Max Traverse is the founder of Honi Honi in Hong Kong, Asia’s first tiki bar. The bar has received nothing but love from both critics and their patrons. With many accolades such as being named in the 2016 ‘Asia’s Best 50 Bars’, Forbes Top 100 ‘The Global Party and even being named “The Worlds Finest Location” by the Wall Street Journal.
Traverse has also achieved to not only have an extensive and broad cocktail menu but also one of the largest rum collections in Asia. Spanning up to 200+ varieties, and growing. We sat down with Traverse to reflect on his masterpiece of a venue and love of Rum, which is a growing category all over the world.
The main goal of Honi Honi was to bring rum and the tropics into a massive yet very compact city. Max has always had a love for the Rum category and seized the opportunity to open the bar as there were no competitors in the tiki-themed niche. What makes his bar so refreshing and modern is the execution of their design aesthetic. “Tiki-chic – mixing old school and chic” Traverse said.
“With Honi Honi’s high ceilings, my vision was to create a literal ‘Tiki Hut’ in the heart of Hong Kong with a large rum library, only accessible with a ladder. The interiors have an intimate island feeling and an outdoor terrace with lush palm trees. We are even growing our own pineapples in the back!”
A challenge of opening a tiki/rum bar in Hong Kong was that the category at the time wasn’t big among the ‘locals’. This was partly due to the fact that, at the time, there wasn’t much variety available for purchase on the market. “Meaning consumers aren’t even given a chance to try premium blend rums.”
Another personal challenge for Max is trying to recruit other rum lovers not only from Hong Kong but from Asia as well. For the last 5 years, Max has hosted/launched a rum festival event at Honi Honi. However this year he has upped-the-ante and is opening Rum Fest on a bigger scale. With a bigger venue and invite list, Asia Hong Kong Rum Fest 2019 will hopefully be the biggest one yet. “The idea, now, is to spread rum appreciation and knowledge throughout Asia from Hong Kong.”
“At Honi Honi, we work with producers and distributors from all over the world to help them introduce rum to the Chinese market. This is done mainly it is through tastings get people in Hong Kong started on the rum journey. A lot of these rums would be rich in taste and not too sweet (such as J.M Rhum, Clement Creole, Appleton 12). We often use rums like this in classic whisky cocktails such as an Old Fashioned or Manhattan” Traverse said.
“Overall, rum is gaining momentum, but it’s not as big of a market as whisky. My goal is to broaden the knowledge of people in Asia and help them appreciate rum more as a premium spirit. Hong Kong has a lot of rum brands being distributed now and China is catching up but isn’t quite there yet. So pushing the full Asian market is a positive step to slowly and surely gaining even more attention for this category.”
Quick Q&A With Max Traverse
How do you approach the creation of new rum cocktails?
Tiki cocktails usually have a combination of different styles of rum that are layered within the drink, as well as a mix of exotic juices, homemade syrups, a sour element and a sweet element. Each of these elements should bring character and balance.
What’s a good rum to recommend for new drinkers to the category?
If you are offering rum to a whisky drinker I would go with an aged Agricole Rhum and for a young palate, it could be a bit sweeter, so a Diplomatico would be a good start.
Do you have a favourite classic Tiki cocktail?
My favourite classic Tiki cocktail is ‘The Zombie’ with a complex, full flavour and the Mai Tai with the blend of sweet and sour.
What’s your preferred style of rum or preferred country of origin?
One of my favourites is Agricole rum made by the former French colony in Martinique. They have a lot of experience with the process of distilling high-quality spirits since they have been producing cognac for centuries. I love the structure of the Agricole rum, the complexity and the dry long finish.
If you could only save a handful of rums from your collection because of a fire, which ones would you grab?
– J.M Rhum vintage 1995, St Nicholas Abbey 15yo, Clément Cuvée Homere, Don Q la familia,
– Plantation Jamaica 2000, Pyrat 1623 Cask, Doorly’s Xo and Foursquare Zinfandel Cask.