Mai-Kai cocktail review: Demerara rum, secret mix revive classic Bora Bora

Updated Dec. 21, 2016
See below: Our Bora Bora review | Ancestor recipe | NEW: Tribute recipe 3.0
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide

The Bora Bora in The Molokai bar in October 2016, shortly after receiving an upgrade with the inclusion of a long-dormant secret mix originally created by The Mai-Kai's founding mixologist, Mariano Licudine, circa 1956.  (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The Bora Bora in The Molokai bar in October 2016, shortly after receiving an upgrade with the inclusion of a long-dormant secret mix originally created by The Mai-Kai’s founding mixologist, Mariano Licudine, circa 1956. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

What a difference one rum can make. Relegated to the bottom end of our ratings and nearly forgotten, The Mai-Kai’s Bora Bora made a comeback in 2012 thanks to the return of the rich and flavorful Demerara rum to The Mai-Kai, which gives this cocktail a much-needed boost.

The little-known Bora Bora has always been a potent concoction. I used to recommended it to folks who like a strong Mai Tai (classic, Trader Vic style) due to its intense combination of sour juices and Martinique rum. But with the smoky and tasty Demerara rum from Guyana replacing the earthy and sometimes harsh agricole rum, this drink took on a whole new life.

It immediately jumped up five spots in our ratings (rising from 2 1/2 to 3 stars) and inspired the first two tribute recipes below. After further study, we moved it up another five spots to the top of the 3-star rankings. Click here for more on the return of Demerara rum to The Mai-Kai.

NEW: Then, in the late summer of 2016, it was among a half-dozen drinks to get a boost from the return of a mysterious secret ingredient that dates back to the early days of The Mai-Kai. Now featuring Mariano’s Mix #7, Bora Bora takes on a whole new life with a bold yet sweet and approachable anise flavor vying for your attention. Check out the third version of the tribute recipe below, added in late 2016.

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The official menu description
Bora Bora
BORA BORA

Long and smooth, but potent. An adventurous challenge.

Okole Maluna Society review and rating

Bora Bora, July 2011. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Bora Bora, July 2011. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Size: Medium

Potency: Strong

Flavor profile: Strong yet smooth rums, lime juice, floral anise notes.

Review: Formerly overtly rough and bitter, the Bora Bora benefited greatly from the return of Demerara rum to The Mai-Kai’s bars in April 2012 and the reintroduction of secret mix #7 in the summer of 2016.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars (see how it ranks)

Ancestry: The Bora Bora is one of the lesser known drinks on the menu, but it’s survived 55 years, out-living such defunct classics as the Demerara Cocktail and Last Rites. It’s a direct descendant of Don the Beachcomber’s Donga Punch.

Bilge: The Bora Bora shares its name (and that of the Polynesian island) with one of the most flamboyant dishes on the dinner menu. Lobster Bora Bora features a shelled Maine lobster sauteed with mushrooms and flamed with bourbon, finished with cream and a red wine Bordelaise sauce. If you dare, pair it with a couple Bora Bora cocktails. General Manager Kern Mattei recently demonstrated how to make this classic on an episode of the Cooking Channel’s Offbeat Eats with Jim Stacy.

Lobster Bora Bora, June 2011. (Photo by Susan Hayward)

Lobster Bora Bora, June 2011. (Photo by Susan Hayward)

Agree or disagree? Share your reviews and comments below!

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ANCESTOR RECIPE
Donga Punch

(From Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari)

Donga Punch

Donga Punch by The Atomic Grog. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, March 2012)

* 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
* 1 1/2 ounces Don’s Mix
   (2 parts grapefruit juice to 1 part cinnamon syrup)
* 1 1/2 ounces aged Martinique rum

Put everything into a cocktail shaker half-filled with crushed ice. Shake well. Pour into a tall glass, adding more crushed ice to fill.

Served at Don the Beachcomber, circa 1937. “Donga” is Zulu for “a gully in a field.”

Mai-Kai mixologist Mariano Licudine worked at the original Don the Beachcomber in Hollywood starting in 1939, so he most likely based the Bora Bora on this old classic. With only three ingredients, this is a relatively easy way to transport yourself back to the golden age of mixology.

Notes and tips for home mixologists

* Don’s mix is that mystery ingredient in the original Zombie that Beachbum Berry unveiled in Sippin’ Safari. It’s best made fresh, but you can also pick up a fine bottled version from B.G. Reynolds.

* Martinique (or agricole) rum, made from fresh sugar cane instead of sugar by-products such as molasses, is noted for its earthy taste. It’s crucial to avoid cheap brands and stick with proven products such as Rhum Clement VSOP or Rhum St. James Extra Old.

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NEW: Tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Bora Bora
By The Atomic Grog (version 3.0, updated December 2016)

Bora Bora tribute by The Atomic Grog, October 2016. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Bora Bora tribute by The Atomic Grog, October 2016. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
* 1 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
* 1/4 ounce Mariano’s Mix #7 (see below)
* 3/4 ounce rich sugar syrup
   (2 parts sugar to 1 part water)
* 1 ounce gold Virgin Islands rum
* 3/4 ounce Demerara rum (Hamilton 86 or other)
* 3/4 ounce dark Jamaican rum
   (Kohala Bay or appropriate substitute)
* 2 dashes Angostura bitters

Pulse blend with 1 cup of crushed ice. Pour unstrained into a tall cocktail glass, adding more crushed ice if necessary. Garnish with a strip of orange peel.

December 2016 update: In late summer 2016, Bora Bora was one of six cocktails confirmed to now include a secret mix that had been sidelined for years due to the unavailability of key ingredients. While we don’t claim to have cracked the code to this elusive syrup, we have a close approximation:

Mariano’s Mix #7: Combine 1/4 teaspoon of Herbsaint (or Pernod) with 1 tablespoon of falernum to create a sweet and fragrant syrup that adds another level of flavor to this often ignored long pull. To make a larger batch, just scale up to 1/2 teaspoon of anise liqueur for every ounce of falernum. Bottle and keep at room temperature to let the flavors mingle. I recommend Herbsaint over Pernod since it provides the appropriate floral quality that mimics The Mai-Kai’s mix. A sweet, non-alcoholic falernum, such as Fee Brothers, is also highly recommended to achieve the correct flavor. I’ve confirmed recently that The Mai-Kai uses the Fee Brothers brand.
* Tiki Central: More on the return of secret mixes to The Mai-Kai

Besides the addition of #7, the only other changes from the earlier recipe below are a slight reduction in the sugar syrup and bitters. The result is a more rounded cocktail, the floral anise flavor clearly up-front and sharing the spotlight with the lime and rums. More on that below.

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

Bora Bora tribute by The Atomic Grog, July 2012

Bora Bora tribute by The Atomic Grog, July 2012. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
* 1 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
* 1 ounce rich sugar syrup
   (2 parts sugar to 1 part water)
* 1 ounce gold Virgin Islands rum
* 3/4 ounce Demerara rum
* 3/4 ounce dark Jamaican rum
   (Kohala Bay or appropriate substitute)
* 3 dashes Angostura bitters

Pulse blend with 1 cup of crushed ice. Pour unstrained into a tall cocktail glass, adding more crushed ice if necessary. Garnish with a strip of orange peel.

March 2016 update: The rums aren’t the only major difference between the Bora Bora and its ancestor, the Donga Punch. I recently learned that The Mai-Kai does not feature cinnamon syrup in any of its current cocktails, which means that Don’s Mix is also not among the ingredients. Our original tribute recipe was fairly accurate, so I just replaced Don’s Mix with a combination of grapefruit juice and rich sugar syrup, then increased the bitters to achieve a very similar taste. It’s unclear if Don’s Mix was ever used at The Mai-Kai, but if you’d like to try a version closer to Don the Beachcomber’s original, we’ve left our original below, along with more notes and tips.

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Tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Bora Bora
By The Atomic Grog (version 1.0, July 2012)

The updated Bora Bora, featuring Demerara rum

The updated Bora Bora, featuring Demerara rum. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, July 2012)

* 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
* 1 1/2 ounces Don’s Mix
   (2 parts grapefruit juice to 1 part cinnamon syrup)
* 1 ounce gold Virgin Islands rum
* 3/4 ounce Demerara rum
* 3/4 ounce dark Jamaican rum
   (Kohala Bay or appropriate substitute)
* 1 dash Angostura bitters

Pulse blend with 1 cup of crushed ice. Pour unstrained into a tall cocktail glass, adding more crushed ice if necessary. Garnish with a strip of orange peel.

This wasn’t the only cocktail in which Martinique rum was replaced with Demerara. The same rum substitution was used in the S.O.S. and Martinique Milk Punch.

Notes and tips for home mixologists

* We follow Beachbum Berry’s recommendation on grapefruit juice: Fresh-squeezed white or yellow grapefruit (not red or pink), or a bottled/canned white grapefruit juice that’s 100% juice, unsweetened. The most common variety is Ocean Spray 100% unsweetened juice. Please note, however, that The Mai-Kai does use red grapefuit juice when it’s in season. All its juices, including a bold key lime juice blend, arrive fresh from a local grove.
* Tiki Central: Click here for a full guide to the juices used at The Mai-Kai

After changing rums in 2012, the Bora Bora (second from right) now can compete with any of The Mai-Kai's classic cocktails, such as (from left) the Special Planters Punch, Black Magic and Jet Pilot

After changing rums in 2012, the Bora Bora (second from right) now can compete with any of The Mai-Kai’s classic cocktails, such as (from left) the Special Planters Punch, Black Magic and Jet Pilot. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, April 2014)

* As noted above, the return of Demerara rum to The Mai-Kai inspired this tribute, but it was the Bora Bora’s inclusion on the cocktail flights menu at the Mai-Kai Mixer event in June 2012 that provided the real impetus. While presenting the flights, manager Kern Mattei gave us the scoop on the exact rums contained in the drinks, providing this tribute with a very accurate foundation on which to build.

* Cruzan is a good gold mixing rum for the price. You could upgrade to a premium rum if you wish, but it needs to be a smooth rum that plays a background role to the other rums. Lemon Hart was The Mai-Kai’s Demerara rum of choice until the fall of 2014, when U.S. distribution dried up. It was replaced temporarily by El Dorado Superior Dark, which is a decent substitute in this drink. But the arrival in early 2015 of the new Hamilton rums from Guyana (from Ed Hamilton, former importer of Lemon Hart) elevates the Bora Bora arguably even higher than Lemon Hart did. The added flavor and kick from the assertive 86-proof Hamilton rum fits like a glove. Kohala Bay, the descendant of the distinctive “Dagger Punch” brand of dark Jamiacan rum, is one of The Mai-Kai’s secret weapons with its slightly higher (87.6) proof blend and fiery flavor. Unfortunately, it became unavailable in 2016 and its future is in doubt. The Mai-Kai has since replaced it with Appleton Estate Reserve Blend. If you’re looking for the closest flavor to Kohala Bay, we recommend a combination of Smith & Cross and El Dorado 12, among other possible replacements.
* Rum guide: Full coverage of Kohala Bay and recommended substitutes

The Bora Bora is another good example of how The Mai-Kai uses complimentary rums to create distinctive flavors.

Okole maluna!

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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6 Responses to Mai-Kai cocktail review: Demerara rum, secret mix revive classic Bora Bora

  1. Sunny&Rummy says:

    I have never had a Mai Kai Bora Bora, but Donn’s Donga Punch is among my all-time favorite classic Tiki cocktails, so I will have to order one the next time I make it down.

    For people that find the rhum agricoles to be a bit too vegetal-funky (my wife, for instance), subbing a good dark Demerara makes the Donga Punch totally approachable. Even though I love Martinique rhum I think a “Demerara Donga” is equally good and mix them up that way at home with some regularity.

    • That’s a great idea about the Demerara. The Bora Bora can be somewhat harsh. But with the addition of Lemon Hart, it will be interesting to see how it’s changed. We haven’t had a chance to revisit it yet. I suspect it will rise in the ratings.

  2. Sunny&Rummy says:

    Just shook up your new Bora Bora tribute recipe, and it is excellent! Thanks!

  3. Rick Masters says:

    The Don’s Mix perfectly compliments the Cruzan, Demerara and Kohala Bay Rums. This is really a winner in my book !

  4. Frank Nosalek says:

    In your version 3.0 Bora Bora “Mariano’s Mix #7” notes, you make two very insightful and important distinctions:
    1) There are important reasons to consider using alcoholic and non-alcoholic falernums.
    2) Pernod and Herbsaint have important flavor profile differences.
    Thanks for all the testing you and your liver do for us – you are truly serving mankind in a noble manner! 🙂
    –Frank

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