Mai-Kai cocktail review: The only Rum Julep you’ll ever need to know

Updated Aug. 16, 2014
See below: Our Rum Julep review | Ancestor recipe | Tribute recipe
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide

Beachbum Berry's Sippin' Safari

Beachbum Berry's Sippin' Safari is the source for Don the Beachcomber's Rum Julep and many other classic recipes.

You’ll find many Rum Julep recipes online, but don’t be fooled by these pretenders. It’s a common name given to a myriad of cocktails that all pale in comparison to the Don the Beachcomber classic, circa 1940. And as you should know from reading this cocktail guide, 40 of the Mai-Kai’s best drinks are direct descendants of Donn Beach originals.

When former Don the Beachcomber bartender Mariano Licudine created The Mai-Kai’s menu in 1956, he used many recipes from his notebook, but tweaked them slightly. These altered drinks also got new names, such as Don’s Swizzle becoming the Mai-Kai Swizzle or the Never Say Die becoming the Oh So Deadly. However, a few kept their original moniker, such as the distinctive Zombie and Kona Coffee Grog.

Still, there were subtle changes in most drinks. Much like the Special Planters Punch, it took quite a few years before I attempted a Rum Julep tribute recipe, as the finer points of Mariano Licudine’s mixology techniques became clearer. And like many of those other cocktails, the Rum Julep is a fine example of tropical drink history that only The Mai-Kai can provide.

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The official menu description
Rum Julep
RUM JULEP

A cool, refreshing blend, featuring light dry rums and the traditional flavor of fresh mint.

Okole Maluna Society review and rating

Size: Medium

Potency: Medium

Rum Julep, November 2010

Rum Julep, November 2010. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Flavor profile: Honey, lime, gold rum, spices.

Review: A brilliantly basic, classic tropical rum drink with a great balance of sweet, sour and strong flavors.

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

Ancestry: Another classic concoction from The Mai-Kai’s original 1956 menu, the Rum Julep is an obvious riff on Don the Beachcomber’s drink of the same name.

Bilge: The original Donn Beach recipe below calls for the Rum Julep to be served in a metal julep cup, and The Mai-Kai’s menu has long showed such a cup even though it’s rare to receive one. The cup is often in short supply, and it’s more crucial to the 151 Swizzle, so you won’t find it used very often for the Rum Julep. But if you happen to be there on a slow night when plenty of cups are available, you might get lucky.

Agree or disagree? Share your reviews and comments below!

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ANCESTOR RECIPE
Rum Julep

(From Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari)

Rum Julep by The Atomic Grog

Rum Julep by The Atomic Grog. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, October 2011)

* 1/2 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
* 1/2 ounce orange juice
* 1/2 ounce honey mix
   (equal parts honey and water)
* 1/2 ounce Appleton Estate Extra Jamaican rum
* 1 1/2 ounces Demerara rum
* 1/4 teaspoon grenadine
* 1/4 teaspoon falernum
* 1/4 teaspoon pimento liqueur
* 1 dash Angostura bitters

Blend at high speed with 4 ounces (1/2 cup) of crushed ice for no more than 5 seconds. Pour into a metal julep cup or stemmed cocktail glass. Add more crushed ice to fill. Garnish with mint sprigs.

As served in 1958 at Don the Beachcomber’s Caberet Restaurant in the International Marketplace in Honolulu, Hawaii. Created by Donn Beach in Hollywood, circa 1940.

Notes and tips for home mixologists

* Be sure to use fresh juices and quality ingredients to make this drink really shine. Fee Brothers is a good source of both grenadine and falernum, while the best pimento liqueur (aka allspice dram) available in the U.S. is the St. Elizabeth brand. Of course, hardcore home mixologists may want to make their own versions of these syrups and liqueurs. There are plenty of good recipes available online.

* El Dorado makes several excellent Demerara mixing rums. I’d recommend the 5-year-old or 8-year-old in this drink. The 12- and 15-year-old rums are outstanding, but you don’t want to overpower the equally excellent 12-year-old Appleton.

At first glance (or sip), The Mai-Kai’s version of the Rum Julep is virtually the same as the ancestor above. But there are several key differences, which I’ve tried to duplicate with this tribute:

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Tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Rum Julep
By The Atomic Grog

Rum Julep tribute by The Atomic Grog, May 2014

Rum Julep tribute by The Atomic Grog, May 2014. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* 3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
* 3/4 ounce orange juice
* 1 ounce rich 2:1 honey mix
* 1 ounce light Puerto Rican or Virgin Islands rum
* 1 ounce gold Jamaican rum (Appleton Special)
* 1/4 teaspoon falernum
* 1 teaspoon Don’s Spices #2
   (50/50 mix of pimento liqueur, vanilla syrup)
* 2 dashes Angostura bitters

Blend at high speed with 4 ounces (1/2 cup) of crushed ice for no more than 5 seconds. Pour into a metal julep cup or stemmed cocktail glass. Add more crushed ice to fill. Garnish with mint sprigs.

This drink is a good example of Licudine’s brilliance. He took an already classic drink but somehow improved it by ratcheting up the intensity of the juices, honey and spices and going with lighter rums. The result is not only better than his mentor’s original, it’s also easier to make and likely more profitable for the bar because of the more generic rums. But the flavor is certainly not generic.

Notes and tips for home mixologists

* Honey is in the forefront of this version of the Rum Julep, so I doubled the amount and used a rich mix (2 parts honey to 1 part water), which gives some of The Mai-Kai’s drinks added richness and flavor (see Moonkist Coconut, Hidden Pearl). Just mix and store in a jar in the fridge as you’ll use it often in these classics. The lime and OJ were also increased to give the drink more balance and ensure its place on the medium menu.

* The menu description indicates the presence of “light dry rums,” which differs from the ancestor recipe. Reliable sources also tell me that no Demerara rum is used in The Mai-Kai’s version, so I went with a standard light rum and Appleton’s gold rum. Cruzan’s aged light rum is a fine mixer, and The Mai-Kai likely uses its well rum, a cheaper Cruzan product. The distinctive Appleton flavor can be dectected, but it’s unlikely the premium 12-year-old Extra is used in this drink. It’s featured in several others (Mai Tai, Shark Bite) and called out on the menu, but not so with the Rum Julep. More likely it’s the popular Appleton Special, another fine mixing rum.
* See the full list of Mai-Kai cocktails featuring Appleton

Rum Julep tribute in a metal julep cup

Rum Julep tribute in a metal julep cup. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, April 2014)

* The small dose of falernum is barely noticeable, like the original, if it’s there at all. And dropping the grenadine is acutally a good move since it adds nothing and just muddles the flavors, in my opinion. The secret weapon in this cocktail is Don’s Spices #2, which I’ve touched on in past reviews (Deep Sea Diver, Yeoman’s Grog, Special Planters Punch, Black Magic) and discovered recently to be a Mai-Kai staple. It’s an ingenious way of working the intensely spicy pimento dram into The Mai-Kai’s more accessible drinks by tempering it with a sweet syrup. This allows the allspice flavor to be amped up in the Rum Julep and, along with additional bitters, keeps the drink’s sweetness from running amok.

* The menu also mentions fresh mint, but we’re fairly sure its presence is limted to the garnish. However, it’s still important to include a healthy sprig or two so you get that authentic mint aroma as you quaff.

* And, as mentioned above, it’s rare that you receive the Rum Julep served in the metal cup that’s more often used with the 151 Swizzle. But if you have a cup on hand, it adds even more authenticity to your drink. Just chill the cup in the freezer several hours before serving. It helps keep the drink ice cold. You’ll often find a cup from Everlast available on eBay. Look for the traditional version with a flared top.

The Rum Julep is yet another traditional tropical drink that The Mai-Kai has elevated and kept alive for the past half century, much to our delight.

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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4 Responses to Mai-Kai cocktail review: The only Rum Julep you’ll ever need to know

  1. Swanky says:

    Thanks for putting a spotlight on this. I had not made it but it sounded great. Made it Saturday and we ended up having several. This one is a 9 or 10. Great to see another Don drink preserved intact at the Mai-Kai!

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