Miami Rum Congress is in session: First annual event presents top industry experts

Miami Rum Congress 2019

Updated Feb. 21

Some of the biggest names in the spirits world flocked to South Florida for the first annual Miami Rum Congress, a two-day event featuring tastings and educational seminars dedicated to the burgeoning booze that may finally have outgrown its “party like a pirate” image.
Atomic Grog photo gallery, event recap
NEW: VIPs, connoisseurs of fine spirits flock to first Miami Rum Congress

Feb. 8-9 – Miami Rum Congress at the Ronald W. Shane Center, 6500 Indian Creek Drive, Miami Beach.
MiamiRumCongress.com: Tickets, schedule, more | ShaneCenter.com
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Miami Rum Congress 2019

About Miami Rum Congress

Rum has forever been touted as the “next big thing,” a more economical and (some would argue) tastier alternative to whiskey in the hearts and glasses of aficionados of brown spirits. But, perhaps to its advantage, rum’s popularity has come at a more slow and steady pace, built from the ground up through an expanding group of devotees, event organizers and well-regarded industry loyalists. All of those folks will converge on Miami Beach to network and learn more about the world’s most diverse spirit.

Rum’s diversified, worldwide appeal is what keeps it near and dear to many. Our 2019 events calendar includes rum gatherings around the globe, from Jamaica to Czechoslovakia to The Netherlands to Madrid. And that’s just the next four months. In the United States, the Rum Renaissance Festival (set for May 17-18 in Coral Gables) has been the torch-bearer since launching in 2009 and deserves credit for being ahead of its time and paving the way for what has followed.

The Rum Lab's 2019 Rum Festival Tour

Miami, always a top market due to its proximity to the Caribbean and historic appreciation for rum, has been a step ahead of the rest of the country. But the word is out. Rum is not only fun, but it’s incredibly diverse and quickly gaining traction as a premium spirit. Smaller boutique festivals have become the norm, appealing to premium tastes.

Enter Federico Hernandez (of TheRumLab.com) and Ian Burrell (the award-winning global “rum ambassador”), who have joined forces to bring South Florida its second major rum festival. It’s clear that the demand is warranted. Tickets are selling briskly and several price points are sold out.

Ian Burrell, aka the global rum ambassador, welcomed The Mai-Kai to London in October for a special event leading up to his 12th annual UK RumFest. (Photo by The Mai-Kai)
Ian Burrell, aka the global rum ambassador, welcomed The Mai-Kai to London in October for a special event leading up to his 12th annual UK RumFest. (Photo by The Mai-Kai)

Hernandez and Burrell are on the cusp of the explosion of rum festivals worldwide. In 2007, Burrell founded The UK RumFest, widely considered to be the godfather of all rum events around the globe. In the years since, the charismatic ambassador has been on a one-man crusade, traveling to every continent on Earth on behalf of spirits companies and earning the 2018 Spirited Award as Best International Brand Ambassador. The 13th annual UK RumFest is set for Oct. 19-20.

Meanwhile, Hernandez began eyeing the vast U.S. market after launching the Rum Lab as an educational initiative in Puerto Rico in 2007. He has grown his brand to include five boutique rum festivals across American soil, including San Juan (March 2), Chicago (April 27), New York City (June 15), and San Francisco (Sept. 7).

The next logical step for Burrell and Hernandez in their efforts toward the “premiumization and education of rum” is Miami Rum Congress. “After years of attending and hosting rum events, we are combining our experiences and expertise to bring consumers and tradespeople the finest rum event in the Americas,” said Burrell in a press release. “We are bringing in expert guest speakers from around the world so that Miami Rum Congress attendees will not only have the opportunity to taste a wide array of exotic rums but can interact with and learn from top industry experts and thought-leaders. This unparalleled spirit event will be an exciting moment for the industry and monumental in shaping the modern-day rum landscape.”

Miami Rum Congress is the newest addition and the first event of the 2019 rum festival circuit. It’s not hard to lure anyone to sunny Miami Beach in February, but the lineup of VIPs and experts is nevertheless extremely impressive.

Continue reading “Miami Rum Congress is in session: First annual event presents top industry experts”

Photos: Demerara rum flows at The Mai-Kai’s magical retro event featuring The Atomic Grog

The Atomic Grog was pleased to present a special happy-hour talk about “Demerara Rum: The Mai-Kai’s Secret Weapon” during The Mai-Kai Takeover event on Jan. 19, presented by the Magical Tiki Meet-Up and Retro Rekindled.

SEE BELOW: Event photo gallery | Previous: Atomic Grog event preview

Armed with a Zombie, Hurricane Hayward is ready to get started with his talk on Demerara rum
Armed with a Zombie, Hurricane Hayward is ready to get started with his talk on Demerara rum.

A big thanks to sponsor Lemon Hart & Son rum and brand ambassador Miles Maximillian Vrahimis for all the assistance, including the photos below plus the promo materials featured at the event as well as a special Blackpool spiced rum package that was presented to a lucky charity raffle winner. The raffle raised $275 for the Humane Society of Broward County.

The event kicked off at 4 p.m. with an extra hour of happy hour that included our talk in The Molokai bar. There was a full house of close to 100 people on hand for the 30-minute presentation, plus two sample cocktails featuring Lemon Hart’s two traditional Demerara rums.

Lemon Hart 151 is a legendary Tiki cocktail ingredient and one of the world’s most distinctive rums. The Mai-Kai features it in seven of its most flavor-packed (and strong) cocktails, including the Jet Pilot and Zombie. Guests at the Jan. 19 event were treated to a mini version of the 151 Swizzle, a classic that showcases the rich and smoky overproof rum.

Demerara Float samples make the rounds
Demerara Float samples make the rounds.

As a special treat, we also sampled the long-lost Demerara Float, perhaps the best of all the drinks from the 1956 menu that have been retired over the decades. It’s served only at special events, so it was a unique opportunity to try this Don the Beachcomber creation (originally known as the Demerara Dry Float) using Lemon Hart’s 80-proof rum, aka Original 1804.

Historically, this is the rum used by Don the Beachcomber and The Mai-Kai in their mid-century masterpieces that you can still taste at the Fort Lauderdale Tiki temple. Be sure to check out the Yeoman’s Grog (aka Navy Grog), S.O.S. (aka Three Dots and a Dash) and Bora Bora (aka Donga Punch). These days, The Mai-Kai employs the 86-proof Hamilton rum from the same distillery as Lemon Hart, the famed Demerara Distillers in Guyana.

Attendees received my handy checklist documenting all The Mai-Kai cocktails featuring Lemon Hart 151 and Hamilton 86, with the strong warning that I don’t advise trying all 13 in one sitting. Or two. Or three. Take your time and savor them.
RELATED: See all the cocktails featuring Demerara rum at The Mai-Kai

Here are some nuggets of info from the 30-minute talk:

Continue reading “Photos: Demerara rum flows at The Mai-Kai’s magical retro event featuring The Atomic Grog”

The Tiki Times – September 2017 Events Calendar: Texas goes Tiki, Deep South surf rock, rum fests from coast to coast

Dragon Con: The Art of the Tiki

The Tiki Times
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SEPTEMBER 2017 TIKI EVENTS CALENDAR
Spotlight events: Texas Tiki Week (Sept 11-17)
Southern Surf StompFest (Sept. 15-17)
Ongoing events | Upcoming events

Sept. 3 – Dragon Con: The Art of the Tiki, a special panel during the 30th annual sci-fi and comic convention in Atlanta. Guests discover how the primitive past of Polynesia influenced pop culture for generations. Moderated by Michael Gordon (Tiki Zombie comics) and featuring artists Shag, Derek Yaniger, Robert Jimenez and Jonathan Chaffin (Horror In Clay mugs).

Dragon Con: The Art of the Tiki
The Art of the Tiki panel at Dragon Con (from left): Robert Jimenez, Jonathan Chaffin, Shag, Derek Yaniger, and Michael Gordon

Sept. 8-9 – California Rum Festival in San Francisco showcasing rums from large, micro and boutique distilleries. The Rum Lab hosts the third annual brand showcase at the SOMArts Cultural Center with industry VIPs such as Roberto Serralles (Don Q Rum, Puerto Rico), Richard Seale (Foursquare Distillery, Barbados), and Bryan Davis (Lost Spirits Distillery, Los Angeles) presenting seminars.

Sept. 9 – Dapper Day Autumn Outing at Disneyland Paris.

Sept. 9 – The Original Tiki Market Place End of Summer Extravaganza in Garden Grove, Calif. Featuring vendors, live Hawaiian entertainment, food, friends, and more at the Garden Grove Elks Lodge.

Sept. 9 – Don’s Tiki Makeke “End of Summer Beachcomber Roundup” at Don the Beachcomber in Huntington Beach, Calif. More than 50 vendors selling their wares, plus authentic Polynesian music and hula dancers, live bands, food and drinks, plus more.
Don's Tiki Makeke

********************* SPOTLIGHT EVENT *********************
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Sept 11-17 – Texas Tiki Week, a celebration of Tiki cocktails and culture in Austin hosted by the local chapter of the United States Bartenders’ Guild. Launched in 2012, the gathering brings together bars, restaurants and brands for an exotic mix of educational, social and philanthropic events. While Texas Tiki Week is centered in Austin, there are satellite events in other cities across the state.
* Press coverage: Austin’s turning into a tropical paradise for Texas Tiki Week

Continue reading “The Tiki Times – September 2017 Events Calendar: Texas goes Tiki, Deep South surf rock, rum fests from coast to coast”

Recipes: Exotic cocktails at Altered State Tattoo’s 20th anniversary party

Exotic cocktails at Altered State Tattoo's 20th anniversary party

The Atomic Grog had the distinct pleasure of serving up cocktails on Aug. 27 for special guests of artist Mike “Pooch” Pucciarelli at the 20th anniversary party for Altered State Tattoo, the South Florida shop that has gained him a worldwide following for his highly creative ink.
See recipes below: Altered State Zombie | Mai Ta-IPA

Mike "Pooch" Pucciarelli gets festive at the party marking the 20th anniversary of his Altered State Tattoo shopMike “Pooch” Pucciarelli gets festive at the party marking the 20th anniversary of his Altered State Tattoo shop.

Respectable Street in downtown West Palm Beach hosted the private bash, which also included a rare performance by Pooch’s hard-rocking band, Ferocious Stones; a lowbrow art marketplace featuring Altered State artists; and a DJ keeping the eclectic tunes flowing during the three-hour party. The Atomic Grog pop-up bar was featured on the back patio along with food by chef Corey Hall.

Pooch opened his modest shop in August 1996 in Lake Worth, funneling his creative energy into a new career as a small business owner. His talent as an artist (and musician) was always evident, with much of his early work centered around his acclaimed hardcore metal band Raped Ape. Pooch quickly became an in-demand tattooist, showcasing his highly original work in national magazines and building a loyal following. A lowbrow art career soon followed, with Pooch’s paintings shown at gallery shows from Los Angeles to Seattle to New York City.

Altered State Tattoo 20th anniversary party at Respectable Street: Kenny 5 (left), Pooch and JC Dwyer kick out the jams with Ferocious Stones. Many guests enjoyed cake, while Dwyer was a two-fisted drinker of Atomic Grog cocktails. (Atomic Grog photos)
Altered State Tattoo 20th anniversary party at Respectable Street: Kenny 5 (left), Pooch and JC Dwyer kick out the jams with Ferocious Stones. Many guests enjoyed cake, while Dwyer was a two-fisted drinker of Atomic Grog cocktails. (Atomic Grog photos)

The artist’s eye-popping surrealist work includes many exotic images, including Polynesian Tikis, Day of the Dead, and his own unique take on roller coasters. Full disclosure: The Atomic Grog home bar and surrounding walls feature a half-dozen Pooch prints, including Franken Tiki Island. Pooch painted a boomerang table that hangs behind the bar and also gave me this rare Tiki piece he painted. Needless to say, I’m a huge fan of his work. I even traveled to his 2005 gallery shows in Seattle and Los Angeles.

Not only is Pooch a major talent in the lowbrow and tattoo art worlds, he’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. A seemingly imposing figure, Pooch is actually a gentle giant, literally and figuratively. Nowadays, we typically meet up for cocktails at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale, sharing our affinity for Tiki culture and exotic libations. Mrs. Hayward and I also often join Mike and Stacy (Mrs. Pooch) at the creative gastropub Sweetwater in Boynton Beach.

Hurricane Hayward mixes up the Altered State Zombie and Mai-Ta-IPA during Altered State Tattoo's 20th anniversary party
Hurricane Hayward mixes up the Altered State Zombie and Mai Ta-IPA during Altered State Tattoo’s 20th anniversary party. (Atomic Grog photos)

Continue reading “Recipes: Exotic cocktails at Altered State Tattoo’s 20th anniversary party”

The Hukilau updates: High Tide party, rum sponsor rundown, merchandise preview and photos!

Updated June 30
On sale now: The Hukilau 2016 merchandise by Shag, inspired by The Mai-Kai NEW
Photos: First exclusive day-by-day recap
15-year tributes: Tiki Kiliki’s memories | Video: The first 14 years
Official sites: TheHukilau.com | Facebook: Page and Group | Twitter | Instagram | App

Previous updates:
The East Coast’s longest-running and largest Tiki-themed weekender continues to add special events, merchandise and rum sponsors with less than a month remaining before throngs of retro-loving Tikiphiles descend on Fort Lauderdale. The latest major addition is the The Hukilau’s High Tide, presented by Rhum Barbancourt and taking place during the Friday night festivities at the host Pier 66 hotel.

The Hukilau’s High Tide, sponsored by Rhum Barbancourt

An overlay to the live performances in the waterfront Panorama Ballroom, High Tide is a special event celebrating the high water mark of the weekend and featuring Rhum Barbancourt cocktails by swashbuckling New York City bartender Brian Miller, plus Polynesian small bites from award-winning Atlanta-based celebrity chef Jim Stacy.
Exclusive recipe below: Brian Miller’s Haitian Frolic featuring Rhum Barbancourt
See more below:
* 15 rum sponsors serve up tastings, cocktails
* New merchandise goes on sale (photos)

High Tide takes place from 8 p.m. until 1 a.m. during the live performances by an eclectic lineup of bands (Jason Lee and the R.I.P. Tides, Tikiyaki Orchestra, The Intoxicators) and burlesque/retro entertainers (Angie Pontani, Kitten Deville, Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid, Lila Starlet).

The Hukilau: June 8-12, 2016, at the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 and The Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale.
* Buy tickets, passes | Book hotel | Schedule
* Previous Atomic Grog coverage: Tiki Road Trip announced, Pier 66 and Mai-Kai sold out

Brian Miller of Tiki Mondays With Miller in New York City will be mixing special Rhum Barbancourt cocktails during The Hukilau's High Tide on Friday, June 10.
Brian Miller of Tiki Mondays With Miller in New York City will be mixing special Rhum Barbancourt cocktails during The Hukilau’s High Tide on Friday, June 10.

Existing Friday night passholders can buy wristbands for $35 giving them access to the special Barbancourt cocktails during High Tide (up to eight per person). Cocktails are also available for $10 each. Non-passholders can buy a Friday day pass that also includes the Tiki Road Trip Pool Party (noon-4 p.m.) and Tiki Treasures Bazaar (10 a.m.-8 p.m.) for $129. A Friday night pass is $99 (or $69 without drink bracelet). Stacy’s Polynesian tidbits will be sold à la carte. Hotel bars will also be selling cocktails and non-alcoholic beverages.

Miller, an accomplished Big Apple bartender and brand ambassador, is host of the city’s most celebrated Tiki cocktail event, Tiki Mondays With Miller. He’ll be bringing many of his motley crew with him to The Hukilau to help him with the Rhum Barbancourt pop-up bar, including Ryan “Corporal Captain” Liloia, Jelani “Swabble” Johnson, and Garret “Dr. Funk” Richard. They’ll be pouring four different Tiki cocktails featuring Rhum Barbancourt, a venerable spirit from Haiti that will have a high profile at this year’s event. Miller issued a missive from his pirate’s lair promising “an assortment of temptresses, rogues and scoundrels.” His captain’s orders: “Tortuga ain’t got nuthin on Tiki Mondays With Miller at The Hukilau.”

Miller and an all-star lineup of world-class bartenders (Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Martin Cate, Paul McGee, St. John Frizell) will also be mixing with Rhum Barbancourt at the sold-out Tiki Tower Takeover on Thursday night. You can sample the distinctive rhums and see them mixed in cocktails Thursday through Saturday outside the Tiki Treasures Bazaar in the brand’s special tasting booth.

Jim Stacy's TV credits include host of 'Offbeat Eats' on the Cooking Channel and 'Deep Fried Masters' on Discovery Channel's Destination America.
Jim Stacy’s TV credits include host of ‘Offbeat Eats’ on the Cooking Channel and ‘Deep Fried Masters’ on Discovery Channel’s Destination America.

As a special treat, Friday’s High Tide event will also include The Hukilau debut of larger-than-life chef Jim Stacy, best known for his appearances on Food Network and the Cooking Channel. Stacy is a renaissance man whose talents include butcher, bartender, chef, touring rock ‘n’ roller and tattoo artist. He cut his teeth in the Atlanta bar and restaurant scene at the Star Community Bar and Starlight Drive-In Theatre, then became a local and national TV food authority. He recently sold the Atlanta-area Pallookaville Fine Foods in preparation for a new concept sure to please fans of traditional Polynesian-themed food and cocktails.

Stacy will soon be opening MoaKai, a full-blown Polynesian/island restaurant spotlighting “classic resort dishes made with Southern soul food ingredients.” Expect the themed Atlanta eatery to include such creative, taste-tempting dishes as lau-lau with collards instead of taro leaves, and poi made with sweet potato. “We’ll be doing a traditional Hawaiian barrel smoked chicken as our specialty with additional emphasis on vegetarian and vegan menu items,” Stacy said in a recent interview. At the High Tide party, Stacy will be cooking up “Polynesian delights featuring Rhum Barbancourt expressions with a soul food twist,” according to the event announcement.

Of course, Stacy’s restaurant will include a Tiki bar, The Barnacled Mermaid. Guests can sample Stacy’s fresh take on tropical mixology on Friday afternoon during the Tiki Road Trip Pool Party along with other top bars from across the country: Porco Lounge & Tiki Room (Cleveland), Foundation Tiki Bar (Milwaukee), Aku Aku (Orlando), and The Happiest Hour and Slowly Shirley (New York City). Stacy is a longtime supporter of The Hukilau who attended last year’s event (see photos). But this will be his first year as a participant. He also featured The Mai-Kai on an episode of Offbeat Eats in January 2015.

Some events sold out, but plenty remain on full weekend schedule

The Hukilau 2016

Interest is high in The Hukilau for its 15th anniversary gathering, which will also celebrate the upcoming 60th birthday of The Mai-Kai. The historic Pier 66, another 60-year-old landmark, is sold out of rooms. But event co-founder and organizer Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White quickly lined up an overflow host hotel, the nearby Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina Hotel. See our previous report for all the details and book a room now.

Several smaller and in-demand events have sold out, so it’s recommended you buy you tickets and passes now. Events that are already filled to capacity:

Continue reading “The Hukilau updates: High Tide party, rum sponsor rundown, merchandise preview and photos!”

The Week in Tiki (Oct. 5-18, 2015): Tiki Mondays with Miller 2015 finale, Hulaween at The Mai-Kai, world’s best bars honored

The Week in Tiki This week’s Tiki update has a New York City and Halloween bent. Get the latest on Tiki Mondays with Miller, Hulaween at The Mai-Kai, and find out which Tiki establishments are among the world’s 50 best bars. We also have details on the future of the iconic mid-century TWA terminal at JFK International Airport, and a recap of Mod-Palm Springs. Regular features honor master carver and sculptor Gecko; the loungy horror sci-fi sounds of The Jimmy Psycho Experiment; New York City Tiki bar Otto’s Shrunken Head; and the Rated R Cocktails website. The Rum of the Week, Hamilton 86, is featured in the Guyanese Zombie from the late Tiki bar PKNY.
* Keep up with The Week in Tiki: Facebook page | RSS feed | See past weeks | Archive
* Weekly features: Artist | Band/music | Tiki bar | Website | Rum | Cocktail | Events

A Bum crashes the Tiki Mondays with Miller party

Tiki Mondays with Miller: Autumnal Equinox Edition

Tropical mixology’s skurvy dogs will host their final event of the year at Pouring Ribbons in New York City on Monday, Oct. 19. Tiki Mondays with Miller: Autumnal Equinox Edition will also feature a very special guest: Author and Latitude 29 barkeep Jeff “Beachbum” Berry will join swashbuckling barman Brian Miller and company for one last 2015 celebration of rum rhapsodies.

Besides “an assortment of bloody good Tiki tipples,” Miller promises a new limited-edition long-sleeve shirt for this Tiki Monday, emblazened with the motto “Keep Calm & Drink Zombies.” Look for cocktails to include sponsor products such as Rhum Barbancourt, The Real McCoy rum, Atlantico rum, Yaguara cachaca, Black Bottle scotch, Ketel One vodka, and Kappa pisco.

Berry is lingering in the Big Apple after he and Miller helped judge Saturday’s The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown at the New York City Wine & Food Festival. The Bum was also spotted at the Otto’s Shrunken Head anniversary party (see Tiki Bar of the Week below). We’ll have coverage of the showdown in the next edition of The Week in Tiki.
* Facebook event: Tiki Mondays with Miller: Autumnal Equinox Edition

Appleton Rum specials, cash prizes announced for The Mai-Kai’s 7th Hulaween

Hulaween 2015 artwork by Fred Lammers
Hulaween 2015 artwork by Fred Lammers.

More deadly details have been revealed for the seventh annual Hulaween party at the famous Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale on Friday, Oct. 30. Sponsor Appleton Rum will provide cash prizes for the costume contest, plus sample cocktails and giveaways. In addition, The Mai-Kai’s mixologists will be creating a special Appleton Zombie cocktail. The event is free, with festivities kicking off with happy hour from 5 to 7, then three sets of retro roots and rockabilly tunes by South Florida’s Slip and the Spinouts.

Around 10 p.m., the always creative costumes will be on parade in The Molokai bar. The judges will award $300 cash plus a $50 gift certificate from The Mai-Kai to the best creation. Second place will get $200 and third $100. Other prizes include a Tiki mug and Big Kahuna Pass from sponsor The Hukilau. The Atomic Grog will host happy hour with a special a playlist of eclectic Halloween tunes, including exotica, surf, and garage rock.

“Hulaween 7 – Night of the Zombie” salutes The Mai-Kai’s iconic cocktail as well as the ubiquitous flesh-eating creatures. Established in 1956, The Mai-Kai has been recognized as the best Tiki establishment in the world. It’s known for vintage tropical drinks and food, plus the Polynesian Islander Revue (est. 1961), the longest-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States, including Hawaii.

Also on The Atomic Grog: See the full event preview

Continue reading “The Week in Tiki (Oct. 5-18, 2015): Tiki Mondays with Miller 2015 finale, Hulaween at The Mai-Kai, world’s best bars honored”

UPDATE: Rums of The Mai-Kai include potent, funky flavors from Guyana and Jamaica

Vintage Lemon Hart bottles in the back service bar at The Mai-Kai, along with the latest version of the venerable 151 Demerara rum (right). (Atomic Grog photo, February 2018)

Updated Sept. 9, 2019

UPDATE: What we learned at Appleton master blender Joy Spence’s rum tasting at The Mai-Kai Appleton master blender Joy Spence hosts rare rum tasting at The Mai-Kai
What could possibly be better than an Appleton Estate rum tasting at The Mai-Kai? How about the first-ever such event at the historic Polynesian palace hosted by Joy Spence, the longtime master blender for the venerable Jamaican brand synonymous with pure premium rum. Check out our full recpap and photos, including 5 things you might not know about Joy Spence, 12 things we learned about how Appleton rum is made, and how she wants you to experience Appleton Estate rums.
Recipe: Joy Spence’s favorite rum cocktail

Hear The Rums of The Mai-Kai symposium on the Inside the Desert Oasis Room podcast
The Rums of The Mai-Kai, presented by The Atomic Grog at The Hukilau 2019
Mahalo to Adrian Eustaquio and Inside the Desert Oasis Room for documenting the June 9 presentation featuring Hurricane Hayward and Matt Pietrek of Cocktail Wonk live on stage at The Mai-Kai during the closing festivities of The Hukilau 2019.
Click here to listen now or subscribe on iTunes and other podcast platforms

SPECIAL EVENT: The Rums of The Mai-Kai at The Hukilau 2019
The Rums of The Mai-Kai, presented by The Atomic Grog 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
The Atomic Grog presents new class and symposium at The Hukilau
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

PAST EVENTS: ‘Demerara Rum – The Mai-Kai’s Secret Weapon’ Demerara Rum: The Mai-Kai's Secret Weapon on Jan. 19, 2019, at The Mai-Kai The Atomic Grog was pleased to present a special happy-hour talk during The Mai-Kai Takeover event on Jan. 19, presented by the Magical Tiki Meet-Up and Retro Rekindled. Click here to check out our full event recap, including photos and highlights of our Demerara rum discussion.
The Hukilau 2018: How to Mix Like The Mai-Kai cocktail class recap, photos

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THE RUMS OF THE MAI-KAI

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.

More on The Mai-Kai’s rums below
* Rums from Guyana star in classic cocktails
* The legacy of Jamaica’s dark rums
* Rating the Kohala Bay replacements
* Appleton rums: Jamaica’s gold standard
* Full list of sipping rums
Related: The Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide, reviews and ratings
* The Mai-Kai updates bar menu, adds ‘lost’ cocktail

From Sippin' Safari: This vintage photo shows Mariano Licudine displaying his rum collection in 1962.
From Sippin’ Safari: This vintage photo shows Mariano Licudine displaying his rum collection in 1962.

To run the bar program, the Thorntons tapped one of Beach’s top mixologists, Mariano Licudine, who spent 16 years honing his craft at Don the Beachcomber in their native Chicago. Licudine brought more than skills, secret recipes and a penchant for creating his own distinctive cocktails. He brought a great appreciation for rum. That legacy continues today in the drinks that carry on the tradition of Beach, the Thornton brothers and Licudine.
Menu: Vintage Don the Beachcomber rum list from 1941

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.

The back of an Okole Maluna Society membership card, circa late 1950s.
The back of an Okole Maluna Society membership card, circa late 1950s.

A membership card for the Okole Maluna Society, the short-lived rewards program that challenged guests to sample every cocktail on the menu, touted 52 different rums, “light and dark … obscure and renowned … robust and delicate.” The society has its own chapter in historian Tim “Swanky” Glazner‘s 2016 book, Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant.

“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.

A 1941 rum menu from Don the Beachcomber in Chicago, where mixologist Mariano Licudine worked for 16 years before starting The Mai-Kai's bar program with owners Bob and Jack Thornton in 1956.
A 1941 rum menu from Don the Beachcomber in Chicago, where mixologist Mariano Licudine worked for 16 years before starting The Mai-Kai’s bar program with owners Bob and Jack Thornton in 1956.

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.

Thanks to Berry and his research, The Atomic Grog has been able to document in the Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide the direct connection between The Mai-Kai’s cocktails and those Donn Beach classics.

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.

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DEMERARA RUMS: Lemon Hart, Hamilton shine in strong, flavorful cocktails

Lemon Hart 151 Demerara rum
The newest release of the iconic Lemon Hart 151 Demerara rum.

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.

Cocktails featuring Lemon Hart 151 Demerara rum at The Mai-Kai. (Atomic Grog photo, April 2018)
Cocktails featuring Lemon Hart 151 Demerara rum at The Mai-Kai. (Atomic Grog photo, April 2018)

151 Swizzle (151 proof)
Bora Bora (86 proof)
Jet Pilot (151 proof)
K.O. Cooler (151 and 86 proof)
Martinique Milk Punch (86 proof)
Oh So Deadly (86 proof)
Shrunken Skull (151 proof) UPDATED
Sidewinder’s Fang (86 proof)
S.O.S. (86 proof)
Special Planters Punch (151 proof)
Suffering Bastard (151 proof)
Yeoman’s Grog (86 proof)
Zombie (151 proof)

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

An ad for the new Lemon Hart 151 rum, which is returning to its traditional yellow label after several years off the market in the United States.
An ad for the new Lemon Hart 151 rum, which returned to its traditional yellow label after several years off the market in the United States.

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.

Continue reading “UPDATE: Rums of The Mai-Kai include potent, funky flavors from Guyana and Jamaica”

Lost Cocktails of The Mai-Kai: The delicious Demerara Cocktail just can’t stay retired

Updated October 2016
See below: Our Demerara Cocktail review | Official recipe | Tribute recipe
Related: Demerara Float rises again | Mai-Kai cocktail guide
More “lost cocktails” | Tropical drink family tree

The Mai-Kai is world famous for its extensive menu of nearly 50 tropical drinks that date back a half-century or more. Everyone knows about the Barrel O’ Rum, Black Magic, and iconic Mystery Drink.

The Demerara Cocktail makes a triumphant return to The Mai-Kai on Aug. 12, 2012
The Demerara Cocktail makes a triumphant return to The Mai-Kai on Aug. 12, 2012. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

But lesser known are the dozen or so classics that for one reason or another disappeared from the menu over the past half century, destined to never be served again in the legendary Fort Lauderdale restaurant. Or so we thought. One notable drink, the Demerara Cocktail, made a welcome comeback during a special event in August 2012 organized by South Florida tikiphiles.

It has since made several more appearances at special events, leading a parade of other “lost cocktails” that have returned from the dead over the past four years. As of October 2016, we’ve had the pleasure of sampling nine cocktails from the original 1956-57 menu, plus three off-the-menu classics.

The Demerara Cocktail was likely removed in the late ’80s or early ’90s when the crucial Lemon Hart Demerara rum became scarce and was dropped from the bar’s inventory. Over the past decade, however, interest in vintage Tiki cocktails – and the flavorful Demerara rum from Guyana – has experienced a revival that continues to grow.

By mid-2012, The Mai-Kai had become the Mecca for Tiki cocktail enthusiasts, and Lemon Hart made a grand return to the cocktail menu (covered here in great detail). The next logical step was the resurrection of this forgotten gem.

Continue reading “Lost Cocktails of The Mai-Kai: The delicious Demerara Cocktail just can’t stay retired”

Mai-Kai cocktail review: Trading Martinique for Guyana, milk punch gets a boost from new rum

Updated March 15, 2016
See below: Our Martinique Milk Punch review | Ancestor recipe | Tribute recipe
Related: Rums of The Mai-Kai: Hamilton rums from Guyana fill the Lemon Hart gap
Mai-Kai cocktail guide

Don’t let the name “Martinique Milk Punch” fool you. This traditional rum drink, a popular classic during the winter holidays, recently received an upgrade at The Mai-Kai.

Like several other vintage recipes, most notably the Bora Bora and S.O.S., recent updates have replaced the long-established Martinique rum with the sweeter and smokier Demerara-style rum from Guyana.

Hamilton 86

The improvement is dramatic. The Martinique Milk Punch benefits from the replacement of the earthy and pungent agricole rum and the recent addition of the 86-proof Hamilton rum from Guyana. As a result, the cocktail vaults up an unprecedented eight spots in The Atomic Grog’s rankings, from No. 41 to No. 33. Bora Bora made a similar leap, moving up 10 positions and also increasing from 2 1/2 stars to 3 stars.

Since its return in April 2012, Demerara rum has become a key flavor in many of The Mai-Kai’s traditional Tiki cocktails (see full story). We had not revisited the often-ignored Martinique Milk Punch since we posted this original review in December 2011, so it’s possible that Demerara rum was incorporated into the recipe any time since mid-2012.

With winter cocktails on our mind, we ordered a Martinique Milk Punch in late 2015 and immediately noted the difference. The distinctive Demerara rum flavor shines through with just the right amount of sweetness and a dusting of nutmeg, making for a much more balanced drink. The Martinique rum that The Mai-Kai previously used tended to dominate the other ingredients, its grassy taste a little too aggressive for this mild dessert-style drink.

The Martinique Milk Punch is served in the same glass as two popular ice-cream drinks, the Chocolate Snowflake and Mai-Kai Blizzard. While it’s not on the after-dinner menu, it could easily fill that role.

Saveur magazine recipe

A traditional milk punch dates back to colonial times. Ben Franklin had his own recipe, which you can check out here. It became fashionable in 18th century England after it was introduced by merchants and often featured whiskey or brandy instead of rum.

It’s unclear if the version using rum from Martinique is indigenous to that island or was created elsewhere. We do know that it was featured on early Don the Beachcomber menus, and this is likely the genesis of the version that was originally served at The Mai-Kai.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai cocktail review: Trading Martinique for Guyana, milk punch gets a boost from new rum”

Mai-Kai cocktail review: A near-perfect Zombie, the classic deadly cocktail

A mint-heavy Zombie at The Mai-Kai, April 2017. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Updated Oct. 31, 2018
See below: Our Zombie review | Ancestor recipes
UPDATES: New secret mix | Tribute recipe 4.0
Related: Zombie Horde book | Zombie facts | Beachbum Berry symposium
Mai-Kai cocktail guide
More recipes: Altered State Zombie | Atomic Zombie | Guyanese Zombie
The Undead Gentleman | Frankie’s Tiki Room Zombie

Few realize that the Zombie – not the Mai Tai – is the drink that kicked off the tropical drink craze. Created in the 1930s by the Dr. Frankenstein of tropical mixology, Donn Beach (aka Don the Beachcomber), the Zombie remains his masterpiece.

Zombie

Beach’s mad scientist approach to combining multiple rums, juices, syrups and spices was groundbreaking and set a standard that remains an influential touchstone for today’s bartenders in both the Tiki and craft cocktail worlds. But if it weren’t for cocktail sleuth, historian and author Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, we might not have ever discovered that legacy.

Berry rescued the Zombie (and many other Tiki classics) from bad bartending and half-assed attempts to re-create the originals. But his first attempt at the Zombie in his seminal 1998 book, Grog Log, was not a whole lot better than the imitators. By 2002, however, he had begun to unearth some great Zombie recipes, three of which are published in his second recipe book, Intoxica. One of these, later dubbed the “mid-century version” and purported to be a Don the Beachcomber recipe published in 1950, is shown below.

But Berry was just scratching the surface of Zombie lore. His 2007 masterpiece, Sippin’ Safari, yielded the motherlode. An entire chapter, “A Zombie Jamoreee: The Curse of the Undead Drink,” provides the definitive research on the elusive cocktail. There’s more background on the 1950 Zombie, plus a much different 1956 version attributed to the Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Waikiki.

Beachbum Berry mixes a classic Zombie at the Zombie Jam at The Mai-Kai on April 25, 2011
Beachbum Berry mixes a classic Zombie at the Zombie Jam at The Mai-Kai on April 25, 2011.

The pièce de résistance, however, is Berry’s discovery of a 1934 recipe for “Zombie Punch” in the notebook of 1930s Don the Beachcomber bartender Dick Santiago. The find was considered the Holy Grail of lost tropical drinks, but one frustrating puzzle remained to be solved: the cryptic ingredient listed as “Don’s Mix.” This combination of grapefruit juice and cinnamon syrup has now become a common ingredient, but the 2007 revelation was a landmark in the Tiki drink world. Berry and Cocktail Kingdom recently released a 10th anniversary edition of Sippin’ Safari, which includes additional recipes, both old and unpublished, plus new ones from the Tiki revival.
* BeachbumBerry.com: More on Berry’s search for the original Zombie

In 2010, Beachbum Berry Remixed continued the tradition of digging deeper into the history of the drink that started it all. In addition to the discoveries in Intoxica and Sippin’ Safari, Berry presented several new recipes, including a simplified version of the complex creation. You can also find Berry’s Zombie recipes in his Total Tiki app for iPhone and iPad, a unique repository of nearly 250 exotic drink recipes from yesterday and today. If you desire a more tactile way to enjoy Berry’s handiwork, pick up a set (or a case) of his signature Zombie Glasses from Cocktail Kingdom, which include the original 1934 and 1950 recipes on the side along with distinctive artwork and packaging. They’re also available at the author’s New Orleans bar and restaurant, Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29, along with the Bum’s own twist on the vintage recipe.

A contemporary Zombie from "Beachbum Berry Remixed."
A contemporary Zombie from “Beachbum Berry Remixed.”

In addition to his acclaimed books, app and barware, Berry had a profound influence on today’s Tiki and cocktail scenes over the past decade or two by way of his entertaining and boozy symposiums around the world. His first-ever Zombie seminar took place at The Mai-Kai in April 2011 during the Miami Rum Fest. He resurrected that talk at The Hukilau in April 2012, again at The Mai-Kai, with a few additional surprises. [Full coverage]

Of course, The Mai-Kai’s Zombie is a descendant of Don the Beachcomber’s classics. There’s a reason it’s the top-rated cocktail in this guide, and the only one with a perfect rating of 5 out of 5 stars. Perhaps its the complex, undefinable flavors. Much like another early 20th-century classic, the Singapore Sling, the Zombie stands out as a true original with its intense flavors and high potency.

But unlike the gin-based Sling, which is a bit of a mish-mash of flavors, the Zombie is in perfect balance. The combination of spices are exotic and unique. The sweet juices and syrups are counteracted by intense anise and sour notes. And the coup de grâce is the combination of three rums in perfect harmony.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai cocktail review: A near-perfect Zombie, the classic deadly cocktail”