What city best exemplifies the recent explosive growth of Tiki bars and Polynesian Pop culture? A strong argument could be made for Atlanta, which has been blessed with at least three new exotic cocktail destinations since 2015. Now, in just its second year, the Tiki weekender known as Inuhele has greatly expanded to include three days of bar-hopping, panels, vendors, bands, demos and more geared to the area’s burgeoning scene.
But things really got interesting when the Tiki and craft cocktail revivals merged, creating a hot trend among bartenders and owners worldwide. Atlanta caught the bug, resulting in the opening of The S.O.S. in Decatur, just northeast of Atlanta, in 2015. In 2018, the Virginia Highland neighborhood of Atlanta saw the opening of Tiki Iniki, the first stateside franchise location of the concept created by Todd and Michele Rundgren in Hawaii. And while not truly traditional, Match Bamboo Lounge offers spirited aloha in the Castleberry Hill neighborhood.
All this activity spurred Horror in Clay’s Jonathan and Allison Chaffin to organize the first Atlanta Tiki Homebar Tour, dubbed Inuhele (for “cocktail journey”) on Feb. 24, 2018. It was a small affair with 50+ people taking a bus tour of local home bars for a day, then concluding the night at Trader Vic’s. * See photos from 2018
For 2019, the Chaffins are taking Inuhele to the next level as a full-blown weekender on the same scale as other mid-sized Tiki events such as the pioneering Tiki Kon in the Pacific Northwest, which also started as a home bar tour nearly two decades ago. The Marriott Century Center has been secured as the host hotel, and the Chaffins promise “a weekend of bar hopping, panels, bands, demos, sharing of ideas, and most importantly community building.”
The community definitely came together to help make such an ambitious undertaking possible. Among the more than a dozen sponsors are: * Tiki Tango, host of the “Tiki Hop-on Hop off Shuttle” and Friday night party. * Spiribam rum specialists, presenting sponsor of the home bar bus. * BG Reynolds, the premium bar syrups purveyor and man behind the “Iron TikiTender On Tour” event that will take place on Saturday at the Marriott. * Royer Corp., the popular swizzle stick manufacturer known for its cutting-edge designs. >>> See all the sponsors here
Friday kickoff and bar crawl: Events at the Marriott Century Center include classes and meet-ups, the trading post, a DJ dance party with Brother Cleve, plus more. Meanwhile, a bus will shuttle guests to Trader Vic’s, Tiki Tango, and Tiki Iniki all evening.
SPECIAL EVENT: The Rums of The Mai-Kai at The Hukilau 2019 Hurricane Hayward of The Atomic Grog took guests on an virtual journey to the Caribbean to learn about the key rums and styles that have dominated The Mai-Kai’s acclaimed cocktails for more than 60 years. He was joined by rum expert Stephen Remsberg for an Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy class at Pier Sixty-Six hotel on June 8, and by Cocktail Wonk writer Matt Pietrek for an on-stage symposium at The Mai-Kai Grand Finale on June 9. See the event preview | Full recap coming soon! Get detailed reports and photos on Tiki Central Coming soon: Exclusive news on a new replacement for Kohala Bay rum at The Mai-Kai, plus more! * See exclusive info and photos on Tiki Central
For more than 60 years, The Mai-Kai has carried on the tradition of Tiki forefather Don the Beachcomber by serving some of the world’s most acclaimed tropical drinks. The secret recipes created by Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt (aka Donn Beach) in the 1930s and ’40s became the basis for many of the exotic cocktails on the menu when Bob and Jack Thornton opened their Polynesian palace in Fort Lauderdale in 1956.
By their very nature, Tiki bars are known for their rums and cocktails highlighting cane spirits. But The Mai-Kai takes it to the extreme. The 48 drinks on Licudine’s original menu called for 43 different brands of rum, reports author and Tiki historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry in The Mai-Kai chapter of Sippin’ Safari, the seminal 2007 book on Tiki’s unheralded bartenders that was recently expanded and enhanced for a 10th anniversary edition.
“Shortly after opening, The Mai-Kai became the largest independent user of rum in the U.S., pouring more than 2,000 cases of Puerto Rican rum in 1958 alone,” Berry wrote in Sippin’ Safari. Some 60 years later, lighter bodied rums from the Spanish-speaking Caribbean islands still make up a large chunk of the total volume of rum poured in The Mai-Kai’s secluded back bars. They play a key role in the many popular drinks on the tourist-friendly mild section of the menu.
But Beach’s true genius, as carried on by his brethren at The Mai-Kai, was the ability to blend rums of different body and character and create an entirely new and bold flavor profile. Many of The Mai-Kai’s most robust cocktails feature three and four different rums, such as the Zombie and Jet Pilot.
The rums that define The Mai-Kai style are straight out of Donn’s playbook. As a counterpoint to the Spanish-style column-stilled rums, Beach often added two English-style pot-stilled rums: The dark and funky rums from Jamaica, and the rich and smoky Demerara rums from Guyana. These have always been the distinctive flavors that define many of The Mai-Kai’s best cocktails, particularly those on the strong section of the menu.
Following is a deep dive into these two rum styles as they’re served at The Mai-Kai today and through history, including discussion and reviews of the current brands and cocktails.
DEMERARA RUMS: Lemon Hart, Hamilton shine in strong, flavorful cocktails
The Mai-Kai began using the latest reboot of Lemon Hart 151 Demerara rum, the iconic mixing rum from Guyana, in September 2016. This black blended overproof rum, which disappeared from the U.S. market in mid-2014, was reintroduced in the summer of 2016 and continues to regain distribution across the country. Lemon Hart’s 80-proof rum (known as Original 1804) is making slower progress, and The Mai-Kai continues to use Hamilton 86 as its standard black blended Demerara rum as of mid-2018. * Tiki Central: Latest updates on Lemon Hart’s return
It was during the two-year absence of Lemon Hart that Hamilton 151 and 86, also from Guyana, stepped up to fill the void. The Hamilton rums were embraced not only at The Mai-Kai, but at Tiki and craft cocktail bars across the country. While some bars have chosen to stick with Hamilton across the board, The Mai-Kai is splitting the difference with Lemon Hart 151 and Hamilton 86.
Following is a list of the drinks at The Mai-Kai using Lemon Hart and Hamilton rums. The links will connect you with reviews and recipes.
Retired cocktails featuring Demerara rum: In addition to the current drinks listed above, you can also sample a few recipes for drinks that are no longer featured on The Mai-Kai menu. Both of these have made comebacks at special events, so you never know when they will return for an encore. Demerara Cocktail | Demerara Float
HISTORY: The saga of Demerara rums at The Mai-Kai
What exactly is Demerara rum and why is it so important to Tiki cocktails? According to Berry, aged Demerara rums “are the rich, aromatic, smoky ‘secret weapon’ in most truly memorable tropical drinks.” They hail from the banks of the Demerara River in Guyana, hence the name. The last remaining distillery in Guyana is Demerara Distillers, which produces its own extensive suite of rums under the El Dorado brand. It also supplies all of the world’s Demerara rum, including those bottled by Lemon Hart and Hamilton.
The historic distillery, aka Diamond Distillery, was established in 1670. The rums are made using molasses from local Demerara sugar, which along with the distillery’s special strain of cultured yeast, historic stills and Guyana’s tropical climate, provide a unique combination that yields some of the world’s richest rums. Diamond employs some of the oldest and unique stills the world, including the last wooden pot stills, which can be traced back to the 1730s.
There are more than 20 different styles of rum produced at the distillery, we learned in a 2014 seminar at the Rum Renaissance Festival in Miami. Master distiller Shaun Caleb offered a fascinating look at the inner workings of Diamond Distillery and the excellent El Dorado rums.