Mai-Kai cocktail review: Cobra’s Kiss is an exotic taste explosion guaranteed to strike your fancy

Updated March 31, 2014
See below: Our Cobra’s Kiss review | Ancestor recipe | Tribute recipe
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide

A Cobra's Kiss is savored during The Hukilau in June 2010. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

A Cobra's Kiss is savored during The Hukilau in June 2010. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The Cobra’s Kiss is one of the most original and distinctive cocktails you’ll find anywhere. And like many of the best complex drinks at The Mai-Kai, it takes time to fully appreciate it. But if you truly savor rum and exotic flavors, you’ll eventually experience a revelation.

For The Atomic Grog, that revelation came during the 2010 Hukilau (see photo at right). It became the event’s drink du jour, a suddenly under-appreciated classic. If you hang out at The Mai-Kai and sample enough of the cocktails, you’ll have many similar experiences.

I’d hesitate to use the word unique since the Cobra’s Kiss is actually a knock-off of an early Don the Beachcomber drink, but this cocktail has a flavor profile that you’re not going to find very often. As he did with many of the classics, former Beachcomber bartender Mariano Licudine tweaked the Cobra’s Fang just enough to give it his own stamp at The Mai-Kai. In this case, it is arguably better than the original. It’s one of my favorites on the medium-strength section of the menu, along with the Shark Bite and Rum Julep. All are intensely flavorful and highly recommended.

Cobra's Fang

Below, you’ll find recipes for both Donn Beach’s original and our own interpretation of The Mai-Kai’s version. Both rely heavily on falernum, an exotic sweet syrup that originated in Barbados, for their distinctive taste. The Art of Drink delves into the origins and history of falernum, while other blogs such as Rum Dood and The Cocktail Chronicles have posted recipes for making your own.

We’ve noticed falernum in many Mai-Kai cocktails. In most instances, it’s subtle. In others – such as the Mai-Tai and Moonkist Coconut – it’s much more forward. But the Cobra’s Kiss is perhaps the No. 1 showcase for this wonderful ingredient.

Note: Some online menus have referred to this drink as “Cobra Kiss,” and it was originally listed that way here. But most of the printed menus, including the new 2014 cocktail menu, have it listed as “Cobra’s Kiss,” so we’re now going with that spelling.

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The official menu description
Cobra's Kiss
COBRA’S KISS

Full bodied and full flavored, featuring the famous West Indies dark rums.

Okole Maluna Society review and rating

Size: Medium

Potency: Medium

Flavor profile: Orange juice, dark rum, falernum, Pernod.

Cobra's Kiss, October 2011. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Cobra's Kiss, October 2011. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Review: An extremely exotic and distinctive cocktail featuring an explosion of tart fruit and flavorful rums.

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

Ancestry: The Cobra’s Kiss dates back to the original 1956 Mai-Kai menu. It’s a very close descendant of the Don the Beachcomber classic Cobra’s Fang.

Bilge: It would be negligent to not give an occasional credit to the 50-year-old landmark Tiki Ti in Los Angeles, the only other bar in the world serving as many authentic Don the Beachcomber tropical drinks as The Mai-Kai. “The Ti,” as its known to its fans, features more than 80 classic cocktails hand-made by the son and grandsons of the late Ray Buhen, a former Beachcomber bartender from the same era as The Mai-Kai’s late Mariano Licudine. These include the Tiki Ti’s version of the Cobra’s Fang. The tiny Sunset Boulevard bar doesn’t approach The Mai-Kai in size and scope, but its cocktails are just as impeccably delicious.

Agree or disagree? Share your reviews and comments below!

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ANCESTOR RECIPE
Cobra’s Fang

(By Don the Beachcomber, from Hawai’i – Tropical Rum Drinks & Cuisine)

Cobra's Fang by The Atomic Grog (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, November 2011)

Cobra's Fang by The Atomic Grog (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, November 2011)

1 ounce fresh lime juice
1 ounce orange juice
1 ounce falernum
1/2 ounce fassionola (see below)
1 ounce dark Jamaican rum
1 ounce Lemon Hart Demerara 151 rum
1 teaspoon grenadine
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Blend all ingredients with 8 ounces of crushed ice for 5 to 8 seconds. Pour into a tall glass, adding more ice to fill. Garnish with mint and lime wheels.

Notes and tips for home mixologists

* Note that we’ve basically doubled the recipe called for in the Hawai’i book (co-written by Donn Beach’s widow, Phoebe) and reprinted elsewhere. Feel free to make the original recipe, but I feel it’s just a bit too small to properly enjoy all the great flavor notes.

* Fee Brothers is the recommended brand of falernum.

 You can still find fassionola on eBay

You can still find fassionola on eBay; click for a close-up of the label. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, May 2012)

* Myers’s is the recipe’s recommended dark Jamaican rum. As stated in other recipes, there really is no substitute for Lemon Hart Demerara, which luckily is becoming easier to find in the United States thanks to importer Ed Hamilton of the Ministry of Rum. However, distribution is still somewhat spotty and not all states are on board. But you should find ordering online much easier than it has been in the past. Become a fan on Facebook to keep up with the latest developments.

* The key to this drink is the odd old-school ingredient called fassionola. It was commonly used in post-Prohibition cocktails and is called for frequently in the Phoebe Beach book. She suggests substituting fruit punch, but this doesn’t really work. Even the most flavorful off-the-shelf fruit drink will be too thin and watery to provide the correct “punch.” You’ll find many suggestions online, such as fruit punch syrup or punch-flavored snow cone syrup. Another recommendation is Hawaiian Punch concentrate without adding water, though this makes it tricky to match the correct strength and proportion. One solution we tried was Pat O’Brien’s Hurricane Mix, though its artificial taste was a bit of a turn-off. The packaged powder (containing pure cane sugar) is preferable to the bottled version. This bastardized mix did give the Cobra’s Fang and Cobra’s Kiss tribute the correct flavor (and deep red color).

May 2012 update: If you’re a real Tiki cocktail nerd like us, keep an eye out on eBay for real fassionola. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a bottle like we did (see photo above). There’s a huge difference between fassionola and Pat O’Brien’s mix, which we subsequently dumped down the drain. It’s thicker, richer and has a darker color. It also tastes much less artificial, like a real fruit syrup. The flavor is cherry/raspberry with a hint of orange. If you’re looking for a truly authentic cocktail, Fassionola Red Syrup (Tropical Gold Fruit) from Jonathan English is indeed the real deal. However, there is one other option …

A 50/50 mix of Fee Brothers grenadine and Smucker's Red Raspberry Syrup (left) is compared to Jonathan English brand fassionola. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, June 2012)

A 50/50 mix of Fee Brothers grenadine and Smucker's Red Raspberry Syrup (left) is compared to Jonathan English brand fassionola. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, June 2012)

July 2012 update: A truly worthy substitute for fassionola was just discovered by Atomic Grog reader and fellow cocktailian Brian Stamp, who suggested equal proportions of grenadine (Brian prefers homemade) and the widely available Smucker’s Red Raspberry Syrup. This may seem like an odd ingredient for cocktails, but it’s actually a favorite of “Dr. Cocktail” (aka Ted Haigh), who wrote one of the great recipe books on classic drinks, Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails (2009). From the book’s Resource Guide: “There are many raspberry syrups available. My secret (don’t tell!) is that I use Smucker’s Red Raspberry Syrup, an elegant, highly flavored fruit syrup. It’ll transform your cocktails. … You can make your own raspberry syrup, or you can buy some organic brand, but seriously, for the right flavors in your forgotten cocktail, you need the Smucker’s. Everything else is just wimpy by comparison.” It’s featured in The Blinker, a vintage cocktail from 1934 resurrected by Dr. Cocktail. In that recipe, he explains that raspberry syrup was a common substitute for grenadine in Prohibition-era European and 19th century American recipes. So Brian’s suggestion was actually deeply rooted in cocktail history.

It was immediately put to the test, with impressive results. We mixed up a batch of the fassionola substitute using Smucker’s and the rich and flavorful Fee Brothers grenadine. The difference was nearly undetectible to the naked eye (see photo above) and very close tastewise. It’s a little sweeter and not quite as intense, but this may be the best practical substitute yet. So we officially recommend this mix in lieu of fassionola in not only the Cobra’s Fang and Cobra’s Kiss tribute (see below), but also our Tahitian Breeze and Jet Pilot tributes.

July 2013 update: A new fassionola recipe has surfaced, thanks to Colin Powers, who writes the Cocktail Hour column for The Oregonian in Portland. He’s also involved with events at Trader Vic’s and Tiki Kon, and recently helped bring the Cobra’s Kiss tribute to a special Vic’s menu. It’s an honor to have the recipe below served at the venerable Vic’s, particularly the Portland location. [Click here for the full article.] Here’s that fassionola recipe: 1/4 cup Smucker’s raspberry syrup (or raspberry puree), 1/4 cup grenadine or cherry syrup, and 1/2 teaspoon orange extract. It’s a slightly tweaked version of Brian Stamp’s recipe above, with the addition of orange extract.

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Tribute to The Mai-Kai Cobra’s Kiss
By The Atomic Grog

Tribute to The Mai-Kai Cobra's Kiss by The Atomic Grog, May 2012

Tribute to The Mai-Kai Cobra's Kiss by The Atomic Grog, May 2012. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1 ounce orange juice
3/4 ounce falernum (see above)
1/2 ounce fassionola (see above)
1 ounce gold Jamaican rum
1 ounce dark Jamaican rum
   (Kohala Bay or equivalent; see below)
1/4 ounce grenadine
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1/4 teaspoon Pernod

Blend all ingredients with around a cup of crushed ice for no more than 5 seconds. Pour into a glass or goblet, adding more ice to fill. Garnish with a cinnamon stick.

Notes and tips for home mixologists

* Some different amounts and proportions were employed to make a slightly smaller cocktail, but there are very few changes from the Cobra’s Fang recipe above. Pernod, an anise liqueur similar to absinthe, is the key enhancement. This was a favorite of Donn Beach and it’s likely he used this very flavorful herbal liqueur in one of his versions of the Cobra’s Fang. It has a strong presence in the Cobra’s Kiss. But go easy, too much will ruin the drink.

* The fassionola that we found on eBay (see above) is manufactured in California, so it’s possible it’s still used at The Mai-Kai and Tiki Ti. The newly discovered substitute, which includes grenadine and raspberry syrup, is a great facsimile. As outlined above, it has the same color, which is important in this cocktail, and nearly identical taste. It’s just slightly less tangy. When using this substitute, I would still keep the 1/4 ounce of grenadine in the recipe. A rich brand such as Fee Brothers helps balance this potent mix of rums, bitters and Pernod.

* We had another revelation recently when it was discovered that this is another of the top Mai-Kai cocktails that feature the hard-to-find Kohala Bay dark Jamaican rum. Formerly known as Dagger, this slightly overproof and power-packed rum was likely used by Donn Beach in the Cobra’s Fang. So feel free to substitute in that recipe above as well. It’s hard to find outside of Florida, so the recommended substitute is equal parts Smith & Cross Jamaican rum and El Dorado 12-year-old Demerara rum. Also, even though it’s back at The Mai-Kai, we’re fairly sure Lemon Hart isn’t featured in the Cobra’s Kiss. So we recommend a quality gold rum such as Appleton Special or V/X to get the full impact of this drink. Click here for more on Appleton at The Mai-Kai.

We’re confident that this tribute will get you as close as humanly possible to a revelation in a cocktail glass.

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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