Modern Caribbean Rum

REVIEW: El Dorado’s new High Ester Blend could be a mixologist’s secret weapon

El Dorado's new High Ester Blend could be a mixologist's secret weapon

I’m honored to have been chosen as a “rum influencer” of high enough stature to receive an unsolicited bottle of El Dorado’s new High Ester Blend (LBI / DHE). For non-geeks, those acronyms stand for “La Bonne Intention / Diamond High Ester,” signifying that this is a blend of never-before-released “high ester” marques from two unique stills at Guyana’s Diamond Distillery.

Specifically, we’re taking about high-ester distillate from the John Dore Double Retort Copper Pot Still and the La Bonne Intention marque from the four-column metal French Savalle Still. The former still dates back to the 1950s and is the only one of its kind at the historic distillery. The latter is much older, inherited from another distillery in Guyana that operated as far back as the 1800s.

El Dorado High Ester Blend includes rums from two unique stills at Guyana's Diamond Distillery.
El Dorado High Ester Blend includes rums from two unique stills at Guyana’s Diamond Distillery.

A side note here that the Diamond distillery and El Dorado share ownership (Demerara Distillers Ltd., aka DDL), so this release can be seen as El Dorado throwing its hat into the ring that independent bottlers have long dominated but has just recently gained at lot of traction in rum enthusiast circles: High-proof, high-ester, uncompromising rums with a pedigree. Rums from Jamaica, known for its “high-ester funk bombs,” have been most notable in this category.

This rum clocks in at a cask strength 57% ABV (114 proof), well above El Dorado’s normal (and industry standard) 40%, which I heartily applaud. It’s a different animal than El Dorado’s flagship aged rums (the 8-, 12- and 15-year-old blends) as well as the dark but lightly aged 151-proof rums (from Diamond, Hamilton, Lemon Hart, et al.) that are essential bottles in our Tiki arsenal. Just not as far removed as you might think. More on that shortly.

The bottle says it was distilled in 2012, which means it likely spent around 12 years in ex-Bourbon casks in Diamond’s aging warehouse. Indeed, the color as very similar to El Dorado 12. The nose, however, is another matter. The flavors are much deeper, with heady aromas of vanilla, toffee and honey most noticeable to my admittedly unsophisticated olfactory senses. There were some subtle cinnamon and fruit aromas as well.

At first sip, I immediately noticed the orange peel and spices prevalent in the blend, as advertised. Sweet vanilla is present, along with slight hints of chocolate and caramel. The spicy finish starts strong before fading slowly, perhaps the best feature of a neat sip.

Continue reading “REVIEW: El Dorado’s new High Ester Blend could be a mixologist’s secret weapon”

Minimalist Tiki

Mai-Kai update (February 2024): Exterior reimagination up next as $15 million Mai-Kai project plows ahead

Mai-Kai update (February 2024): Exterior reimagination up next as $15 million Mai-Kai project plows ahead

The light at the end of the tunnel is about to become much brighter at The Mai-Kai in South Florida as the historic restaurant prepares for an ambitious transformation of its sprawling 2.7-acre grounds.

Jump below: Latest refurbishment news | Landscape reimagination imminent |outside Update on permits, timeline
* The Mai-Kai at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival
Preview: The Mai-Kai and The Atomic Grog at Tiki-a-Go-Go

A view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, February 2024)
A view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, February 2024)

Meanwhile, the artists working in and around the vintage A-frame building have turned the energy level up a notch in anticipation of the home stretch of Phase 1 of the multi-year, multimillion-dollar project. All available information points to a summer reopening, with the most optimistic estimate being June.

Excitement for the reopening was fueled in late February by an article in the Wall Street Journal that proclaims Fort Lauderdale a “cool” destination for “hip, hungry travelers.” While extolling the city’s “booming food scene and throwback architecture,” the article mentions the reopening of The Mai-Kai:

Fans of midcentury design are waiting for June, though, when the Mai-Kai will reopen after a 30-month, $15 million renovation. The Polynesian-style restaurant, built in 1956, was arguably the apotheosis of tiki culture. Partnering with distiller Maison Ferrand to resurrect the high ester rum used in classic tiki cocktails like the Jet Pilot, it hopes to retake that honor.

New owner Bill Fuller is leading the restoration efforts, including the creation of a new signature rum. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)
New owner Bill Fuller is leading the restoration efforts, including the creation of a new signature rum. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

The Journal got that information directly from owner Bill Fuller, who assembled the team that purchased The Mai-Kai in September 2021 after a catastrophic roof collapse over the kitchen forced the October 2020 closure that has now stretched past three years. Fuller’s historic preservation firm, Barlington Group, spearheaded the purchase. Another company he owns, Mad Room Hospitality, will operate the restaurant along with the founding Thornton family. The new Mai-Kai Rum No. 1 is a blend of Barbados and Jamaican rums created by master distiller Don Benn at the West Indies Rum Distillery in Barbados, where it will will shipped directly to Florida to be bottled.

That $15 million figure is new, a much higher number than we’ve previously seen reported. It speaks not only to the extra time spent on the detailed restoration, but also the unwavering commitment from the ownership group. Back in June 2022 during a presentation at The Hukilau, Fuller told the faithful fans of The Mai-Kai: “If we need to spend an extra million dollars or two, we’re going to do it because we want it to be perfect.” He has obviously doubled down on that promise.

And while a June reopening date is far from certain, it’s a goal that Fuller and his team have set. Like everything else involving this restoration, it doesn’t hurt to set the bar high and reach for the stars.

The entrance to The Mai-Kai is about to receive a total transformation as crews prepare for a new driveway to be installed. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, February 2024)
The entrance to The Mai-Kai is about to receive a total transformation as crews prepare for a new driveway to be installed. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, February 2024)

Recent coverage
* Renovations engulf entire property, reopening estimated for summer (January 2024)
* Mai-Kai refurbishment 2023 year-end recap: Updates, photos, timeline

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FEBRUARY 2024: Restoration efforts reach new heights, expand in new directions

As detailed in our previous reports in January and February (see links above), we’re limited from showing the exquisite interior renovations during the final stages of work, but we did get a chance to chat in late February with creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller, who filled us in on what he and his crew were up to during that month. Fellow Central Florida artist Scott “Flounder” Scheidly shared some images of their work on social media, which you can find below.

We also paid a visit to 3599 N. Federal Highway in Oakland Park to document the work on the exterior, briefly chatting with manager Kern Mattei and South Florida artist Tom Fowner, who recently joined the restoration team full-time. Fowner has worked with The Mai-Kai previously, most notably on one of the three Tiki carvings that greet guests near the porte-cochère.

Overall, February was very productive. “I feel that we’ve done more this month,” Allsmiller said. Following are some of his thoughts on what was accomplished, along with what’s still to come.

The addition of Fowner has helped Allsmiller, Scheidly and artist Conrad Teheiura Itchener expand the scope of their work in their central workshop in the Hawaii dining room. “We needed help, and he was free,” Allsmiller said.

Artist Tom Fowner strips all the old material off a vintage lamp that hangs high under The Mai-Kai's A-frame. After the lamp frame is shored up, he will restore the outer materials and it will receive new bulbs and wiring before it returns to its perch. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward, March 2024)
Artist Tom Fowner strips all the old material off a vintage lamp that hangs high under The Mai-Kai’s A-frame. After the lamp frame is shored up, he will restore the outer materials and it will receive new bulbs and wiring before it returns to its perch. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward, March 2024)

Fowner, who recently contributed his Tiki-carving talents to the build-out of the new Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach, went right to work at The Mai-Kai refurbishing some of the massive lamps that hang high under the 40-foot A-frame. We caught him out front, stripping everything off one of the well-worn frames. He said they’re trying to restore them “in a similar fashion” to the originals.

Reaching these uppermost areas filled with vintage lamps, many created by Oceanic Arts in the 1950s and ’60s, has been the most challenging. The crew used scaffolding to reach the ceiling in the rear of the building, above the Tonga dining room. Allsmiller said they removed the large signature fish trap and cleaned it up. “It’s ready to go back up,” he said.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai update (February 2024): Exterior reimagination up next as $15 million Mai-Kai project plows ahead”

Top 10 stories of 2023: Tiki resurgence and appreciation breathes life into year marked by loss

Top 10 stories of 2023: Tiki resurgence and appreciation breathes life into year marked by loss

Like many recent years, 2023 was defined by loss, from a deadly natural disaster to the passing of a beloved artist. But there are two other words that better sum up 2023: Aspiration and revival. Among the year’s highlights are the return of three historic restaurants, the resurrection of a legendary rum, a groundbreaking cocktail book that looks ahead by honoring the past, plus an overall renewed appreciation for Tiki culture and cocktails. If nothing else, it gives us hope for an eventful 2024.
Related: The Year in Tiki 2023: A look back at the top events in photos, video
Bonus recipes below: Beachcomber Punch | Ray’s Mystique

1. TRAGEDY IN MAUI: Lahaina devastated by wildfires

Wildfires ravaged Maui's historic resort city of Lahaina in August 2023. (Wikimedia Commons)
Wildfires ravaged Maui’s historic resort city of Lahaina in August 2023. (Wikimedia Commons)

Wildfires swept across the island of Maui on Aug. 8, killing at least 100 people in one of the nation’s deadliest disasters. The fires destroyed most of Lahaina – the original capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom – on the northwest coast. Residents fled as the blazes incinerated thousands of structures, causing more than $5 billion in damage.

Among the historic structures lost were the Old Lahaina Courthouse, Waiola Church, Pioneer Inn, and Kimo’s restaurant. Lahaina’s famous banyan tree, planted in 1873, had most of its foliage charred, though was still standing after the wildfires.

Before the fires, the Lahaina Historic District was a bustling tourist destination with stores and restaurants attracting many visitors. The district included 60 historic sites with Front Street ranked one of the “Top Ten Greatest Streets” by the American Planning Association. Lahaina was also a popular whale-watching site. It has a long history as a shipping and whaling town.

The wildfires were attributed to dry, gusty conditions created by a strong high-pressure area north of Hawaii, and Hurricane Dora to the south. The death toll is the largest for a wildfire in the United States since the Cloquet Fire of 1918 in northern Minnesota, which claimed 453 lives.

The historic tree in Lahaina's Banyan Court Park, shown in 2016, survived the 2023 wildfires. (Wikimedia Commons)
The historic tree in Lahaina’s Banyan Court Park, shown in 2016, survived the 2023 wildfires. (Wikimedia Commons)

President Biden ordered the mobilization of “all available federal assets” to respond to the wildfires, including the Navy, Coast Guard, National Guard, and FEMA. Other countries pledged aid, and fund-raising efforts across the U.S. raised $30 million within 10 days. The Maui Strong Fund, which provides financial resources to support the immediate and long-term recovery needs for the people and places affected by the wildfires, has raised more than $177 million to date and awarded grants totaling more than $86 million.

The disaster was also a call to action for many in the Tiki community, which united for fund-raisers and other special events. From bars and restaurants, to concerts and special events, supporters rallied to help in any way they could. Mark Riddle donated profits from the sale of his Lahaina Sunset album, which was inspired by a trip to Maui.

In mid-December, the heart of Lahaina reopened to residents and business owners as the historic banyan tree began sprouting new leaves. As of late December, Lahaina opened its remaining schools and welcomed tourists back to areas unaffected by the fires. Maui county officials say rebuilding the burned structures won’t begin for another 18-24 months, and big-picture plans are hazy. Rebuilding completely, including replacing all of the lost structures, will cost an estimated $5.5 billion.

With the exception of Lahaina, Maui is open and there is plenty to see and experience, according to the GoHawaii.com website. Guests are urged to “visit with aloha, compassion and empathy,” and to support local businesses. The MauiNuiFirst.com website offers many other suggestions.

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2. DON THE BEACHCOMBER: Anticipation for new restaurant chain, film and book reaches fever pitch

A classic portrait of Don the Beachcomber inspired a new mug by Eekum Bookum. The new restaurant in Madeira Beach, Fla., will feature a similar photo op. (Facebook photos)
A classic portrait of Don the Beachcomber inspired a new mug by Eekum Bookum. The new restaurant in Madeira Beach, Fla., will feature a similar photo op. (Facebook photos)

While slowly building for years, interest in the founding father of the 20th century Polynesian restaurant explosion went through the roof in 2023 as three major projects neared the finish line. By the end of the year, a new Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Southwest Florida was hiring staff and putting the final touches on construction. The Donn of Tiki documentary was 99 percent complete as the filmmakers finished up the end credits and licensing rights. Meanwhile, the manuscript for Tim “Swanky” Glazner’s book, Searching for Don the Beachcomber, was nearing the design and editing stages. After several years of non-stop work, these projects are now poised for a major splash in the new year and beyond.

The revival of the Don the Beachcomber brand took center stage after the announcement in February that Florida-based 23 Restaurant Services would be reviving the restaurant chain nationwide, beginning with multiple locations in the Sunshine State expected to open in the next several years. Skeptics were quickly assured of the legitimacy of the project when veteran bar manager Marie King was plucked from the venerable Tonga Hut to become director of beverage. In addition to leading the oldest Tiki bar in Los Angeles, King had previously built the cocktail program at the last Don the Beachcomber restaurant in the continental U.S., which closed in Huntington Beach, Calif., in 2018. The design of the new restaurants is in the capable hands of artist Daniel “Tiki Diablo” Gallardo, long admired for his expertise and craftsmanship in building traditional Tiki bar spaces.

Continue reading “Top 10 stories of 2023: Tiki resurgence and appreciation breathes life into year marked by loss”

Feeling like a zombie? Here are three new holiday cocktails to raise your spirits

Feeling like a zombie? Here are three new holiday cocktails to raise your spirits

Updated Dec. 22, 2022

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: There’s no better time for imbibing festive and flamboyant cocktails than the Christmas season.

Jump directly to recipes below
Christmas Creeper | Uncle Ed’s Elixir | Rudolph’s Red Rum Swizzle
RELATED: The Barrel Before Christmas tribute recipe

The Atomic Grog home bar is ready for the 2021 holiday season. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2021)
The Atomic Grog home bar is ready for the 2021 holiday season. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2021)

If you’re in a cold climate, you can curl up in front of the fire with a warm and comforting mug of holiday cheer. If you’re fortunate enough (like us) to hail from closer to the Equator, there are plenty of cool and refreshing concoctions to scratch your tropical itch. Hell, why not enjoy all of the options no matter where you live?

As this season’s wildly popular pop-up bars – most notably Miracle and Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Santa – continue to prove, there’s no shortage of demand for creative and well-themed Christmas cocktails. Beyond the big dogs, there are also one-off themed overlays in bars across the globe that are also worth checking out.

We make no claim to the expertise of those fantastic folks in the trenches, but it’s always fun to experiment with holiday flavors like a spoiled kid in a toy store. Joining The Atomic Grog’s pantheon of winter cocktails are three new creations, including our first seasonal Zombie ….

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This time of year is not all snowmen and mistletoe. There are some elements of the season that make us feel like the walking dead. What better way to deal with the holiday hubris than a nice, stiff Zombie …

CHRISTMAS CREEPER
(By Hurricane Hayward, The Atomic Grog)

Christmas Creeper by The Atomic Grog. Zombie glassware and swizzle by Brian Rechenmacher, aka B-Rex. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2021)
Christmas Creeper by The Atomic Grog. Zombie glassware and swizzle by Brian Rechenmacher, aka B-Rex. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2021)

* 3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
* 1 ounce cranberry juice
* 1/2 ounce brown sugar syrup
* 1/4 ounce pomegranate grenadine
* 1 teaspoon ginger syrup
* 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon syrup
* 1/2 ounce Kirschwasser (cherry brandy)
* 1 ounce gold Jamaican rum
* 1 ounce Demerara rum
* 3/4 ounce 151-proof Demerara rum
* 4-6 drops absinthe
* 1 dash allspice bitters

Pulse blend with 1 1/2 cups of crushed ice for 6-9 seconds. Pour into a Zombie glass, adding more ice to fill. Garnish with mint and swizzle stick.

Tasting notes

This looks like a Zombie and tastes like a Zombie, but it’s also full of sweet and tart holiday cheer. The potent rums and lime-cranberry combo hit you hard, but the spice and anise notes creep up on you. As will the alcohol content, so consume with caution or risk becoming a holiday party story your relatives will retell with relish.

Endorsed by creepy Santas everywhere: Christmas Creeper by The Atomic Grog. Zombie glassware and swizzle by Brian Rechenmacher, aka B-Rex. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2021)
Endorsed by creepy Santas everywhere: Christmas Creeper by The Atomic Grog. Zombie glassware and swizzle by Brian Rechenmacher, aka B-Rex. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2021)

Ingredient, mixing tips

* The cranberry and pomegranate, combined with the fresh lime, provide an enveloping underlying tartness that serves as a great base for the bold rums, anise and unique punch of the kirsch. We recommend a high-quality (or homemade) grenadine and natural cranberry juice. We didn’t try this, but it might also be worth swapping the grenadine for a cranberry simple syrup.

* Brown sugar syrup is easy to make by heating 1 part dark brown sugar with 1 part water on the stove until it starts to boil, then cooling in the fridge. We also make our own ginger and cinnamon syrups, and there are quite a few recipes available online. But if you’re not adventurous, we also recommend the bottled options, from B.G. Reynolds and Real Syrups.

* Kirschwasser, aka kirsch, is a colorless brandy that originated in Germany and is made from fermented cherries. It’s usually bottled at 80 to 90 proof and has a distinctive bitter cherry flavor that works well in a Zombie. It’s traditionally drunken neat as a digestif, but you can also find it in cocktails. It can also be used in festive holiday cakes, candies and the flaming cherries jubilee dessert. It’s relatively easy to find in liquor stores and worth seeking out for this distinctive cocktail. It works well with the rums and the traditional cocktail spices, absinthe and allspice. For the latter, we chose the subtle touch of a bitters (such as Dale DeGroff’s Pimento Aromatic Bitters) but a very small dash of pimento dram would work as well.

Continue reading “Feeling like a zombie? Here are three new holiday cocktails to raise your spirits”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Atomic Grog

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

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

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

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

The Mai-Kai celebrates Hulaween 2020 with drive-in movie party after closing for renovations

The Mai-Kai celebrates Hulaween 2020 with drive-in movie party after closing for renovations

The Mai-Kai specializes in time travel, taking diners back to the mid-century heyday of grand Tiki temples by creating a spectacularly immersive feast of the senses. So it’s no surprise that the Fort Lauderdale restaurant successfully scared up a vintage Halloween party in 2020, transporting hundreds of Hulaween revelers to a vintage drive-in theater in its expansive parking lot for a physically-distanced celebration like no other.

A pineapple jack-o-lantern sets the scene at Hulaween 2020.
A pineapple jack-o-lantern sets the scene at Hulaween 2020.

The sold-out Hulaweeen Drive-In Movie on Oct. 30 creatively navigated the new pandemic reality, giving the occupants of the 60+ vehicles multiple treats to savor. From the screening of the infamous 1970 B-movie Beast of Blood, to the live costume contest projected onto the 33-foot screen, to the rockin’ pre-movie festivities fueled by classic tropical cocktails, the evening provided a frightening (but safe) good time for all in attendance.
Previous story: See the full event preview

Unfortunately, someone apparently played a trick on The Mai-Kai. After successfully navigating the scary new pandemic reality since late May, the historic restaurant faced a scare of its own just days before the 12th annual Hulaween when a massive storm caused damage that will require an extended, temporary closing for repairs and refurbishment.

Just announced: There will be a Virtual Tiki Bingo event to benefit The Mai-Kai employees on Dec. 10. Click here for info and updates.

MORE: Jump to special features below
Preshow: Appleton Rum’s Joy Spence appears via video
News: Latest on the temporary closing
Photos: Hulaweeen Drive-In Movie scene, costumes
Tribute recipe: Blood Island Green Potion #2
Videos: Selection of Hulaween 2020 music

The sudden closing caused some last-minute scrambling to keep the drive-in movie on track, but The Mai-Kai and the event’s driving force, director of public relations Pia Dahlquist, pulled it off with the usual aplomb. Since guests could not enter the restaurant, drinks were served from a pop-up bar behind the building, and portable restroom facilities were secured. With the kitchen closed, a food truck arrived to fill the need with finger-licking barbecue.

Hurricane Hayward picks up his cocktail quarts as the parking lot fills up.
Hurricane Hayward picks up his cocktail quarts as the parking lot fills up.

But all the innovative plans appeared to be in danger all afternoon as dark clouds literally loomed over the event. An afternoon storm blew through The Mai-Kai property on Federal Highway, but miraculously the entire event remained dry. It was a blustery evening, however, and the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival staff had their hands full keeping the inflated screen stable. The dark and ominous weather was apropos, but not an issue at the end of the day.

The FLIFF crew was indispensable, not only handling the high-tech rear-projection screen but also guiding all the vehicles into parking spots the old-fashioned way. Some of us brought portable chairs, and my hurricane radio came in handy to tune into the FM frequency that broadcasted the clear and crisp audio.

Considering the weather and makeshift logistics of the entire endeavor, the 90-minute preshow video and 90-minute feature film were both professionally presented and easy to enjoy. The evening concluded, as usual, with a kooky costume contest that was up to the same creative standards of past Hulaween parties.

Guests were welcomed with the same high level of hospitality The Mai-Kai is known for. Quarts of cocktails ordered in advance were delivered to car windows personally by Dahlquist in the porte-cochere. Arriving vehicles also received goodie bags that included Beast of Blood swizzle sticks (courtesy of Drive-In-Sanity Films) and complimentary anti-virus masks provided by the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association’s Broward County chapter. All 60 Beast of Blood 50th anniversary mugs, created by Thor, sold out in advance.

Annubis & Isis arrive and enter the costume contest.
Annubis & Isis arrive and enter the costume contest.

We brought Mai-Kai mugs from home and a bag of ice from Sonic to enjoy the signature Barrel O’ Rum and special Blood Island Green Potion #2 featuring sponsor Appleton Estate Rum. The food from Iron Butt BBQ was delicious, pairing perfectly with The Mai-Kai’s potent cocktails. More traditional drive-in fare (freshly popped popcorn) was also offered by roving Mai-Kai servers.
TRIBUTE RECIPE: Scroll down for our take on Blood Island Green Potion #2

The Mai-Kai’s refreshment stand served two other popular cocktails – the Jet Pilot and Mai Tai – along with a selection of beer, wine, soft drinks and water.

Many spirited guests came in full costume, and some bedecked their vehicles with flaming Tiki accouterments. Those who chose to enter the contest were filmed as they arrived. The clips were later edited together, and the resulting video was shown after the movie. A panel of judges picked the top three winners: Dr. Paul Bearer and Dolly, Death By Swizzle, and Annubis & Isis. As usual, the costumes included many movie and TV references (The Witches, What We Do in the Shadows, Spirited Away, The Walking Dead, et al.) as well as just-plain-wacky get-ups.
PHOTO GALLERY: Scroll down to see scenes from Hulaween, plus all of the costumes

Continue reading “The Mai-Kai celebrates Hulaween 2020 with drive-in movie party after closing for renovations”

Safe and scary fun: Hulaween Drive-In Movie at The Mai-Kai on Oct. 30

Safe and scary fun: Hulaween Drive-In Movie at The Mai-Kai on Oct. 30

Updated Nov. 14

Safe and scary fun: Hulaween Drive-In Movie at The Mai-Kai on Oct. 30
NEW: The Mai-Kai celebrates Hulaween 2020 with drive-in movie party after closing for renovations
The historic Polynesian restaurant transported revelers to a socially-distanced celebration like no other, including an appearance by Appleton Rum’s Joy Spence. FULL EVENT RECAP
News: Latest on the temporary closing
Photos: Hulaweeen Drive-In Movie scene, costumes
Tribute recipe: Blood Island Green Potion #2

PREVIOUS UPDATE:

The Hulaween Drive-In Movie will proceed as scheduled Friday despite the announcement of a temporary closing of the restaurant after extensive flooding. Details on the shutdown and possible reopening date will be covered in a future story. See the official statement below.

Blood Island Green Potion #2

The Mai-Kai is still offering a menu of signature cocktails and other beverages for attendees of Friday’s event. The beverage options include:
* 32-ounce servings of the Hulaween special Blood Island Green Potion #2 (see details below), plus three other longtime favorites: Barrel O’ Rum, Jet Pilot and Mai Tai. All of these can be pre-ordered by guests for pick-up when they arrive, along with a bottle of The Real McCoy 12-year-old Distillers Proof Mai-Kai Blend, an exclusive new rum. Ticket-holders were sent an email with a link to pre-order. Clicking the “Hulaween Take Out Menu” option reveals Friday’s offerings.
* There will also be a cash bar featuring beer, wine, soft drinks and water.

Also just announced to guests via email: A food truck will be on hand providing authentic smoked BBQ with a special menu for Hulaween guests. Iron Butt BBQ features 100 percent all-natural USDA meats smoked over oak and hickory, plus gluten-free sauces.

Any pre-ordered merchandise will also be available for pick-up. Signed posters are still available, but the mugs are sold out. Check-in time remains 6:30 through 7:45 p.m. The special pre-movie video starts at 6:30, featuring past Hulaween photos and video, plus classic film and music clips. The main attraction, Beast of Blood, starts at 8 p.m. The costume contest immediately follows the movie. Though the indoor facilities are closed, restrooms will be available.

The Mai-Kai’s official statement, issued Oct. 28:
“With gratitude for many happy and successful years, the management team of Mai Kai Restaurant and Polynesian Show is regretful to announce the temporary closure after a weekend flood. Our lovely family run business has such a passionate, loyal fan base and we are excited to begin this first phase of enhancing both the structure and design of one of the historic and unique dining and entertainment venues in all of South Florida. Mai-Kai is in the process of finalizing its renovation plan and remains committed to providing exceptional guest service, exceptional comfort and amenities and a memorable experience.”

ORIGINAL STORY:

Since the coronavirus pandemic descended upon the world like a horror movie come to life, bars and restaurants have been forced to adapt in new and creative ways. Rather than cancel its traditional Halloween party, The Mai-Kai in Fort Laudedale reached back into the past for inspiration.

True to its roots as a mid-century icon, the historic Polynesian restaurant will reanimate its parking lot as a drive-in monster movie theater, complete with a big screen showing an infamous 1960s-era horror film. The 12th annual Hulaween promises to be one of most devilishly distinctive holiday events to grace the South Florida calendar.

Hulaween Drive-In Movie 2020 - artwork by Pooch Artwork by Mike Pucciarelli (aka Pooch)

*** Friday, Oct. 30 – Hulaween Drive-In Movie at The Mai-Kai featuring a screening of Beast of Blood, costume contest and prizes, food and drink specials, plus more. Times: Event starts at 6:30, movie at 8 p.m. Cost: $30 per vehicle. Sponsored by Appleton Rum and Drive-In-Sanity Films.
UPDATE: This event is sold out! | Facebook event

The 63-year-old restaurant and its Molokai lounge have been open with limited capacity and social distancing since early June, following an extended closure due to the pandemic. And while business is slowly returning to normal, management decided that the only way Hulaween could reawaken in 2020 was to think outside the box.

Slip Mahoney leads Spinouts Noah Hall (left) and Tony Tomei through a rousing set in The Molokai bar at Hulaween 2019. (Atomic Grog photo)
Slip Mahoney leads Spinouts Noah Hall (left) and Tony Tomei through a rousing set in The Molokai bar at Hulaween 2019. (Atomic Grog photo)

A relationship with Drive-in Sanity Films owner David Sehring and the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival led The Mai-Kai’s longtime events guru, Pia Dahlquist, to propose something new and exciting.

This socially-distanced drive-in theater event, complete with a kitschy B-movie, is sure to please anyone seeking a safe but scary thrill for Halloween. Vehicles will fill most of The Mai-Kai’s expansive back lot, but parking will be staggered and spaced out to allow a comfortable viewing experience. The film festival will provide a 33-foot screen along with staffing and technical assistance that will include streaming the movie soundtrack (along with a special pre-movie block of music videos) to the FM radio airwaves.

An extensive menu of food and adult beverages will be available from The Mai-Kai’s takeout menu for Hulaween guests. Pre-ordering is suggested to avoid a wait. Your order will be delivered to your car window when you arrive. There will also be a small outside bar with special offerings. The Molokai bar and restaurant will be open as usual, so popping into The Molokai is always an option, especially during happy hour (5-7 p.m.).
Mai-Kai takeout menus: Food | Tropical drinks | Wine

Hulaween Drive-In Movie 2020 featuring Beast of Blood

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The living dead came to party at The Mai-Kai’s Hulaween 2019 luau

Hulaween 2019: Luau of the Living Dead

After 10 years, we know what to expect from The Mai-Kai’s infamous Hulaween party: A night of kooky costumes, rockin’ tunes and many cocktails consumed in the legendary Polynesian restaurant’s Molokai bar. The 2019 bash, held Oct. 25, lived up to those standards.

Slip Mahoney cranks out the rockin' tunes.
Slip Mahoney cranks out the rockin’ tunes.

PHOTOS: Jump to the gallery below

The 11th annual Hulaween, themed “Luau of the Living Dead,” featured South Florida’s favorite roots rock band, Slip and the Spinouts, playing three raucous sets. The dance floor was hoppin’ all night as guitarist/vocalist Slip Mahoney led his three-piece band through classic covers and his own original tunes.

The evening kicked off with The Molokai’s always popular happy hour from 5 to 7 p.m. as the 100+ seats filled up fast. Many Shrunken Skulls, Shark Bites and other ominous tropical concoctions were enjoyed by the costumed celebrants.

The bar was decked out in creepy cobwebs and other decor while the signature Molokai Girls got into the spirit while keeping the food and drinks flowing. Halloween tunes got everyone warmed up for the first set by the Spinouts, which also included bassist Noah Hall and drummer Tony Tomei. It was the band’s ninth Hulaween appearance.

Axl and Slash are in the house. Now the party can really start.
Axl and Slash are in the house. Now the party can really start.

By the time the band launched the closing number of their first set, Two Worn Out Boots, the dance floor was packed and the party was already in high gear. Other stand-out originals included 13 Miles and Seven Nights to Rock. These and other songs can be downloaded as mp3 singles from the band’s website. You can also buy CDs and T-shirts from the official Slip and the Spinouts store.

After the band’s second set, it was time for the always creative costume contest, with $600 in cash and prizes to the winners. The Mai-Kai’s manager, Kern Mattei, and marketing director, Pia Dahlquist, presided over the creepy chaos of the costume parade.

Hulaween was once again sponsored by Appleton Estate Rum, the venerable Jamaican brand that not only provided prizes to the winners, but also rewarded attendees with many rounds of free Mai Tais (featuring the signature 12-year-old Rare Blend).

Manager Kern Mattei awards the costume contest grand price to the  clear-cut winners, Mr. and Mrs. Scissorhands.
Manager Kern Mattei awards the costume contest grand price to the clear-cut winners, Mr. and Mrs. Scissorhands.

After careful consideration, the judges narrowed down the costumes to the top three prize winners, plus a fourth runner-up:

* First: Edward and Mrs. Scissorhands ($300 in cash, a bottle of Appleton Estate 21 rum signed by master blender Joy Spence, and a Hulaween 2019 poster signed by artist Mike “Pooch” Pucciarelli).

* Second: Axl and Slash ($200 in cash, Appleton merchandise, signed Hulaween poster).

* Third: Caveman ($100 in cash, Appleton merchandise, signed Hulaween poster).

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Tiki zombies will feast at The Mai-Kai’s Hulaween 2019: Luau of the Living Dead

Hulaween 2018 at The Mai-Kai

The Mai-Kai’s Hulaween, one of the highlights of South Florida’s Halloween party season, will feature a festive feast for the living and dead on Friday, Oct. 25. The 11th annual bash is titled “Luau of the Living Dead,” a theme befitting the historic Polynesian restaurant that will celebrate its 63rd anniversary at year’s end.

NEW: Hulaween 2019 recap & photos
The living dead came to party at The Mai-Kai’s Hulaween 2019 luau

Hulaween 2019: Luau of the Living Dead - artwork by Pooch Artwork by Mike Pucciarelli (aka Pooch)

*** Friday, Oct. 25 – Hulaween 2019: Luau of the Living Dead featuring Slip and the Spinouts at The Mai-Kai. Sponsored by Appleton Rum. Free admission. Happy hour 5 to 7 p.m., plus drink specials all night. Live music and costume contest in The Molokai bar, 7 p.m.-midnight.
The Atomic Grog: Past Hulaween coverage | The Tiki Times events calendar
Hulaween 2018: See recap and photo gallery below

The baroque bacchanal begins with a full two hours of happy hour prices on food and drinks, plus retro Halloween tunes in The Molokai lounge. Once the spirits are satiated, roots rockers Slip and the Spinouts take the stage, turn up the volume and put the party into overdrive.

Slip and the Spinouts get into a groove as Hulaween 2018 kicks into high gear.
Slip and the Spinouts get into a groove as Hulaween 2018 kicks into high gear.

The band – led by guitarist/vocalist Slip Mahoney – will unearth its deadly mix of rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly classics, with lethal original tunes liberally sprinkled throughout three sets. The Atomic Grog will also provide special Halloween music during happy hour and between sets. Doors open at 5, so get there early to get a good seat for the musical mayhem and one of the most creative costume contests in the area.

Participants always come up with wild and wacky costumes, often themed to Tiki and The Mai-Kai but also paying tribute to classic movie characters and Halloween archetypes. The contest takes place around 10 p.m. This year’s prizes are:
* First: $300 in cash, a bottle of Appleton Estate 21 rum signed by master blender Joy Spence, and a Hulaween 2019 poster signed by artist Mike Pucciarelli.
* Second: $200 in cash, Appleton merchandise, signed Hulaween poster.
* Third: $100 in cash, Appleton merchandise, signed Hulaween poster.

Appleton Rum is a perennial sponsor, providing not only prizes but also cocktail samples during the party. Spence, a legend in the rum world, signed a bottle of her 21-year-old rum that will be one of the first-place prizes during her August tasting and Appleton Estate presentation at The Mai-Kai. Click here to see full coverage and photos from this special event.

The Molokai Maidens welcome Hulaween 2018 guests.
The Molokai Maidens welcome Hulaween 2018 guests.

Appleton, a venerable brand from Jamaica, is a key rum in many of the acclaimed cocktails at The Mai-Kai. You can find it in more than a dozen drinks, including the classic Mai Tai and deliciously deadly Shark Bite. The latter (plus the high-octane Jet Pilot) will be available at half price all night long as part of the bar’s nightly drink specials.

The Molokai, which was designed as a turn-of-the-century seaport saloon featuring actual set pieces from the classic 1962 movie Mutiny on the Bounty, boasts 51 specialty drinks and extensive menu of small and large plates. Pair your potent rum drink with a pupu platter and other vintage apps, sushi and sashimi, elaborate salads, and modern tapas including beef sliders and fish tacos. If you so desire, you can also adjourn to The Mai-Kai’s secluded dining rooms or take in the acclaimed Polynesian Islander Revue, the longest-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States, including Hawaii.

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What we learned at Appleton master blender Joy Spence’s rum tasting at The Mai-Kai

What we learned at Appleton master blender Joy Spence’s rum tasting at The Mai-Kai

Updated Aug. 27, 2019

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.

Quick links below
* 5 things you might not know about Joy Spence
* 12 things we learned about how Appleton rum is made
* How Joy Spence wants you to experience Appleton Estate rums
Recipe: Joy Spence’s favorite rum cocktail
* Event preview, Joy Spence biography and Appleton rum overview

Appleton Estate master blender Joy Spence speaks to an enthusiastic group of rum enthusiasts at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale on Aug. 14, 2019
Appleton Estate master blender Joy Spence speaks to an enthusiastic group of rum enthusiasts at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale on Aug. 14, 2019. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The 50 or so enthusiasts who were lucky enough to score a ticket to the sold-out presentation on Aug. 14 were in for a treat. In addition to four delicious Appleton rums, we enjoyed a complimentary Mai Tai and happy-hour prices on The Mai-Kai’s extensive cocktail and pupu menus.

But the most valuable take-away was undoubtedly the fascinating first-hand information provided by the world’s first female master blender. Her articulate and straightforward delivery, sprinkled with entertaining and whimsical anecdotes, made the rum-tasting experience a true Joy.

Here are some of the many insights we learned from Spence during her hour-long appearance in the Fort Lauderdale restaurant’s Tahiti dining room:

5 things you might not know about Joy Spence

* In her youth, she went to an all-girls catholic school and originally wanted to become a nun. “But I’m an only child, and when I told my mother I wanted to become a nun she marched down to the school and told the principal that she needs grandchildren.” Luckily for Appleton Estate and Jamaican rum devotees worldwide, she never joined the convent.

Joy Spence talks about and her early career and her 38 years at Appleton Estate during a special rum tasting at The Mai-Kai on Aug. 14, 2019
Joy Spence talks about and her early career and her 38 years at Appleton Estate during a special rum tasting at The Mai-Kai on Aug. 14, 2019. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* Spence went to college to become a doctor, but she ended up concentrating on her passion for chemistry. When it came time to get some industry experience, she joined Tia Maria as a research chemist. At this time, the company that makes the dark Jamaican liqueur was located right next to J. Wray & Nephew, which makes Appleton Rum.

* She was bored at Tia Maria and always noticed the action at the “happening place” across the road, so in 1981 she sent a resume and set up an interview. “They told me right up front that there were no vacancies,” she said, but two weeks later they offered her a new position as chief chemist because they were so impressed with her resume. Despite the salary being less than her current job, she left Tia Maria and the rest is rum history.

* As chief chemist, Spence worked closely with the master blender, Owen Tulloch. “I became very fascinated with what he was doing in his private room,” she said, and her curiosity led her to knock on his door and find out. Spence recalled: “He started to test me and said ‘you have amazing sensory skills. You’ll become an excellent blender one day.’ So he took me under his wing and I studied with him for 17 years. When he retired, my bosses took a very bold move to appoint me as the master blender. No other woman had ever been given that position in the entire spirits industry. They actually got a lot of flack for it, but they knew what they were doing. My whole life changed after that.”

* The first rum she oversaw as master blender was the Appleton Estate 250th Anniversary release in 1999. She said her knees where shaking during the process. She wasn’t sure how it would be received, “but I got an excellent reaction” and “that gave me the strength and courage to continue and make the other blends that we now have in our portfolio.”

12 things we learned about how Appleton Estate rum is made

The full range of Appleton Estate rums were featured at a special rum tasting at The Mai-Kai on Aug. 14, 2019
The full range of Appleton Estate rums were featured at a special rum tasting at The Mai-Kai on Aug. 14, 2019. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* Appleton Estate, est. 1749, is located in the lush and tropical Nassau Valley. “Believe it or not, it rains every day at 2 p.m., so we don’t have to worry about irrigation,” Spence said. This rainfall feeds the limestone springs beneath the ground, as well as the robust sugar cane crop.

* The estate grows 10 varieties of sugar cane year-round. The crop is harvested between January and May and crushed to yield juice. The juice is then boiled, resulting in crystals of sugar suspended in molasses. A massive centrifuge separates the two. The sugar is sold, and the leftover molasses is pumped over to the distillery, becoming the starting material for the rum.

* The limestone springs – which produce a distinctive turquoise blue water with “a nice soft, sweet taste” – are Spence’s favorite part of the estate. “When I’m feeling depressed and down, I take a glass of Appleton Estate Reserve, drive over to the water source, sit on a rock, and enjoy the beauty of the springs. I sip the Reserve, and by the time my glass is finished, all my troubles have been washed away and I’m ready to go back and face the problems of the distillery.” This unique spring water is added to the molasses.

Continue reading “What we learned at Appleton master blender Joy Spence’s rum tasting at The Mai-Kai”