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.
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
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
BACKGROUND: Haitian zombie folklore rooted in slavery, French colonialism
The true story behind zombie folklore is scarier and more tragic than a movie.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.”
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.”
New owners ‘humbled’ and ‘honored’ to be able ‘preserve the legacy” of The Mai-Kai
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 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.
The Mai-Kai cost new partners $7.5M with renovations expected to boost value to $16M
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
While 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.
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 …
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.
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) …
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.”
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.
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 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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
The Mai-Kai continues to adapt and adjust to meet guest demand after the historic Polynesian restaurant reopened less than a month ago amid Florida’s struggles with the coronavirus pandemic. Following the popularity of the cocktail “Gallons to Go,” locals can now pick up quarts of five different popular topical drinks.
The 32-ounce glass mason jars were introduced during the special virtual event in honor of The Hukilau on the weekend of June 5-6. Online videos hosted at The Mai-Kai by Jupiter Jones and Retro Rekindled were streamed worldwide, but local guests had the added treat of picking up a special Beachbum Berry mug from sponsor Real Cocktail Ingredients, plus quarts and gallons of The Hukilau cocktail featuring Don Q Rum.
Since that event, the curbside pickup cocktail menu has been updated to include 32-ounce jars of the four favorites that had been available only in 128-ounce jugs, plus several variations of the classic Rum Barrel. The Hukilau has also remained on the expanded menu. The quarts are a great option, allowing smaller groups to partake, or larger groups to sample multiple cocktails. Planning a backyard Fourth of July bash? Look no further.
Here’s the takeout cocktail menu and pre-tax prices as of June 26:
* Barrel O’ Rum – $74.77 gallon, $23.37 quart
* Black Magic – $74.77 gallon, $23.37 quart
* The Hukilau – $74.77 gallon, $23.37 quart
* Jet Pilot – $122.90 gallon, $32.71 quart
* Mai Tai – $112.15 gallon, $32.71 quart By request, if available:
* Coconut Barrel (rum) – $74.77 galllon, $23.37 quart
* Vodka Barrel – $74.77 gallon, $23.37 quart
Each quart contains at least four servings of the robust Barrel, Black Magic and The Hukilau, but even more of the Jet Pilot and Mai Tai, which are usually served in smaller glasses. The gallons include 15 servings at 8 1/2 ounces each, but you’ll get many more servings of the smaller drinks. All are great deals compared to the prices for single servings in the restaurant.
Of course, since May 29, guests have been able to enjoy happy hour in The Molokai Bar from opening until 7 p.m., featuing half-priced cocktails and appetizers. In addition, The Mai-Kai recently announced the return of the Wednesday night free sushi buffet. A minimum $10 bar tab comes with a complimentary buffet featuring sushi and other finger foods from 5 to 9 p.m.
As they have since the reopening, The Mai-Kai management and staff are taking extra precautions to keep guests safe. “Masks are required when approaching the buffet, there are clear lines on the floor keeping everyone 6 feet apart and guests do not serve themselves,” according to a June 24 announcement on Facebook.
The restaurant and attached bar have been operating in accordance with all state and local guidelines, going above and beyond with additional measures in sanitization, distancing, team wellness, and training. Face coverings are required for all guests when entering, according to the latest Facebook post (see below). “We appreciate everyone’s cooperation in keeping each other safe. Mahalo!”
However, if you’re not quite ready to venture out for a meal or just want to enjoy a taste of The Mai-Kai at home, there are penty of take-out options available every day. You can place an order online or by phone and schedule your pick-up time seven days a week: Curbside pickup hours
Monday-Tuesday: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Wednesday-Saturday: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Sunday: 3 to 9 p.m.
Note that if you prefer to stay in your car, the staff will bring your order to you. Also, if you live close to the restaurant, you may be able to get delivery of food and beverages on Wednesdays through Sundays.
The menu is expansive, perfect for upcoming Fourth of July family festivities. In addition to cocktails, the wine list features more than a dozen different bottles. But for a full Polynesian feast, you need to explore the distinctive food menu, which includes a delicious mix of classic Tiki bar staples and modern Pan Asian cuisine. As of late June, the menu included 23 appetizers, 36 entrees, six side dishes, and four desserts. Official website: Check MaiKai.com for updates
The Hukilau 2020: Virtual events honor 19th annual Tiki weekender, help those in need
Pay homage to the canceled Tiki weekender with educational symposiums, a special virtual event at The Mai-Kai, plus more. * See video replays, all of the activities
Expanded hot food menu joins cocktail ‘Gallons to Go’ as The Mai-Kai reopens to guests Updated June 3
The Mai-Kai announced on May 21 that it will reopen for guests under the latest coronavirus rules for restaurants in Broward County and the state of Florida on Friday, May 29.
“Of course, our guests’ and employees’ health and safety are our first priority,” the email announcement said. “We have met and surpassed all CDC guidelines and mandatory government-issued operational requirements and we’ve taken additional measures in sanitization, distancing, team wellness, and training. Please note when entering the restaurant face coverings are required and temperatures will be taken. We appreciate everyone’s cooperation in keeping each other safe.”
The Mai-Kai also announced that the extensive menu of takeout food, wine and cocktails will still be available, even after the May 29 opening. Check out all the details below on the signature appetizers, entrees and “Gallons to Go” of tropical drinks you can order by phone for curbside pickup. To make the experience even easier, The Mai-Kai has just launched a new online ordering platform accessible directly from MaiKai.com.
Original story: Expanded hot food menu joins cocktail ‘Gallons to Go’ as The Mai-Kai plans reopening
Like many other bars and restaurants across Florida and the U.S., The Mai-Kai was forced to close its doors suddenly in March when the coronavirus pandemic caused a statewide shutdown. Sadly, the 63-year-old Polynesian palace had no more work for its extensive staff, from the cooks and bartenders to the sarong-clad Molokai Girls and performers in the Polynesian Islander Revue.
But the Fort Lauderdale landmark quickly found a unique way to give South Floridians a taste of its historic cocktails: Thirsty patrons hauled away hundreds of “Gallons to Go.” This curbside takeout program was a smash success, leading The Mai-Kai to release a limited edition rum, then later launch an ambitious menu of wines, meats and desserts for Mother’s Day.
Now, with the shutdown approaching eight weeks but with a reopening date on the horizon, The Mai-Kai has ramped up its takeout menu to include many favorites from its regular ala carte menu. You can pair your gallons of Rum Barrels and Mai Tais with hot appetizers, dinners and rice bowls.
Restaurants in Broward County will be allowed to reopen beginning Monday, May 18, but The Mai-Kai has not announced an opening date yet. “We are looking at the entire scenario and planning according to all rules for the safety of our guests and staff,” marketing director Pia Dahlquist said on Facebook. “Meanwhile, please enjoy our takeout food and favorite tropical Gallons to Go! And look for the announcement when we will re-open.”
With a 50 percent limit on capacity, among other restrictions, The Mai-Kai will certainly look to keep these curbside takeout offerings going even after the reopening. Judging by guest reaction, many hope they will remain permanently.
Said one comment in the Fans of The Mai-Kai Facebook group: “I am so impressed with what The Mai-Kai has come up with during these tough times. For a restaurant so steeped in tradition, they have surely thought outside the box to keep some revenue flowing. Their creative mindset is as stellar as ever! A lot of businesses could learn from them.”
Dahlquist said the success of the cocktails to go inspired management to increase the offerings. The Real McCoy 12-year-old Distillers Proof Mai-Kai Blend, an exclusive new rum that was scheduled to launch at a special event in April, quickly sold out of its sneak preview allotment when it was added to the menu in April. [Check out our preview of the rum below] Then, on Mother’s Day weekend, bottles of wine (and signature glasses) joined the menu along with select meats and desserts to give Mom a proper holiday feast.
What’s even more impressive than the delicious selection of tropical fare is the fact that the entire operation has been run during the pandemic by a skeleton crew of mangers and owner Dave Levy. Like most others in the hospitality industry, The Mai-Kai faced the agonizing reality of having to let its entire staff of around 100 go. This was especially hard for the family-run establishment that prides itself on the loyalty of its employees, many of whom remain there for decades.
While we wait for news on the reopening, it’s a great time to take advantage of the extensive takeout menu and help support the owners and staff as they face another difficult task. We hope that the expanded food and cocktail offerings mean that some of the staff will be back in the kitchen and behind the bar and able to regain their salaries.
We look forward to a day in the not-too-distant future when we can once again enjoy a relaxing one-of-a-kind experience you can only get at The Mai-Kai, from the classic cocktails in The Molokai lounge to a quiet walk in the exotic Tiki garden, to dinner in one of the secluded and mysterious dining rooms, to a thrilling performance of the Polynesian Islander Revue. But in the meantime, we appreciate the ability to take a taste of The Mai-Kai home with us.
And for the first time since closing in March, you can order appetizers and entrees direct from the kitchen. The menu features nine signature appetizers (pupu platter, crab rangoon, friend shrimp, etc.), 11 dinners (from Cantonese Shrimp to Ginger Garlic Lobster to USDA Prime Filet Mignon) and six rice bowls (with chicken, beef, shrimp and veggies). There are also four side dishes and four desserts.
You can also now order and pick up cocktails during an expanded window of office hours, seven days a week. Food is available for pick-up between 4 and 9 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. Go to MaiKai.com for all the info.
Aid for Mai-Kai employees
On May 7, an online Tiki bingo benefit raised $4,400 for employees of The Mai-Kai affected by the closing due to coronavirus. Players brought $10 bingo cards and played for donated prizes, including a Mai-Kai Club membership and other items from The Mai Kai. The check was presented by the event organizers to The Mai-Kai’s Pia Dahlquist (left) and Kern Mattei (right). (Photos from Facebook)
PHOTOS & RECAP: Gallons to Go quench South Florida’s thirst for The Mai-Kai
The Mai-Kai’s Gallons to Go take-out cocktail program launched on just one day – Friday, April 3 – and was an immediate success. Orders were received for more than 100 gallons during that initial three-hour pick-up window. Two weeks later, pick-ups were expanded to two days (April 17-18) and orders topped 200 gallons.
The core offerings were four of the acclaimed bar’s most popular tropical cocktails: Barrel O’ Rum, Mai Tai, Jet Pilot and Piña Colada. Priced from $80 up to $131.50, the gallons are touted as serving around 15 drinks, a great value any way you slice it. A gallon yields more than 25 servings of the small but powerful Jet Pilot, so even at the top price point you’re getting a hell of a deal.
Word leaked out that the Black Magic was also available by special order, pleasing fans of that cult classic. In later weeks, guests could also order more mainstream offerings such as the Coconut Barrel, Vodka Barrel, and a virgin Pina Colada. The current menu is the same with the exception of the Piña Colada, which is temporarily not available. Gallons to Go official menu:Click here to see that latest offerings
To meet the onslaught of orders, the bar staff had to kick into high gear in just a few days of production. By “staff” we really mean one hard-working bartender, the tireless Miles “Max” Vrahimis, who some readers may remember for his work with Lemon Hart Rum. He’s still a Lemon Hart rep, but Vrahimis has taken on his new role at The Mai-Kai with abandon, as you can see by the photos below.
That’s not to say he didn’t have help. Owner Dave Levy and his management team were there running the show, and they also helped prep cocktails and orders. Kudos to director of sales and marketing Pia Dahlquist for personally handling all of the orders by phone and email. Manager Kern Mattei looked out-of-place without his usual dapper suit, but he and director of catering John Gelardi kept busy filling orders and helping Vrahimis in The Mai-Kai’s famous back bar.
The secret hidden lair behind the kitchen is also strategically located near the restaurant’s back door, which made production and distribution of the massive amount of cocktails just a bit smoother. After the first round of gallons, the two-week breather became necessary to secure more containers and gear up for the next round.
The reaction was immediate and overwhelming. The Mai-Kai closed its doors after service on March 25, so the ensuring weeks had built up quite a demand from its South Florida faithful. Social media posts boosted interest (see below), with envious fans from around the country inquiring hopefully if they could get gallons shipped to them.
On April 20, The Hukilau announced that its 19th annual Tiki weekender scheduled for June 3-7 in Fort Laduerdale was being postponed by the coronavirus pandemic. In its place will be a series of events across the country aimed at raising money for Tiki bars devastated by shutdowns. Click the link below for more info.
Donn Beach, aka Don the Beachcomber, famously came up with the idea of a lavish and immersive lounge featuring South Pacific themes and Caribbean cocktails in the 1930s. But it took two upstart restaurateurs and one of Beach’s top bartenders to take the Tiki concept to a whole new level when they opened The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale in 1956.
At The Hukilau, set for June 3-7 in Fort Lauderdale, find out how the combination of the insightful ownership of Bob and Jack Thornton along with the mixology skills of former Don the Beachcomber bartender Mariano Licudine set a standard of tropical cocktail excellence that has stood the test of time for more than 60 years.
Sticking closely to Beach’s groundbreaking secret recipes, but putting their own more modern and accessible spin on them, the brothers and their head bartender envisioned a menu of some 50 elaborate libations that endure and are beloved to this day under the continued ownership of Bob Thornton’s family.
Learn how The Mai-Kai still follows Don the Beachcomber’s procedures and standards that were created nearly 90 years ago to maintain the mystery and allure of the modern tropical cocktail in the restaurant’s secret back bars.
Join Hurricane Hayward of The Atomic Grog blog and some very special guests for an exploration of the passing of the torch from Donn Beach to the Thornton brothers, and the key role of Licudine in keeping these historic cocktails alive and thriving.