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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Tiki

Cocktail of the Week: The Mai Tai

Today we’re delving into the history of the most exotic cocktail of all, the Mai Tai, and tasting a version made with a recreation of a legendary Jamaican pot still…

Today we’re delving into the history of the most exotic cocktail of all, the Mai Tai, and tasting a version made with a recreation of a legendary Jamaican pot still rum.

Trader Vic’s might be the most incongruous bar in London. Descend the steps beneath the 1960s hideousness of the Park Lane Hilton and you’re suddenly in a tropical wonderland surrounded by bamboo, Polynesian masks and more rum than you can shake a stick at. I was there to learn about the Mai Tai with Paul McFadyen from Plantation Rum, who also runs his own tiki bar in Notting Hill called Trailer Happiness.

McFadyen said, “every bar should be about escapism, but escapism is central to tiki.” He described Trader Vic’s in London as “hallowed ground”, the first one built outside America. The original Trader Vic’s opened in Oakland, California, in 1934, and quickly spread across first the US and then the world. McFadyen described the tiki style, a peculiar mash-up of Caribbean, Polynesian and Californian cultures, as “going on holiday without having to leave the US.”

Tiki and indeed Trader Vic’s have had some hard times since then: the legendary Beverly Hills branch closed its doors in 2007. And, according to McFadyen, the London one was unloved as recently as four years ago. With badly-made drinks and a poor selection of rums, it was mainly frequented by insalubrious figures. 

Trade Vic's in London

Hallowed ground, Trader Vic’s in London

The Mai Tai too has seen some hard times. It was created by the Trader Vic aka, Victor Jules Bergeron Jr. in the 1940s. McFadyen described it as, “the most bastardised cocktail in the world, it became a synonym for tropical.” Your Mai Tai might be red or blue, made from a pre-made mix and tooth-rottingly sweet. So it was with some trepidation that I tried one knocked up by one of the team at Vic’s, Enzo, resplendent in a Hawaiin shirt. I was surprised by how fresh and clean it tasted with the quality of the rum shining through. “The original Trader Vic’s Mai Tai was very paired down. It’s basically a glorified Daiquiri with Curaçao and orgeat syrup in place of sugar”, said McFadyen. The Mai Tai and Trader Vic’s are back!

Enzo used Plantation Xaymaca rum. Vic’s original would have used another Jamaican rum, J. Wray & Nephew 17 year old. It is no longer made and much in demand from collectors; an original bottle went at auction in 2007 for £26,000! Both McFadyen and Ian Burrell, the rum expert who was also there, have tried the original rum but it’s very unlikely us mere mortals will ever get a sniff of it. 

Alexandre Gabriel from Maison Ferrand (the company behind Plantation Rum) has come up with the next best thing: a limited edition Jamaican rum blended to taste like the original called The Collector. It’s an 18-year-old pot still aged in bourbon casks and Cognac barrels. Only 999 bottles have been filled and you can only buy one (customers are limited to one each) from  Maison Ferrand HQ, Château de Bonbonnet in Cognac, for a very reasonable £143. I tried a little of it neat and it was not quite what I expected, not a high ester bruiser but more like an old expression from Appleton Estate. Very elegant.

Plantation the Collector Rum

Tiki cocktails with the Collector rum on the left

Enzo then mixed a special Mai Tai using The Collector and a special syrup made from cooked sugar and Barbados rum aged in Cognac casks. How did it taste? Superb: richer and fuller than the standard Mai Tai with that rum taking centre stage. There are apparently only two bottles of this special rum in the country. You can get a chance to try what Plantation has dubbed: ‘world’s most authentic Mai Tai’ on Friday 30th August (that’s World Mai Tai Day) at a special ticketed event at Trader Vic’s. Tickets are £25 and the limited edition Mai Tai costs £44 (in addition to the ticket fee).Tickets can be booked here.

Or you can buy a bottle of Plantation Xaymaca and make a Mai Tai as per McFadyen’s instructions:

40ml Plantation Xaymaca Special Dry Rum
25ml lime juice
10ml orgeat syrup
10ml orange Curaçao

Shake the ingredients with ice until a frost forms on the outside of the shaker. Fill a tiki cup (or Old Fashioned glass) with ice cubes and strain the mixture over. Garnish with a lime quarter and a sprig of mint. 


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Cocktail of the Week: The Martiki

Today we have something of a rarity for you. You won’t find it in just any bar. It combines two great cocktail traditions: classic American and tiki, all in one…

Today we have something of a rarity for you. You won’t find it in just any bar. It combines two great cocktail traditions: classic American and tiki, all in one glass. Say hello to the Martiki!

The inspiration for this week’s cocktail came from a recent conversation with two drinks writers, Richard Godwin and Simon Difford. Over a few drinks, we discovered a shared love of kümmel, a kind of schnapps with a distinctive nutty sweet taste. We thought it would be fun to try to raise the profile of this delicious but rather forgotten liqueur. So, from now on the 17 April will henceforth be known as International Kümmel Day.

Godwin suggested I try it in the form of a cocktail called the Martiki. So, I dug out my battered copy of Godwin’s book The Spirits (a great one-stop place for all your cocktailing needs) and found the recipe. The Martiki is, as its name suggests, a tiki take on a Martini in which you use white rum instead of gin, and in place of vermouth, kümmel.

According to The Spirits, the cocktail was invented at The Luau restaurant in Beverly Hills. Now closed, the place was a celebrity hangout in the ‘50s and ‘60s, decorated in a tropical style, and featured an actual lagoon in the dining room. Bring back lagoons, I say. Much more fun than all this modern minimalism. Most recipes for the Martiki, however, don’t use kümmel. Some call for vermouth, and other versions are rather like Pineapple Martinis. According to Godwin, his recipe came from Jeff ‘Beachbum’ Berry. With a name like that, you’d expect him to know his tiki drinks.  


The Combier Distillery where Mentzendorff kummel is made

Kümmel gets its peculiar taste from caraway seeds along with cumin, fennel and other spices. So it’s not dissimilar to Scandinavian Akvavit, though sweeter. The leading brand Mentzendorff was originally made by a Prussian family in Riga, Latvia. In the 1860s, the family came to Britain and branched out into wine importing. The firm is still going strong and is the UK agent for Bollinger Champagne. The liqueur is now distilled in France. The other brand you might see, Wolfschmidt, is Danish.

Despite its Baltic origins, kümmel used to be immensely popular among the British upper classes. There are mentions of it in Evelyn Waugh’s works. But the only places you will see kümmel drunk today are golf clubs and old-fashioned gentlemen’s clubs. Indeed, the last time I visited such an establishment to give a talk about my book, the man who had invited me insisted I join him for a glass of restorative kümmel afterwards. In short, kümmel could not be less fashionable, which means that it is ripe for a revival.

And so, on to Godwin’s Martiki. If you’re a kümmel novice, you might want to halve the amount you put in. Expressing a piece of lemon peel is essential as it freshens the whole thing up; you can either drop it in, or if you’re feeling properly tropical, garnish with a piece of coconut. You could even, as recommended in The Spirits, add a little coconut water to make it totally tiki.

Martiki, Difford's Guide

Martiki (photo credit: Difford’s Guide)

Here’s the Martiki, a strange mixture of classic and tropical, with a good dash of Baltic into the bargain. Perhaps it should be called the Cosmopolitan.

50ml Diplomático Planas white rum
10ml Mentzendorff Kümmel

Stir ingredients in a shaker with lots of ice and strain into a cold Martini glass. Express a piece of lemon peel over the top, and garnish with a lemon twist or a slice of coconut.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Zombie

Talk to bartenders about what’s going to be big in the next year and one word keeps coming up: tiki. So, on-trend as ever, this week we’re looking at the…

Talk to bartenders about what’s going to be big in the next year and one word keeps coming up: tiki. So, on-trend as ever, this week we’re looking at the original tiki cocktail, the Zombie!

Tiki is the name of the first man in Polynesian mythology, but tiki bar culture owes more to California than Hawaii. The two godfathers of tiki were Don the Beachcomber (aka Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt) who opened an eponymous bar in Hollywood in 1934, and ‘Trader’ Vic Bergstrom whose Oakland bar in northern California became Trader Vic’s. Their bars offered a blend of Polynesian-ish decor, Caribbean-esque cocktails and, for some reason, Chinese food – I suppose anything ‘exotic’ would do. They both proved immensely popular and grew into chains.

Central to the tiki vibe were cocktails such as the Zombie and the Mai Tai, which combine lavish quantities of rum with tropical ingredients like pineapple, lime juice and grenadine. Both Don and Vic claimed to have invented the Mai Tai (the word means ‘good’ in Tahitian), whereas Don is credited as the sole creator of the Zombie.

Don and Vic inspired legions of imitators perhaps because the tiki look is cheap to copy. You just need some tribal masks, bamboo, and grass matts, oh and plenty of rum. Tiki spread across the world in the ‘50s and ‘60s. There can be few cities that didn’t have a tiki bar, there were even whole tiki hotels, and it was common for swinging suburban Americans to have a tiki bar in their basement or garage.

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