Mai-Kai cocktail review: A delicious and Oh So Deadly treat

Updated November 2016
See below: Our Oh So Deadly review | Ancestor recipe | UPDATE: Tribute recipe
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide

Oh So Deadly is a deceptive name since the cocktail is actually from the mild section of The Mai-Kai’s extensive menu. It packs intense flavors, however, ranking it among the best of the mild drinks.

Oh So Deadly pairs perfectly with some of the new small plates on The Mai-Kai's appetizer menu in The Molokai bar. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, August 2016)

Oh So Deadly pairs perfectly with some of the new small plates on The Mai-Kai’s appetizer menu in The Molokai bar. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, August 2016)

Until recently, we were convinced that cinnamon was a featured ingredient. When this guide was launched in 2011, Oh So Deadly was among 10 cocktails that we thought contained cinnamon syrup, a key secret weapon of Tiki bar pioneer Don the Beachcomber. Many of The Mai-Kai’s best drinks are direct descendants of Beachcomber classics from the 1930s through 1950s, when original mixologist Mariano Licudine tended bar at Don the Beachcomber restaurants in Hollywood, Calif., and Chicago. In this case, Oh So Deadly can be traced back to Never Say Die.

In 2012, we posted our take on Oh So Deadly featuring cinnamon and considered this among our better tributes. However, in June 2015 we learned that cinnamon syrup is not featured in any of the current cocktails. Manager Kern Mattei and owner Dave Levy assured me that it’s not used anywhere on the menu, though the cinnamon sticks used for garnish in several of the drinks can give you that illusion. This caused a minor stir on Tiki Central, where Mai-Kai cocktail fans debated the revelation.

Never Say Die

The distinctive juices, rums and syrups used at The Mai-Kai have always given the cocktails a unique flavor that’s nearly impossible to duplicate. The phantom cinnamon flavor in drinks such as Oh So Deadly just reinforces that fact. The juices come fresh-squeezed from South Florida groves, the rums include bold Jamaican and Demerara brands, and the syrups are house-made following mysterious recipes that only Levy knows.

More recently, the recipe was tweaked to add falernum, which gives it an added boost of flavor. This Caribbean syrup features many exotic flavors, including almond, ginger, cloves, and lime. It’s featured in multiple drinks on the menu, including Cobra’s Kiss, Mai-Kai Swizzle and S.O.S. Oh So Deadly contains a healthy dose of falernum, making it perhaps the best showcase of all.

What also sets it apart from many of the other mild drinks is the inclusion of two of The Mai-Kai’s most distinctive rums (Demerara and dark Jamaican). The mild cocktails typically contain light and gold rums that don’t impart as much flavor. Oh So Deadly is an exception to that rule.

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The official menu description
Oh So Deadly
OH SO DEADLY

Robust with the rums of the West Indies and the juices of the tropics.

Okole Maluna Society review and rating

Size: Medium

Potency: Mild

Oh So Deadly, March 2015. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Oh So Deadly, March 2015. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Flavor profile: Falernum, honey, dark rum, lime, bitters.

Review: Cool and refreshing. Sweet and sour elements blend nicely with subtle hints of exotic dark rums.

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

Ancestry: Dating back to The Mai-Kai’s original 1956 menu, Oh So Deadly is a direct descendant of Never Say Die from Don the Beachcomber.

Bilge: The artwork for Oh So Deadly that appeared on The Mai-Kai’s menus prior to the 2014 revamp (inset above) was remarkably similar to the artwork used by Don the Beachcomber (see above). This is no coincidence: They shared the same menu artist in the 1950s. Decades later, even after the drink had changed glassware, The Mai-Kai was still using the original artwork. Realistic drink photos were added in 2014 (see story).

Agree or disagree? Share your reviews and comments below!

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ANCESTOR RECIPE
Never Say Die

(From Beachbum Berry’s Grog Log and Remixed)

Never Say Die by The Atomic Grog. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, October 2011)

Never Say Die 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 white grapefruit juice
* 1/4 ounce pineapple juice
* 1/2 ounce honey mix (1:1 honey and water)
* 1/2 ounce light Puerto Rican rum
* 1/2 ounce dark Jamaican rum
* 1 ounce Barbados rum
* 1 dash Angostura bitters

Blend at high speed with 4 ounces (1/2 cup) of crushed ice for 5 seconds. Pour into a wine goblet or specialty glass. Add more crushed ice to fill.

As served at Don the Beachcomber, Hollywood, in the 1960s.

Notes and tips for home mixologists

* The rums can make or break any cocktail. As usual, we recommend one of the many quality Spanish-style white rums such as Don Q, Cruzan or Flor de Caña. There are several good dark Jamaican options, but we opted for Coruba Original for this recipe since it adds the required sweetness. Recommended Barbados rums include R.L. Seale’s, Doorly’s, The Real McCoy, Plantation, Mount Gay, and Cockspur. All are high quality at a reasonable price. It’s interesting to note that while this 1960s recipe includes Barbados rum, the Don the Beachcomber menu description featured at the top of this article refers to Demerara rum, which is what The Mai-Kai uses.

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Tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Oh So Deadly, v.2
By The Atomic Grog (updated November 2016)

Oh So Deadly tribute by The Atomic Grog, March 2015. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Oh So Deadly tribute by The Atomic Grog, March 2015. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* 1/2 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
* 1/4 ounce orange juice
* 1/2 ounce pineapple juice
* 3/8 ounce (3 teaspoons) falernum
* 1/2 ounce rich honey mix
* 1/2 ounce Demerara rum
* 1/2 ounce dark Jamaican rum
* 1 ounce light Spanish-style rum
* 1 dash Angostura bitters

Blend at high speed with 4 ounces (1/2 cup) of crushed ice for 5 seconds. Pour into a specialty glass. Add more crushed ice to fill.

Except for the falernum, Oh So Deadly is a very close replica of Never Say Die. Originally, we thought it contained cinnamon syrup and crafted v.1 of the tribute recipe (see below). But in June 2015 we learned that was not the case, and in April 2016 manager Kern Mattei also confirmed that falernum was now being featured. Indeed, it’s now the dominant flavor in Oh So Deadly, giving the drink much fresher flavor than the old phantom cinnamon taste.

Notes and tips for home mixologists

* The lime and orange juices used at The Mai-Kai are fresh and unpasteurized, arriving daily from a South Florida grove. Lacking fresh Florida OJ of this type, your best bet is to squeeze the fruit fresh. Just be aware that California oranges aren’t as sweet as those from the Sunshine State. The key lime juice blend is tart and flavorful, another unique feature. I’ve been able to duplicate it by combining bottled key lime juice with fresh-squeezed Persian lime juice. This Tiki Central thread contains more details on the juices. The Mai-Kai uses Dole 100% pineapple juice, which is an industry standard. If you prefer, fresh-pressed juice will impart even more flavor.

Oh So Deadly, November 2010. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Oh So Deadly, November 2010. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* We’ve always recommended Fee Brothers falernum since Beachbum Berry touted it as the formula that comes closest to the syrup likely used in Don the Beachcomber’s day. A recent confirmation that The Mai-Kai now uses this brand cements our recommendation. It’s a little on the sweet side, but it’s full of flavor and works well in The Mai-Kai’s savory cocktails.

* The honey mix employed in most Mai-Kai cocktails is very rich, so we recommend a 2:1 ratio of honey to water. Just combine and store in a jar in the fridge.

* This is one of the few mild Mai-Kai cocktails with such an interesting mix of rums. With white rum as the base, the addition of Demerara and dark Jamaican rums creates a unique flavor profile that goes all the way back to Don the Beachcomber classics such as the Zombie and Navy Grog. We confirmed that this drink has both back in 2012, spurring the original tribute recipe. In the meantime, the rum brands used at The Mai-Kai have changed, but the flavor profile is similar. When the rare Kohala Bay from Jamaica became unavailable in mid-2016, Appleton Estate Reserve Blend became the new standard. It has less punchy flavor, but this drink doesn’t suffer much. [More on The Mai-Kai’s Jamaican rums] In April 2012, The Mai-Kai brought Lemon Hart Demerara rum back to its cocktails, a much-welcomed addition. After about 2 1/2 years, Lemon Hart went on hiatus and El Dorado Superior Dark temporarily took its place in many drinks that used the 80-proof version. But Hamilton rums from Guyana stepped up in early 2015 as the de facto Lemon Hart replacement, and the 86-proof version became a worthy addition. Lemon Hart’s 151 rum returned to the U.S. market (and The Mai-Kai) in 2016, but Hamilton 86 remains the standard lower proof option. Click here for the full story on Lemon Hart and Hamilton at The Mai-Kai. The Mai-Kai likely uses their call-brand white rum in most of the mild cocktails, a Virgin Islands rum (Ron Carlos) that’s a product of the Cruzan distillery. You could use Cruzan’s standard white rum, Barcardi, Don Q, or any other Spanish-style silver rum. Just avoid funkier, flavorful white rums since this is meant to be the base mixer that lets the other rums strut their stuff.

The potency may be more subtle than its stronger brethren, but the flavors in this drink still pack a wallop.

Okole maluna!

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Oh So Deadly tribute by The Atomic Grog, May 2012

Oh So Deadly tribute by The Atomic Grog, May 2012. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Postscript

Here’s the original version of our tribute recipe for reference, featuring cinnamon syrup and a smaller amount of pineapple juice …

Tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Oh So Deadly, v.1
By The Atomic Grog (May 2012)

* 1/2 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
* 1/4 ounce orange juice
* 1/4 ounce pineapple juice
* 3/8 ounce (3 teaspoons) rich cinnamon syrup
* 1/2 ounce rich honey mix (see below)
* 1/2 ounce Demerara rum
* 1/2 ounce dark Jamaican rum
   (Kohala Bay or appropriate substitute)
* 1 ounce light Virgin Islands rum
* 1 dash Angostura bitters

Blend at high speed with 4 ounces (1/2 cup) of crushed ice for 5 seconds. Pour into a specialty glass. Add more crushed ice to fill.

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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3 Responses to Mai-Kai cocktail review: A delicious and Oh So Deadly treat

  1. Brad Stroden says:

    Made it tonight, very good! Thanks again for posting all these recipes, they are fun AND delicious!

  2. Jeff says:

    It seems like every Mai Kai’s recipe really took a turn for the worst with the removal of cinnamon syrup and addition of appleton xv.

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