An Interview with Helena “Tiare” Olsen (A Mountain of Crushed Ice)

As part of my recent interview series I felt it was time to interview one of my contemporaries.  As a blogger since at least 2008 and a keen writer and rum enthusiast long before that I felt that Helena “Tiare” Olsen would be fitting interviewee.
As you can see from Helena’s detailed and interesting responses this was a particularly good choice!  Enjoy. (Apologies for the slightly cluttered appearance here – WordPress is playing funny buggers with me I will endeavour to sort it out!)
1. Tiare – You are well know in the Rum and mixology community.  Your blog takes a slightly different take on things, to many other Rum Blogs.  Do you think your blog’s slightly eclectic style is what has garnered it so much attention?  Something a little bit different perhaps.  Your 3 part article on Demerara rum was a very interesting and impressively researched read.

I really have no idea….my story is this – my blog has always been about 4 things – what my old headline did say – Rums, Tiki drinks, Cocktails and Spirits. I write because I enjoy it and think it`s fun and I`d be bored if I wrote about the same thing all the time…

Cocktails and mostly tiki drinks was what I wrote about the first year, back in 2008 and then due to my at the time, membership of the Cocktails and Spirits Online Writers Group (CSOWG, which was made of 25 booze blogs) I started to review products and it was not only rum back then.

Since rum is my passion I have gravitated more and more towards just rum over the years and tiki drinks does have a connection with rum, since historically tiki drinks always (but not exclusively) have been made with rum.

Also since I have blogged the Tales since 2009 it has naturally evolved to blog whatever other rum or tiki event I might be able to attend. So yeah, it´s not just about one thing I write.

The bottom line on my blog is always rum and tiki, the rest like other spirits, other cocktails, bitters, mixers, syrups, bar tools, tiki or rum books etc are circling around it but most of the things circling around it are in some way connected to tiki….

For example, writing about how to make a passion fruit syrup….because a lot of tiki drinks using it. But you would probably not see me write about how to make a lavender syrup because that is not used in tiki drinks as far as I know but belongs to classic and modern cocktails.

To sum it all up – if you visualize my blog as as “sun” named “Rum and Tiki” and around it are all the little ”planets and stars” called “other spirits, mixers, events, bartools, bar books” etc circling….and most of those are in some way or another connected to the Rum and Tiki Sun!

That`s my little blog universe!

2.  As a rum reviewer I’ve noted that you have reviewed rums from time to time but you’ve never really rated any rums in any kind of scoring system.  What are your favourite rums currently? (List any amount of rums in any order you wish)

Well, I want to make my reviews in my own personal style, in a little “lighter” way if you wish…I don`t want it to be “framed” by “how it should look” but rather just be free spirited about it and so I don`t really use any set outlook…

And like the old saying goes, “my favorite rum is the one currently in my glass” is sort of true…but there are some rums that will always be my favorites and in no particular order…these are the Demeraras, Caronis and Rhum Agricoles from Velier, then the same types from Silver Seal, Samaroli…

The rums from Foursquare Distillery are solid, and I like the Lost Spirits rums, Rougaroux, the Agricole rums…not even gonna go into which ones because they are so many….there´s a lot of rums that I like.

If we shall talk about rum styles instead of brands, my first prèference are the Demerara and Jamaican rums because of their strong full bodied flavors and I prefér heavy pot still rums the most and I mostly prefér my rums strong because with a bit of higher proof I think you get more flavor and punch, and that is especially good for tiki drinks.

3.  Your love of Demerara rum is well documented.  Alongside your current favourite rums. Is there a Holy Grail in the case of a rare and hard to find Demerara that you are longing to try? Or a Demerara you have sampled but never been lucky enough to get a bottle?

Oh yes there are Holy Grails…for example the Velier Skeldon -73 and -78….those are legendary rums which I haven`t been able to try yet and samples seems very hard to find…

Two other Holy Grails I have tried but not yet been able to get a bottle of are also from Velier…it`s the UF30E another of those impossible to find rums and the1980 Damoseau – which is not as hard to find but unf very expensive.

And then we have the Holy Grail of the Holy Grails of all rums…the vintage 17 year J Wray that went into Trader Vic´s Mai Tais…..I`d love to try that one, at least once in my life, for historical research…I want to know how the Mai Tai tasted back then…

4. And your most disappointing Demerara experience?

Actually I`m not sure…I can´t recall anything specific.

5.  Is there a style or specific rum that you cannot abide? I have a few (Bundaberg and Bacardi Black to name but two)

Artificially flavored rums….rums that have a chemical after taste, rum that tastes more like vodka than rum….rums that are cloingly sweet..rums that are stripped of all their natural flavours by too much filtering to make them “top shelf”. I like rum that tastes like real rum.

6.  I’m not sure how Hawaiian blood you have, so how exactly did you get into Tiki? And what do you and so many find so intriguing about Tiki?

pukapunchI been a fanatic lover of the tropics and especially Polynesia since I was a child and when I was in my teens I read every book about the South Seas I could find, everything from authors like Louis Stevenson,Thor Heyerdahl, Bengt Danielsson to the Book of Puka Puka, reading about those islands and their culture and history. And since the Tiki culture borrows a lot from the South Seas, like drink names, decor, tikis etc the element is there and the tropical feel is there.

When I was around fifteen I made my own “tropical concoctions” with absolutely zero knowledge about cocktail mixing…I was dreaming about white beaches and palmtrees…and colorful drinks. About two years ago I did bartend at a big party together with my youngest son (who is a bartender) and the host of that party was one of my childhood friends. 

She had put up big sized copies of photos of her life from her childhood and until that day,and there was one picture there with me at the age of sixteen? sitting in a bamboo chair dressed in a blue Aloha shirt holding a tropical drink in a hurricane glass with several other tropical drinks around me on the floor…haha so I think my obsession with tropical drinks actually started there…

Now tiki is not just full with South Seas ingredients, it´s a lot about the Caribbean too in that that`s where the drinks came from and about ten years ago or so, back in 2007 I started to surf around to find more about tropical rum drinks and that`s when I stumbled on the Tiki Central web site where I discovered the Tiki culture and found it was right up my alley.

Shortly after that I also discovered all the other booze blogs that were out there and the Ministry of Rum Website where i started to learn about rums – and rums and Tiki goes together since historically most of the Tiki drinks are made with rum.

I also have a vague memory from when I was very young and went to the island of Mallorca outside of Spain and went to what has to have been a tiki bar because I remember I was stunned by all the tropical decor and statues and stuff at that place and I remember I had a drink called “Mai Tai”…….

I find tiki intriguing because of many reasons, one is that I love the tropical vibe, I love Polynesia, the Caribbean, I love tropical rum drinks, tiki is fun, colorful, crazy, entertaining, relaxing and it´s an escape to warmer tropical places….

7.  And on the flipside is there any facet to Tiki culture that frustrates or annoys you? Do you think Tiki gets the recognition it deserves?

The only flipside I can think about is if tiki bars and such are ignorant to the actual culture of the Polynesian Islands (which btw has nothing to do with the faux Polynesian tiki culture) and doesn`t respect it not thinking about what things they are using and how they are used.

As for recognition I see the Tiki culture getting bigger and bigger…the worse it is in the world the more people need to “escape”………

8.  On your blog you have noted the ideal way to make a Mai Tai and a Zombie.  As a complete novice when it comes to cocktails, particularly Tiki mixology could you recommend any easy to make cocktails that look and taste impressive?

Well, you got it already, the Mai Tai, it`s simple yet perfectly balanced and it looks and tastes impressive when done right.

9.  Have you any of your own cocktails (or something in the making) which you are particularly proud of?

The best one of my own might be the “Pineapple Delight” which I have re-named to “Hala Kahiki Punch”. Hala Kahiki means pineapple in Hawaiian. Here´s the recipe:

Hala Kahiki PunchTIKIDRINK

Core one big nice pineapple to use as drink vessel and save 6-7 pineapple chunks for the drink.

In mixing glass add:

The pineapple chunks – and muddle them with 0.25 oz (7 ml) each of orgeat and cinnamon syrup

Juice of two fresh limes

2 oz Rhum Agricole Blanc, 50-55%

2 tblsp fresh honey cream-mix

Float J Wray overproof rum

Jamaican Ting to top

Shake hard, strain and serve in the pineapple with crushed ice. Float the JWray and top with a little bit of Jamaican Ting. Garnish with 2 pineapple leaves and a cherry. 

Honey Cream Mix

Equal parts Sugar, unsalted butter and liquid honey

Add to pot, heat carefully and stir until it gets creamy.You want a smooth creamy sauce. Let cool slightly to room temp. The problem with honey cream mix is the milk solids from the butter that forms when the mix gets chilled so add the ice last to the shaker and shake hard and quick.

10.  Which mixologists/Tiki specialists do you must look up to and who’s recipes do you use most often?

Don the Beachcomber, Trader Vic, Jeff Berry, Mike Sr. and Mike Jr. Buhen of Tiki Ti, Martin Cate, Jason Alexander, Daniele Dalla Pola.

Who`s recipes I use the most? that gotta be Donn Beach and Trader Vic. But there was also this bartender Mariano Licudine who worked for Donn Beach and later at the Mai Kai creating a lot of drink recipes that were surely heavily influenced from his time with Donn Beach.

11.  Any books on Tiki you could recommend to beginners?   

All Jeff Berry`s books! start with them, they contain both history, tidbits and drink recipes!. Then we have Sven Kirsten`s books “The Book of Tiki” and Tiki Pop”  

12.  It’s Negroni Week this week (1st – 7th June 2015).  Not strictly a rum cocktail but what would your recipe be?

1 oz. Rum Nation Jamaica
1 oz. sweet vermouth
1 oz Campari
Stir and serve with ice and a wedge of lime.

13.  Finally.  Do you think rum gets the recognition it deserves in the wider spirits community? Is rum forever to remain in the shadow of whisky?

That remains to be seen….as long as there´s no set regulation for rums as for what they should be allowed to contain, something similar to the AOC of Martinique that they have for rhum agricole to ensure quality, it´s gonna be hard for real rum to get the recognition it deserves. And there`s not enough real rums out there in comparison with for example whisky/ey.

For more Rum and Tiki adventures follow Helena  A Mountain of Crushed Ice.



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Category: Articles

2 comments on “An Interview with Helena “Tiare” Olsen (A Mountain of Crushed Ice)

  1. Great read!

  2. […] (Portland Monthly Mag) * Carrying the Torch: Ernest Coffee Co. in Palm Springs (The Tiki Chick) * An interview with Helena “Tiare” Olsen of A Mountain of Crushed Ice * The difference between all those Bacardi white rums […]

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