Meet Jason Brand – Kō Hana Rum Distillery

FRS: Jason, would you mind providing a quick, 3 sentence introduction of yourself?

JB: I’ve been blessed in life with a wonderful career, great friends, and an incredible family. In my fifty years, I’ve learned to appreciate the details in life that are underneath the experiences we share – the actual building blocks of things. For the last decade, I’ve lived in Hawaii, growing 1,000 year old heirloom Hawaiian sugarcane varietals and distilling the pure cane juice into one of the finest rums in the world.

FRS: Would you mind telling us about your personal rum journey and background?  What brought you from Florida to Hawaii?

JB: I grew up in Miami, spending most of my days on or in the water. The image of a watching a bright orange sun setting over the ocean with a good Agricole and a twist of lime in my hand is etched in my mind forever.

My career moved me north to New York City, where flip flops were traded in for dress shoes and bathing suits became business suits. My drink of choice changed too, reflecting the faster pace of the city and the colder weather. Fine rums turned into whiskeys and the nuances of drinks became about blending and barrel choice instead of the starting ingredients. With longer work hours, social drinking was about release and less about building the fond memories that rum drinks elicit.

Tokyo was up next for my family. In finance, Asia was booming and my company sent me there to help build our capabilities. In liquor terms, Asia introduced me to a host of new alcohols: sochu, baiju, lambanog, soju, and ruou to name a few.  Each spirit had a different base ingredient, new ways of fermentation and distillation, sometimes bizarre ingredients (like venomous snakes) included, and offered something new. The experience reopened my eyes to how great ingredients create great end products.

Hawaii, with its warmth, beauty, and kind people, was an easy next step as we made our way back to the US and closer to family. Not having any roots in the islands, we built our community through the land. Our first farm is now one of the largest providers of leafy greens in Hawaii. Kō Hana is farm number two – and began years before the first bottle of rum was ever made.   My business partners and I realized that we had to perfect the ingredient side – the farming side – first in order to produce an incredible product. The decision to showcase our farming as an Agricole style rum was easy and success soon followed.

FRS: Kō Hana has a very unique approach to Agricole style rum… what inspired you and your team to do all single cane varietals?

JB: 1,000 years ago, early Polynesian voyageurs traveled across the wide ocean and settled in Hawaii. They brought sugarcane with them in their canoes. These canes thrived in the island’s climate and became part of traditional Hawaiian daily life and legends. In the 1800s, the table sugar industry moved to Hawaii and slowly replaced all the heirloom canes with the types used to make the sugar cubes modern society enjoys.

Kō Hana, working together with scientists, professors, and botanical gardens, reestablished the original strains of ko – the Hawaiian word for sugarcane. In fact, we have over 30 heirloom varieties, each genetically unique and each one with its own story in history. The cane ranges in color from red to green to pink to orange to purple, with and without striped patterns. Notably, each variety has its own distinct flavor.

To tell the story of the ko, we only use the fresh pressed juice of a single varietal as the base in each of our Hawaiian Agricole rums. That means we have over 30 different varieties of white rum and they all taste different, each one reflecting the spirit of the sugarcane that made it. We follow specific process for how we ferment, how we distill, and how we age – each adding to the complex flavors that make up Kō Hana.

In our tasting room, visitors sip rum in side by side comparisons, noticing how the starting plants – the different cane varieties – affect the characteristics of the rum. Then, they move to our barrel aged selections and observe how the interaction with different woods further transforms the rum.

Kō Hana never sacrifices quality in our process. It’s what makes us one of the best cane rums in the world. Most important, Kō Hana lets people connect to what they are drinking. There is a sense of place, of history and the land, with every drink.

FRS: Are you able to pick a favorite cane varietal or is that like trying to choose a favorite child?

JB: Long ago, there was a ceremony called the Hana Aloha. Hana means “work” and Aloha means “love.” Together, the phrase translates as “the work of love” or “love magic.” A priest would enchant the spirit of a cane called Manulele (means “flying bird”) to fly away and bring back the love of another. I love that story. In many ways, it’s the story that launched Kō Hana Hawaiian Agricole Rum.

Each of our rums have a story like that. Flavor wise, I personally enjoy a cane variety called Kea (means “white”). The cane is white in appearance and was planted by most Hawaiian houses when the Hawaiian islands were being unified. It’s sweet juice ferments and distills into a very grassy bouquet when making an Agricole style rum.

FRS: Do you have a favorite Kō Hana cocktail recipe that you’d be willing to share with the FRS?

JB: Easy one for me. The Ko Fashioned. It’s our play on a Rum Old Fashioned.

  • 2oz Kō Hana Koho Aged Hawaiian Agricole
  • Barspoon of simple syrup (or use Kō Hana Kokoleka to step it up a notch)
  • Dash Angostura Bitters
  • Dash Orange Bitters

Stir ingredients with ice
Strain over new ice cubes
Garnish with an orange peel

FRS: Those members that pay close attention to Kō Hana probably know about the Koa barrel finished rum. (I’m, personally, a HUGE fan!) Can you talk about how that idea came about and if there are any other unique expressions like this on the horizon?

JB: Koa is delicious. My business partner, Robert, was working to find Hawaiian plants that would pair well with our distillery’s philosophies. Koa is the endemic Hawaiian tree, with beautiful grains and rich in color. A local business helped us cooper the first Koa wood barrels and the product was born – well, it was born after the first few samples were pulled from the barrel and all of us stood there with our mouths agape at how amazing the koa aged rum tasted.  Our Koa rum is truly an original spirit, likely the first of its kind. For reference, a Koa wood barrel costs roughly $8,000 compared to $150 for American oak – and it’s worth it.

In terms of unique expressions, for those who haven’t tried our Kokoleka rum, it’s three Hawaiian farms together in one bottle: our Hawaiian sugarcane, local Hawaii honey, and local Hawaiian cacao to create a chocolate, honey rum. It’s the bomb for dessert lovers. Our Kila rum is where the distillery truly gets to showcase its craft at barrel strength. We release about six Kila’s a year, each one trying to tell the story of a cane variety through the use of different woods. My favorite was a three year old rum that we finished in a Laphroaig barrel. The grass of the cane met the smokey peat from the scotch still soaked in the oak – so bold, so amazing. Our newest Kila should be coming out very soon.

FRS: Besides, obviously, a tour of Kō Hana Distillery, what are your “can’t miss” things that members should make sure they check out when visiting Hawaii?

JB: If you are coming from Florida, then Hawaii will be less about our beaches and more about our mountains, rainbows, and waterfalls. Great hiking is everywhere and the payoff (like a gorgeous view or the base of a massive waterfall) is worth it. Most hikes will take you up the mountains through four or five different ecosystems. Right now, the Kilauea volcano is erupting and the lava is forming a molten lake that you can visit. For the foodies in the group, Hawaiian chefs do not disappoint. The farm to table scene in Hawaii is growing quickly, each restaurant showcasing different flavors from the across the islands. Mixologist pair cocktails with their menus, taking advantage of the fresh tropical ingredients available to them.

FRS: Do you have any hobbies or passions outside of rum?

JB: My family are avid scuba divers. We’ve been all over the world observing the remarkable creatures of the sea and the beauty of the ocean. Fortunately, dive trips to foreign lands also make the perfect excuse to try new rums and what the local terroir offers (after diving is finished for the day).

FRS: What are you most looking forward to over the next year or two?

JB: For all of us, life has been a strange whirl wind for most of 2020 and 2021. Kō Hana spent 2020 as the largest hand sanitizer manufacturer in Hawaii since the supply chain for ethanol based sanitizers to the community had totally shut down. Simultaneously, we increased our field production (we grow all the cane that we ferment and distill – we are an estate rum) by seven fold, becoming the largest grower of sugarcane in the islands. We also completed a brand new barrel house. In the next year or two, we will begin to reap the benefits of these investments. Kō Hana had already established itself as Hawaii’s premium rum based on our quality. We put our money where our mouth is with regard to our role in the community as well. We rose as a leader in the pandemic and now we are rising as a job creator and caretaker of the land as our new production fields will let us share more of Kō Hana’s aloha with the world.  Thank you to all of you for being so supportive of our company.

Meet Dan DeHart – Grander Rum

Dan DeHart is the Founder of Grander Rum. He describes himself as “a guy from Kentucky who makes a Panamanian rum with a guy from Cuba.” He lives in Central Florida with his family who all support him on an amazing journey to craft a rum that folks will appreciate.

FRS: Why rum?

Dan: This is very cliché but here’s the truth – being from Kentucky, I didn’t grow up with Rum and when I thought of Rum it had to be a frozen daiquiri, pina collada or mixed with a coke. I think many folks have this view, still today. My wife, Jill, and I started sailing bareboat in the Caribbean and once we rented a boat that came with an unopened bottle of Pussers rum. Of course we would mix it but I decided to have it neat one evening and my jaw dropped. I had never tasted a Rum like that before. I enjoyed it neat but also liked it in a cocktail – just like how I drink Bourbon. That was my awakening experience. I had always wanted to get into the spirit business and always thought it would be Bourbon but that all changed after that experience!

FRS: How did you end up selecting Panama/Las Cabras as the place to source the rum for Grander? 

Dan: I took a trip to Panama to meet with Don Pancho and Carlos Esquivel. I loved what they were doing and knew I could work with the distillate. Also, it’s nice to know that they grow their own sugar cane and don’t need to worry about hurricanes.

FRS: How has that relationship developed over the last few years?

Dan: The relationship has been collaborative and mutually beneficial. The team in Panama has been very supportive in my desire to do things they haven’t done previously.

FRS: We know you came from the Bourbon world prior to being into rum and creating the Grander brand. How would you characterize the difference in the two spirits with regards to the industry and their respective communities? 

Dan: Wow, that is a big question. First, I must say that Rum is way more diverse as a spirit than Bourbon. There are many more countries producing rum with their own twist yielding unique flavor profiles. However, in America, Rum is still being discovered by consumers where as Bourbon has been enjoying a renaissance. Regarding communities – I would say they are similar. You have casual consumers and you have consumers who can’t stop thinking about their spirit of choice.

FRS: The Rye barrel finish was a big hit with many rum fans and it’s rare to see a rye finish in rum overall.  How did that come about?

Dan: I like Rye whiskey and thought it may add an interesting layer of flavor to our rum. I also had some connections in Kentucky that allowed me to secure some freshly dumped rye barrels from Heaven Hill. This was my first offering in the Barrel Series program (finishing rums) and they all are experimental. Meaning if they don’t taste good, they don’t make it to market. Shipping barrels to Panama for this is not cheap but I think it is important to do any extra aging in Panama to maintain the single origin aspect of Grander.

FRS: How much of your time is spent thinking about what to do next and how to grow the brand? And anything you are able to tell us about what you’re planning next for Grander?

Dan: I think about this everyday. I am a “one-man-show” and manage production, marketing, sales and strategy. I love every minute of it. As for what I am planning next, some things I can share but some things are still way off and may or may not happen. But in the immediate future, we just filled more barrels with aged rum for our Barrel Series. Some of these barrels are ex- Bourbon, Rye, Wheated Bourbon, California Madiera and Angelica Port as well as Tequila.

FRS: What can you tell us about the Trophy release and how it differed from the 8 year release (beyond a jump in ABV)?

Dan: I am really excited about the Trophy Release. It’s my chance to select and blend my own product. I do a lot of sampling of rums when in Panama and I’m really drawn towards the rums between 8 and 15 years of age. The Trophy Release is a small batch of rums I select between these ages and will be bottled at a higher ABV than the regular 8 Year Old. Each batch will differ, showcasing the differences in rums we produce. The first batch is ‘sweeter’ due to many of the barrels were sherry seasoned. The second batch is ‘drier’. Both have lots of flavor.

FRS: Will more batches be produced or is this a limited edition that is gone when it’s sold out?

Dan: I plan to release new batches of Trophy Release, in fact now we are just releasing Batch #20B08.

FRS: What can you tell us about your barrel selection program and the process?

Dan: I love single barrels and am always amazed how one barrel can be so different from the next. I introduced single barrels four years ago and it has been well received. Interestingly, I started it because I had a retailer in Kentucky ask for it. The team in Panama had not bottled single barrels previously so this was exciting (or maybe painful) for them as well. What was very important to me was to bottle these uncut and unfiltered. This technique gives you the closest to what it’s like to sample straight from the barrel – like I do when in Panama. You will see sediment in some of the bottles because of this process. I sell single barrels to retailers, bars, restaurants, and groups. For people interested – they just need to contact me and we make it happen!

FRS: I’ve heard the FRS selection is sold out in almost record time. Will there be a sequel?

Dan: Yes!

Learn more in a Virtual Happy Hour with Dan later in July: Register

Tiki to the Stars

This past weekend I was on a business trip to Los Angeles. Knowing there are multiple tiki options in the LA area, my team was kind enough to indulge me with a trip to LONO Hollywood for dinner and drinks.

If you read no further, at least know that LONO Hollywood has amazing tiki hospitality! They were able to get us a day-of reservation for 6 as well as were extremely attentive throughout the entire evening! I would VERY highly recommend LONO and look forward to returning in the future.

LONO is located right on Hollywood Blvd., about 4 blocks from the Chinese Theater. When you walk up to the address you first see a tacky “beach bar” and, if you don’t know any better, have a moment of “is this what I came here for?!”  It was a great bait and switch for my 5 teammates who did not have a lot of experience with tiki.

Next door to the beach bar was a small hallway with some vines, tikis and a skull head. At the end was a neon sign and a bamboo door.  This is what the entrance to a tiki bar should look like, there was not one sign that said “LONO” (though if you looked past the hallway, you could find the big palm tree logo on the wall).  It was perfect… it spoke to the mystery and adventure that would soon transpire upon opening the door.

We went in and had a very warm welcome. The space is larger than a lot of tiki bars with lots of tables for dining as well as lounge areas for enjoying drinks and friends. We were sat at a reserved booth towards the front corner and started our tiki adventure.

Meriah came over to welcome us and gave us a tour of the drink menu as well as provided a few recommendations.  I also tried to guide my tiki-virgins by asking about their likes and dislikes to help point them towards a drink that would match their flavor pallets.

I, of course, started with the house specialty, the Curse of Lono. According to the menu, only the beverage director, Chad, knows the recipe. I went ahead and ordered it in the LONO signature tiki mug and, to the delight of the table, it arrived with flames and fireballs. The drink itself was one of the best of the evening! It was spirit forward, which I prefer, with a hint of sweetness at the end (my guess is passion fruit). Also, while a little pricey, the tiki mug is a fantastic add to the collection! It has lots of hidden Hollywood gems throughout.

With 6 of us, we each tried a little something different and everyone really enjoyed their drinks.  On the table for the first round we had a Navy Grog, a Painkiller, a Queen Ka’ahumanu, another Curse and a Mai Tai. Everyone was really pleased with their orders… I had the chance to try the Mai Tai and, I will admit, it was a little sweet for my taste but an enjoyable riff (vanilla syrup and macadamia are additional ingredients).

Dom, the GM, came to see how things were progressing and I cannot say enough about Dom and his hospitality! He and his staff really went out of their way to make sure that everyone was having a wonderful time and was enjoying their tiki experience.

We moved on to food and, once again, LONO did not disappoint. Everything we had was fantastic (we way over ordered) but the group collectively would recommend the Kauai Fried Chicken, Shrimp Shack and the Pork Belly 2 Ways.

Moving on to round two we had a few repeat orders but I went for the King Kamehameha which featured rum, of course, Aperol lime, pineapple, Cara Cara orange, passion fruit and honey. It was a tad sweeter than the Curse but the Aperol provided a great balance. I would definitely recommend both my drinks.

As we finished our food, Dom and Chad were kind enough to offer us a sneak peak of drinks coming to the menu in about 3 weeks. Chad was very generous with his time, taking a few minutes to come over and give us a tour of each delicious new beverage. We had the chance to sample the Black Mamba, the Oh Captain My Captain, the Permanent Vacation and the Piña Colossus. It was wonderful to experience the contrast in each drink and everyone was able to gravitate towards a drink that we enjoyed. I’m thrilled that we were able to do some early tasting and would definitely recommend trying out the new drinks when they are added soon.

The location itself is split into two bars. The front, main bar, is for relaxed drinking and dining but then the bar in the back opens late night for more of a “night club” feel. LONO definitely has something for everyone.  The décor is more what I would call “light tiki” with the palm frond wall paper but I definitely enjoyed the elements of nautical décor like the ship’s helm, wooden oars and much more throughout.

I said it at the top and I’ll say it again, LONO definitely needs to be on your list if you are in LA/Hollywood! Dom and his team are amazing and everyone we interreacted with wanted to make sure we were taken care of and were having a great time. Mahalo Dom, Chad, Meriah and the rest of the team for a great experience. Because of your hospitality we may have a few new tikiphile converts on our hands!

The Pagan Went Down to Georgia

I don’t travel a lot for my “day job” however when I do I, obviously, like to try to find a nearby Tiki Bar to experience while I’m in town. This week’s work trip took me to Atlanta. I had the opportunity to briefly visit S.O.S. Tiki in Decatur a month earlier, but this latest visit was a full Tiki Extravaganza.

I’m not sure how long it has been going on, however, lately, there have been a number of “tiki takeovers”. This is when bartenders from one tiki bar travel to and mix at another tiki bar (and then, usually, they do the reverse swap – kind of like a home and home in sports). For this takeover, two bartenders from Pagan Idol in San Francisco came down to S.O.S. Tiki in the Atlanta area.

S.O.S. is located in small downtown Decatur and the entrance is down a side ally. Upon entering there is a small flight of stairs that leads you down into the main bar. The bar is small, slightly bigger than Suffering Bastard in Orlando. As it should be, it is dark and offers some “mystery”. The wall behind the bar features a nice assortment of rums as well as a fun collection of tiki mugs (including some of the Star Wars Geeki Tiki mugs… which I know are controversial but I love them so that earns points in my book).

On my previous visit Ieuan, the manager, was my fantastic bartender.  He was behind the bar to welcome me again however Nick, from Pagan Idol, would be my amazing host for the evening. Nick was fantastic from the start, walking me through the three special drinks they were featuring for the takeover. He explained that Plantation Rum was sponsoring the event and each drink featured a Maison Ferrand product (owner of Plantation Rums).

I decided to start with the Escape from Cognac (showcasing Ferrand Cognac). It was crisp and nice, a great element of orange and it was creamy but not (hard to explain).  It was different from the direction that I usually go with Tiki but very enjoyable. That’s a great thing about tiki and, specifically, these types of gatherings… you have the opportunity to try different things you might not normally choose.

While enjoying my beverage, and before things got to busy, I was able to chat with Ieuan and Nick some. Ieuan opened S.O.S. Tiki 4 years but then stepped away for a bit.  The call of tiki wouldn’t let up and he’s been back behind the bar and managing it for around 2 years.

Nick, as my bartender for the evening, received my favorite question… what’s the one rum you’d be stuck on an island with for the rest of your life. He went with a Agricole overproof because he figured he could sip it, make a Ti Punch, mix it, a little of everything.

I moved on to try the Toucan Dance, which featured Plantation 3 Star rum. This one is straight from the Pagan Idol menu. It was a little heavier, think Pearl Diver, but had an amazing balance of coconut (not overly powerful), orange and house-made Fassionola. The Pagan Idol team did a wonderful job with their exclusive, while supplies lasted, menu.

Michael from Plantation Rums brought some of the newest Plantation Single Cask offering.  I had the opportunity to sample a few as well as chat with Michael about my love for different rums and how much I enjoy the Plantation rum products. He was very generous with his time and sharing his insight about rum and the endless options it offers. His passion for rum and Plantation was clear… I think that’s one of my favorite things about tiki/rum is talking with people who are passionate about what they do and Michael was no exception.

From a tasting perspective, I was able to enjoy the Barbados XO and the Trinidad 1997. I have to say that the Trinidad is unlike any rum I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. It is smoky and nutty, you can taste the Peat Whiskey from the cask then there is a bit of tobacco and vanilla on the end that lingers. Hopefully I will be able to find a bottle of my own, though, I know that sometimes can pose a challenge… especially in Central Florida where pickings can be slim. (Michael, if you end of reading this, tell me where to look!)

(Can I take a quick minute to say that I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with a number of members of the Plantation Rum team over the past few months and all of them have been wonder individuals. They are always willing to discuss their craft as well as their products, and they are genuinely interested in hearing about other people’s love for rum.)

After some tastings I then asked Nick if he could put together a Pagan Idol Mai Tai for me… he was extremely generous with his craft and I hope he realized how appreciative I was. While he was upfront that S.O.S. didn’t have all the rums that Pagan uses for their Mai Tai Rum Blend, it was a very enjoyable combination. He used some Smith & Cross and Rum-Bar Dark as well as some of the Plantation Single Cask Peru 2010 that was available. He, of course, added Pagan’s homemade Orgeat as well. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward, hopefully, to having a true Pagan Idol Mai Tai in San Fran in the future.

Finally, throughout the evening I had a chance to chat with some S.O.S. regulars who were on hand. Bruce was a great guy and we chatted about our own Mai Tai blends. I also had the chance to talk with Jeff about rums as he is a rum rep for several brands including Clement, Rhum J.M, Chairman’s Reserve and Admiral Rodney. He enjoyed hearing the story of “Trader Jay’s” and he, along with his lovely new wife, agreed to be my next two subscribers.

It was another enjoying Tiki Evening! The takeover was an amazing surprise and everyone I encountered from the S.O.S crew to the visiting Pagan bartenders to the Plantation gang to the friendly regulars were wonderful to talk with. It was a great, inclusive atmosphere where everyone was welcome. I very much look forward to another visit to S.O.S. in the future as well as, hopefully, crossing paths with all the individuals I had the pleasure of interreacting with. Cheers & Mahalo!

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?)

Summer of Rum: Trader Vic’s Atlanta

If it is going to be the Summer of Rum then there must be a new tiki bar visit. So, a trip to Trader Vic’s Atlanta was in order!

Our summer travels this year included a visit to Gatlinburg, TN (a region that does NOT have anything close to a Tiki Bar). We decided to make a stop over in Atlanta on our way north to visit one of the last remaining Original Trader Vic’s locations (we visited the oldest remaining Vic’s in London last September – read about it here).

If you’re reading this blog then there is a good chance you already know that Victor Bergeron invented the Mai Tai in 1944 at the first Trader Vic’s in Oakland… so I will skip that history lesson. What I will say quickly is that Vic was definitely an innovator, creating possibly the first chain of themed restaurants in the U.S. During the rise of Tiki popularity in the 50s and 60s he grew to as many as 25 Trader Vic’s locations worldwide.

As the popularity of Tiki started to decrease into the 70s and 80s, the restaurants started to close their doors. Vic passed away in 1984 but there are 5 remaining Trader Vic’s locations from his lifetime… the aforementioned London location (the oldest), one in Munich, the flagship in Emeryville (took over for the 1934 original in Oakland in 1972), a location in Tokyo and our current location of interest, the Atlanta location, which opened in the Atlanta Hilton in 1976.

Like London, the location is in the basement… meant to keep with Vic’s vision of “escapism”. There are only certain elevators that head down to that level and it is a great experience to board from a busy lobby of a downtown Atlanta hotel and, when the doors open 1 floor below, feel as if you’ve been transported. Plenty of bamboo and tikis welcome you as you enter the location.

Different than most of my Tiki Adventures, this visit included my two sons (7 and 9) so sitting at the bar was not as much of an option. We were welcomed by the staff and brought to a nice table right in the center of the first room. Something to note about Vic’s in Atlanta is that it is HUGE! There are multiple rooms throughout the area, however the way it is set up makes it feel like a small, intimate space. In the middle of all the rooms you can view the two HUGE Chinese ovens.

We had a warm welcome by the waitstaff and GM Maurice. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to talk with Maurice. He has a long history with the Atlanta Hilton and a passion for Vic’s. He appreciates the original décor and his goal, as hard as it is to upkeep, is to try to keep things as original as possible. Him and his team were wonderful hosts for our entire visit, and they had a focus on my boys, which, any parent knows, is very appreciated.

Everyone ordered drinks, mocktails for the boys. I ordered the Trader Vic’s Mai Tai and Mrs. Trader ordered the Navy Grog. Here is where I’ll say that the Mai Tai was “fine”… but it was far from the best I’ve ever had. They use the Trader Vic’s branded mix… which I don’t know if I can blame them for… but fresh ingredients are always better and it is disappointing to see the “home of the mai tai” not stay true to Vic’s original recipe.

However, the Navy Grog was extremely delightful and the boys LOVE their Kona Cooler mocktails. They were excited that they were served in the Mai Tai style glasses (just like Mom and Dad). The Kona Coolers earned the rare Double Junior Coco Thumbs Up!

Mrs. Trader recommends the Navy Grog (Grog usually being her preferred tiki drink). She said it was very well balanced and the rum is not hidden.

I will now take a moment to say this… the food was AMAZING and WONDERFUL and all the good words! Everything we had was fantastic and if you’re looking for a great meal among Tiki history then head over there. Maurice started us with an amazing Cosmo Tidbits pupu platter and I couldn’t pick my favorite if you forced me to. Junior Trader 1 tried everything on it and loved it all… really digging the crab rangoon (a first time food for him). Junior Trader 2, less adventurous, recommends the bread with homemade peanut butter (claiming it also deserved a #cocothumbsup).

For main courses I ordered the Massaman Chicken Curry and Mrs. Trader went with the Signature Wood-Fire Chinese oven Filet. The curry was very good and came with this fun side-dish of “extra” so you were able to add whatever you like to your dish, however NOTHING could compete with the filet. It was tender and full of flavor! Once again, all the “good words” for food. I’m not sure that I know enough about the culinary arts to tell you what these Chinese ovens do differently to beef, however, whatever it is, it is WONERFUL.

The boys also enjoyed their meals and, I want to give another kudos to Trader Vic’s in that their children’s menu is not the standard chicken fingers and cheeseburgers. We like our boys to branch out when they can and they were able to a little with Vic’s menu. Junior Trader 1 went with the strip loin and Junior Trader 2 did the General Tao’s Chicken (without the sauce).

To cap off our meal, Mauice had mentioned a new Hot Buttered Rum recipe was coming to the menu soon so I had to give it a go… full on with fired overproof rum running down the skull mug. And, while we were playing with fire, the Junior Traders got their first Bananas Foster experience. It is hard to not be impressed by dessert prepared fireside with fire! The boys were invited to “help” in the foster experience and, as you can see, were blown away by their first time!

Overall, I would give our Trader Vic’s Atlanta experience two thumbs up… while the mai tai came up a bit short for me, everything else was outstanding! Maurice and his team were top notch and the food was definitely something to write home about. Somewhere I read that at its height Trader Vic’s was considered the best restaurant in the nation. Vic, while bring Tiki pop and Tiki drinks into our lives, he also invented Asian Fusion. That notion is evident in the food at Trader Vic’s Atlanta and there is plenty of hospitality to go with it. I hope that it continues to live on, bringing Vic’s legacy to future generations.

Rum Tasting: Bajan 1966

I was very fortune last week to obtain a bottle of Bajan 1966 Barbados Rum. Currently Bajan is only available for purchase in Barbados so I was lucky to gain access to a bottle.

There is no secret that Barbados is one of the largest rum producing islands and of great importance in the history of rum, however in learning more about Bajan Rum, I also learned some Barbadian History.  From the Bajan site:

Our regal, barrel-aged rum was named in honor of Barbados’ Independence which was granted on November 30th, 1966 after 300 plus years as a British colony. Dominated by a lucrative sugar industry, once run on the blood, sweat and tears of African slaves, this historic date marked more than our emancipation — it sparked cultural and economic change.

Rum is still the essence of Barbados, the DNA of the nation. Old-timers even call it, “the nectar of life,” there through heartbreak, romance and exultation. Day and night, on palm-fringed streets, families, friends and strangers-just-met are seduced by its dark and delicious taste. You could say that rum is the oil in our engines, the beat behind our rhythm, the spirit of Barbados.

Half a century may have passed since our Independence, but our country celebrates in serious style when November rolls around. We revel in 50 plus years of emancipation, hosting parades, socials and festivals.

BAJAN 1966 is the people’s rum, a drink for any occasion. Relax, unwind and sip that tipple. Be inspired by the spirit of freedom.

I also learned that the word “Bajan” is another term used to refer to people from Barbados and is pronounced BAY-jun.  It is actually thought to be a shortened version of Barbadian and is used by locals quite often.

Bajan 1966 is a mix of both pot still and column rums and then aged in American oak bourbon barrels. (I was, however, disappointed to not find any age statement.)

The bottle is clear, very crisp looking and the rum color has a red hue to it.  It is beautiful for sure though the gold lettering on the bottle makes it a little hard to photograph with my simple iPhone. (From their website it looks like the bottle actually is sold in a beautiful blue and gold cylinder however mine didn’t have that upon arrival.)

I invited my good friend Steve over for a sampling.

First we started with some neat and sipped it… as Bajan claims you should.  The smell is AMAZING! They do not add any sugars or perfumes (as I would prefer) and the nose is really clean and fresh. You really get a nice aroma of vanilla along with a hint of caramel.

The taste is very clean as well. The vanilla hits you first as it merges into a finish of oak and tropical fruits.  There is a slight harshness for only a half of moment on the palette but I find that comforting because it reminds me that I’m drinking rum. While we didn’t try some on the rocks, I can see how this would be the way I would sample it next time around.

Next I mixed it up in a classic Mai Tai.  I usually mix my Mai Tais with a strong Jamaican rum (per Trader Vic’s original) however the Bajan 1966 stood up fair well.  Steve really enjoyed the Mai Tai and was pleased on how Bajan was complimented by the lime and orgeat.  I will say that the curaçao was a bit overpowering against the rum for me and maybe I’d pull it back some in the future.

I think the Bajan will also shine nicely in something simple like a Barbados Rum Punch or a Rum Old Fashioned (so that’ll be on tap for the future).

I haven’t really established a “Rum Grading Scale” yet but I would give this a 4 out of 5 tikis.  You won’t find it in the U.S. but if you’re visiting Barbados then it might be a nice addition to pick up.

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!

The Oldest Trader Vic’s – London

This year’s Anniversary trip was a big one… to celebrate 10 years we traveled over the “pond” to London for a week.

We did a TON of things and had an AMAZING time… but this blog’s focus is on Tiki and we had two great evenings that warrant tiki blog documentation.  The first was a visit to the oldest Trader Vic’s currently operating.  The London version of the Home of the Original Mai Tai opened its doors in 1963 and have been a part of Tiki History ever since.

Being in a large hotel (London Hilton-Park Lane) makes it easier to find than many newer tiki bars, that usually favor city outskirts or back alleyway entrances.  However, in true “tiki fashion”, you enter and immediately head down a winding staircase to escape from the hustle and bustle of the big city hotel. The decor is fantastic!  Wood, bamboo, lamps, canoes, all the things that you would expect to see in a historic tiki bar.

As a side note, this was my first visit to a Trader Vic’s establishment… yes, I had to go all the way to England to pay tribute to Vic.

As normal, we wanted to sit at the bar however that became a little bit of a challenge.  On one side of the bar there are 4 barstools in a space that really should only fit 3. While the other side of the bar has a lot more space, we were told it was reserved for a special event.  We chose to squeeze on to 2 of the 4 stools and while we were a bit crammed at first, it all worked out.

I, of course, had to start with a Vic’s Original 1944 Mai Tai. I’ve waited a long time to have one… however I might have to wait a bit longer.  While the drink was fine, it was not crafted how Vic would have wanted.  The biggest issue is that they used Mount Gay Rum… I have nothing against Mount Gay, but Vic used a Jamaican Rum.  I’m a realist, I know that 17 year J. Wray & Nephew is long gone, however I believe that an “Original 1944 Mai Tai” should still feature an aged Jamaican rum.

I didn’t let this disappointment sour our evening but I was a bit taken back.  Speaking of sour, Mrs. Trader really enjoyed her London Sour… created for the opening of Trader Vic’s London.

We indulged in some bar bites, including the Beef Cho-Cho which are soy-sake glazed beef skewers that you finish yourself over a flame.  They were both fun and delicious.

We also had the opportunity to experience a number of different drinks including the Suffering Bastard, Navy Grog, Trader Vic’s Sling and some anniversary extras (including some drink tastings and a delicious cake).

In the tiki world I feel like it is important to be kind but also be honest among friends… I wasn’t blown away by the drinks from the menu, however our bartender, Aleks, was given free reign to mix us each up something based on our pallets and both drinks he was SPOT ON!  Aleks was a great bartender… he was funny, engaging, wanted to know about us.  It was wonderful to be able to sit at the bar and discuss rum, tiki drinks and Trader Vic with him.  He was excited to learn about my home tiki bar and our tiki travels.

Also, we had the opportunity to talk with the Assistant GM, Guy, who too was wonderful to talk with.  Both gentlemen were very welcoming… both welcoming us to Trader Vic’s as well as to London (as it was our first night).  Guy even allowed us a parting gift of a menu to bring back to Trader Jay’s.

Overall, I would never steer anyone away from Trader Vic’s London.  We had an AMAZING evening!  The decorations are wonderful!  They are quintkicensial tiki from one of the ORIGINALS, there is a bit of everything and I want to take it all back to Trader Jay’s.  The team is warm and welcoming and offers an amazing escape from the very Non-Tiki London.  The drinks from the menu were fine but chat with your bartender and let them get creative and you should be pleased!

(Special Note to Guy if he is reading… I’m still disappointed that the camera wasn’t charged for the wall of tiki!)

Age Rum Myself… Why Not?

For my birthday Mrs. Trader bought me a personalized Oak Barrel from American Oak Barrel. At first I was only going to use it as a part of the eclectic decor that I continually add to but then it seemed like a waste to just have an empty barrel hanging there… empty… when I could be hanging there with rum inside.

So, here we go. Figure I’ll chronicle the adventure here so that everyone can follow along…

March 12, 2018 – Day 1: Since this is a new barrel, before spirits can be added it has to be cured. So, first I did a few rinse outs and then I filled it to the top with hot water. Now it needs to sit for 3-5 days (boring) before we can add rum. I’ll have to keep the water filled until none is leaking out so stay tuned…


March 17, 2018 – Day 5: So the barrel started out pretty “leaky” however after two days of soaking it sealed up nicely.  Just in case I let it soak for an additional 3 days to make sure it was nice and solid.

No time like St. Patrick’s Day to add the rum… I selected a lightly aged El Dorado white rum from Guyana.  I’ve heard good things about El Dorado but have not had the pleasure yet to experience acclaimed 15 year rum.  While I am pretty sure I won’t be able to wait 15 years, I’m hoping the small barrel will add to the flavor and body to the rum over the next few months.  More coming soon…


April 8, 2018 – Day 27: The rum takes to the skies!!! Way back when I was first starting decorating Trader Jay’s I was on a long hunt for pulleys or sailing blocks. I felt like we definitely needed them for the decor. I kept coming up short but then Mrs. Trader stumbled upon some while out and about. She bought three (not knowing which I’d like/want). Well, while they were good they just sat unused for over a year.

Since receiving the Barrel I had it in the back of my head that I wanted to hang it from the ceiling using the pulleys. So, Sunday I finally made it happen. While there is some nervousness over it all, it seems to be anchored well and secure.

So now I have an Aging Rum Barrel hanging from the ceiling… and that’s the real dream, right???

Planning to give the rum a taste around the one month mark…