Mai-Kai cocktail review: Robust flavors and potency are hallmark of 151 Swizzle

Updated May 25, 2015
See below: Our 151 Swizzle review | Ancestor recipe | Tribute recipes
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide

The 16 deadly drinks in the “strong” section are no doubt the stars of The Mai-Kai’s legendary cocktail menu. There’s a reason they comprise 13 of the Top 20 in our rankings. They’re by far the most inventive, mysterious and flavor-packed drinks on the menu.

The only thing more dangerous than a 151 Swizzle: Two 151 Swizzles

The only thing more dangerous than a 151 Swizzle: Two 151 Swizzles. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, January 2015)

Just be careful when imbibing. The Mai-Kai doesn’t use the word “strong” lightly. Most contain at least 3 ounces of rum, some the higher-proof variety. Among these, there are “strong” drinks and then there are “STRONG!” drinks. In the latter category, one of the first cocktails that comes to mind is the classic 151 Swizzle.

Like many Mai-Kai drinks, this deliciously dangerous concoction dates back to Tiki originator Don the Beachcomber and has been on the Fort Lauderdale restaurant’s cocktail menu since its opening in 1956. It has become an iconic standard at the world’s top Tiki bars, such as the Tiki-Ti in Los Angeles. At Hele Pele in Portland, The Mai-Kai gets a shout-out in the menu description, and the presentation is very familiar.

Martin Cate, one of the world’s top rum and Tiki cocktail authorities, considers the 151 Swizzle his favorite drink on The Mai-Kai’s menu. [See interview] “When it’s made perfectly, it’s a wonderful drink,” he said. “That to me is my mothership.” At his acclaimed Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco, he serves a souped up version called the 2070 Swizzle, which he calls “my giant killer.” [See recipe]

The Swizzle Cup is the centerpiece of a new line of Tiki barware produced by Cocktail Kingdom in association with Jeff "Beachbum" Berry

The Swizzle Cup is the centerpiece of a new line of Tiki barware produced by Cocktail Kingdom in association with Jeff “Beachbum” Berry. (Cocktail Kingdom photo)

Revealed in Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s groundbreaking 1998 cocktail guide, Grog Log, the original Don the Beachcomber recipe is no secret (see below). As cocktail sleuth Berry pointed out in the book, it was originally served in a metal cup with a flared top, “but good luck finding one.” The Mai-Kai, of course, follows tradition and has always served its 151 Swizzle in a frozen metal cup.

Finding the correct cup outside of the handful of bars mentioned above, however, has been extremely difficult. You could always find close approximations on eBay, but they fall short of the the sleek, flared design of the original cup. Berry took matters into his own hands in May 2015, when he released a new line of Tiki barware via Cocktail Kingdom, including a Swizzle Cup. [See story]

Beyond the cup, The Mai-Kai’s version of the 151 Swizzle is unlike any other. Like many Mai-Kai drinks, it’s based on the Don the Beachcomber version but was given a unique twist by original owner Bob Thornton and mixologist Mariano Licudine, who learned his craft from Donn Beach. I’ve taken a stab at re-creating the same flavor profile and have posted an evolving “tribute recipe” below.

The Grogalizer

The recipe grew out of discussion on The Grogalizer, a site highly recommend if you’re a fan of classic Tiki cocktails. Developed by The Swank Pad’s Tim “Swanky” Glazner, The Grogalizer is a database of hundreds of recipes from all of Beachbum Berry’s books, plus a few select others. The site allows you to rate the drinks, see how other mixologists rank them and share comments on each.

Sign up (it’s easy) and keep track of your progress through all the great recipes in these books. It’s also an easy way to keep track of all the various bar ingredients you’ll need to re-create these classics, which include many in this guide. After compiling your online bar, you can figure out which drinks you can make with which ingredients as well as resources for buying hard-to-find stuff.

Metal cups for the 151 Swizzle and other frozen glassware is kept in a special freezer in The Mai-Kai's kitchen service bar

Metal cups for the 151 Swizzle and other frozen glassware is kept in a special freezer in The Mai-Kai's kitchen service bar. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, November 2011)

The evolution of the tribute recipe has gone through several stages, as you’ll see below. The first big breakthrough came in March 2012, when I discovered the rare Kohala Bay, an 87.6-proof dark Jamaican rum that’s a key ingredient in many of The Mai-Kai’s strong cocktails. Click here for more on this great but obscure rum. In addition, a search of eBay yielded a set of metal cups that were similar to the real deal. With the cup and rum in my arsenal, I was able to come up with a much more accurate tribute recipe.

But just when I thought I had it down pat, The Mai-Kai dropped a bombshell in late April 2012 with the reintroduction of Lemon Hart 151 Demerara rum, which had been absent from its bars for some 15 years. This only made a great drink even better and returned it to its vintage recipe. This resulted in tribute recipes 2 and 3. Unfortunately, Lemon Hart became unavailable in the U.S. in late 2014. The Mai-Kai adjusted and replaced it with another dark 151 rum from Gosling’s, but it was missing that intense flavor of the Demerara rum.

That problem was solved in February 2015, when importer Ed Hamilton introduced his excellent new Hamilton rums from Guyana, both 151 and 86 proof. The Mai-Kai immediately put them to use as a replacement for Lemon Hart, bringing the 151 Swizzle back to its high-octane glory. After repeated tastings, I came up with a fourth tribute recipe, which comes the closest yet to what you’ll taste at The Mai-Kai.
* Back story and reviews of all The Mai-Kai cocktails featuring Hamilton rum

You’ll find all the recipes below for your mixing pleasure. Just remember, as always, to consume with caution!

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The official menu description
151 Swizzle
151 SWIZZLE

Strong rums and tangy juices make this a delightfully full flavored potion, only for the sturdy.

Okole Maluna Society review and rating

Size: Medium

Potency: Strong

151 Swizzle, January 2011. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

151 Swizzle, January 2011. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Flavor profile: Strong and flavorful rums, sweet syrups including falernum, a touch of anise.

Review: Served in the traditional metal cup, this very strong drink packs a punch yet is loaded with intense sweet and exotic flavors.

Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars (see how it ranks)

Ancestry: The Mai-Kai’s version of the Don the Beachcomber classic has been on the menu since the restaurant opened in 1956.

Bilge: The distinctive metal cup is designed to keep the drink ice cold. The cup is so frigid, in fact, it’s typically served inside a small glass to make it easier to handle. Until recently, eBay was the easiest source for aluminum tumblers that are similar, but not exactly like the original cups. As noted above, Beachbum Berry and Cocktail Kingdom came to the rescue in May 2015 with a sleek, vintage Swizzle Cup with a flared top. Berry’s design is very close in size and style to the current cup used at The Mai-Kai. The only difference between these and the originals is the stainless steel is lighter than the heavier metal used in the 1940s and ’50s.

Agree or disagree? Share your reviews and comments below!

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ANCESTOR RECIPE
151 Swizzle

(From Beachbum Berry’s Grog Log and Remixed)

* 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
* 1/2 ounce sugar syrup
* 1/8 teaspoon (6 drops) Pernod
* 1 1/2 ounces 151 Demerara rum (Lemon Hart preferred)
* 1 dash Angostura bitters
* Ground nutmeg

Blend everything except nutmeg with 1 to 1 1/2 cups of crushed ice for 5 seconds. Pour into a chilled metal cup or pilsner glass, adding more crushed ice to fill. Top with a dusting of ground nutmeg and garnish with a cinnamon stick.

Served by Tony Ramos at Don the Beachcomber in Hollywood in the 1960s.

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151 Swizzle tribute by The Atomic Grog, April 2015

151 Swizzle tribute by The Atomic Grog, April 2015. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Tribute to The Mai-Kai’s 151 Swizzle, v.4
By The Atomic Grog (updated May 2015)

* 1 ounce fresh lime juice
* 1/2 ounce rich sugar syrup
* 1/2 ounce pomegranate grenadine
* 1/8 ounce falernum
* 1/8 ounce cinnamon syrup
* 1 ounce dark 151 rum (Hamilton or Lemon Hart)
* 1 ounce dark Jamaican rum (Kohala Bay; see below)
* 1 dash Angostura bitters
* 2 drops Pernod

Pulse blend with 1 cup of crushed ice for no more than 5 seconds. Pour into a chilled metal cup or pilsner glass, adding more crushed ice to fill. Garnish with a cinnamon stick.

This recipe has evolved quite a bit since its first posting (see previous versions below). As Martin Cate pointed out in our interview, it’s not always made correctly. So I was trying to hit a moving target. Versions 2 and 3 did not include Pernod or cinnamon syrup, but during recent tastings with the addition of Hamilton 151 rum from Guyana, it seems like the recipe is back to its original splendor. Though it would be nice to have the cinnamon stick back as well.

A 151 Swizzle containing Lemon Hart 151 Demerara rum in early May 2012

The 151 Swizzle returns to using Lemon Hart 151 Demerara rum in early May 2012. Seeing the drink in a glass can yield clues to its ingredients. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

As noted at the top of this article, the new Hamilton rum is a great substitute for Lemon Hart 151, so feel free to use either. These are the only dark 151 rums that have the distinctive Demerara flavor that was featured in the original. When Lemon Hart became unavailable in the fall of 2014, and before Ed Hamilton launched his new rums from Guyana, The Mai-Kai used Gosling’s 151 as a substitute. While this isn’t ideal, it does work in a pinch. But when compared head-to-head (see photo at the top of this post), the 151 Swizzle with the Hamilton 151 had a distinctly richer and smokier flavor. The Gosling’s is sweet and rich, but the Hamilton rum has extra heat and distinctive Demerara flavor notes. The other rum featured here also dates back to the early recipes of Don the Beachcomber. Though it doesn’t appear in his 151 Swizzle recipe above, Donn Beach was a fan of Dagger dark rum from Jamaica. This classic rum is no longer available, but the hard-to-find Kohala Bay is a very similar “punch brand” Jamaican rum used in many of The Mai-Kai’s best drinks. We’re certain it’s used to supplement the Guyana rum in The Mai-Kai’s 151 Swizzle. It adds a punch of funky flavor and 87.6-proof heat.
* Overview of Hamilton, Lemon Hart, Dagger and other rums of The Mai-Kai

Starting with version 2, I realized (and had it reliably confirmed) that falernum – that mysterious Caribbean syrup with hints of almond, ginger and lime – was also included in Mariano Licudine’s 151 Swizzle. Also, for the first time, I was able to take photos and examine the color of the drink (see photo above). I always knew there was a rich sweetness that helped offset the 151 rum, and my first two versions used sugar and/or cinnamon syrup. But the reddish orange hue confirmed that something else was at play here. I remembered references to a mysterious Licudine syrup called “#7” that included falernum and grenadine. A rich pomegranate grenadine fit the bill nicely, resulting in the most accurate 151 Swizzle recipe yet in version 3. For version 4, I brought everything together in one great, harmonious (I hope) crescendo.

Notes and tips for home mixologists

* The rich sugar and cinnamon syrups, falernum and grenadine give the drink a great underlying sweet and spicy base that perfectly offsets the high-octane rums. If you’re making syrups at home, use a 2:1 ratio of sugar to water to duplicate the richness of The Mai-Kai’s syrups. B.G. Reynolds makes a fine bottled cinnamon syrup that has the desired richness.

By October 2014, the 151 Swizzle featured a much more robust ice feature, but it had lost its cinnamon stick

By October 2014, the 151 Swizzle featured a much more robust ice feature, but it had lost its cinnamon stick. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* A good falernum, such as the Fee Brothers brand, is crucial. RumDood.com also has a nice primer on how to make your own.

* For a richer and more potent grenadine, combine Fee Brothers or Sonoma syrup with an equal portion of Pama liqueur.

* You can simulate the Dagger/Kohala Bay flavor by combining equal parts Smith & Cross Navy-strength (104 proof) Jamaican rum and El Dorado 12-year-old Demerara rum. Smith & Cross is also hard to find, but not nearly as rare as Kohala Bay.

The frozen metal cup with ice mold is this classic’s coup de grâce. It makes for an incredibly cold cocktail that manages to be both decadently drinkable and highly potent. The new stainless steel Swizzle Cup from Beachbum Berry and Cocktail Kingdom is ideal for this. Before this was available, I would troll eBay for high-quality aluminum cups, seen in the photos above. The Everlast brand is typically the best of these. Keep your cups in the freezer for special occasions that call for the potent but delicious 151 Swizzle.

Okole maluna!

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Postscript

Due to popular demand (see comments below), and also to document the metamorphosis the above tribute recipe went through, following are the earlier recipes as they appeared here. They may not be as accurate as the latest version above, but they’re definitely tasty and potent.

151 Swizzle tribute (v.1) by The Atomic Grog, July 2011

151 Swizzle tribute (v.1) by The Atomic Grog, July 2011. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Tribute to The Mai-Kai’s 151 Swizzle, v.1
By The Atomic Grog

* 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
* 1 ounce rich cinnamon syrup
* 3 drops Pernod
* 2 ounces dark 151 rum
* 2 dashes Angostura bitters

Pulse blend with 1 cup of crushed ice for no more than 5 seconds. Pour into a chilled metal cup or pilsner glass, adding more crushed ice to fill. Top with a dusting of ground nutmeg and garnish with a cinnamon stick.

I’m told this version is similar to the 151 Swizzle at the Tiki-Ti in Los Angeles.

Tribute to The Mai-Kai’s 151 Swizzle, v.2
By The Atomic Grog

151 Swizzle tribute by The Atomic Grog, April 2012

151 Swizzle tribute by The Atomic Grog, April 2012. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
* 3/4 ounce rich sugar syrup
* 1/4 ounce falernum
* 1 1/2 ounces dark 151 rum
* 1/2 ounce dark Jamaican rum
* 2 dashes Angostura bitters

Blend with a half cup (around 4 ounces) of crushed ice for no more than 5 seconds. Pour into a chilled metal cup or pilsner glass, adding more crushed ice to fill. Garnish with a cinnamon stick.

Tribute to The Mai-Kai’s 151 Swizzle, v.3
By The Atomic Grog

* 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
* 1 ounce rich sugar syrup
* 1/4 ounce falernum
* 1/4 ounce pomegranate grenadine
* 1 ounce dark 151 rum
* 1 ounce dark Jamaican rum
* 1 dash Angostura bitters

Pulse blend with 1 cup of crushed ice for no more than 5 seconds. Pour into a chilled metal cup or pilsner glass, adding more crushed ice to fill. Garnish with a cinnamon stick.

About Hurricane Hayward

A professional journalist and Florida resident for more than 30 years, Jim "Hurricane" Hayward shares his obsession with Polynesian Pop and other retro styles on his blog, The Atomic Grog. Jim's roots in mid-century and reto culture go back to his childhood in the 1960s, when he tagged along with his parents to Tiki restaurants and his father's custom car shows. His experience in journalism, mixology, and more than 20 years as an independent concert promoter make him a jack-of-all-trades in the South Florida scene. A graduate of the University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications, Jim is a longtime web producer for The Palm Beach Post. In his spare time, he has promoted hundreds of rock, punk, and indie concerts under the Slammie Productions name since the early 1990s. In 2011, he launched The Atomic Grog to extensively cover events, music, art, cocktails, and culture with a retro slant. Jim earned his nickname by virtue of both his dangerous exotic drinks and his longtime position producing The Post's tropical weather website.
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14 Responses to Mai-Kai cocktail review: Robust flavors and potency are hallmark of 151 Swizzle

  1. Thanks for the work to decipher these recipes. I’ve visited the Mai Kai a couple of times, but being out on the west coast I can’t visit that often. Mixing your interpretations is a lot of fun.

    Kevin

  2. Quince at Danny's says:

    Your old recipe with the cinnamon syrup was very good, even if it wasn’t totally accurate to the Mai Kai.. If you’re willing, you should keep that one on your site as a variation or original recipe. Sometimes the journey can take you to some great places, don’t be afraid of them!

  3. Fallenstar says:

    Had a 151 swizzle at the Mai Kai yesterday. It was excellent, I never had the Bacardi version, but I really enjoyed the swizzle.

  4. Kevin says:

    I’d like to echo the request for inclusion of the cinnamon syrup version of the 151 Swizzle. Close to the Mai Kai version or not, it was a really good version. I was making it with Lemon Hart 151 the entire time. 🙂

    Mahalo!

    Kevin

  5. Kevin says:

    Cool, thanks! It’s fun to see the evolution of the recipe. And thank goodness for Smith & Cross, as there’s no Kohala Bay out here in California.

  6. Fallenstar says:

    Made 2 of these tonight. Tasted just like the Mai Kai, or as I remembered it. I used El Dorado 15/Smith & Cross as I haven’t picked up an Kohala Bay yet. Thanks for the recipe!

  7. chanda Shaffer says:

    Just had a 151 swizzle last night at the wonderful Mai Kai for a late b day celebration. Fantastic drink and a fantastic place. Thanks for posting the history and variations of the recipe. I am lucky enough to have a great local liquor store nearby that carries both lemon hart and kohala bay. Now I just need the cups!

  8. Tonga Tiki says:

    I’ve been going to the Mai Kai for years and have been to 7 Hukilau’s. But last year was the first time I had a 151 Swizzle and it immediately became a favorite. I couldn’t believe that I took so long to try it. So right away I bought a big bag of 5″ cinnamon sticks online and found some flared aluminum cups on Etsy. And now with the latest update Its just like having one at the Mai Kai. This is of course without stumbling around the tiki gardens with a huge buzz after looking at sarong clad cocktail wahines. BTW…everyone should ask for the cinnamon stick when they order at the Mai Kai. Hopefully they will bring them back.

  9. Tonga Tiki says:

    I arrive at the Hukilau and since I wasn’t going to the party tonight…off to the Mai Kai instead. So in the Molokai my girlfriend and I order a Jet Pilot and a 151 Swizzle. The cinnamon stick was back in, but instead of the ice cone around the top it was filled with ice cubes. Not crushed, but cubes. One step forward.. 2 steps back. The presentation just wasn’t what I enjoyed in the past. Part of the enjoyment was the frozen aluminum cup w/ice cone so cold it had to be placed in a glass cup. Maybe it was just an off night and they just weren’t prepared.

    • Tonga, if you were there during The Hukilau, it’s possible there was a rush on 151 Swizzles. But as documented above, the presentation has been erratic lately. The glass is not always used, and the ice can vary too. Good to see that the cinnamon stick is back, however. And the drink has been consistently following the latest recipe, which is good to see.

  10. Tonga Tiki says:

    I made a return trip on June 30. Both my friend and I ordered a 151 Swizzle. It had the cinnamon stick and was in the metal cup, but still had the ice cubes not the frozen snow. We arrived just as they opened and only 8 people were in the Molokai. I understand that things change and maybe the frozen metal cup with snow maybe no more. However, the ice cubes just don’t seem right…I suggest they go with crushed ice at least. It still tasted great, but the presentation is lacking for such a popular drink.

    • Yes, that’s how it has been served since The Hukilau, so perhaps they’ve taken a step back from the snow ice. It was actually served for many years this way (see the photo from 2011 above), so it’s not surprising. The cup should still be frozen, with a coating of ice inside, even if they don’t pile the snow on top. It would consider that optional.

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