and a handful of key (mainly outdoor) events delivered that experience in the year’s early months. Then, when vaccines became widely available, we saw the return of several major Tiki events starting with Arizona Tiki Oasis on April 22-25. Carefully organized by Baby Doe and Otto von Stroheim, the event paved the way for an active summer, including the couple’s flagship Tiki Oasis on July 28 -Aug. 1 in San Diego. Momentum slowed in the late summer and fall as the first of several coronavirus variants emerged, but Tikiphiles still flocked to scaled-down events including Ohana: Luau At The Lake in upstate New York, The Hukilau and Tiki Fever in Florida, and Tiki Caliente in Palm Springs, Calif. Rum aficionados around the world also were able to get back into the swing of tasting events, from the Jamaica Rum Festival in March to the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival in November. See the full list of major 2021 events below.

The Year in Tiki 2021: Take a look back at the year's top live and virtual events
The Year in Tiki 2021: Take a look back at the year’s top live and virtual events
Recap the year’s top happenings, including official artwork and links plus photos and video.

Continue reading “The Mai-Kai sale, Oceanic Arts closing among top Tiki stories of 2021”

Preview, photos and event history: Miami Rum Renaissance Festival is back for a 12th taste of cane spirits

Preview, photos and event history: Miami Rum Renaissance Festival is back for a 12th taste of cane spirits

After 18 months of tasting rum in the privacy of our home bars, it’s about time that South Florida offers a small gathering where enthusiasts can sample dozens of new and long-standing products. Luckily for us, the Miami Rum Festival makes its return this weekend for its first event since May 2019.

Photos, recap: Miami festival reunites rum family for one-day tasting event
NEW: Photos, recap: Miami festival reunites rum family for one-day tasting event
Quick takes and highlights from the 2021 Rum Renaissance Tasting Event, including photos and our favorite sips of the day.
>>> CLICK HERE FOR THE RECAP AND PHOTO GALLERY

2021 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival

More Miami Rum Festival features below
* 2019 PHOTOS AND RECAP: Rum festival returns to its roots
* EVENT HISTORY: Miami Rum Renaissance Festival year-by-year
* The Atomic Grog’s top nine Miami Rum Fest memories

Billed as the 2021 “Rum Renaissance Tasting Event,” it’s limited to one four-hour general session on Sunday at the Coral Gables Woman’s Club, but that’s more than enough reason to celebrate the safe return of one of the rum world’s longest-running festivals.

Established in 2009, the Miami fest pre-dates the recent fascination among fans of craft spirits and the expansion of premium rum brands and events around the world. It presciently anticipated rum’s renaissance in the past decade and offered both enthusiasts and industry VIPs a high-quality gathering place every year, without fail.

The coronavirus pandemic put all that on hold in 2020, but founders Robert and Robin Burr are ready to welcome back their rum family for a scaled-down, one-day event that will continue to celebrate the ongoing renaissance. The general public is welcome from 2 to 6 p.m. Doors open for industry and trade at 12:30 p.m.

Sunday, Nov. 14 – Miami Rum Renaissance Festival at the Coral Gables Woman’s Club, 1001 East Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables. Tickets $39 to $49 per person. Limited free parking. For safety reasons, attendance is limited. Tickets may sell out in advance, so be sure to get them now or by phone at 305-350-0764.
PURCHASE TICKETS ONLINE

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ABOUT THE EVENT: Miami Rum Festival highlights

Lemon Hart Rum's Miles Maximillian Vrahimis and Angelina Maria Correa (right) are serenaded by Melissa Davis of the RumTraveler.com website at the 2019 Miami Rum Festival. (Courtesy of Lemon Hart Rum)
Lemon Hart Rum’s Miles Maximillian Vrahimis and Angelina Maria Correa (right) are serenaded by Melissa Davis of the RumTraveler.com website at the 2019 Miami Rum Festival. (Courtesy of Lemon Hart Rum)

The festival includes unlimited small samples of more than 150 products from dozens of brands, from Antelope Island to Zacapa. Participants include such well-known labels as Cockspur (Barbados), El Dorado (Guyana), Plantation (Caribbean and elsewhere), Rhum Barbancourt (Haiti), Ron Diplomatico (Venezuela), Saint James (Martinique), and Tanduay (Philippines).

But you’ll also spot up-and-coming products from craft distillers including Copalli (Belize) and Prichard’s (Tennessee), along with many other small brands. It’s a chance to taste many new releases just coming to market, along with older expressions that are often hard to find.

Hundreds of connoisseurs, collectors, judges and rum lovers are expected to flock to the historic venue, which first hosted the event in 2019. They’ll have the rare chance to mingle with a room full of rum producers, master distillers, importers, distributors, retailers and other members of the spirits trade. All attendees also receive a free tasting glass.

Robin and Robert Burr welcome guests to their VIP Tasting Bar.
Robin and Robert Burr welcome guests to their VIP Tasting Bar at the Coral Gables Woman’s Club during the 2019 festival. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

“We’re excited that Miami Rum Fest is celebrating its 12th anniversary of bringing the world of rum to South Florida,” organizer Robert Burr said in an announcement on his longtime resource, Rob’s Rum Guide. “We’ve been visiting rum producers to gather an incredible collection of fine rums to sample for this grand tasting event. It’s an opportunity for rum enthusiasts to enjoy their favorites and discover some delightful new expressions, gain a greater appreciation and share the enthusiasm of these fine spirits with friends.”

Beyond all the booths hosted by visiting rum brands, another highlight of the event is the VIP Tasting Bar, a selection of rare, collectable, and limited-edition rums from the Burrs’ own private stash. There’s an extra fee to sample these hard-to-find and expensive rums, but proceeds benefits a local non-profit organization. If you’ve seen the Burrs’ home collection in their Rum Wreck Dive Bar, you’ll know they have a wide assortment of spirits to choose from.

The venue is a charming historic building that dates back to 1935. With wood flooring and rustic touches, it’s unlike most modern event spaces. The surrounding downtown Coral Gables district features a half-dozen hotels within a short distance of the festival. There are also many restaurants, bars and entertainment venues in the area for mingling after the event.

Miami Rum Festival on social media
* Facebook page | Instagram | Twitter

Related websites
Rob’s Rum Guide: Expert reviews and news on cane spirits
Rum Minute: See Robert Burr’s video reviews
Rum Renaissance Caribbean Cruise: Set sail for distilleries in rum’s birthplace
Media coverage: Hear Robert Burr on the Drums and Rums podcast

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2019 PHOTOS AND RECAP: Smaller Miami Rum Festival offers quality, not quantity

Downsized to a smaller but classier venue after six years at massive convention centers, the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival fit into its new environment like a classic cocktail in vintage glassware. Instead of an over-the-top Tiki drink, guests were treated to a rum Old Fashioned. But the end result was ultimately just as satisfying.

The crew from Rum Java presented their full line of coffee-flavored rums, hand-crafted in small batches using roasted Java’Mon Coffee beans from the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The crew from Rum Java presented their full line of coffee-flavored rums, hand-crafted in small batches using roasted Java’Mon Coffee beans from the U.S. Virgin Islands. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

While “less is more” could be a cliché, it seems to work fine in the context of a rum-tasting festival. After all, how many rum samples can you really drink in one or two days? As long as the exhibitors and brands provide top-notch products, including a nice mix of new and classic offerings, attendees should find the festival fulfilling. This was certainly the case at Rum Renaissance Festival, circa 2019.
2019 event preview: Miami Rum Renaissance Festival returns to its roots after 10 years

The Burrs held their first rum-tasting event in 2008 at the historic Venetian Pool in Coral Gables. The return to the Miami suburb in 2019 brought the festival full-circle after a decade in large event spaces across South Florida.

The Coral Gables Woman’s Club may seem like an unlikely site for a rum fest, but it worked out nicely. The crowds taxed the air-conditioning system in the 100-year-old building during the peak afternoon hours and sweltering heat of mid-May, but that’s an issue that can easily be rectified. The charm of the building, which was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1990, outweighs its faults.

Longtime Plantation Rum ambassador Rocky Yeh presents Hurricane Hayward with a sip of one of the brand's latest blends at the Miami Rum Festival in May 2019. The much-loved industry veteran sadly passed away later that year.
Longtime Plantation Rum ambassador Rocky Yeh presents Hurricane Hayward with a sip of one of the brand’s latest blends at the Miami Rum Festival in May 2019. The much-loved industry veteran sadly passed away later that year.  (Atomic Grog photo)

As for the event itself, our afternoon visit was marked by a deep dive into an array of spirits, a reunion with old friends and a general feel of an easy-going industry gathering. Sadly, it was our last time seeing the beloved Plantation Rum ambassador, Rocky Yeh, who passed away Dec. 1, 2019, at age 42. He left a huge mark on the industry during his short but vibrant life and will always be remembered.

While it’s technically not a rum, I was thrilled to pick up a bottle of Kronan Swedish Punsch. I had seen mentions of this classic rum liqueur in cocktail books for years, and it was great to finally have one in my arsenal. Another flavored rum product, Rum Java, wowed us with its distinctive flavors. Distilled from Florida sugarcane, it was the best of several coffee rums we sampled – definitely one of the top trends of the festival.

Lemon Hart & Sons made a rare festival appearance, touting its new Blackpool Spiced Rum and the long-awaited U.S. market return of Lemon Hart 1804, the classic Demerara rum from Guyana. Ambassador Miles Maximillian Vrahimis also mixed up some of the tastiest cocktails of the day.

Continue reading “Preview, photos and event history: Miami Rum Renaissance Festival is back for a 12th taste of cane spirits”

RECIPES: French, Haitian Zombies reflect true roots of deadly cocktail’s namesake legend

RECIPES: French, Haitian Zombies reflect true roots of deadly cocktail's namesake legend

Until cocktail author and historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry unearthed the mystery behind Don the Beachcomber’s classic Zombie cocktail, the true recipe lay buried for more than 70 years. Berry’s discovery and publication of his findings in the groundbreaking Sippin’ Safari (2007) spurred a revival and greater appreciation of the deadly drink that continues to this day.

Beachbum Berry's Sippin' Safari
An ad for ‘Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari’ around the time of its original release.

Simultaneously and coincidentally, the world of cinema also went zombie crazy, ushering in a renaissance of the modern horror archetype. Of the 30 films on a recently published list of “The best zombie movies of all time,” half were released in the 21st century.

With the precision of a pathologist, Berry dissected and definitively revealed the template that the bootlegger turned Tiki cocktail pioneer used to create what was arguably the most popular drink of the post-Prohibition era. The original 1934 recipe is a groundbreaking masterpiece, combining multiple rums and spices with sweet and sour juices and syrups, bitters, and even a touch of anise. Stay tuned for the upcoming book (Searching for Don the Beachcomber) and film (The Donn of Tiki) for the full story of his life and times.

But what inspired the name of the cocktail? We can only assume it was White Zombie, released just a year or two before the drink and considered to be the first zombie film. Starring monster movie legend Béla Lugosi, it’s a far cry from today’s gore fests featuring flesh-eating corpses. The movie is actually fairly faithful to the true folklore, spinning the tale of a Haitian voodoo priest who drugs his victims and turns them into zombie slaves.

Donn Beach (aka Don the Beachcomber) shows off what appears to be a Zombie along with some of his other groundbreaking creations
Donn Beach (aka Don the Beachcomber) shows off what appears to be a Zombie along with some of his other groundbreaking creations. (From TheDonnOfTiki.com)

In the ensuring years, that origin story has been widely ignored by pop culture. The movie genre traces its modern roots to director George Romero and his 1968 cult classic Night of the Living Dead. Nearly every movie or TV series since has loosely followed Romero’s template of reanimated corpses mindlessly running amok for no apparent reason, with political and social statements thrown in for good measure.

Back in the 1930s, Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt (who later legally changed his name to Donn Beach) simply borrowed the name and made no attempt at connecting it to its island of origin. But what if we go back to the roots of the true zombie legend and use it as inspiration for not one, but two new Zombie cocktails?

SEE BELOW: New original cocktails
>>> LE ZOMBI
>>> VODOU ZONBI (Haitian Zombie)

But first, here’s a quick history lesson on the mythology and cultural significance of what has become known as the zombie.

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BACKGROUND: Haitian zombie folklore rooted in slavery, French colonialism

The true story behind zombie folklore is scarier and more tragic than a movie.

"Zombies" by Haitian artist Wilson Bigaud, 1953 (oil on board mounted on wood panel). Part of the Haitian Collection at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa.
“Zombies” by Haitian artist Wilson Bigaud, 1953 (oil on board mounted on wood panel). Part of the Haitian Collection at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa.

Like its sister islands, what is now Haiti was invaded and colonized by a European power. France established Saint-Domingue in 1664, growing it into the richest sugar colony in the Caribbean on the backs of African slaves.

The brutal practice came to a violent end in 1791, when slaves staged a mass revolt and rose up against their oppressors. By 1794, the French government abolished slavery throughout its empire, more than 70 years before the 13th Amendment ended the practice in the United States.

The revolt sparked the Haitian Revolution, which ended in 1804 with the island’s independence and heroic ex-slave Toussaint Louverture installed as Haiti’s first governor general. It was a defining moment in the history of the Atlantic World, distinctive as the only slave uprising that led to the founding of a state that was both free from slavery and ruled by non-whites and former captives.

The legend of the zombie, or “zonbi” as it was known in Haitian Creole culture, could be considered a metaphor for the horrors of slavery.

A zonbi at twilight in sugar cane field in Haiti. (Wikimedia Commons)
A zonbi at twilight in sugar cane field in Haiti. (Wikimedia Commons)

The word itself and the concept of zombie-like creatures can be traced back to African origins. Some research has also found a connection to the island’s indigenous Taíno people, known for their shamanist practices. The African slaves brought with them traditions and from their homeland, including the “Vodou” religion.

Haitian Vodou developed between the 16th and 19th centuries, merging traditional religions of west and central Africa with Roman Catholicism. In Haitian culture, a zonbi is a dead body brought back to life by a Vodou sorcerer known as a “bokor.” According to legend, the zonbi is under the total control of the bokor as a personal slave and lacks any will of its own. It’s part of a complex, spiritual belief (“soul dualism”) that a person has two or more kinds of souls.

One soul (“body soul”) is associated with body functions while the other (“free soul” or “wandering soul”) can leave the body. In the belief system of the enslaved Africans brought to Haiti, the afterlife included a return to their homeland, where both souls were reunited. However, if they had offended their voodoo deity, they would remain a zonbi and be a slave for eternity.

The Magic Island

The fear of “zombification” was used by slave drivers to discourage slaves from committing suicide. These men who directed the daily work were often slaves themselves and sometimes also practicing voodoo priests, according to scholars. After the revolution, the zonbi became part of Haitian folklore, a stirring reminder of the past in the hope that it never happens again.

The earliest references to zombies in the United States, cited throughout the 1800s, were also closely associated with slavery and connected to African traditions. But the phenomenon went mainstream during the United States’ military occupation of Haiti (1915–1934).

Travel writer William Seabrook’s book, The Magic Island (1929), revealed “voodoo cults” in Haiti and likely inspired the 1932 film White Zombie. Though it takes place in Haiti, the film twists the legend to appeal to its American audience. I Walked With A Zombie, a 1943 horror movie set in a fictional Caribbean island, further strays from the original legend. By 1968 and Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, the horror film was cloaked in social commentary and civil rights, leaving Haiti’s zonbi myth to the history books.

Zombi Child

The Haitian zombie made a brief comeback in 1985, when anthropologist Wade Davis published his controversial findings in the book The Serpent and the Rainbow, which recounted his experiences investigating Vodou cults in Haiti. It was criticized for scientific inaccuracies in regards to its theories about psychoactive drugs, but it was a commercial success and inspired the 1988 horror film of the same name (starring Bill Pullman).

But just when you thought the legend was dead and buried, a more socially aware mindset has sparked new interest.

Continue reading “RECIPES: French, Haitian Zombies reflect true roots of deadly cocktail’s namesake legend”

The Mai-Kai fans rejoice as new partnership paves way for reopening

Fans rejoice as new partnership paves way for reopening of The Mai-Kai

After 11 months of uncertainty, loyal patrons of The Mai-Kai finally have a reason to raise a Barrel O’ Rum and celebrate. The founding owners have announced a joint ownership agreement that will not only infuse at least $5 million into the refurbishment of the 64-year-old Fort Lauderdale landmark, but also allow it to reopen in all its historic glory.

The Mai-Kai's official announcement on the sale and new partnership

It’s been a rough year since a vicious October 2020 storm collapsed part of the roof and debilitated the kitchen and back-of-house operations. But the family that has operated the iconic Polynesian restaurant since 1956 has charted a new course with the help of a South Florida real estate investment and development company that specializes in restoring historic properties.

The bombshell was dropped Sept. 28 in an email and social media announcement titled “The Mai-Kai update you have all been waiting for.” The owners made public their joint venture with Miami’s Barlington Group and Mad Room Hospitality. No strangers to reviving beloved cultural institutions, the companies have been instrumental in revitalizing Ball and Chain and Taquerias El Mexicano in Little Havana’s famed Calle Ocho.

“We really understand what it’s like to be stewards of an older brand, where authenticity and heritage is very, very important,” Bill Fuller, a founder of both companies, told TV news station CBS 4 in Miami. “It’s outstanding to see the outpouring of folks and feedback from all over the world about how meaningful and how important The Mai-Kai has been in their life.”

The Mai-Kai through the eyes of The Hukilau villagers
EXCLUSIVE PHOTOS: The Mai-Kai through the eyes of The Hukilau villagers

The Mai-Kai began looking for partners in late 2020, when the scope of the damage and extent of the needed repairs became clear. After “considering numerous interested parties,” the announcement said, the search ended with the Miami group “when we met their team and recognized the passion they share for honoring and preserving the legacy of The Mai-Kai.”

That’s sure to please the restaurant’s passionate followers, who continue to show their support by ordering takeout cocktails and attending special outdoor events at 3599 N. Federal Highway in the suburb of Oakland Park. Until Sept. 28, they had been sharing their fears and frustrations online almost daily. A “Save The Mai-Kai” petition has nearly 12,000 signatures.

2022 UPDATES
* Latest news on the reopening plans
* The Mai-Kai’s new owner reveals renovation plans during The Hukilau
* The Mai-Kai’s renovation plans include reimagined entryway, new event space

Past coverage: Thousands of fans unite to show support for The Mai-Kai during closing

Guests of The Hukilau gathered at The Mai-Kai on Sept. 18 for the "Save Paradise Party." (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)
Guests of The Hukilau gathered at The Mai-Kai on Sept. 18 for the “Save Paradise Party.” (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

The Mai-Kai thanks ‘devoted fans and guests,’ promises restoration to ‘former splendor and beyond’

While the news on the ownership change was the top headline, the founding Thornton family made sure to show its appreciation to its customers first and foremost: “Most importantly, we want to thank you, our devoted fans and guests, for your continued support even while our doors have been closed,” the acknowledgement said. “You are a part of The Mai-Kai story, and we’re humbled by the outpouring of love and concern we’ve received. Rest assured, we are doing all we can to restore this beloved local institution — our family’s three-generation legacy — to its former splendor and beyond.”

The news resoundingly dashed all fears of a corporate takeover – or worse, the fate of a bulldozer. To the contrary, it appears that The Mai-Kai will return fully intact. “We’re looking forward to working closely with the Barlington Group and Mad Room Hospitality to sustain The Mai-Kai the world has come to know and love,” the announcement said. “We’re excited to bring back The Mai-Kai better than ever before — and for you to be a special part of it!”

We won’t receive a reopening date until the restoration and repairs are nearing completion, but a member of the Thornton ownership team said during The Hukilau a week before the announcement that we could be back inside the historic doors in eight to 12 months. Kulani Thornton Gelardi also foreshadowed the big news by saying that the guest areas of the restaurant will remain “85 to 90 percent the way it is now.” Gelardi, daughter of family matriarch Mireille Thornton, said they “want to make sure the building can exist for another 64 years.”

Kulani Thornton Gelardi serves appreciative guests at a special event at The Mai-Kai on Sept. 18 during The Hukilau. She later assured the crowd that the restaurant will reopen soon. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Kulani Thornton Gelardi serves appreciative guests at a special event at The Mai-Kai on Sept. 18 during The Hukilau. She later assured the crowd that the restaurant will reopen soon. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Speaking to the crowd at the “Save Paradise Party” outside the entrance to The Mai-Kai on Sept. 18, Gelardi promised that “we will reopen,” adding that guests won’t notice much changed “when you walk in that door.” She also spoke of her family, and how much it means to pass along the business to her children and grandchildren.

The news on the ownership change was supposed to take place during the annual Tiki weekender that draws devotees to Fort Lauderdale and The Mai-Kai from around the world. But the ink wasn’t dry on the million-dollar deal until the following week, so the official announcement was delayed.

More details were unveiled Sept. 29 in an official announcement on The Mai-Kai’s official website: “This strategic joint venture will resurrect the renowned Mai-Kai Restaurant and Polynesian Show, the most unique dining and entertainment experience in South Florida since opening its doors over 6 decades ago.”

>>> The official press release on MaiKai.com

New owners ‘humbled’ and ‘honored’ to be able ‘preserve the legacy” of The Mai-Kai

Mai-Kai musicians perform for guests of The Hukilau on Sept. 18. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Mai-Kai musicians perform for guests of The Hukilau on Sept. 18. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The announcement introduces the new owners, led by Fuller – a Miami real estate and hospitality executive. “We are humbled to have been selected and honored to have the opportunity to restore this iconic landmark,” Fuller is quoted as saying. “We are committed to working with the family to preserve the legacy and expand upon its rich history for generations to come.”

Fuller co-founded Barlington Group in 2004 and Mad Room Hospitality in 2014. “We look forward to working with the Thornton family and Mad Room Hospitality, in doing the same with The Mai-Kai so that many more generations can enjoy this one-of-a-kind, beloved South Florida institution,” he said.

Similar to Ball and Chain, The Mai-kai is “truly is an iconic venue, not just for South Florida but for the United States and the world,” Fuller told Miami TV news outlet NBC 6. “It’s an opportunity to really preserve that legacy and that heritage.”

The Barlington and Mad Room Hospitality team, backed by investors, will assume majority ownership and management responsibilities. Their main focus will be on modernizing and streamlining the kitchen and back-of-house operations, not changing the style or look of the restaurant that remains chock full of vintage art and design flourishes, along with many South Seas artifacts collected by original owner Bob Thornton.

The Mai-Kai in 1956 and today
The Mai-Kai in 1956 and today.

The decision to sell a controlling interest in The Mai-Kai to the Miami group did not come lightly. “We received interest from several investors wanting to partner with us in reopening The Mai-Kai,” Gelardi said in the website announcement. “We ultimately decided to select Bill Fuller and his companies because of their passion and commitment to maintain the authenticity and legacy of The Mai-Kai.”

Gelardi added: “We are very excited for this partnership and eagerly anticipate reopening our doors and welcoming back our loyal fan base to enjoy our delicious food, tropical drinks, thrilling entertainment, and unique ambiance that transports visitors to the South Seas.”

The website does not offer a firm timetable, however, stating that the “pending reopening date is scheduled to be announced after the restoration and repairs are complete.” One look at the state of the world today gives us a clue as to why the timeline will likely remain fluid. News reports are filled with stories documenting supply-chain disruptions, labor shortages, inflated costs and various other woes.

The repairs and renovations are challenging, but they should be manageable considering the team that has been assembled. The new joint venture gives The Mai-Kai a solid foundation and very capable partners with which to build a new future.

Mai-Kai cocktails: Authentic and tribute recipes, news on quarts and gallons to go

The Mai-Kai cost new partners $7.5M with renovations expected to boost value to $16M

A 1979 photo of original Mai-Kai mixologist Mariano Licudine in The Molokai bar with his signature tropical drinks
A 1979 photo of original Mai-Kai mixologist Mariano Licudine in The Molokai bar with his signature tropical drinks.

The deal was backed by American National Bank, a Broward County community bank that provided debt financing. It includes a complete real estate transfer to the new ownership group, a transaction “in excess of $16 million, including artwork, intellectual property and future improvements to the business,” the website announcement says.

This is far more than public records indicated The Mai-Kai was valued at, which speaks volumes for the historical significance that isn’t always reflected in simplistic property appraisals. Property records show the building valued at a minimum of $3.97 million and the property valued at $570,000. The 2.69 acres fronting Federal Highway, north of Oakland Park Boulevard and south of Commercial Boulevard, includes a 150-space parking lot abutted by a bank and several furniture showrooms.

Continue reading “The Mai-Kai fans rejoice as new partnership paves way for reopening”

Recipe: A new Zombie becomes final challenge for The Hukilau villagers

Recipe: A new Zombie is final challenge for The Hukilau villagers

Updated Sept. 22

Upon completion of The Hukilau this weekend at the Beachcomber Resort and The Mai-Kai, event attendees had one additional challenge: Sunday’s “Hereafter Party” dubbed The Final Destination at Death or Glory in Delray Beach. To bring the theme full circle, The Atomic Grog presented a Zombie to end all Zombies.

See recipe below: The Final (Destination) Zombie
RECAP: See photos from the event NEW
Previous coverage: Death or Glory scares up spooktacular Sunday after-party

The Hukilau: Final Destination at Death or Gory

This was not your typical Tiki party. Death or Glory was transformed into “Death or Gory” for the Halloween season, complete with full-on decor and a themed food and cocktail menu. Sunday’s festivities took place in the graveyard (the outdoor Tiki bar and patio) and feature the instrumental stylings of Skinny Jimmy Stingray, himself no stranger to sinister surf songs.
The Hukilau 2021 recap: Daily social media photos

Similarly, the cocktail below is not your typical Zombie. Sure, The Final (Destination) Zombie may look like a Zombie and act like a Zombie, but I don’t recall ever seeing a version of this deadly classic featuring mezcal. The pungent agave spirit is right at home in this new concoction, and Mexico’s Day of the Dead tradition makes it a natural fit.

Some of the many spirits conjured up by Death or Glory in Delray Beach. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Some of the many spirits conjured up by Death or Glory in Delray Beach. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

This hybrid Zombie was crafted with the help of the Luau Lads from Jacksonville. This bartending duo made some of the best cocktails at The Hukilau in addition to presenting a fascinating symposium on the history of Tiki in the Sunshine State.

Continue reading “Recipe: A new Zombie becomes final challenge for The Hukilau villagers”

Take a trip down the Tiki Trail for a lethal new Zombie recipe

Take a trip down the Tiki Trail for a lethal new Zombie recipe

Updated July 3

It was an honor to create the signature Tiki Trail Zombie and appear on the long-running online meet-up last Tuesday to mix it up for an enthusiastic audience. We hope the drink lives up to the high standards of past mixologists on Tiki Trail Live and knocks everyone dead.
* Go straight to the recipe

If you truly want to get into the spirit of the drink – as well as support the Tiki Trail – you can also pick up a great collection of merchandise featuring artwork by The Boozy Doodler in honor of the cocktail:

Tiki Trail Zombie merchandise / artwork by The Boozy Doodler

TIKI TRAIL ZOMBIE COCKTAIL IPHONE CASE ($19.95) – Protect your most important device from scratches, dust, oil, and dirt. It has a solid back and flexible sides that make it easy to take on and off, with precisely aligned port openings. Available in sizes that fit 13 different iPhone models, this case features a solid back and flexible sides so it’s easy to take on and off. Featuring precisely aligned port openings, the case is made of BPA-free hybrid thermoplastic polyurethane and polycarbonate material.

TIKI TRAIL ZOMBIE COCKTAIL T-SHIRT ($28.95) – Be the envy or your horde with this 100% cotton men’s heavyweight shirt featuring The Boozy Doodler artwork on the front and the Tiki Trail Zombie cocktail recipe on the back for easy reference. Shirts are available in six colors (maroon, black, navy, sand, natural, and white) and eight different sizes (from small to 5XL).

STAINLESS STEEL WATER BOTTLE ($28.95) – Stay hydrated or take your Zombie on the go with this versatile bottle that’s perfect for both the apocalypse or everyday bar crawls. This 17-ounce, high-grade stainless steel vacuum flask features double-wall construction plus odorless and leak-proof cap. It’s insulated for both hot and cold liquids and uses a patented coating for vibrant colors.

Click on the links above to see details and order each item. Or go here to see all the merch in the Tiki Trail store. You can find past Tiki Trail goodies including the Lost Canteen of the Kanaloa Kid and “Peace, love and Tiki” T-shirts.

Scroll below for the backstory and recipe for Tiki Trail Zombie.

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In the cinematic Zombie apocalypse, there are certain trails you should avoid if you hope to stay alive. In the real world, there are more appealing paths that lead to deadly (but delicious) tropical cocktails. For the latter, there’s no better route than the Tiki Trail.

Tiki Trail Zombie artwork by The Boozy Doodler
Tiki Trail Zombie artwork by The Boozy Doodler.

* Jump straight to the recipe below:
Tiki Trail Zombie

Tiki Trail Live, which happens every Tuesday at 6 p.m. Pacific time (9 p.m. Eastern), is the longest-running weekly online gathering of Tiki culture enthusiasts. After surviving the entire coronavirus pandemic (so far), what’s a little Zombie infestation?

The Tiki Trail Zombie, created by The Atomic Grog in honor of the horde of Tikiphiles who religiously meet up every Tuesday, will make its debut on the show this week (June 29). Check out the recipe below and be ready to join us in mixing up our latest 10th anniversary Zombie before enjoying interviews with artists and musicians from across the Tiki universe. The Zoom meeting ID is 724 724 4576.

Host Jeff Ballard, creator of the TikiTrail.com website and Tikicomber app, has guided the show though 64 weeks of Zoom meet-ups since March 2020 with just one week off (election night in November). His indispensable assistant, Sam, never fails to come up with an intriguing lineup of guests. Familiar names are complemented by new faces nearly every week, displaying the diversity and worldwide reach of the Tiki scene.

Tikicomber appWhile most of the gatherings over the past year have been hosted in Ballard’s home bar in Southern California, he has begun venturing out as COVID restrictions are eased. Last week, he took Tiki Trail Live to the cocktail bar Marie’s Tek Tec in Long Beach, where bartender Julio Gutierrez (from Tiki pop-up Chuntikis) mixed up two enticing tropical libations. Featured artist Danielle Mann of Black Lagoon Designs joined live from Australia.
* See past Tiki Trail Live guests, promos: Instagram | Facebook
* Live video: Select past shows on YouTube

It’s not unusual to see artists and musical guests dialing in from far-flung continents on Tiki Trail Live, one of the show’s most endearing features. It shows how truly worldwide the Tiki scene has become. The regular attendees are also an eclectic bunch, often hanging out for “after-show” discussion and fun. It was during one of these after-parties two weeks ago that I reached out to the regulars for their input on a namesake Zombie for the show. The Tiki Trail Zombie is truly a crowd-sourced recipe. This will be The Atomic Grog’s second “Pour-Along” on the show, a follow-up to the Jet Pilot episode in September.

After we mix up the Zombie, sit back and relax as Ballard welcomes a wide assortment of guests. I’m looking forward to enjoying the musical stylings of Lono Calls
Continue reading “Take a trip down the Tiki Trail for a lethal new Zombie recipe”

The Atomic Grog 10th anniversary: Beware! Deadly Zombies ahead

The Atomic Grog 10th anniversary: Beware! Deadly Zombies ahead

Has it really been 10 years? For a humble blog focused on Tiki culture and cocktails, that’s an eternity. After a decade of existence, we continue to be humbled by the recognition and continued support from peers and supporters. Even so, we hope that the best is yet to come.
Special 10th anniversary recipe: Revenge of the Atomic Zombie Cocktail

The Atomic Grog launched in late April 2011 with coverage of Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s “Zombie Jamboree” at The Mai-Kai, our participation in the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival’s deadly cocktail competition, our first published cocktail recipe, and lots more …

We be Jammin: Rum Renaissance Zombie fest at The Mai-Kai
We be Jammin: Rum Renaissance Zombie fest at The Mai-Kai
The kickoff party for the 2011 Rum Renaissance Festival was a Tikiphile’s dream, featuring a Jeff “Beachbum” Berry cocktail seminar followed by a deadly mixology competition.
Recipe: Wake the dead, it’s time for the Atomic Zombie Cocktail

Now, 447 posts and more than 1 million page views later, it’s time to take a quick look back and offer a big mahalo to everyone and everything that has kept us motivated and writing. That includes all the folks who posted more than 600 comments on the site, overwhelmingly positive and informative.

The first post – on April 25, 2011 – was a Zombie recipe, so it’s fitting that we celebrate the 10th anniversary of this never-say-die blog with a horde of Zombies. While the Mai Tai seems to get all the attention, 10 years later we still maintain that Tiki’s original masterpiece, created by Don the Beachcomber in the 1930s, is the most epochal tropical cocktail. Perhaps it’s apropos that the Zombie never becomes trendy and stays “underground,” but we’d like to see it get more attention.

The Atomic Grog

So in honor of our 10th anniversary, we’ll be posting 10 new Zombie recipes over the next 10 months. We’ve already kicked it off with the Hamilton Zombie, featured in the recent story on the new Zombie blend from Beachbum Berry and Hamilton Rum. It continues today with a reimagining of that first recipe. Get ready for Revenge of the Atomic Zombie Cocktail, even richer and more deadly than the original.

As usual, you’ll be treated to the recipe at the end of this post. Look for new Zombie recipes approximately every month, pushing the envelope of this classic template but remaining true to Donn’s inventive spirit. Unlike the Mai Tai, there’s no controversy in tinkering with the Zombie. We hope to prove this makes it even more enduring and classic. Lots more Zombie lore and discussion to come.

We’re digging up another popular old concept for our 10th birthday: The good old-fashioned Top 10 list. It may be a cliché of the blogosphere and something we’ve avoided for a decade, but there’s nothing wrong with a carefully crafted Top 10. We’ll start with five in this post, with more “Tiki Top 10” lists to come over the next 10 months (and maybe continuing into the future) …

Continue reading “The Atomic Grog 10th anniversary: Beware! Deadly Zombies ahead”

Zombie hunters: Beachbum Berry and Ed Hamilton join forces on new rum blend

Zombie killers: Beachbum Berry and Ed Hamilton join forces on new rum blend

Two of the spirits and Tiki cocktail world’s most respected figures are putting their names on the label of an exciting new release: Beachbum Berry’s Zombie Blend from Hamilton Rum. It’s the first joint rum project for both and is expected to hit stores and bars across America this summer.

Ed Hamilton shows off the label and talks about his new rum project with Beachbum Berry on a Zoom call on May 14
Ed Hamilton shows off the label and talks about his new rum project with Beachbum Berry on a Zoom call on May 14.

This deadly elixir is a potent 118-proof blend of spirits from multiple Caribbean islands that seeks to recreate in one bottle the classic combination of three different rums that Don the Beachcomber famously used in his original Zombie recipe in the 1930s. Berry spent more than a decade decoding Donn Beach’s secrets and published the results in his landmark 2007 book, Sippin’ Safari.

The blend was a hands-on passion project for Berry, who tasted and approved every tweak, Hamilton said. “I love the guy, he’s wonderful to work with,” Hamilton said, adding that he felt more than a little pressure to not disappoint him. It was a two-year project that “started well before COVID.”

Exclusive recipe below: HAMILTON ZOMBIE
RELATED: 15 things you need to know about Ed Hamilton and Hamilton Rum

Hamilton hopes to have ample supplies of the new rum in 1-liter bottles ready for distribution from his New Jersey warehouse by around the time most of us are celebrating the Fourth of July, he said last Friday night in his weekly Zoom happy hour. The blend is done, Hamilton said, and he’s just working with Berry on finalizing the back label. It will feature a revamped Zombie recipe by “the Bum” that shows off the new rum.

Beachbum Berry is the world's foremost authority on the Zombie cocktail. (Photo by Jonpaul Balak)
Beachbum Berry is the world’s foremost authority on the Zombie cocktail. (Photo by Jonpaul Balak)

The author of six influential and award-winning books on tropical cocktail history also has his own line of custom barware from Cocktail Kingdom (including Zombie glasses) and owns the acclaimed restaurant and bar Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29 in New Orleans. His talks at rum and cocktail events around the world are always a hot ticket, and he’s credited with sparking the revival of Tiki cocktails that continues to grow.
RELATED: Beachbum Berry cocktail recipes, previous coverage

Hamilton said he’s happy that his rums are now available in 40 states, and he’s looking forward to a post-COVID boom that should boost his rum sales above 2019 levels. The partnership with Berry certainly won’t hurt.

“The best people to collaborate with are people who know more than you do,” Berry told us via e-mail. “Ed definitely fills that bill. He knows everything about rum, and he has good taste too. That made the whole sourcing and blending process ridiculously easy.”

The union of these two unique brands is a Tiki lover’s dream. Hamilton, founder of the Ministry of Rum website, was a longtime rum expert and author before he became an importer. His company, Caribbean Spirts, brings into the United States rums and other products from across the West Indies with an emphasis on honesty and authenticity.

The hardcover 10th anniversary edition of Beachbum Berry's Sippin' Safari was published in 2017 by Cocktail Kingdom
The hardcover 10th anniversary edition of Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari was published in 2017 by Cocktail Kingdom.

Hamilton’s namesake rums include blends from some of the region’s most respected rum-producing islands. His best sellers include Hamilton 86 and 151 from Guyana, plus gold and black pot-still rums from Jamaica. These styles are Tiki bar staples, and Hamilton’s reasonably-priced and flavorful blends are well-received by bartenders and home enthusiasts alike.

Even if you have all the ingredients, the Zombie is a beast of a drink to make. Not only are there three rums but also multiple juices, syrups and spices that add up to 10 ingredients or more. This can discourage not only novices mixing at home but also high-volume cocktail bars. “We wanted something that works in the bars,” Hamilton said. The goal, he said, is for bartenders to say: “Now I can put a Zombie on the menu.”

For Berry, the Zombie is special “not only because it tastes great, but on a more personal level because it was a ‘lost’ recipe that I discovered, and then decoded, and then published for the first time anywhere in Sippin’ Safari in 2007. And now, 15 years later, I’ve blended a rum for the drink as well. That’s a pretty cool feeling!”

Continue reading “Zombie hunters: Beachbum Berry and Ed Hamilton join forces on new rum blend”

Rum Spotlight: Ed Hamilton brings new West Indies blend to Florida

Rum Spotlight: Ed Hamilton brings new West Indies blend to Florida

Updated Dec. 23, 2020

Importer Ed Hamilton has announced the arrival of a new Hamilton Rum blend bottled for the Florida Rum Society, soon to be available in retail locations across the Sunshine State. Plans call for the rum, a blend of Jamaican and Guyanese rums, to be distributed in 2021 to other states as well.

Ministry of Rum Private Collection, Florida Rum Society Blend

The first shipment arrived in Orlando on Friday (Dec. 4) from Hamilton’s New York bottling facility, he announced during a Zoom happy hour event that evening. On Thursday, he teased Florida rum lovers with an Instagram post containing the label, announcing that the rum was “on I-75 on the way to Florida.”

Jump below: 15 things you need to know about Ed Hamilton and Hamilton Rum
Recipe: Hamilton Navy Grog, as served at The Mai-Kai

The quick arrival pleased the longtime rum connoisseur, author and owner of his own boutique label and import company, Caribbean Spirits. The new rum will be part of Hamilton’s Ministry of Rum Private Collection, containing a similar label but more limited-edition bottlings than his standard Ministry of Rum releases. These include a variety of rum blends sourced from Jamaica, Guyana, St. Lucia and other islands.

He also imports a selections of acclaimed rums from Martinique, including the Neisson, La Favorite and Duquesne labels. Ministry of Rum refers to the website and message board Hamilton launched in the late 1990s that remains an essential reference tool for researching and learning about all rum.

Ed Hamilton spars with rum ambassador Ian Burrell at the first Miami Rum Congress in February 2019. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Ed Hamilton spars with rum ambassador Ian Burrell at thefirst Miami Rum Congress in February 2019. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

For the Florida Rum Society blend, Hamilton said he went with a modified version of his popular Navy Strength blend, a powerful 114-proof combination of 60 percent Guyana rum and 40 percent Jamaican rum. The new blend is more accessible, clocking in a 45 percent alcohol by volume, or 90 proof. Hamilton said the blend is 65 percent from Demerara Distillers in Guyana and 35 percent from Worthy Park Estate in Jamaica.

Besides the proof and percentages, there’s a slight variation the age of the rum, Hamilton said. The Jamaican component is a 1-year-old rum while the Navy blend contains unaged distillate. The Guyanese rum is the same blend of 2- to 5-year-old rums that Hamilton uses in the Navy Strength bottling, as well as the Hamilton 86 and 151 Guyana rums that are well-known and loved at Tiki bars across the country. Check our in-depth look at Hamilton’s journey in bringing these rums to market, and their use at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale.

The Florida Rum Society blend promises to be more versatile and just as tasty as the Navy blend, its lower proof and added aging making it more assessable as a sipper and all-purpose mixer. It’s also a higher proof than the similar New York Blend, an 84-proof version of the Navy blend. At 65 percent Demerara, it could also make a fine substitute for Hamilton 86 in cocktails. During the Zoom meeting, Hamilton sipped on one of his favorite easy-to-make highballs, a blend of Hamilton 86, Hamilton Jamaican Pimento Dram, and orange juice. I tried a mix of 1 part dram, 3 parts rum and 6 parts juice, and it was delicious.

The flagship Hamilton rums from Guyana are available at Total Wine stores in Florida. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, August 2016)
The flagship Hamilton rums from Guyana are available at Total Wine stores in Florida. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, August 2016)

The new rum should also work well in classic Tiki cocktails that call for a roughly equal blend of non-overproof Demerara and Jamaican rums, such as the Navy Grog (and Beachbum Berry’s The Ancient Mariner), Pearl Diver’s Punch, and Sidewinder’s Fang. The extra 5 percent ABV will give the drink a boost to help it hew closer to the original rums. In the mid-century heyday, it was not unusual for standard mixing rums to be higher than 80 proof, especially those from Guyana and Jamaica. During the Zoom meeting, I enjoyed a Navy Grog featuring three of Hamilton’s signature rums (see recipe below).

Follow the Florida Rum Society on Facebook and Instagram for updates on distribution. Hamilton confirmed that the main retail location will be the Sarasota Liquor Locker. The rum society boasts a robust online store with quick delivery across the state featuring rums stocked by the Sarasota store.

UPDATE: Sarasota Liquor Locker and the rum society’s online shop were the first get the rum. Soon after, it was on its way to Five Star Liquor & Wine in Orlando, Primo Liquors in Broward County (multiple ocations), Big Game Liquors in Miami, and Beach Liquors in the Panhandle (multiple ocations).

Florida Rum Society

Hamilton said he expects retail outlets across the state to carry the rum. Part of the goal of the partnership with the Florida Rum Society, he said, is to leverage the group’s influence to persuade more retailers to carry the Hamilton (and Caribbean Spirits) product line. The bottling includes 112 cases, he said, though he didn’t rule out another batch in the future depending on demand. If the store you frequent in Florida doesn’t carry Hamilton rums, or you’d like to request the new blend, ask them to contact the distributor: Progress Wine Group from Opa Locka, (321) 230-4682.

UPDATE: The Florida Rum Society announced an online cocktail contest featuring the new blend, with the winner earning “a hoard” of Hamilton rums. The group has quickly ramped up its activities after forming only in mid-2019. Members began holding in-person gatherings before the pandemic and have continued them online, with Hamilton and other high-profile rum industry veterans, such as Privateer Rum’s Maggie Campbell, joining in.

The Hamilton blend is not the society’s first special bottling. Just last week, a Plantation 2008 single cask rum from Guyana featuring a Florida Rum Society label landed in Orlando. This label release is extremely limited (just 140 bottles) and available at Five Star. There are also a few bottles remaining at Five Star from the exclusive (214 bottles) release in August of a 109.2 proof New England rum from Privateer dubbed Rumdemic. The release marked the return of Privateer’s single barrel program (now known as the Letter of Marque series).

If that’s not enough for Florida rum fanciers, another exclusive release is coming in 2021. The Florida Rum Society Masters Selection from Chairman’s Reserve and St. Lucia Distillers is available for pre-sale at Jensen’s Liquors in Miami. This 115.6 proof blend is expected around April. Shipping and pick-up are both available.

For more on the Florida Rum Society, check out the interview with founder Jay Cocorullo on the Rumcast podcast, episode 14.

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15 things you need to know about Ed Hamilton and Hamilton Rum

As part of the inaugural Miami Rum Congress in February 2019, the “Minister of Rum” (he actually prefers to be called “Administer of Rum”) hosted his first-ever master class at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale on his Hamilton Rum product line, including a discussion of his journey from Caribbean sailboat adventurer to rum importer and label owner.

Hamilton Rum master class at The Mai-Kai

The hands-on symposium took place in the historic restaurant’s intimate Samoa dining room and included rum and cocktail samples, plus a heaping helping of Hamilton’s wit and wisdom. Here are a few nuggets we gleaned from the presentation:

* After studying chemical and mechanical engineering and getting his college degree, Hamilton worked a job “selling bomb parts” in the mid-1970s. “It really wasn’t something I wanted to base my career on,” he said. When his boss queried him about what he wanted to be doing in five years, he exclaimed: “Go sailing.” Asked how he could make that happen, he replied: “I quit.” He says never spent another day looking for a job after that.

Continue reading “Rum Spotlight: Ed Hamilton brings new West Indies blend to Florida”