An open letter to Martin and Rebecca Cate, authors of Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki

smugcocoverMartin and Rebecca Cate have written the most comprehensive book about tiki style, rum, and the history of tiki drinks. I’ve begun making some of the drinks from the book and will post those on later dates, but for now, this open letter is my way of reviewing it, and thanking them for it.

Thank you so much for all the hours, energy, and heart you put into your new book.  I will wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who wants to know anything about tiki or tiki drinks, newbies and pros alike!  Here are a few things I especially appreciate about it:

  1. The rum categorization system:  Finally a system that makes sense!  Any chance any of the judging panels will be adopting the system?  I hope so.
  2. Finally having recipes for the Smuggler’s Cove drinks I’ve missed so much since leaving the neighborhood.  Although everybody knows the atmosphere of “The Cove” always makes things taste better, it’s good to know I can at least get really close now at home.  I don’t even mind that you kept the Rum Barrel recipe a secret, I respect that.
  3. The way you used the rum system in the drink recipes!  It’s a relief to not feel like I need to run out and get another bottle to make a certain drink when I already have something of the same category in my bar.  Admittedly, my collection is sorely lacking in a couple categories, but that can be remedied easily enough.
  4. Featuring your staff!  You have assembled a top-notch team of professionals at Smuggler’s Cove and I love that they each have their own amazing page in your book.  I don’t think most business owners truly appreciate how important their employees are to the customer experience and reinforcement of the “brand.”  The fact that this team has been with you so long in such a fluid industry (see what I did there?) speaks volumes for how much you respect them as employees and care for them as people.
  5. Your respect for the torch bearers who came before, and those who carry it still.  Your reverence for the Mai Kai, Tiki Ti, Oceanic Arts, and the other great tiki icons is evident in the experience you’ve created in San Francisco.  Rather than re-making the wheel, you’ve respectfully built upon the foundation they created and made something truly unique.

Now when someone asks me questions like “what do you mean that’s not really a tiki bar?” or “what makes it a tiki drink?” I have one great reference book that explains it all in a way that anyone can understand and makes it all look like so much fun!  I even took one of my copies (not the signed one) to the office so I’ll have visual references when someone asks me to explain what I was doing in Fort Lauderdale on my summer vacation.

Congratulations to you on this epic accomplishment!  I know you poured so much of your lives into this for quite some time while also running a very busy tiki bar and opening an equally grand gin palace nearby.  How you did it all without losing your minds is a testament to the strength of your partnership.  I wish all the success in the world to the two of you, your book, your bars, and your future endeavors.  Thank you again for putting your passion into the world so all of us can benefit from your knowledge, experience, and love for this thing we call tiki.


Get your own copy here

Visit Smuggler’s Cove and pay a visit to my Black Tassel Brigade plaque on the wall.


The Rumspiration Awards – Miami Rum Renaissance Festival Edition

Last month I attended the Miami Rum Festival and participated on the Consumer Rum Jury panel. So I hereby present the Rumspiration Awards – Miami Rum Fest Edition.

Best 80s Throwback Product: Middas Cachaca – for the gold flakes in the bottle, reminiscent of Goldschlager Cinnamon liqueur, which I actually did drink in the 80s. It also tasted pretty darned good.

Best Use of Wildlife in a Vendor Booth: Bayou Rum – for having live baby alligators visitors could hold for photo ops. They really were very cute.


Best Pre Party: Plantation Rum – for the poolside party for the Rum XPs and Consumer Rum Jury panelists at the conclusion of judging the day before the official start of the festival. Awesome food, drinks, rum samples, and the most adorable little gold pineapple lapel pins.


Best Rum with a Not-So-Great Name: Yolo Gold – Though the brand name makes it sound as though this is being marketed to a Kardashian-loving sorority crowd, the contents of the bottle are actually quite good. This rum even received my highest score of the rums presented to the Consumer Rum Jury for judging.

Fanciest Booth Experience: Diplomatico Rum – the booth was set up as an exclusive lounge complete with velvet rope and a beautiful LBD-clad woman controlling access. There was an elegant (read: not cheesy portable fold-up) bar with 3-4 seats, and a seating area with tufted leather sofa and chairs.

Best Mascot: Tiburon Rum – the Captain Jack Sparrow look-alike pirate was charming and appropriately unsettling. He even had the Johnny Depp voice down pat!


Friendliest Brand Reps: Ron Cartavio and Ron Duran – My dear friends Jim Driscoll and Carole Baker are always warm, funny, and generous with some of my favorite rums on the planet.

Best hosts: Robert, Rob, and Robin Burr! This family of rum lovers work all year to produce this amazing event and are passionate about sharing the joy and fun of rum!

Overall, I had a fantastic time and really enjoyed spending time with old friends and making new ones! This is becoming one of the highlights of my year and I can’t wait to go back in 2017!

Miami Rum Renaissance Festival

Rum Competition Results


Paisley Park Swizzle

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today
to get through this thing called life.”


Today we lost a truly innovative musical genius. Prince Rogers Nelson was a huge part of my life. In 1983, my friend Brian took me to see the 1999 tour with The Time and Vanity 6 opening the show. I was mesmerized by the funk, the fun, and the fabulosity! I immediately became a fan and couldn’t get enough of his music. I saw him one other time about five years ago. He was still amazing and original! I’m not at all happy about having to live in a world that does not include Prince, but he left us with so much great music to keep him alive. R.I.P. Prince

paisleyparkswizzleOnce I’d processed the news, I knew I would need an adult beverage when work was done. I also knew I wanted to find a way to pay tribute to this person who inspired me to dance, to be me without regard to what others might think, and to be a better musician. So I decided to create a cocktail in his honor. I present to you The Paisley Park Swizzle.


The ratios still need a tiny bit of tweaking, but the ingredients are as follows: White Panamanian rum, cinnamon syrup, creme de violette, lemon juice, fresh blueberries and blackberries. and a Raspberry Beret garnish.

Cheers, and Let’s Get Crazy!

The Myers Park Swizzle


There is a classic cocktail called the Queen’s Park Swizzle named after the Trinidadian hotel where it was created.  Well, the neighborhood I live in is called Myers Park and I like my cocktails just like my men … tall, spicy, and chill(ed) … so I decided to create the Myers Park Swizzle that incorporates some of my favorite ingredients. After a few total failures, I’ve come up with something I really like.

Myers Park Swizzle Recipe

image3 oz Caña Brava Rum
.5 oz Plymouth Sloe Gin
1 oz Falernum
.75 oz Passion Fruit Syrup
1 oz Lemon Juice
3 dashes Cranberry Bitters
3 drops Bitterman’s Burlesque Bitters

Put all ingredients in a collins glass
Fill with crushed ice
Swizzle with a lele stick or bar spoon until the glass is frosty

I know it needs a garnish, but I have yet to decide what that will be.

A couple notes about the ingredients: any smooth white rum can be used. I chose Caña Brava because I wanted the ingredients to really relate to me, and this rum is from Panama, as is my mother.  Also I used B.G. Reynolds Falernum since I wanted a spicier flavor than I get from milder Falernums like Taylor’s Velvet.

Let me know how it goes if you give it a try.


I was on TV … sort of

I need to begin with a confession: I watch a lot of QVC, the shopping channel. It’s the default station when I can’t find anything else to watch and when I just want background noise to whatever else I’m doing, and since my cable box is whacked until I can dig out of the snow to exchange it, my viewing options are drastically reduced this weekend. So this evening, one of the hosts said she wanted to know what the viewers in the storm-affected areas were drinking tonight to stay warm. I had just made myself a Hot Buttered Rum since it’s below freezing here, so I went on her Facebook page and answered the question. Then I got bored and switched channels. Thirty minutes later my mom called and said “I know what you’re doing!” I asked her what it was she thought I was doing and she said “you’re watching QVC!” I said no and told her what I was actually watching. She said “but the host said Jennifer Essex was drinking Hot Buttered Rum.” So the host read my Facebook response on air after I’d changed channels. I guess that’s my three seconds of fame for this year. It can only go downhill from here. 😉


Adventures in Boozy Bears


After the weirdness of my last batch of Rummy Bears, I decided some more experimentation was needed. The purposes of this experiment were to compare a new (to me) bear brand, against my usual, and also to see what they would taste like using SelvaRey Cacao Rum from Panama (my review of the rum will be added once I figure out what format I want to use for my tasting notes).


I started by buying two bags of bears: the usual Haribo Gold Bears; and the local store brand, Harris Teeter Sweet Monsters.  Here are the pre-booze differences: the Harris Teeter Sweet Monsters look more like teddy bears, and start out softer and smaller than Haribo. They also have blue bears in the mix. I like blue. The Haribo Gold Bears look more like bears in the wilderness who haven’t had enough to eat. They’re also quite a bit chewier.

After 24 hours in the rum, the bears were plumping nicely and needed to be topped off, so I poured in the last of my SelvaRey.  Though there was some coupling happening in the bowls, my occasional stirring prevented the major bear orgy of my last batch.  On the second night, the bears had absorbed most of the rum, but I was out of SelvaRey and I didn’t want to add another flavor, so I just let them frolick in what was left and gave them a bit of a stir every six hours or so to prevent anymore unauthorized mergers.

On the first day of Christmas my gummies gave to me
a whole bunch of yu-u-ummy!

It actually was Christmas Day when the bears emerged from their bath and they looked like a bunch of lovely jewels once I drained the little bit of remaining liquid!


As with the last batch, I did a side-by-side comparison of pre-booze and post-booze bears.  The Sweet Monsters (the store brand) have something about them that allows for good expansion without losing their definition, while the Haribo bears lost definition and got quite a bit slipperier than their more cuddly cousins.  I found it interesting that the store brand started as the softer of the two, but Haribo finished softer.  The Haribo bears clearly absorbed more booze.  I noticed that in the amount of topping off necessary, as well as in the flavor.  While the store brand bears tasted quite boozy, they didn’t have any of the alcohol “bite” that the Haribo bears had.  I should also note that the SelvaRey Cacao Rum was a genius choice!  The chocolate flavor really stands up to the fruity flavors of the bears.


So overall, I have to say I’ve been converted from Haribo to Harris Teeter Sweet Monsters … for now.

I’m back on my diet, after a December hiatus, so Rummy Bear experiments have been halted for the season, but will continue somewhere down the road.  Perhaps I’ll prepare a batch for The Hukilau!



I Made Rummy Bears!

I have a party (well actually a fierce Mai Tai competition) to attend in a couple days and no good guest shows up empty handed.  So I’m making Spiced Rummy Bears!!

It’s easy! My local grocery store didn’t have the  big bags of Gummi Bears, so I picked up three of the 5oz bags.  In previous trials I’ve found that the Haribo bears hold up best without losing their shape.  I decided I wanted this year’s bears to be a bit spicy, so they’ve been soaking in two parts Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum and 1 part King’s Ginger Liqueur.  I just put the bears in a stainless steel bowl, poured in enough of the booze combo to cover them and gave them a good stir.  After 24 hours in a covered bowl in the fridge, I found that most of the bears had banded together and became a big slab of bears that were also sticking to the bowl.  This has never happened to me.  I’m not sure if it’s because I didn’t stir them often enough, or if the fridge is maybe too cold.  Who knows!

Anyway, I had to surgically separate the conjoined bears and pour in more liquid since they had absorbed a healthy amount of The Sailor and The King in their first day.  I did find one that had escaped the bearblob and I’d held one out from the bowl to compare pre- and post-soaking size, just for S&G.  You can see the result in the picture below.  The one on the left has been soaking in booze for 24 hours, and looks about as glazed as I would if I had done the same.  Apparently booze does a Gummi good because, as you can see, the boozy bear is about 20% larger than the teetotaler.


The boozy bears (now swimming along as individuals) have gone back into the fridge for another night of soaking, and I decided to add some Meukow Vanilla Cognac to the mix to soften the bite of the ginger liqueur.  They needed more liquid to cover them anyway.  I’ll update this post once we have a final result, but right now I need to go give those bad boys a stir!

Update: After another day in the liquid, the bears gained some girth, but no more length.  Although they were a bit strong upon first approach, after a few cocktails everyone seemed to like them a whole lot more! Lesson learned: a couple drinks make everything better!

Here are the final side-by-side growth results: left=no booze bath, center=1 day in the booze, right=2 days in the booze.  I think either the Ginger Liqueur or the Vanilla Cognac compromised the integrity of the bears’ surface layer.  They seemed pretty beat up and there were gelatinous bits left in the liquid after straining the bears.  I don’t think that was from the separation operation after the first day.  Yet another weird thing that happened with this batch.  At least they were well received at the party!


Cheers to yummy rummy bears!

Rum tasting notes are on the way …

No, I haven’t abandoned this blog already.  I’ve been up to some experiments and explorations behind the scenes that will start showing up here in the next couple weeks.

Lately I’ve been taking the time to make “serious” tasting notes when sipping rums from my collection.  I’m happy to find that my notes (which I always try to make before reading others’ reviews or tasting notes provided by the brand) are usually not far off from what more experienced tasters have said.  This leads me to believe I may actually have a clue what I’m doing.  I’m new to trying to describe what I’m smelling/tasting and why I like (or don’t like) something.  Training my nose and taste buds to discern the various aromas and flavors in a product is a process which will take a bit more time, but at least I’ll (mostly) enjoy the process.  Watch this space! Cheers!

A Simple Mai Tai

The local tiki bar shut its doors for good this week, so to drown my sorrows I made myself a Mai Tai.  I prefer a simple recipe when making my own cocktails (especially after a long day at work), so I went with the short version using the ingredients listed below, all of which (except for the lime and mint) can be sourced at Southern Spirits in Fort Mill, SC, just 30 minutes from home.  The Denizen Merchant’s Reserve is specifically blended to duplicate the flavor of the two rums used in a traditional Trader Vic’s Mai Tai, so it’s less expensive and quicker than using two different rums. The Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao is not as sweet as other curaçao, so it balances out the Giffard Orgeat nicely.

Sadly, as soon as I’d made myself comfortable on the sofa with my drink in hand, I heard a loud buzzing in my ear and spent the next half hour tracking a North Carolina stink bug around my living room before getting to enjoy my beverage.  So it was a tad more diluted than I prefer, but even a diluted Mai Tai is better than no Mai tai.

Cheers and aloha!



2 oz      Denizen Merchant’s Reserve Rum
3/4 oz   Giffard Orgeat
3/4 oz   Fresh lime juice
1/2 oz   Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao


  • Shake all ingredients with crushed ice
  • Pour without straining into double old fashioned glass
  • Garnish with spent lime shell and a sprig of fresh mint
  • Use a short straw to get your nose into the mint upon approach.


Click here if you want to see what I was chasing around my apartment.

Spirit of another variety

Some of you may know that I am a lover and occasional performer of music.   I can get by without spirits, but without music, I have no spirit.

Until recently, my discretionary income was quite limited, so although I spent a lot of money on CDs and downloads, I didn’t want to spend $100+ on earphones when a $30 pair seemed to do the job.  Luckily for me, I sometimes order things from shopping channels during the wee hours of the morning while suffering from insomnia, then forget that I’ve ordered something until it arrives.

Apparently, I ordered some Bose in-ear headphones Sunday night!  I’ve heard the name Bose, and seen their products on the shopping channels for years, but never really believed the sound could be so much better that it was worth the great price difference.  Turns out I’ve been wrong all along.  I just tried out the earphones on a couple songs I have on my phone, and WOW!!  The richness of the bass, even without turning on the “bass boost” is amazing!  The trebles usually grate on my nerves, but no longer.  Oh, and the richness of Karen Carpenter’s vocal on “Ticket to Ride” is heartbreaking now!  I mean, I knew it was good, but these earphones add a whole new level of velvety warmth I’d never heard.  Just for balance, I also tried them out on Prince’s “Delirious.”  (It might be fun to have a psychologist analyze me based on my musical choices someday.)  There’s a whole bass line in the intro that I don’t think I’ve ever noticed, and the song no longer has that rinky-dink feel I remember.  It’s like the difference between a tune being played on a rosewood marimba versus a metal glockenspiel.  (Whew! I avoided the squiggly red spelling error line on that word on the first try!)

There is much more exploration of my musical library to be done, but on initial evaluation, I can say that at least one good thing has come of my chronic insomnia!

Here’s to hearing the things I’ve been missing!  Cheers!