Updated June 2023
See below: Our Barrel O’ Rum review | Tribute recipe | Official recipe
Postscript: The Rum Barrel on social media
Related: Master Mixologist Rum Barrel Challenge
* Mai-Kai cocktail guide
JUNE 2023: Updated tribute recipe for The Hukilau 2023
There is no doubt that the Barrel O’ Rum (aka Rum Barrel) is the signature cocktail at The Mai-Kai in South Florida. From the iconic mug to the big, boozy yet accessible flavor profile, it epitomizes the over-the-top experience you’ll find at the 66-year-old Tiki temple.
After the Polynesian Islander Revue and the historic property itself, one of the first images that jumps to mind is delighted guests holding “Barrels,” as they’re affectionately known, soaking up the vintage atmosphere. And while we’ve been able to enjoy take-home quarts and gallons of the “spirituous libation” since early in the pandemic in April 2020, we sadly have not been inside the hallowed halls for an evening of regular service since a catastrophic roof collapse in October 2020.
Luckily, the multimillion-dollar renovation project is now in the home stretch, with a hoped-for reopening in the fall. Takeout cocktails have become more scarce as construction ramps up, so we thought it would be a great time to revisit our tribute to the Barrel O’ Rum.
We made just one small addition to the earlier version posted in April 2020. The timing is perfect to share the update and more detailed mixing notes during The Hukilau, the annual Tiki weekender that invades South Florida every summer and has been the occasion for many Barrels to be consumed over the past 20 years.
During Sunday’s closing Tiki Brunch, The Atomic Grog joined Matt “Spike” Marble for a live recording of his popular YouTube show, Spike’s Breezeway Cocktail Hour, to mix a few Rum Barrels. Guests in attendance were treated to a large batch of Barrels, thanks to The Hukilau’s bar team.
It was the culmination of a weekend featuring multiple ways to enjoy The Mai-Kai as we await the grand reopening. Next year, undoubtedly, we’ll be toasting The Mai-Kai’s return with a Barrel O’ Rum.
The Hukilau highlights: Photos and memories from Tiki weekender
Tribute to The Mai-Kai Barrel O’ Rum
By The Atomic Grog (updated June 2023)
- 1 1/2 ounces orange juice
- 1 1/2 ounces grapefruit juice
- 1 ounce lime juice
- 1/2 ounce rich honey mix
- 1 ounce passion fruit syrup
- 2 ounces white Puerto Rican or Virgin Islands rum
- 2 ounces Mai-Kai dark Jamaican rum blend
- 1/2 teaspoon Don’s Spices #2 (or allspice dram)
- 2-4 dashes Angostura bitters
- 3/4 ounce club soda
Add 1 1/2 cups of ice to a 20-ounce Rum Barrel mug. Pulse blend all ingredients above with 1 cup of crushed ice for 5 seconds. Pour into mug and garnish minimally.
A refreshing and citrussy punch, but also very rich and robust. The dark rum imparts a signature flavor, while the bitters, honey and hints of allspice add balance. The passion fruit joins the tart juices to create perfect harmony.
The only change from the previous version is the addition of Don’s Spices, but we’ve also fine-tuned the ingredient suggestions below to help you achieve the best Barrel possible. The added allspice combines with the bitters and rums to create a more spicy and rich Barrel, less sweet and citrus forward. The result is a signature taste that we can imagine master mixologist Mariano Licudine crafting in 1956 to give his Barrel O’ Rum an edge over the competition.
Notes and tips for home mixologists
- The Mai-Kai uses fresh Florida orange juice from Kennesaw, which gives the drinks coming out of the bar a very rich flavor and pulpy texture. Florida juice is sweeter than OJ from California, so if you really want to nail this tribute you should seek out the proper style. I’m not sure how widely it’s distributed, but many Whole Foods stores in South Florida carry the Kennesaw brand, which is 100 percent cold-pressed juice that tastes close to fresh-squeezed. Another South Florida brand, Natalie’s, is very close in quality (though a bit less pulpy) and more widely available. Kennesaw is “gently pasteurized” while Natalie’s juices are “gourmet pasteurized.” It’s hard to know what the difference is, but Natalie’s seems to have a slightly longer shelf life, so it’s probably a slightly longer pasteurization process. You could also just hand-squeeze fresh Florida oranges yourself. The result will be fresher, though the juice won’t have the same consistency as the commercial brands. The Mai-Kai’s grapefruit juice is also provided by Kennesaw and is also 100% cold pressed. Grapefruit is seasonal, so white (the preferred variety in most Tiki cocktails) is not always available. But Kennesaw’s red grapefruit juice is the next best thing, very rich and pulpy like the OJ but not too sweet. We have found the Kennesaw red grapefruit juice at Whole Foods, but we suspect the white grapefruit juice is not sold to consumers, just restaurants like The Mai-Kai. White grapefruit are rare, but if you see the fresh fruit in your area we recommend stocking up and making juice. Many Tiki mixologists have been known to freeze the juice in ice trays, hording for the offseason. In a pinch, we’re not opposed to using Ocean Spray’s pure unsweetened white grapefruit juice (look for the plastic bottle, not the cans).
- The Mai-Kai’s lime juice is also distinctive, a tart Key lime blend that cuts through the sweet and strong flavors to add a very solid sour base. Manager Kern Mattei explains The Mai-Kai’s use of Key lime juice in this 2017 Punch article. When mixing at home, traditional fresh-squeezed Persian limes are fine, but if you want to go all-in with Mai-Kai juices, we recommended using a Key lime blend. Like the OJ (and grapefruit juice), The Mai-Kai doesn’t squeeze lime juice behind the bar due to the massive volume. Instead, the juice is sourced from a third party. The closest product we’ve been able to find is Terry’s Key Lime Juice. It’s 100 percent juice, not from concentrate, and makes cocktails taste nearly identical to what you’ll find at The Mai-Kai. Even so, we like to enhance it with fresh-squeezed Persian lime juice to brighten it up before we mix with it. A 2:1 blend of Key to Persian works well. We found a South Florida grove that sells this brand and also ships it anywhere in the U.S. It’s likely also available at other Florida citrus shops. If you can find another Key lime juice not from concentrate, it’s worth a try. In a pinch, the grocery store brands that are made from concentrate (Nellie & Joe’s, Mrs. Biddle’s, et al.) will work if you increase the proportion of fresh Persian lime juice in the mix. We’re recommend a 1:1 blend, or even 2:1 Persian to Key lime if the juice tastes too tart or artificial.
The syrups lean toward the rich and sweet side at The Mai-Kai, adding to the overall bold flavors and standing up to the tart juices and strong rums. We like to use local orange blossom honey, mixed 2:1 with water and cold-pressed. Shake it up and seal in a bottle, and it will stay fresh in the refrigerator for several weeks. Our preferred passion fruit syrup is also a 2:1 homemade version using organic Florida sugar and frozen passion fruit pulp. Heat on the stove like a simple syrup and bottle. If you opt for a bottled brand, lean toward those with a rich and tart flavor profile. In the Barrel, we like the flavor of the passion fruit syrups from Real, Small Hand Foods, Aunty Lilikoi, and Monin.
As revealed by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry in Sippin’ Safari (2007), Don’s Spices #2 is one of Don the Beachcomber’s clever ways of keeping his cocktail ingredients secret. Most of the bartenders who poured from the cryptic bottles didn’t know what they contained. In this case, it’s a 50/50 mix of allspice liqueur (aka pimento dram) and vanilla simple syrup. Many Mai-Kai cocktails contain a hint of allspice, but the liqueur can be overpowering so we prefer to use the mix in our tribute recipes. If you opt for allspice dram, cut back to 1/4 teaspoon.
- Angostura bitters is like the salt and pepper of cocktails, also used frequently at The Mai-Kai. There’s a heavy dose in the Rum Barrel. Just be aware that the size of the bitters bottle makes a difference. We recommend a healthy 2 dashes if you’re using the 16-ounce bottle preferred by most bartenders. If you’re using the small, 4-ounce bottle sold in many supermarkets, you probably need up to 4 dashes.
The light (aka white) Spanish-style rum featured in the Barrel O’ Rum does not need to be a premium rum. It’s simply there to serve as a solid 80-proof base rum, adding ABV but no flavor to speak of. As such, simply use a workhorse mixing rum from Puerto Rico (Don Q, et al.), the Virgin Islands (Cruzan), or any rum in a similar style. The Mai-Kai uses the budget-friendly Ron Castillo brand, which is actually a subsidiary of Bacardi.
The Mai-Kai’s signature dark Jamaican rum is a saga unto itself. We have covered the history of this key ingredient in depth. In the 1950s and ’60s, the Dagger brand (from Wray & Nephew) was the gold standard, featured by Don the Beachcomber in many classic Tiki cocktails dating back to the 1930. Since Licudine, The Mai-Kai’s founding mixologist, was the No. 2 bartender at Donn Beach’s Chicago location, he was privy to not only the rums but all of the secret recipes. He followed the same template at The Mai-Kai, especially in the choice of rums. By the late 1990s, Kohala Bay (also from Wray & Nephew) had replaced Dagger, but it went off the market in 2017. The Mai-Kai had to scramble, eventually creating an in-house blend using bottles from multiple brands that has a similar flavor profile to the 87.6 proof Kohala Bay. It’s not overwhelmingly funky like some of the pure pot-still rums on the market, but there’s definittely some of that in the blend. Parallel to The Mai-Kai creating its blend, The Atomic Grog also did much experimentation. After many years, we have fine-tuned a list of replacement blends, featured here and also updated in the video below.
Here are the current favorites:
* Equal parts Smith & Cross and El Dorado 12
* 5 parts Appleton Reserve, 1 part Hamilton 151, 1 part Hamilton Black
* 1 part Wray & Nephew White Overproof, 1 part Appleton Signature, 4 parts Coruba
* 1 part Lemon Hart 151, 8 parts Coruba
Check out the video below to see how they compare.
New signature rum on the horizon: As announced earlier this year, The Mai-Kai has joined forces with Alexandre Gabriel and Plantation Rum to create a replacement for Kohala Bay and Dagger in all the classic cocktails. The result is a power-packed 100-proof blend sourced from the West Indies Rum Distillery in Barbados and the Long Pond Distillery in Jamaica. The blend was created by master distiller Don Benn in Barbados, where it will be shipped directly to Florida to be bottled. The packaging will be just as spectacular as the rum itself, making it a must-purchase in The Mai-Kai’s gift shop, where it will be available exclusively. We got a sneak peak in February during Miami Rum Congress, tasting it both neat and in several cocktails. In the Rum Barrel, we noted the perfect amount of Jamaican funk and overall punchiness, not too heavy or overpowering despite the high proof. It brings out the other flavors in the drink instead of working against it. Kudos to Benn and Gabriel for crafting the perfect mixing rum for The Mai-Kai.
COMING SOON: A full review and preview of Mai-Kai Rum No. 1
APRIL 2021 UPDATE: Deconstructing Kohala Bay
Hurricane Hayward joined the Austin Rum Society online to reveal several new rum blends that hope to duplicate The Mai-Kai’s late, great dark Jamaican mixing rum. In the video below, we also enjoyed a Rum Barrel featuring the 2020 version of the recipe and discussed the history of The Mai-Kai.
APRIL 2020 UPDATE: Building a better Barrel
Our original tribute recipe was revealed on The Trader Brandon Transmissions on Instagram during the pandemic …
Check out our chat with Brandon Kleyla on his Instagram page or view the video below.
* Go to TraderBrandon.com and browse all his cool merch
Watch Hurricane Hayward make the updated Barrel O’ Rum …
OCTOBER 2021 UPDATE: Rum Barrel recipe on Spike’s Breezeway
DECEMBER 2021 UPDATE: The Barrel Before Christmas tribute recipe
Posted June 2011, updated March 2015 and June 2023
Don The Beachcomber had the Zombie Trader Vic had the Mai Tai. While South Florida’s iconic Mai-Kai has many cocktails worthy of classic status, it’s the mighty Barrel O’ Rum that has become the historic landmark’s signature drink, and possibly the most underrated tropical drink in history.
Sure, it’s hugely popular. Just wind your way through The Molokai bar during any busy happy hour and you’ll see more Barrels than BP lost in the Gulf. Among the general public and popular media, the Barrel O’ Rum and The Mai-Kai are synonymous.
But among the cocktail intelligentsia, the Barrel just doesn’t quite measure up. What gives? Come on guys, this is an incredible drink. A deceptively deadly celebration of rum and citrus that manages to be both simple and complex. This is a work of art courtesy of The Mai-Kai’s inimitable mixologist, Mariano Licudine, who took an often muddled concept and perfected it for the thirsty, rum-swilling masses during Tiki’s heyday. A half century later, it’s a timeless classic, often copied, never duplicated.
As Rodney Dangerfield (who probably drank many Barrels in his day) would say, the Rum Barrel just don’t get no respect.
On the other hand, who needs respect? The Barrel’s lowbrow appeal is what makes it the classic that it is. It’s the drink for the everyman (and woman). As Rodney so eloquently put it: “My doctor told me to watch my drinking. Now I drink in front of a mirror.”
The official menu description
BARREL O’ RUM
Smugglers, pirates and rum runners took their pleasures with this spirituous libation, bold and big, but rightfully smooth.
Okole Maluna Society review and rating
Flavor profile: Dark rum, lime juice, passion fruit, bitters
Our take: An explosion of rums and juices in a prefect marriage of sweet and sour, strong and bitter.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (see how it ranks)
Ancestry: A variation on the original rum barrel popularized by Don the Beachcomber and other early Tiki establishments, this classic has been on the menu since The Mai-Kai’s opening in 1956. It was created by Mariano Licudine (1907-1980), who based The Mai-Kai menu on all the prototypes he’d been making during his years working for Donn Beach (1939-1955). He retired in 1979 after 23 years at The Mai-Kai.
Bilge: This is the drink the local press always spotlights when reviewing The Mai-Kai or compiling lists of the best South Florida signature cocktails. It’s also The Mai-Kai’s most popular and iconic mug, a top-seller in The Mai-Kai Trading Post gift shop.
GRANDFATHER BARREL (4 stars)
An off-menu, premium version of the Barrel O’ Rum, the Grandfather Barrel is typically made with top-shelf aged rums and carries a higher price tag. It was originally composed of “aged Barrels,” meaning leftover batched cocktails that were not used at special events or for takeout. Surprisingly, the result is a uniquely tasty concoction. The juices and rums mingle over several days, mellowing the citrus bite and creating a richer drink. It’s hit or miss when this custom blend is available, so the version featuring premium rums is typically the usual “Grandfather” available upon request. If you’re not a rum connoisseur, I would stick with the regular Barrel and save a few bucks.
COCONUT BARREL (3 1/2 stars)
If you or someone in your dining party prefers flavored rum, we recommend the Coconut Barrel as a viable alternative. Featuring a hefty 4 ounces of coconut rum, this Barrel has a sweeter flavor profile and lacks the funky rum flavor of the original, but it still retains the bite of the bitters and sour juices as a counter balance. Rum brands vary based on availability, but The Mai-Kai has been good about seeking out higher-end products and avoiding the bottom shelf.
The Mai-Kai will also make a Barrel with vodka (see below), tequila or bourbon upon request. While these are interesting novelties, we recommend sticking with rum, if possible. (Note that Beachbum Berry’s Taboo Table incorrectly referred to the bourbon version as a “Grandfather Barrel.”)
RAINBOW BARREL (2 1/2 stars)
This vodka version of the Barrel is the most popular of the variations using other spirits. It’s ether an abomination (according to rum fanciers) or the best vodka drink you’ll ever taste. It’s probably neither of those things, but we see no real reason to drink this unless you have a legitimate rum allergy. The great flavors of the rums are stripped away, leaving a very good vodka-based fruit drink but nothing worthy of the great Mai-Kai tropical drink legacy. We were told once that three different Absolut vodkas are used in the Rainbow Barrel, but we’re still not sold on its worth.
Agree or disagree? Share your reviews and comments below!
OFFICIAL MAI-KAI RECIPE
The Mai-Kai Barrel O’ Rum
(From Beachbum Berry’s Taboo Table)
- 2 ounces white Puerto Rican or Virgin Islands rum
- 2 ounces dark Jamaican rum
- 2 ounces fresh lime juice
- 2 ounces orange juice
- 2 ounces white grapefruit juice
- 2 ounces rich passion fruit syrup
- 1 teaspoon honey mix
- Splash of club soda
- 6 dashes Angostura bitters
Pulse blend with a heaping cup of crushed ice (preferably in a top-down or spindle mixer). Pour into a ceramic rum barrel or large snifter, adding more crushed ice to fill.
Notes and tips for home mixologists
- Don’t skimp on the bitters. It’s essential to offset the sweetness of the drink.
The Mai-Kai likely uses Bacardi silver or its white well rum, but there are other solid white rums to recommend, such as Cruzan or Flor de Cana. Until production ended in 2017, The Mai-Kai used Kohala Bay, a distinctive dark Jamaican rum that’s a descendant of Wray & Nephew’s iconic Dagger brand. It was notable for its use in the Black Magic and many of The Mai-Kai’s strong cocktails. It was always hard to find, so we started recommending substitute blends even before it disappeared. Click here for a deep dive that explores Dagger, Kohala Bay and our recommended substitutes. Check the new tribute recipe above for details on the most recent recommendations, as well as The Mai-Kai’s new rum blend.
- Use only fresh juices (freshly-squeezed if possible). It’s also crucial to use white grapefruit juice (not pink) with no added sugar. And make sure you use a good brand of passion fruit syrup (not juice). There are many available online. Or you can make your own by heating rich simple syrup (2 parts sugar to 1 part water) with frozen passion fruit puree. The use of rich syrups makes The Mai-Kai’s drinks extra rich and savory.
Though Taboo Table calls for shaking, we know that The Mai-Kai blends all of its drinks. Frozen drinks are blended until smooth in a standard blender, but most others are “pulse blended” in a top-down mixer (the kind you may see most commonly used for milkshakes). This is a tradition passed down from Don the Beachcomber. Using this method creates a richer drink with a big frothy head. Just make sure to not over-blend. A few quick, 3-4 second pulses is all that’s needed. If you don’t have this kind of mixer/blender, a standard blender will work. It just won’t create quite the same rich consistency. Hamilton Beach makes a very good mixer at a decent price that I highly recommend.
This is a classic cocktail that’s not too difficult to make at home. It’s best enjoyed in an authentic Mai-Kai Rum Barrel or similar Tiki mug. It’s also a great drink to make in large batches. Invite all your friends and make it a BYOB (bring your own Barrel) party.
Not surprisingly, the Barrel O’ Rum is one of The Mai-Kai tribute recipes shared most often on social media. Mahalo to everyone who took the time to make the drink and present it perfectly for the thirsty masses on Instagram. Just tag us @theatomicgrog and we’ll add your next post to the list …
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Cheers to World Rum Day with some Mai-Kai Barrel ‘O Rum mixed with Coruba Dark Jamaican and Ruby Rey Reserve Puerto Rican. ????????? ????????? #Rum #ron #rhum #drinkmorerum #drinkwell #drinkstagram #cocktialculture #homebartender #rumisfun #rumtime #rumcollector #rumcollection #rumfamily #rumlove #tikicocktails #tikidrinks #tikilife #tikitime #tiki #tikibar #tikibars #tikicocktail #tikimugs
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Celebrating the arrival of our @tikidiablo Mai Kai Barrel Mug (one from the top of our wishlist!!!) by reading up on some Mai Kai History (@swankpad) and enjoying a Barrel o’ Rum a la @theatomicgrog. – Pendant carved by THE Will Anders. – Thank you to both the @the_maikai_tradingpost and Tiki Diablo for doing another run of these and giving us lollygaggers a chance to snag one! #barrelorum #maikaiordie #maikai #maikaitradingpost #bayareaimbibers #tiki #tikitime #tikiaf #imbibetribe #craftcocktail #cocktails #drinks #allofthedrinks #drinkclub #rum #okolemaluna #rumclub #bayarea #alohanui #bottomsup #suckemup #quarentiki #quarentikitime
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The @the_maikai_restaurant inspired me to make my own gallons of cocktails. Via the @theatomicgrog , this is the tribute recipe for the Mai Kai Pina Colada. Ready for another weekend of social distancing! . .. #maikai #pinacolada #homemadecoconutcream #tikidrinks #tikicocktails #tiki #tikitime #tikilife #tikistyle #tikilifestyle #drinkmorerum #cocktails #rumdrinks #rum #tastybev #craftcocktails #spirits #tikilove #rumcocktails #tropicaldrinks #tikilounge
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Taking the #TikiTimeMachine solo back to 1959 today for a Derby Daiquiri, complete with a vintage hanging umbrella from the era. You can play along at home by swiping for our house recipe (following the original recipe, as recorded in the @official_beachbumberry Total Tiki phone app). – We try not to take unnecessary liberties with classic tiki recipes, but this one’s always read rather thin and “flabby” to us (like many recipes containing orange juice), so we dimensionalized the rum with a touch of Demerara, swapped the simple for richer honey syrup, amplified the orange note with a nip of curacao (J.M. Shrubb, if you care to know), and added a couple drops of vanilla for a bit of an “Orange Julius” / creamsicle kiss). – Try it at home and let us know what you think! For the full story on the original drink’s creation by Mariano Licidune of @the_maikai_restaurant, check out any of the Bum’s many wonderful books on Tiki. – #tiki #tikibar #tikidrink #tikicocktail #cocktail #blenderdrink #derbydaiquiri #orangedaiquiri #beachbumberry #maikai #??