Strong Water Tavern: A Rum Lovers Dream

I think most people will admit that there is never enough “time” in life… That becomes VERY apparent when Mrs. Trader and I try to schedule adult date night with friends.  Inevitibly calendars don’t align or a babysitter isn’t available or a child gets sick last minute however this past weekend the stars lined up for us to do Double Date Night (DDN) with our friends Kim & Steve.

The next task is always figuring out where we want to go… this time Kim said “oh, there is a rum bar at the Sapphire Falls hotel at Universal Studios Orlando, maybe we go there?” I have a number of reactions… 1) Kim has known about this for years and never told me and 2) I’m a little ashamed of myself for not knowing.

I do a little research and, will admit, they under sell it on the Universal Orlando site (which isn’t unlike Trader Sam’s at Disney).  They list Strong Water Tavern as a “Lounge” at the Sapphire Falls resort and it doesn’t even get its own page.  But once I read the description and checked out the menu I became VERY intrigued…

A wall of vintage rums, your own rum specialist, a ceviche bar and a patio overlooking the lagoon combine to make Strong Water Tavern an exceptionally cool and stylish watering hole. Featuring tapas style dining options with rum tastings, this is a true destination lounge in the heart of an island jewel.

A “wall of vintage rums”… now you’re speaking my language!

The four of us head over there Saturday night; parking in the hotel’s garage was a piece of cake (and they validate). Strong Water is located right off the lobby and is VERY open, even if it was extremely busy it wouldn’t ever feel “packed”. The décor is very nice, a huge map of the Caribbean and lots of rum barrels (you need to keep your expectations in check… this is not a Tiki Bar).   We ran into Sarah as we entered and she took us to a high top. (When Mrs. Trader and I go out we like to sit at the bar but it is harder to socialize with four people while sitting in a line.)

Sarah was our server and she was fantastic!  She gave us a tour of the menu, told us about some specials (one of them being a “Game of Thrones” themed drink – we are fans) and then introduced us to one of Strong Water’s Rum Captains, Brad. (At this point I’m pretty sure I missed my calling!!!) Brad KNOWS HIS STUFF!  It was one of the best rum conversations I’ve had in a really long time. We talked about favorite rums, rare rums, old rums and even where to buy favorite/rare/old rums in the Orlando area.

The wives ordered some drinks but Steve and I went straight to rum tasting flights. I should point out now that things started to get hazy as the rums started to flow but here are some things that I remember…

  • There were three rums that stood out above the rest that I hadn’t tried previously…
    • Dictador 20 (Columbia)
    • Diplomatico 2002 (Venezuela)
    • Ron Abuelo XV Tawny Port (Panama) – this one was a table favorite! A hunt is already on to try and find a bottle
  • Brad is a fan of Hamilton Jamaican Pot Still Black Rum and uses it for his Mai Tai. He even offered to split a case with me since it is a hard rum to find in Florida
    • Side note: a week later I found a liquor store (Regency Wine & Liquor) that regularly has it in stock (YIPPY!)
  • If you find yourself a Strong Water ask Brad to set you up with a flight of “Captain’s Choice” – you will NOT be disappointed!
  • There are some rums off menu so ask if you’re looking for something specific. Steve had a flight of cachaça  that they just had added to the Tavern.  We decided that it works better in a caipirinha than alone but it was fun to taste straight since that isn’t something we’d normally do.
  • And, finally, this is a BOLD statement but Brad mixes up one of the BEST Mai Tais (slightly off menu) that I’ve ever had! He was kind enough to share his recipe and I’ve already started working on it. I don’t think it is my place to share it here but I will say he uses Clement Creole Shrubb Orange Liqueur in place of traditional curaçao and, in my head, it is a game changer!

So, there it is… If you are looking for a great “Rum” experience then find your way to Strong Water! It is an OUTSTANDING time and we will be returning VERY soon!

A BIG SHOUT OUT to Sarah and Brad… they were both amazing hosts and really made us feel like the only table in a busy tavern.

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Becoming a Pretend Rum Connoisseur

My Rum and Tiki journey has reached a year and what a ride! I’ve learned to much but still have a long way to go! As I sit on the Beach down in Key Biscayne (island off Miami) I sip a frozen mojito (highly recommended) and reflect on my learnings so far.

I figure the gateway to the Caribbean is as good a place as ever to summarize my lessons thus far.

So, in no particular order…

  • If the drink menu says “Mai Tai = spiced rum and fruit juices” then that is a hard pass! I can accept a slight variation from Trader Vic’s Original Recipe but it better have fresh juice and aged, quality rum.
  • There is no substitute for fresh squeezed lime juice (or my special Frozen squeezed juice).
  • Finding a quality rum at the basic bar is near impossible. Main stream bars haven’t caught on… most just carry Bacardi, Captain Morgan and then they think they are fancy if they have Meyers.
  • I’ve tried a decent number of rums over the past year but still think Appleton Estate Reserve is my favorite multi-use mixing rum. It is the go to for my Mai Tai and many other drinks.
  • For sipping, still keeping Plantation 20th anniversary on the top of the shelf (though I won’t lie that Zacapa is working its way up).
  • If you are lucky enough to find a bartender who knows rums then talk as much as you can to them! They will share what they like and will enjoy the conversation enough, usually, to let you sample.
  • Overproof rum doesn’t have to taste like rubbing alcohol… get some Plantation OFTD! It is a powerful ally (in the right quantities).
  • There is never enough self space in an at home-Tiki-Bar-in-progress.
  • Always buy the Tiki mug that comes with the drink, you’ll regret it if you don’t.
  • Take your time and measure your drinks… you wouldn’t make a soufflé by just eyeballing it, don’t compromise on a perfectly crafted cocktail.
  • Your tiki bar will never be finished… both decorating and stocking with rum/liquor/mixers.
  • The Tiki Community takes care of their own! Thank you to Trader Vic’sFlorida Mermaid Rum, the staff at the Marriott Denver South and Diplomatico Rum for their support.

So there ya go, some of the lessons in Trader Jay’s first year! Here’s to many more Tiki-rific years to come!