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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Behind the Bar: Mai Tai Roa Ae!

In my first post about mixing my own exotic cocktails I figure there is no better place to start than with the most famous tiki drink ever… The Mai Tai!

There are verying stories about the creation of the Mai Tai but the most widely accepted one is from the Original Trader, Trader Vic…

“I was at the service bar in my Oakland restaurant. I took down a bottle of 17-year old Jamacian J. Wray Nephew rum, added fresh lime, some Orange Curaçao from Holland, a dash of Rock Candy syrup and a dollop of French Orgeat, for its subtle flavor. A generous amount of shaved ice and a vigorous shaking by hand produced the marriage I was after. Half a lime shell went in for color, I stuck in a branch of fresh mint and gave two of them to Ham and Carrie Guild, friends from Taihiti, who were there that night. Carrie took a sip and said, ‘Mai Tai – Roa Ae’. In Tahitian this means ‘Out of this World – The Best’. Well that was that. I named the drink ‘Mai Tai’.”

Unfortunately the popularity of the Mai Tai created a run on the 17-year Wray and it is no longer in existence. Martin Cate of Smuggler’s Cove believes that to create a taste similar to Vic’s original you should use a “blended, aged” rum (meaning of blend of the pot and column distilling methods and aged between 4 and 14 years). I experimented with a few different rums but found my favorite to be Appleton Estate Reserve Blend from Jamacia.

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Tiki Drummer guarding the Appleton Estate Reserve Rum closely!

Prior to this journey I’m not sure I would have said this but Fresh Fruit Juice makes a HUGE difference! So I now only use fresh squeezed lime in my Mai Tai. I also make my own Simple Syrup to keep as many ingredients homemade as possible. (I have not tackled my own Orgeat yet, but maybe in the future.)

My Homemade Mai Tai simple syrup (demerara suger, water and a dash of vanilla extract) and Fresh Lime.

Below is my adaption of Vic’s Original Mai Tai using guidance from Smuggler’s Cove… Give it a go and let me know what you think or put your own adaptation in the comments.

  • 3/4 oz FRESH lime juice
  • 1/4 oz Mai Tai simple syrup
  • 1/4 oz orgeat
  • 1/2 oz Orange Curaçao
  • 2 oz Appleton Estate Reserve Rum

Shake all ingredients vigorously with ice, pour over crushed ice and garnish with mint and/or lime.

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Finished product in the HippopotoMai-Tai tiki mug from Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto

Looks like Mai Tai Roe Ae to me! (Tastes like it too!)

Mahalo, Trader Vic