Mai-Kai cocktail review: Find out what makes the Shark Bite so Jawesome

Updated August 2020
See below: Our Shark Bite review | Ancestor recipe | Tribute recipe
NEW: Shark Bite featuring The Real McCoy 12-year-old Distillers Proof Mai-Kai Blend
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide

Updated August 2020
See below: Our Shark Bite review | Ancestor recipe | Tribute recipe
NEW: Shark Bite featuring The Real McCoy 12-year-old Distillers Proof Mai-Kai Blend
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide

We continue our journey through dangerous waters with another of The Mai-Kai’s signature drinks, the Shark Bite.

Hurricane Hayward enjoys a Shark Bite in The Molokai bar in September 2016 during a book-release party for Tim "Swanky" Glazner's "Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant." (Atomic Grog photo)
Hurricane Hayward enjoys a Shark Bite in The Molokai bar in September 2016 during a book-release party for Tim “Swanky” Glazner’s “Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant.” (Atomic Grog photo)

Considering that this is the heart of the summer vacation season and we’re still digesting Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week,” this is an appropriate choice. Actually, the Shark Bite’s potency is a bit overstated. It’s our favorite drink from the “medium” section of the menu.

Like the much stronger Shrunken Skull, the Shark Bite has an ominous name and also a shot of flavorful rum added as it’s served. It’s also one of many of the legendary Fort Lauderdale Polynesian restaurant’s drinks that date back to the early days of Tiki, when Donn Beach (aka Don the Beachcomber) laid out the template for tropical drinks that is still followed to this day.

The Shark Bite is an almost spot-on copy of the Shark’s Tooth, a drink featured on Don the Beachcomber menus as well as other bars and restaurants during the mid-century golden age of Tiki. You’ll find a Shark’s Tooth recipe below that was unearthed by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry for his seminal 1998 book, Grog Log, and later republished in Beachbum Berry Remixed (2010). Also below is a slight variation that we’re calling a tribute to the Shark Bite.

The Shark Bite showcases the lost art of the ice shell. (Photo from TheSwankPad.org)
The Shark Bite showcases the lost art of the ice shell. (Photo from TheSwankPad.org)

At its core, the Shark Bite is just a souped-up version of a classic daiquiri (rum, lime and sugar) with its signature “side of danger” (aka rum float). It’s also often served with a custom ice shell coating the inside of the glass.

The same ice shell is used for another classic Don the Beachcomber descendant, the Demerara Float, a “lost cocktail” from The Mai-Kai’s original 1956 menu that makes special appearances from time to time. It’s similar in style to the Shark Bite, including a shot of rum on the side. It’s also equally delicious, garnering the same 4.5 score to place it No. 1 in our retired cocktail ratings.

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The official menu description
Shark Bite
SHARK BITE
Swim fast and hope for the best! Served with a topping of Appleton 12 year old rum.

Okole Maluna Society review and rating

Size: Small

Potency: Medium

The Shark Bite is always served with a "side of danger" (in this case, a shot of aged Appleton rum). (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, March 2017)
The Shark Bite is always served with a “side of danger” (in this case, a shot of aged Appleton rum). (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, March 2017)

Flavor profile: A savory blend of the best Appleton rum with sweet and sour flavors in perfect harmony.

Review: A very nice balance of classic Daiquiri ingredients is perfected with the addition of a great 86-proof aged rum, giving this drink a distinctive flavor.

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

Ancestry: The Shark Bite has been on The Mai-Kai’s menu since the restaurant opened in 1956 and can be traced back to Don the Beachcomber’s Shark’s Tooth. Note: The Mai-Kai’s old menu image, which was unchanged for 57 years, is pictured above along with the new menu photo released in 2014.
* See the original 1956-57 menu

Bilge: It’s unusual for The Mai-Kai’s menu to either endorse a particular brand of rum or divulge an exact ingredient. In this case, it does both by calling out the superb Appleton Estate Rare Blend (formerly known as Extra). Note: In 2020, Appleton is rolling out a new label for its 12-year-old rum, to be called Reserve Casks, but the blend remains deliciously the same. For more cocktails featuring Appleton, see our Mai-Kai rum guide.

Agree or disagree? Share your reviews and comments below!

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ANCESTOR RECIPE
Shark’s Tooth

(From Beachbum Berry’s Grog Log and Remixed)

The Shark's Tooth by The Atomic Grog)
The Shark’s Tooth by The Atomic Grog. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, August 2011)

* 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
* 1/2 ounce unsweetened pineapple juice
* 1/2 ounce sugar syrup
* 1 teaspoon syrup from a maraschino cherry jar
* 1 ounce gold Barbados rum
* 1 ounce Appleton 12-year-old rum

Blend everything – except the Appleton 12 – with about 3 ounces of crushed ice for 5 seconds. Poor unstrained into a small old fashioned or specialty glass and serve with the aged rum on the side in a shot glass. Pour and stir in the Appleton.

Notes and tips for home mixologists

* We took Beachbum Berry’s advice and used 5-year-old Doorly’s gold Barbados rum, a fine choice (and budget friendly). Other good choices from the acclaimed Foursquare Distillery are Doorly’s 8 and Doorly’s X.O, plus The Real McCoy 5. We also enjoy the venerable Mount Gay and Cockspur rums from Barbados, along with Plantation’s excellent Barbados rums. It’s hard to top Jamaica’s Appleton, but feel free to experiment with other aged Jamaican rums to suit your taste.

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Tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Shark Bite
By The Atomic Grog (version 2.0, updated March 2016)

A Shark Bite tribute is not complete without Appleton Estate Rare Blend. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, July 2018)
A Shark Bite tribute is not complete without a float of Appleton Estate’s acclaimed 12-year-old rum. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, July 2018)

* 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
* 1/2 ounce unsweetened pineapple juice
* 1 ounce rich sugar syrup
(aka rock candy syrup)
* 1 ounce gold Barbados or Jamaican rum
* 1 ounce Appleton 12-year-old rum

In a top-down mixer, pulse blend everything except the Appleton 12 with about 6 ounces of crushed ice until frothy, around 4-5 seconds. Pour into a small, chilled glass and float the aged Appleton.

The only major difference between the Shark’s Tooth and this revised version of the Shark Bite is the lack of maraschino cherry syrup, but this is more than made up for with twice as much sugar syrup. The Mai-Kai uses a rich house-made syrup, which you can try to duplicate at home by simmering 2 parts sugar with 1 part water until dissolved, then cooling. It will stay liquid in the refrigerator.

The Shark Bite, featuring a floater of Appleton Estate Rare Blend, is the perfect accompaniment during an Appleton rum tasing event in August 2018. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Shark Bite, featuring a floater of Appleton Estate Rare Blend, is the perfect accompaniment during an Appleton rum tasing event in August 2018. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Notes and tips for home mixologists

* In addition to the 12-year-old Appleton rum floater, the choice of amber rum is crucial. While we suspect that The Mai-Kai uses a Jamaican rum, perhaps Appleton Estate Signature or J. Wray Gold, we’re still partial to the balance a Barbados rum provides. See suggestions above under the Shark’s Tooth recipe. We also recently came up with a delicious variation using The Real McCoy 12-year-old Distillers Proof Mai-Kai Blend.

See more notes and tips below under version 1.0

Where’s the cinnamon? While our first tribute recipe below contained a rich cinnamon syrup, we’ve since discovered that The Mai-Kai’s Shark Bite does not feature this old Don the Beachcomber ingredient, also known as cinnamon simple syrup or Don’s Spices #4. We’ve confirmed that The Mai-Kai does not include cinnamon syrup in any of its cocktails. The difference in these two Shark Bite recipes is slight and nearly imperceptible. We’re including our original tribute below for reference.

Now on The Grogalizer! This recipe and other Mai-Kai tributes have been added to this essential database of Tiki cocktail reviews, including the Beachbum Berry collection plus Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum and the Cult of Tiki. Help boost our ratings. It’s quick and easy to sign up.
* Go to The Grogalizer now

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Shark Bite tribute by The Atomic Grog, January 2012
Shark Bite tribute by The Atomic Grog, January 2012. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Shark Bite
By The Atomic Grog (version 1.0, January 2012)

* 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
* 1/2 ounce unsweetened pineapple juice
* 1/2 ounce rich sugar syrup
(aka rock candy syrup)
* 1/8 ounce rich cinnamon syrup
* 1 ounce gold Barbados rum
* 1 ounce Appleton 12-year-old rum

In a top-down mixer, pulse blend everything except the Appleton 12 with about 6 ounces of crushed ice until frothy, around 4-5 seconds. Pour into a small, chilled glass and float the aged Appleton.

Notes and tips for home mixologists

Several Shark Bites surface in The Molokai bar in April 2014. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Several Shark Bites surface in The Molokai bar in April 2014. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* Like many other cocktails at The Mai-Kai, this drink benefits greatly from a top-down mixer (aka spindle blender). [See photo] A standard blender will do the job, but only a mixer will yield the perfect blend, texture and foamy head that you see in the photos above. The Mai-Kai mixologists do not use shakers to make any of the signature cocktails. Just as Don the Beachcomber did, they either pulse blend them in a top-down mixer, or blend them smooth in a standard blender (Derby Daiquiri, Floridita Daiquiri, et al.).

* Not as crucial but still somewhat necessary is an extremely cold glass with optional ice shell. At The Mai-Kai, the glass is almost always cold and sometimes contains a thick coating of ice. You can spot a few of the glasses in this photo from our back bar tour on the bottom shelf. In lieu of making the ice shell, we packed a glass with ice and left it in the freezer for several hours to make sure it got nice and frosty. At the very least, avoid using a room-temperature glass. If you’re inspired to try an old-school ice shell, see our Special Reserve Daiquiri tribute.

Okole maluna!

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Appleton master blender Joy Spence hosts rare rum tasting at The Mai-Kai
What we learned at Appleton master blender Joy Spence’s rum tasting
What could possibly be better than an Appleton Estate rum tasting at The Mai-Kai? How about the first-ever such event at the historic Polynesian palace hosted by Joy Spence, the longtime master blender for the venerable Jamaican brand synonymous with pure premium rum. Check out our full recpap and photos, including 5 things you might not know about Joy Spence, 12 things we learned about how Appleton rum is made, and how she wants you to experience Appleton Estate rums.
Recipe: Joy Spence’s favorite rum cocktail

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Social Media tributes

View this post on Instagram

SHARK’S TOOTH A classic and quite a simple recipe by Don the Beachcomber. I became interested in this one while browsing @theatomicgrog excellent website and used a @official_beachbumberry recipe from the Remixed book. This one seems very tiki ti esque to me (my garnish choice is a nod to that), with the combination of of dark Jamaican and pineapple juice. It’s tropical, balanced, straightforward drink. (8/10) 1 oz @plantation.rum 5 years 1 oz Meyers original dark 0.5 oz simple syrup 0.5 oz pineapple juice 0.5 oz lime juice 1 tsp marraschino cherry syrup Pour everything (minus the maraschino cherry syrup) in a shaker with crushed ice, open pour and float the syrup #tiki #tikicocktails #sharkstoothcocktail #beachbumberry #donthebeachcomber #meyersdarkrum #plantationrum

A post shared by Niki Tiki (@tikisur) on

15 Replies to “Mai-Kai cocktail review: Find out what makes the Shark Bite so Jawesome”

  1. I’ve had good success replicating the Mai kai drink with theft owing recipe:

    3/4 oz lime juice
    1/2 oz sugar syrup
    1/4 oz Sonoma cinnamon syrup
    1 1/2 oz amber rum (I use Bacardi 8)
    1 oz Appleton 12 yr (float)

    Shake all (except Appleton 12 year) with ice. Poor unstrained into glass & float rum

  2. Thanks for the recipe. Had a shark bite at the Mai Kai yesterday, and when I got back home today, I made one. Loved it! I used Cockspur 12 for the barbados rum, and Appleton V/X. My own rich sugar and cinnamon syrups were used. This is a damn fine drink! I need to pick up a mixer, I used my stick blender and was able to impart some foam by allowing some air to get mixed in.

  3. Thanks for the recipe. I fell in love with The Shark Bite at this years Hukilau, and your recipe was darn near identical to what I remembered! I made my own syrups, and I’ll be making this drink often!!

  4. I just made the original Shark Tooth, 1 Plantation 5 YO, 1 Appleton 12YO rare, 1/2 simple, 1/2 Dole can pineapple, 1/2 fresh lime. 1 tsp Luxardo cherry syrup, shake cracked ice into mai tai glass, drizzle cherry juice over, Luxardo cherry on pick ABV is 24 (less than 20 is punch). Appleton 12YO comes through. I found the Shark’s Bite tribute (1 oz rock candy syrup vs. 1/2 simple plus 1 tsp cherry juice) to be way too sweet (4 times to be exact). Actually, the cherry juice and cherry differentiates this drink. Keep up the tributes, I try them all!

  5. I`d love to try this with Dr Bird, but then again, I haven`t even tried that rum 🙂 bec i can`t get it here in Europe. But something tells me it should be good in this drink…btw I LOVE that kinda ice shell to that specific type of flaired glass!

  6. Where does the Mai Kai get the footed bowl like glasses that these types of cocktails are served in. The closest I could get was a footed dessert bowl from home essential online. I was going to ask if they would sell me a couple for my home bar.

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