Summer of Rum: Islamorada Distilling

Every year for 39 years my family has taken a pilgrimage down to the Florida Keys for the opening of Lobster Season. While I have missed years here and there, my parents have continued the tradition without a break. This year myself, the Junior Traders and my lifelong friend Sailor Rick joined the trip.

While fishing/lobstering was the overall focus, I’m always on the hunt for a Tiki Bar or new Rum. As I was about 12 miles from the end of my drive south, Islamorada Beer Company caught my eye. I noticed something that I maybe didn’t notice on my last trip two year previous… the side of the building also says “Distillery”. I immediately reached out to the Islamorada Distilling Team and scheduled a visit with Master Distiller/Brewer Stephanie Harper.

Upon arrival, Sailor Rick and I were given a warm welcome by the Manager Larissa. She invited us to the tasting bar and went through our rum lineup.

The set up is very unique… on one side of the building is the Beer Co, with full bar and high tops and merchandise then “next door” is the Distillery where you can do tastings and purchase their liquors. Some information that Larissa provided us is that under Florida law you can’t combine a Brewery and Distillery, so they have to remain separate.

Larissa explained that the Distillery has been in business since 2017 and they currently have four rum profiles for sale to the public (as well as two gins and a vodka). We strapped in to try the Silver, Spiced, Select Barrel Aged and Dark Barrel Aged. While the Dark Barrel Aged uses black strap molasses, the others all use Pearl Select Molasses, which includes a blend of sugars from throughout the Caribbean.

We started with the Silver rum, which is aged over oak chips. It was very smooth and light. It is a great mixing rum that still holds a lot of its oaky flavor. Stephanie later explained that originally they were aiming for a 100% clear rum however the filtering was removing too much of the unique flavors. They settled on a more silver color as to not lose the heart of the rum.

We next moved on to the Barrel Aged Rum. This rum is under a continued journey and will soon be re-branded as their Select Rum. It is first distilled in a copper pot still and then run through the column for the spirit run. It is then barrel aged in new white oak barrels at a medium toast and, at the moment, aged for 8 months (soon will be a minimum of a year). The flavor profile had nice hints of vanilla and, of course, a tinge of oak. It reminded me of a lighter bourbon.

Their Spiced was next… I will say that for quite some time I haven’t really been a fan of spiced rum. I know that some on the market have a lot of additives and some are of a high quality but I tend just to avoid them all together. If I want cinnamon or cloves or vanilla in a drink then I like to just added it separately using a homemade syrup. But I went into this with an open mind and I was pleasantly surprised. Islamorada’s Spiced Rum was very “spice forward” and well balanced. It starts with vanilla and ends into a great cinnamon but without the burning of something like Fireball. I would actually almost compare it to St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram. It is a spiced rum that I wouldn’t mind having around.

Finally, we stepped things up a notch with the Dark Rum. This rum is, in my opinion, their best offering. (It won a gold medal from the International Rum Expert Panel in 2018.) Like the Select Barrel Aged, it is currently being aged at 8 months but soon will be at a year. They are using New Oak barrels with a Char 3. The Dark has gone through a revolution. Currently you can purchase batch 9 and Master Distiller Stephanie loves its “richness”. We were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to also try batch 6, which used Hungarian Spiced Oak Chips, as well as batch 10, which was BOTTLED THAT DAY.

I have to say that I loved the batch 10! The butterscotch and caramel shine and it makes it a good sipping rum. It is fun that they are bottling all their rums as Single Cask so you get a slightly different experience each time you dive in. While blending is essential for the big distilleries, single cask allows smaller, independent shops to offer some wonderful flexibility and different experiences.

After our tastings, Stephanie invited the Sailor and I back into the distillery! She was an amazing hostess and really has learned her craft (and loves to share it, which is wonderful). Stephanie was a dive instructor who really took the job of Brewer on almost a dare (“you think you can do better, then come in here and show me”). She then migrated to Distilling when, without much warning, Islamorada Beer Company was granted their Distilling license.

Currently they are doing all their distilling and barrel aging and bottling and labeling right on the premises but soon will have an additional location further north in Ft. Pierce, FL. While I like the thought of having everything happen in Islamorada, I get the need to grow and I know that having more storage space will allow for longer aging and more profiles. The plan is still to distill everything in the Keys but then use the extra space in Ft. Pierce for storage and aging. Stephanie told us that they have a Queen’s Share (saw the barrel) and Reserve in the works as well as a Rye and a Bourbon.

We were fortunate enough to be there while a spirit run was working through the column still and even were able to sample some still strength rum which, while STRONG, was extremely delicious. Not sure if an overproof rum in in their future however, I’d purchase it if it comes to pass.

We spent over 2 hours with Stephanie and Larissa and we could have stayed even longer! Their hospitality and information was invigorating and infectious but we knew they also had jobs to do. Before leaving I knew I needed some of the Dark to bring back to Trader Jay’s (and some Hibiscus Gin for Mrs. Trader) however, batch 10, my favorite, was not quite ready. Stephanie invited us next door for beverage from the Beer Company and offered to wax a few bottles of Dark Batch 10 for us. (As a side note, I tried the No Wake Zone Key Lime Coconut Ale and it was delicious and refreshing.)

For one final treat, Stephanie invited us back to watch our Batch 10 bottles be waxed and presented us with bottles 1-4. It was an extremely kind gesture and now I’m kind of hesitant to open bottle 1.

I cannot speak highly enough of Islamorada Distilling! While still very young, they are well on their way. They have an amazing staff down there at Mile Marker 82 who all offer a wonderful, casual Florida Keys hospitality. If you are in the area then I would definitely recommend stopping in to say hi and for a taste, I do not think you’d be disappointed.

Mahalo Stephanie and Larissa! We will be back!

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Summer of Rum: Suffering in Sanford

In late April a new Tiki Bar opened in Central Florida. Those that know me would have thought I would have been there opening week however it is located in Sanford (about a 50 minute drive, on a good day, from my house). It took a few months of planning but last weekend we made it out to Suffering Bastard.

Suffering Bastard has done a great job of minimal promotion, really only using Instagram. They don’t have a website and, actually, don’t even have their own location. It is interesting because the bar is located INSIDE another bar (Tuffy’s Bottle Shop). And they are two separate entities, which felt a bit strange (I’ll get to that in a moment).

To get there using Phone/GPS you’ll want to put “Tuffy’s Bottle Shop” in as your destination. There is plenty of parking in the lot across the street. When you walk in you see a simple bar… you have to take a left into a more “empty” room and down a hallway on the right you’ll find the entrance and host stand to Suffering Bastard. They are definitely going for the “speakeasy”/hole-in-the-wall type of vibe… which I kind of enjoy.

We arrived around 7pm on a Saturday evening and were told there was a “short wait”. We requested to wait for the bar and were told that wasn’t an issue. So we went to check out Tuffy’s. Of course, as soon as our drink was served we get the text that seats were available. The issue with this is that since they are separate bars you can’t take a drink from Tuffy’s into Suffering. I have to say that this was a bit of a dissatisfier. Even though we were told our seats would be held while we finished our drink, we were eager to maximize our tiki experience. We quickly downed our Old Fashioned (which, by the way, was extremely delightful… Mrs. Trader thinks it could be one of the best she’s ever had) and headed in to Suffer.

Suffering Bastard is, by far, the smallest tiki bar I have been to. It has a bar on the right with about 10/12 seats and about 6/7 tables on the left and THAT’S IT! We were told it seats a total of 32 people. But what they lack in space they make up for in pretty much everything else!

The décor and music were both SPOT ON! Typhoon Tommy, the designer/builder, did an amazing job on the space. You can tell he focused on quality and did as much handmade as possible. The large Suffering Bastard behind the bar is the anchor and everything else works around him. I was a huge fan of the skull pendant lights that hung above the bar.

Our bartender for the evening was Chris and, while more on the quiet side, he knows his drinks and his rum. For a bar of only 32 people, he was non-stop making drinks, with the other bartender Arthur, all night. We had a few good chats about rare rums and our takes/variations on different classic tiki cocktails. If you give him your pallet then he will definitely steer you in the right direction.

Mrs. Trader started with one of her absolute favorites, a Navy Grog… full with Cone Ice. I, with a recommendation from Chris on what were some of his favorites, went with a Planter’s Punch. Both drinks were balanced, rum forward, fresh and wonderful.

Suffering Bastard does have a partnership with Da Kine Poke, a permanent Food Truck located in the courtyard of Tuffy’s. You can order from a small menu and the food will come right to you. While the portions are small and choices are limited, I have to tell you that everything we tried was fantastic.

We explored a few more drinks including the Tiger Shark (served in a shark, as you can see), the Honi Honi (Bastard’s take on a Mai Tai with Bourbon) and the namesake Suffering Bastard (Vic style). I know that Mrs. Trader definitely enjoyed the Navy Grog the best, even went for a second, but I’m not sure I could pick my favorite… Suffering definitely shines with their drinks, there is no doubt about it! They do something that if I’ve seen before I don’t remember… in appropriate drinks they put a cinnamon stick in and light the end on fire with one of those culinary torches. It doesn’t stay on fire like a candle but continues to smoke and releases the aroma while you enjoy your beverage. Very nice addition!

The intimate atmosphere also lends itself nicely to meeting fellow tikifiles… we had a great conversation with a couple sitting next to us who are local to the area and enjoys both Suffering as well as Bitters and Brass (owned by the same people). The couple, one of which actually works at the same company as myself, are headed to Chicago so we took the opportunity to talk up Three Dots and Lost Lake. We also took the opportunity to have some rum and a mini daquiri.

Suffering Bastard was a great experience, however there are two things we’d change. One would be something that can’t be helped… we want it to be CLOSER… the drive is a bit painful. The other would be a little more overall hospitality… no one was rude but also no one went out of their way to be welcoming or thankful for our patronage. I guess when you have a 32 seat bar that was still on a wait after 10pm maybe you don’t have to focus on that aspect? But places that do, like Lost Lake, Three Dots, Laki Kane, Strong Water are the ones that stand out and make you want to return time and time again… no matter how long the drive/flight.

That all said, the drinks are amazing, definitely the stars, followed closely by the atmosphere. The bar looks beautiful, the escapism truly is real and the drink recipes were researched, thought out and as balanced as possible. If you are in the Central Florida area and looking for the best overall Tiki Experience then Suffering Bastard is where you want to be (while I love Trader Sam’s as much as the next guy, Suffering drinks BLOW Sam AWAY). And if you head out there let me know… I’ll take any excuse to saddle up and head out there again. (Maybe we car pool?)

The Summer of Rum: Part 1

While Club 33 over at Disneyland is having their second “Summer of Tiki” I have decided that I’ve started Trader Jay’s “Summer of Rum”.

It all kicked off on April 13th when Rum Runner Steve and his wife Kim the Rum-Dawg brought back Trouvadore 15 Year Rum from their visit to Turks & Caicos. That same faithful day we gave Bajan 1966 Rum a try (documented here) as well as had our first experience with Rum Captain Brad, Sarah and “Admiral” Fernando at Strong Water (documented here).

There were a lot of great rums tasted that evening… including Ron Abuelo XV Tawny Port, Dictador 20 and the aforementioned Bajan 1966.  And, there were a few misses (sorry Skullduggery from Antigua, you have a cool bottle but not a great product).

Next was the completion of a long standing quest (only 2 short days later) of obtaining Hamilton Jamaican Pot Still Black rum. Long story, short… Kevin Berry from Three Dots and a Dash Chicago told me it was his one “stuck on an island” rum and I’ve been after it for two years.  Of course, turns out it was at a liquor store I rarely pass but is only 4 miles from my house. I quickly went to work with the Hamilton (trying to match Rum Captain Brad’s brilliant Mai Tai).

The next rum “event” on the list is extremely unique… my boss decided to think outside the box a little on my company anniversary gift. She, being from Columbus, OH, went searching for something different and found a rum made in Columbus… Pipe Dream pot distilled rum from 451 Spirits. I will say this… I was 100% skeptical at first because I prefer my Rum to be from the Caribbean (for the most part) however Pipe Dream has a place. There is a drink that it would be perfect for I just haven’t found it yet… but I am confident I will.

A last minute Disney Cruise was next with a stop in Nassau.  Nassau used to be filled with rum/liquor/duty free stores however, it seems, they have slowly disappeared. I went on a solo hunt for any interesting rum/deal and was mostly disappointed.  That was until I stumbled upon a GREAT deal on Appleton Estate 21 Year. I was very excited with the find and it has quickly become one of my favorite sipping rums! If you have the opportunity to pick yourself up a bottle then DO IT!

Also on the ship I had the opportunity to try Bacardi Facundo Paraiso XA Rum at the ship’s premier Meridian bar. The rum is aged up to 23 years however it is still a blend. The claim is that it has more older rums than the others in the Facundo line and it is finished in Cognac barrels. I found it had a slight oak but not as much as the Appleton 21. It was a very nice rum however I don’t think I’d run right out and drop $300 a bottle on it anytime soon though the bottle is quite impressive.

Returning from the cruise Summer of Rum kicked it up a notch with another visit to Strong Water (SERIOUSLY, if you haven’t been then you MUST go). Our Rum Captain for this visit was Brittany, who had just returned from a Cuba Cruise (side note that we were planning to do that in September but now the State Department has put a block back on visiting). Anyway, Brittany was wonderful, she offered a different flavor profile than Brad and had some great insights about Papa’s Pilar line of rums.  I also had the opportunity to try Rhum Clement Cuvee Homere. It was enjoyable… started with the fresh cane juice, I could pick up a hint of hazelnut and had a dry finish. We also had the opportunity to catch up with Sarah, our hostess on our first visit, and Rum Captain Brad via phone.

I’d like to take the opportunity to call out the hospitality that the Manager (Admiral?), Fernando, provided. He was on the deck of “his” ship 99.9% of the time, greeting guests, talking with tables and we had lots of opportunities to talk about rums… new rums they were exploring, rare rums that he had recently experienced and everyday rum drinks. He was even able to ensure that Mrs. Trader had the opportunity to have her favorite drink, the Milk Punch before we left (which wasn’t ready yet when we arrived). Fernando is an amazing asset to Strong Water and if you have the chance to chat with him about rum you definitely should. It is wonderful talking with the entire staff of Strong Water. They each know their stuff as well as offer a slightly different perspective. We plan to return in the next week or so.

All this rum and it was only Memorial Day weekend!!!  The Summer of Rum was just getting started but I like to keep my posts “manageable” so I’ll stop Part 1 here and look to add Part 2 soon. If you have a Rum Suggestion I should try then leave in the comments.  And, as always, if you have a Rum you’d like to send my way for a full review then always happy to help!

The Rum’s Not Gone… Yet!

Part 2 is LIVE

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.

Four Years of Trading

Just about Four Years ago Trader Jay’s Home Tiki Bar was born (read about it here). I thought I’d take a spell to enjoy how far it has come while keeping in mind that it will never be complete.

Over the past four years I have met so many wonderful people as well as grown my tiki mug collection and rum collection… but collecting tiki décor has really provided some great memories. Here are just a few followed by some updated pictures of Trader Jays…

Meet Georgina! She is a classic replica of a ship’s figurehead. She was a gift from one of my best friends. A few years ago his father, Big George, passed away. George thought that if his son wasn’t interested in keeping “Boobs” (her name at the time) then maybe I’d want her for my tiki bar. Of course I was honored and knew I’d be able to find a home for Boobs, however first I had to make her a little more “family friendly” (since she was very much naked, hence her name).  Mrs. Trader did most of the handy work in adding a coconut bikini and grass skirt and then I decided to rename her Georgina in honor of Big George.

Now she hangs proudly watching over all of TJ’s patrons.

My “Maui Hook”… it is hard to ignore the influence of Disney on my bar, hence a Maui Hook. On our recent summer family trip to Hawaii I decided that I, obviously, wanted something to add to Trader Jay’s but since wall space is filling up it had to be something unique. All over the little gift shops you’ll find plenty of Hawaiian Fish Hook necklaces (called Makau) which symbolizes love and respect of the ocean. It was seeing those that set me on my path to find a big hook for TJ’s.

The feat, however, was not as easy as you might think it should be.  Finally, after a week and a half my wife and I stumbled upon a nice lady who had a wood carving shop in Kona and saw the hook.  The lady explained that her son-in-law had carved 14 hooks but only 2 remained. She said she was looking for the right “Ohana” for the final 2 hooks (and, of course, someone willing to pay the right price).  Mrs. Trader and I decided if we didn’t go for it there in Kona then we might not find the right fit at all.

Now the hook hangs in direct line of site of the entrance to Trader Jay’s, a perfect staple.

The Caines Tiki has a much simpler story but still is very special to Trader Jay’s… it is actually the first tiki that I owned. What makes it even better is my good friend Caines personally carved it.  This one-of-a-kind tiki was a gift to celebrate a promotion over 14 years ago and has had a place in my home ever since.


Those are just a few stories of the many treasures Trader Jay’s holds… and the great news is that its story will never end as Trader Jay’s will continue to grow and evolve.  The ultimate dream is to put bamboo on the ceiling but that doesn’t quite make the list of overall house priorities just yet (maybe I can crowdfund it?)

Check out the rest of the photos below… if you see something you’d like to know more about then let me know, always happy to share! Mahalo!

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!

Tiki Mugs: More than a Drink Vessel

Brought to you by Trader Vic’s Flagship Restaurant (Emeryville, CA)

So you’ve taken the time to read about my private Tiki Bar… and maybe you’ve even taken that next step to experience one of the amazing Tiki Bars I’ve mentioned or reviewed but how will everyone know that you really went?  The TIKI MUG, of course!

No one knows exactly what the first tiki mug was but it is estimated it dates as far back as the late 50’s.  Since then collecting Tiki Mugs has been a pastime of many a Tiki Fan.

Here is what Wikipedia has to say about Tiki Mugs:

Tiki mugs are large ceramic cocktail mugs which originated in tiki bars and tropical themed restaurants. The term “Tiki mugs” is a generic, blanket term for sculptural drinkware that depict Polynesian, mock-Polynesian, or tropical themes. Tiki mugs are not commonly seen outside tiki bars and restaurants, but are also a kitsch collectors item.

 In building an at home Tiki Bar, having a good Tiki Mug collection is important.  They are not only vital to the bar’s décor but they also serve as great conversation pieces.  I won’t pretend that my Tiki Mug collection is the most extensive out there… BY FAR… but I think it is well on its way.  (Now, if you ask Mrs. Trader she will say that I’m almost at Tiki Mug capacity, but I say you can always add more shelves.)

My first Tiki Mug was actually a gift from my lifelong friend, Andy.  Following our first trip to the famed Mai Kai he bought me a pair of the famed Barrel O’ Rum barrels.  They probably are closing in on 15 years old by now and still an important part of my Tiki Mug collection.

Things just taste better in a barrel! – Andy


Following my barrels, the Tiki Mug collection grew very little until my first trip to the magical Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto.  This was the point in which I decided to build my Tiki Bar (read about it here) and I knew the mugs would be an important part of this new journey.  After only two visits to Trader Sam’s (and thanks to the generosity of two more lifelong friends, Rick and Goat) I had all the Grog Grotto Tiki Mugs.  The collection was well on its way!


Next came trips to other tiki establishments, including Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar in Anaheim, Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco, Three Dots and a Dash in Chicago and Latitude 29 in New Orleans.  And, to prove I went, drank and enjoyed, I made sure that at least one mug came back to Trader Jay’s with me.


Another thing that I’m finding about becoming a known “Trader” to friends is that I’ve also been fortunate to be gifted Tiki Mugs and tiki barware along the way.  Mugs from Smuggler’s Cove were gifts and there is a great story surrounding one of my mugs from Three Dots and a Dash.  Also, the friend who convinced me to start this blog was kind enough to gift two tiki glasses from Lost Lake in Chicago (a bar I have yet to experience).


Other big additions to my Tiki Mug collection are not from a Tiki Bar at all.  Some might say that they aren’t TRUE Tiki Mugs but with how awesome and unique they are I don’t particularly care.  They are the first release of Geeki Tikis by Beeline Creative (sold on ThinkGeek).  Being such a HUGE Star Wars fan, these Tiki Mugs are the perfect way to bring a little modern pop culture into Trader Jay’s (plus the kids love using them).


Finally, the most recent addition to my Tiki Mug collection (and chief reason for this blog topic)… Tiki Mugs directly from the home of the “Creator”, Trader Vic’s.  This is the Tiki Bar at the VERY TOP of my “must visit” list, however the wonderful and generous staff at Trader Vic’s was kind enough to provide Trader Jay’s with three of their iconic Tiki Mugs.  I plan to one day visit and order a drink housed in each mug (as well as an Original Mai Tai, of course).


So there is my Tiki Mug collection story.  I’m happy with how it has grown and plan to continue to grow it.  If you want to help me add to it, I’ll always allow that… The Trader isn’t picky.  And if you are in the San Fran area or Atlanta, be sure to visit my friends at Trader Vic’s!

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Fresh Lime – A Must!

Before I started down my Tiki journey, I would have said, like many others, “I’ll just use the bottled juice, it is so much easier… can it really matter that much?”

The truth… I matters more than typed words can describe!

Once I moved to real juice, especially lime, my drinks became more fresh and more delishious! (I made the move due to a passage in my Tiki Bible from Smuggler’s Cove.) The real issue with fresh juice is “time”… being a full time working father of two boys leaves little time to squeeze limes every night. There are so many times that I’ll get home from work, crave a delicious exotic cocktail but not want to take the time to squeeze the limes (but I also won’t shortcut and use pre-bottled lime juice).

Enter an idea that I actually am claiming as original-ish… freezing fresh lime juice in pre-measured amounts in ice cube trays.

I won’t pretend I’m the first person ever to think of this but I also didn’t read about it somewhere else… therefor “original-ish”.

What I’ll do is buy and squeeze 5-6 limes at one time, pour in this awesome ice cube tray and then just use the number of cubes I need when time. (The size of one cube, purposefully, is 3/4 of an ounce… the exact amount I use in my Mai Tai.)

I’ve also found that for some drinks, shaking the drink with only the lime ice cube will chill it enough without watering it down (lime ice cubes melt faster than H2O so a standard amount of shaking is almost perfect).

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The ice cube tray is perfect and the cubes slide out so easily.  You can either just leave in the tray, since it has a cover, or remove and put in a plastic bag or food storage container.

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Either way, the time savings is great and the drinks still taste to Tiki-Perfection!  So give it a try!

Tiki Mothership: The Mai Kai

Not sure what I can say about the Mai Kai that hasn’t already been said so I’ll just share my most recent experience…

We made the pilgrimage down there this past Saturday to celebrate my birthday. Where better for the Trader to celebrate? My wife, sons, parents and sister all join me on the voyage… it would be all of their first times enjoying dinner and the show.

Before I get into my experience, here is a very brief history of The Mai Kai…

The Mai-Kai opened to the public on December 28, 1956, in Ft. Lauderdale and is one of the few “Grand Polynesian Palaces of Tiki” still in operation today. In 2015 it was named the “best tiki bar in the world” by Critiki, an organization of fans of Polynesian pop culture. It is the last restaurant/bar in existence carrying on the traditions of service and serving the original drink recipes of Don the Beachcomber’s, and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (For more history, check out Wikipedia.)

There are a lot of amazing details about The Mai Kai and one of my favorites is how they transport you to Polynesia from the second you turn in. They have a loose board bridge that rattles under your car… helping you to forget US 1 behind you and teleport to Tiki heaven.

After handing our car over to the valet we headed in to the Molokai Bar. It was happy hour so we wanted to grab a half price drink before dinner (Trader Jay recommendation). I opted for my favorite Mai Kai elixir… The Barrel O’ Rum, a Mai Kai staple.  The menu describes it as a drink loved by smugglers, pirates and rum runners, it is bold, big and rightfully smooth.  The recipe (like most Mai Kai drinks) is secret… in the tradition of Don, they mix all their drinks “backstage” to keep their recipes secret. My wife ordered a Hukilau, which is the official drink of the annual tiki festival hosted by the Mai Kai. They even make some fantastic non-alcoholic drinks… my boys love the Maui Sunrise.  As you would expect, the drinks are all amazing. Now that I’m a pretend mixologist I like to try to breakdown the ingredients.  Their drink menu, like many tiki bars, is very extensive… it would take multiple visits to try them all (but it is worth a try).

The decor is amazing from top to bottom! The Molokai Bar has more of a old ship feel to it with rigging and some fantastical added effects, like the water streaming down the windows like rain. The tiki waterfall is one of my favorite touches!


After our Happy Hour round we went into the dining room for dinner. The decor in the dining room is equally “Tiki-rific” but the feel changes from the nautical to more classic tiki with thatch and bamboo and plenty of eclectic lanterns. It truly is a sight to see and words (or even pictures) don’t do it justice.

The food is really good as well. Everything we ordered was enjoyable! I always recommend the PuPu Platter as a starter. One fun addition to the kids menu is that a meal comes with a drink in a pineapple.

I also didn’t want to miss out on more “fun drink vessels” so I ordered a Mara-Amu (with take home Tiki mug). According to the menu, Mara-Amu means “when the west wind blows” in Tahitian and is another delicious rum punch.


The stage show is very good. It is the right amount of hula/dancing/chanting/etc. And it all leads up to the hands down kid favorite FIRE dancing! I’ve seen a decent number of fire dancing/twirling shows but I have to admit that this probably had to be the best! It is worth the price of admission for sure!

Right prior to the fire on stage came my choice dessert, which also involves fire… the Bananas Bengali (Mai Kai version of bananas foster). While I will admit it doesn’t quite measure up the Brennan’s in New Orleans, it was a great end to the meal. The Mai Kai definitely doesn’t shy on the rum and the two feet fire pour is very impressive. They even serve it still flaming.


The last thing that I would make sure not to miss is the Tiki Garden in the back! The Mai Kai has built this own tropical oasis complete with waterfalls and plenty of tikis (large and small). It is only a short loop but the boys really loved the adventure and there are plenty of photo ops.


So, as you can see, it really is Tiki Heaven! This historical gem really has it all! There is so much to experience that most probably can’t do it all in one visit. But, if you only have one chance to enter these historic doors then this is what I wouldn’t miss…

  • Barrel o’ Rum at Molokai Bar (happy hour)
  • Polynesian show (don’t miss the fire)
  • Bananas Bengali (Server Wes does a master fire pour)
  • And a 10 minute stroll through the Tiki Gardens

While I haven’t been in a while, I was thrilled to return! Being there with my family and celebrating my birthday in Tiki Perfection is everything I could have asked for.

Mahalo to The Mai Kai and my Ohana!