Last weekend’s Tiki Oasis event in San Diego was a resounding event, with thousands of happy guests attending concerts, dances, car shows and more. The drink of the day, of course, was the Island staple, rum. Several symposia, rum tastings, tiki bar drinks and even a rum and cigar lounge highlighted the versatile drink. At the Sip’n’Shop, everyone got a chance to visit various vendors, from clothing to tiki mugs. Most of the vendors were pouring rum-based tiki drinks, while distilleries such as Deadhead, Lost Spirits, Mount Gay and Angostura sampled their different rums so the guests could compare them. Everyone was in a great mood, waiting in line for the next drink while talking to people in front or behind them about who had the best drinks or the best tiki glasses.
Thursday night’s opening event at the Tiki-era Bali Hai Restaurant on San Diego’s Shelter Island, featured the Bali Hai’s famous Mai Tais. Guests had their choice of a buffet on the patio or dining in the Bali Hai’s restaurant upstairs. Generous pours of rum and exceptional flavor from light touches of fruit juice made this drink something that the crowds enjoyed waiting in line for. Several bars on the patio overlooking a marvelous view of San Diego Bay made this a great place to have a rum drink and start meeting people who were attending the Tiki Oasis. Everyone was dressed up and the stage rocked with great surfer rock and even go go dancers on the stage. With the plentiful rum, everyone was enjoying the evening.
In the Frozen Cocktails symposium, Richard Boccato showed how classic tiki drinks such as the Pina Colada could be updated. By using fresh juices, flavor components such as fresh grated coconut and unique garnishes such as pineapple leaves, he created several updated cocktails for attendees to enjoy. As Richard explained the concepts behind the frozen cocktail, the enthusiastic crowd learned that a properly made frozen cocktail bears no relation to the sickly sweet drinks made with canned mixes. Instead, the balance of his drinks was perfect, easy to drink and making you want to enjoy another one. Richard also went into an area virtually no one thinks about, that of the role of the blender and ice in the drink. He explained how crucial it is to blend the drink right and how the water content from the ice is a critical component to the balance of the drink.
Martin Cate, of Smuggler’s Cove SF, a San Francisco bar dedicated to all things rum, led a discussion of the ‘Rum Revolution’. In it.he identified the growing awareness of high-quality rums as not just something to be mixed into a drink, but instead enjoyed as a sipping drink akin to a cognac or single-malt whiskey. Martin, who has lectured across Europe and the Caribbean on rums as one of the top experts in the spirit, led the tasting of several delicious rums as he explained what to look for and how best to enjoy some excellent high-end rums.
Ram Udwin, in his symposium ‘The Bitter Side of Tiki’, took the attendees at his symposium to a place many had not expected. Ram, an expert in not only bitters for mixed drinks such as Angostura and Peychaud, also is well-versed in making his own bitter blends. As the guests sampled several of his drinks, the fascination with how bitters can elevate the rums was apparent. The highlight was the final drink, a ‘Rum Old Fashioned’, which was easily the best drink of the four-day event. Smooth, with the bitters blending in to cut the richness of the rum just enough, this was a drink that highlighted what an adult drink should be. After the symposium, Ram explained about the resurgence of bitters in drinks. When asked if the public’s taste for bitters is changing, he said “Absolutely it is, but it’s happening in small groups. People who have been in this movement for a long time are like, ‘been there done that, it’s so passe’, but new people are discovering it every day and I think it’s growing”.
Of course, not to be forgotten was the Crowne Plaza’s Island Sushi and Pupu Bar. The Crowne Plaza, originally constructed in 1954 as the Hanalei Hotel in the Golden Age of Tiki, was consistently full with people not only enjoying the excellent sushi but also the wide variety of rums such as San Diego’s own Ballast Point Rum. Tiki drinks abounded and most tables could be seen with at least one drink in a souvenir tiki glass or mug. Inside the Crowne Plaza, some of the original sights such as the waterfall and tiki construction could still be seen. Overall, guests were having a great time. To top it off, Saturday was National Rum Day. What better way to celebrate the holiday than a day full of rum?