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!

Advertisements

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!

image001

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).

img_3323

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.

img_3324

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!