I’m excited to finally get The Bartender Diaries back up-and-running on The Liquid Muse! I did quite a few of these bartender profiles between the years of 2007 – 2010 (see some familiar names here), and then it kinda dwindled away as other parts of my business got crazy busy. I’m thrilled to mark the return of the The Bartender Diaries with miss Mindy Kucan. Tiki Culture is growing in popularity from Rum Renaissance Festival in Miami, to Tiki Oasis in San Diego, to TWO wins for Tiki culture at the Spirited Awards at Tales of the Cocktail, this year. Always sporting a smile, sharing the love of rum, and posting almost daily photos of her #TikiTacky fashion on Facebook and Twitter, she is for both male and female cocktail lovers to meet!
You are a wonderful ambassador for tiki culture! How do you define “the world of tiki” and what inspires you to be part of it?
I love the Tiki world! I would describe Tiki as being fun and ridiculous and enhanced with lots of rum and tasty cocktails. Im drawn to the tiki culture because of the bar I work, but also because Don the Beachcomber, the founding father of this idea, is from Texas! You can take the girl out of Texas…
It seems like Tiki culture exists outside of the cocktail world, as a part of pop culture, in general. Does that make it more approachable to customers at your bar?
The tiki culture absolutely exists outside of the cocktail world in music, island themed decor for homes and clothing. All of those things make tiki super approachable. We have had guests come to our bar not knowing the theme and being blown away from the puffer fish lights and our beautiful cocktails. Some guests have never even been to a cocktail bar but they are enjoying themselves at Hale Pele with well crafted drinks and a fun atmosphere. Tending bar in a tiki bar can be daunting, but drinking at a tiki bar- that is the fun part! Someone recently described growing up with parents that where tiki-philes, “it was kind of like having punk parents but they were flower clad instead of spike clad”. Pretty much sums it up!
On Facebook and Twitter, it appears that you have a closet full of Tiki attire! How do you pick your outfits, and what are some tips for other women (or men) who want to make that kind of fashion statement?
I have a shopping problem…. When I shop, I look for colors and prints first and foremost. It is easy to spot a colorfully loud piece of clothing in a crowded rack at a second hand store. When I find something that makes me gasp out loud, I know Ive found an excellent piece and I cannot wait to put it on! My advice to anyone that wants to make a statement with their wardrobe is do it all the way. Be so tiki that it is tacky, and beyond. Put together a full outfit and own it!
When I think of Tiki cocktails, I think about rum. Can you speak to which kinds of rum are most important to tiki drinks? And, which other spirits are common in that style of cocktail?
Rum is definitely a huge player in the world of tiki cocktails. Each cocktail calls for certain rhums like a martinique in the Three Dots and a Dash [cocktail], but if you change the base spirit for a different style of rum, say blackstrap, the entire cocktail changes. It is important to stick to recipes that call for rum from a particular region but the fun part is using different age statements from the same region but tasting how the cocktail changes. I mentioned the Three Dots and a Dash, we use La Favorite blanc as the base rhum from Martinique- it is un-aged and a clear spirit. Once we used Clement VSOP, an aged rhum from Martinique but from a different area of the island, in place of La Favorite and the cocktail was out of this world delicious and so different! Whiskey and gin are common spirits that are used in tiki cocktails. Liqueurs are used as enhancers, such as a Curacao in the Mai Tai and Campari in the Jungle Bird, those two drinks just wouldn’t be the same if those ingredients were left out.
This year’s Spirited Awards at Tales of the Cocktail, this year, saw 2 big wins for tiki culture. (Jeff Beachbum Berry’s book Potions of the Caribbean for Best Book, and Three Dots and A Dash in Chicago for Best New American Cocktail Bar) Do you see this as a hint that Tiki culture might be gaining popularity in the cocktail world?
In my opinion, Tiki has always been popular in the cocktail world for its never-ending fun. When I worked at Anvil, we had a Tiki Tuesday – and look at Tiki Mondays with Miller in New York! I think now is the time that Tiki is being perfected and well crafted with full intention behind drink and food menus, beverage programs are becoming serious in ways of technique and execution and the Tiki bar is being treated like a true craft instead of throwing some flavored sugar and rum in a glass to get people drunk. Just as Death and Co.[a cocktail bar in New York] puts thought into their menu, so do we at Hale Pele. We just add thunder and a volcano.
You work at Hele Pele in Portland, a far way from tropical beaches. How do your customers react to Tiki cocktails? Which are the most popular and why?
Our guests are first taken aback by the decor in our bar, they are transported the moment they step inside. So by the time our guests sit down, they know they are in our hands and that they are going to have one hell of a time and everyone they are with or going to bring in the future will enjoy themselves immensely. Our Mai Tai is the top seller because it is a classic but our Jet Pilot gets the most oooos and ahhhhs- it is served on fire and we sprinkle it with cinnamon, I like to call us [bartenders] Cinnamon Sorceresses!
On that note, are you willing to share a drink recipe with us? Something readers can drink at home whilst modeling their new Tiki duds?
I love a good ol’ Rum Old Fashioned, with do the trick. And it’s easy to make!
2 ounces El dorado 8 year old rum
add bitters to taste (a dash or more)
rich demarera sugar syrup, to taste (start with a bar spoon / teaspoon full)
Pour all ingredients into a rocks glass. Add ice (large chunk or sphere preferably). Give a little stir.
**Mindy Kucan is from Texas, and currently resides in Portland, Oregon. She is the Lead Bartender and “Cinnamon Sorceress” at Hale Pele. Find her on Instagram and Twitter @drinkswmindy and follow #tikitacky fashion to see what she’s wearing to work at Halepele.com
From Mindy: “I look forward to taking care of you soon! Xoxo”