This is a Booze Classic Column dating back to September/October of 2016. With the world’s greatest cocktail symposium taking place in New Orleans in just a couple months, it seemed like a good time to pour ourselves another glass of a story inspired by Tales of the Cocktail!

The story of rum is full of legend, history, unsavory times, and Caribbean intrigue. Adding to the story this year is a rum style that originated hundreds of years ago with the British Navy, yet is fairly new to the American commercial market. An idea that was conceived at a secret meeting at Arnaud’s in New Orleans last summer that came to fruition during one of the highlights of the 2016 Tales of the Cocktail, the world’s premiere spirits gathering.
House of Ferrand Cognac owner and Plantation Rum Cellermaster Alexandre Gabriel hosted a gathering that included six famed personalities from the cocktail world: David Wondrich (Worldwide Historian), Jeff “Beachbum” Berry (New Orleans), Martin Cade (San Francisco), Paul McFadyen (London), Paul McGee (Chicago), and Scotty Schuder (Paris). Their goal, to create a delicious rum that all seven of these men thought the world was missing. This labor of rum love came to a grand finale when all the collaborators met Alexandre again at Bonbonnet in Cognac, the Maison Ferrand estate, in December 2015. Once assembled, the seven gathered to taste different samples and, ultimately, unanimously agree on the final version that is Plantation O.F.T.D.
Fortunately, we are lucky enough to have one of these experts living right here in Louisiana. Jeff “Beachbum” Berry lives in New Orleans and is the author of several books on Tiki culture, the proprietor of Latitude 29 in the French Quarter and, according to Imbibe Magazine, is one of the “25 Most Influential Cocktail Personalities of the Past Century.” I had the pleasure to recently sit down with Jeff and learn a little more about him, gain some insight to Tiki, and learn some of the secrets behind Plantation Rums O.F.T.D
Jeff was born in Albany, NY and moved out to southern California when he was only two. “I’ve stayed in Los Angeles pretty much my whole life until 2006 – 7. We were going to move here {New Orleans} in August of 2005.” That was following his first trip to Tales of the Cocktail that July, “It was the first time either of us (he or Mrs. “Beachbum”) had been to New Orleans and we were looking for a place to move to and no place was screaming out to us. We came to Tales of the Cocktail, stepped out of the airport shuttle on Royal Street in front of the Monteleone and it was ‘Where the hell has this place been all my life!’ It’s amazing. It looks like Barcelona, there’s Julliard trained musicians playing on the street; everyone we met was cool. Everybody was lovely and helpful and fun to be with. It was a slam dunk. Yeah, we’re moving here … and that was weeks before Katrina.”
Jeff finally did make it to New Orleans several years later and brought his love of Tike culture with him. Growing up in southern California, Jeff was always a beach guy. “We lived inland, we lived in the Valley but I went to the beach every chance I got.” His love for the beach and Tiki seemed to go together like rum and lime juice. “The Tiki thing, this was just what I always liked to do, it was a hobby. At first I just liked going to Tiki Bars, I’ve liked going to them since I was a little kid.” Going to these exotic places with his parents is what hooked him. “It was about 1964 to 66, somewhere in there that my parents took me to place on Ventura Boulevard, Ah Fong’s. It had started life as a place called the Bora Bora Room around 1960. They spent so much money on décor, on building this amazing movie set interior that they went broke almost immediately. And then Vincent Fong – who was like the number three son in the Charlie Chan movies – who had a chain of Ah Fong’s restaurants, just hermit-crabbed in there. He put an Ah Fong’s in there and left the décor alone.”
Both of Jeff’s parents are from New York City and they liked Chinese food, “That’s the food of our people. They went to these places because they like Chinese food. When I went to them it was like, ‘Oh my god, this is amazing!’ It’s beyond Disney, every square inch of this place was tricked out. There was an indoor lagoon with rushing water, canoes hanging from the ceiling, just amazing things everywhere. Behind the bar, where I was not allowed to go but you passed through on the way to the dining room, there was a dawn to dusk lighting diorama where the lights would change. Instead of bottles that is what they had, miniature palm trees, a sand fake resin beach, and a little raised model hut. In the background there was a night sky that turned to day. It’s like I wanted to live there.”
Jeff wrote books, researched lost recipes, and traveled the world sharing the Tike Love; which brings us back to the brand new Plantation O.F.T.D. Rum. Several years ago, Alexandre started buying different Caribbean rums and bringing them back to France to age in his cognac warehouses. After aging and blending, he produced some delicious and well-respected rums. Jeff confirmed that this is an unusual move for a cognac producer, “There is nothing normal about Alexandre.”
For this particular creation, he contacted a bunch of boozy guys and asked them what they wanted in a rum. They tossed around the idea of recreating an overproof Demerara style, “Which we all loved with its smoky, charred wood taste; and what if we mixed with another of our favorite rums, like a pot-stilled, heavy, overproof Jamaican.” Jeff recalled last December when everyone was sitting around a table at Alexandre’s château in Cognac trying different blends to finalize the product, “Dave Wondrich says,’Remember that Barbados rum we tasted earlier today? What if we put, like, 8 drops for that in a bottle of this and see what happens.’ So we did and somebody shouted out ‘Oh F#%* That’s Delicious!’ Alexandre, being Alexandre, says that’s what we should call it.” Eventually it was determined the Old Fashioned Traditional Dark might be a better name, although Jeff notes that at least one bartender thought that O.F.T.D stood for Old Fart Tiki Dudes.

* Latitude 29 *
WHAT: After 20 years of writing about Tiki, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and Mrs. “Beachbum” figured it was time to stop writing and start serving; and New Orleans is where they wanted to be. Their restaurant features exotic drinks and Polyn-Asian chow. The booze menu features over 20 rums, a few options for Tiki-Teetotalers, and a full menu of classic and newly inspired Tiki drinks including several communal cocktail options. Only 5 months after it opened in 2014, Esquire named Latitude 29 one of the Best Bars in America!
WHEN: Sunday through Thursday 3 – 11, Friday & Saturday Noon - 11
WHERE: 321 North Peters Street New Orleans, LA in the Bienville House Hotel
INFO: Call 504-609-3811 or visit for more information.

FEATURE QUOTE FROM JEFF’S INTERVIEW “Not everything is the good old days. I think Donn {Tiki Godfather, Don the Beachcomber} would be happy to see the time we are living in now. Look what Donn did. He took rum, lime and sugar; he took that and he just revolutionized it. I think he would be very happy to see today’s craft cocktail market is doing that to his drinks… He would think that is cool, as long as he wasn’t losing any market share!”


It is great to see Jeff "Beachbum" Berry getting deserved attention.  His books and his mobile app are a virtual encyclopedia of "tiki drinks," and Lattitude 29, located just at the entrance to the Vieux Carre, is the quintesstial "tiki bar," with Jeff greeting guests with his perpetual smile and a willingness to share a lifetime of information.  I met Jeff when I was researching a "falernum drink" that had been recommended by my friend Dan Davis (head "wine guy" at Commander's Palace and a juggernaut of beveregial information).  I not only learned about falernum (if you like tropical drinks, you want to know also), as well as many other details about the history going back to Donn the Beachcomber, who coincidentially was a good friend of my wife's great uncle, Eli Headley, who started the tiki "movement" when he decorated his home with polynesian artifacts and various things he made with driftwood, then held parties that attracted many of the Hollywood celebrities of the 1930's.  Eli went on to become a supplier to Donn and others who wanted to open commercial tiki bars, and his grandson, "Bamboo Ben" Basham, carries on the family tradition to this day and is involved in many interesting projects as the modern era of tiki bars and drinks has been booming.  Congratulations Jeff, and thank you for sharing your extensive knowledge.