Mai-Kai cocktail review: Even landlubbers can appreciate a strong ration of Yeoman’s Grog

Updated May 15, 2012
See below: Our Yeoman’s Grog review | Ancestor recipe
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide

It goes without saying that The Atomic Grog is a big fan of any traditional “grog,” and the Yeoman’s Grog at The Mai-Kai is one of the best. But where exactly does the the term “grog” come from? And what’s the story behind the Yeoman’s Grog?

Admiral Edward "Old Grog" Vernon. (Portrait by Thomas Gainsborough - from Wikipedia)

Admiral Edward "Old Grog" Vernon. (Portrait by Thomas Gainsborough - from Wikipedia)

In the British Navy, it became tradition in the mid-1600s to grant all seamen a daily half-pint ration of rum. In 1740, seeking to cut down on rampant drunkenness, Admiral Edward Vernon, nicknamed “Old Grog” because of the cloak made of grogam (a silk fabric) that he always wore, ordered the rum mixed with a quart of water. Some years later, when it was proven that citrus fruit prevented scurvy, lime juice was added to the mix. The world’s first proper tropical drink was born, named the “Navy Grog” after Old Grog himself.

Roughly 200 years later, when tropical drinks were all the rage, a greatly enhanced version of the Navy Grog was popularized by Donn Beach (aka Don the Beachcomber) and Victor Bergeron (aka Trader Vic). When The Mai-Kai opened in 1956, mixologist Mariano Licudine created the Yeoman’s Grog, based heavily on Donn Beach’s version, which he knew well from his years working at Don the Beachcomber in Chicago.

But Licudine took the Yeoman’s Grog to the next level by lifting the best element of Trader Vic’s Navy Grog – allspice liqueur, aka pimento dram. This is one of those special, subtle ingredients we’ve noted in past reviews (see the Deep Sea Diver and Rum Julep), but it really takes a starring role here. Don the Beachcomber also featured a drink containing pimento dram called the Colonial Grog, also a likely influence.

From a classic Don the Beachcomber menu.

From a classic Don the Beachcomber menu.

Most current Trader Vic’s recipe books refer vaguely to “Navy Grog mix” and attempt to sell you a bottled product. But older reference books (and this Jeff “Beachbum” Berry blog post) reveal that allspice syrup is indeed the key ingredient. In lieu of making your own syrup, pimento liqueur (manufactured by Wray & Nephew in Jamaica, and St. Elizabeth in Europe and the U.S) is a fine substitute.

The Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic recipes are very similar otherwise, with a base of lime juice, grapefruit juice and multiple dark and gold rums. That’s no surprise since these Tiki bar pioneers are well known to have borrowed liberally from each other. Often, litigation ensued (see the K.O. Cooler and Mai Tai).

Perhaps the coolest signature touch carried over from Donn Beach’s Navy Grog to the Yeoman’s Grog is the straw encased in an ice cone. As Beachbum Berry points out in this blog post, the ice cone was a lost art that The Mai-Kai helped keep alive. The Atomic Grog is happy to continue the tradition.

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The official menu description
Yeoman's Grog
YEOMAN’S GROG

A dry, hardy, full ration of grog, as quaffed by the rugged seamen of the adventurous Clipper ship days.

Okole Maluna Society review and rating

Yeoman's Grog, July 2011. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Yeoman's Grog, July 2011. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Size: Medium

Potency: Strong

Flavor profile: Dark rums, allspice, grapefruit juice, honey.

Review: Very strong dark rum and allspice notes dominate this complex creation that combines the best elements of the iconic Navy Grogs popularized by Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic.

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

Ancestry: The Yeoman’s Grog dates back to the original 1956 Mai-Kai menu, no doubt a direct descendant of Don the Beachcomber’s Navy Grog (including the signature ice cone). It also contains a nod to Trader Vic’s drink of the same name.

Bilge: The Navy Grog was rumored to be Frank Sinatra’s favorite drink. And, as Beachbum Berry pointed out, it’s also the drink that record producer Phil Spector enjoyed at the Beverly Hills Trader Vic’s the night he murdered actress Lana Clarkson in 2003.

Agree or disagree? Share your reviews and comments below!

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A Navy Grog mashup by The Atomic Grog. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2011)

A Navy Grog mashup by The Atomic Grog. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2011)

ANCESTOR RECIPE
Navy Grog
(Don the Beachcomber, circa 1941)
(From Beachbum Berry Remixed)

* 3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
* 3/4 ounce white grapefruit juice
* 3/4 ounce soda water
* 1 ounce honey mix (see below)
* 1 ounce light Puerto Rican (or Virgin Islands) rum
* 1 ounce dark Jamaican rum
* 1 ounce Demerara rum

Shake vigorously with at least 1 cup of ice cubes. Strain into a double old-fashioned glass with an ice-cone straw (see below).

Navy Grog ice cone

Pack a pilsner glass with finely shaved ice, run a chopstick through the middle to make a hole for the straw, then gently remove the cone from the glass. Freeze the cone overnight. When ready to serve, run a straw through the cone. Sip the drink through the straw.

An ice cone is prepared by The Atomic Grog. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2011)

An ice cone is prepared by The Atomic Grog. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2011)

Beachbum Berry learned how to make an ice cone from veteran Tiki bartender Tony Ramos in the early 1990s and was gracious enough to pass along the instructions in his first recipe book, Grog Log (1998). Prior, only The Mai-Kai and a few old-school Tiki bartenders regularly made them. In the years since, many of the new wave of Tiki mixologists have given it a try and documented their experiences online. Dr. Bamboo has posted perhaps the most intensive and meticulous research. Click here for his detailed guide and tips.

I didn’t have that much trouble making a cone on the first try. I have an old ice crusher that I rarely use that finely chops ice into snow-cone sized pieces. I deviated from the instructions a bit, leaving the ice and chopstick in the glass in the freezer for an extended period while on vacation. But it was no problem to remove after the glass sat at room temperature for 5 minutes.

Notes and tips for home mixologists

* The traditional honey mix is simply 1 part honey to 1 part water, mixed until fully liquid. It will keep for weeks in the fridge. As stated in past reviews (see Special Planters Punch, Rum Julep, Oh So Deadly, Zombie), The Mai-Kai is believed to often use a sweeter, more intense 2:1 ratio, so I’m using that here to offset the strong rums and pimento dram.

* You can see my choice of rums in the photo above: Cruzan Estate Light, Coruba dark Jamaican, and El Dorado 15. All are among my favorites in their respective categories and blend perfectly in this version of the Navy Grog. The Mai-Kai likely uses a high-end gold rum instead of the Demerara, which no longer is stocked in the bar. Many of us are hoping it makes a comeback.

* If you need further instruction, check out this excellent video from the Los Angeles Times Magazine on how to make a Navy Grog.

To approximate the taste of the Yeoman’s Grog

* Reduce the soda to 1/2 ounce and add 1/4 ounce of pimento liqueur. The Mai-Kai’s version of this classic contains a very distinctive allspice flavor, perhaps an in-house allspice syrup.

* We’ve recently learned (as of late April, 2012) that not only does the Yeoman’s Grog contain the distinctive Kohala Bay dark Jamaican rum (aka “Dagger”), but it now also has returned to its original recipe that includes 80 proof Lemon Hart Demerara rum for the first time in some 15 years.

This combination of strong and flavorful rums, plus the bold allspice notes, creates one of the most potent and intense cocktail experiences available anywhere.

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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One Response to Mai-Kai cocktail review: Even landlubbers can appreciate a strong ration of Yeoman’s Grog

  1. Sunny&Rummy says:

    Revisiting this old post now that I have my Jeff Berry Ice Cone Mold in hand. No more “ICD” for this boy!

    Mixed the first Grog of the night to Donn Beach specs with Coruba, ED5, and Cruzan Light. Will have to add Pimento Dram to the next one for comparison. Polished off the last of my Kohala Bay, but before doing so I was able to do a side by side taste comparison to demonstrate that 50/50/ Coruba and Rhum Negrita is a pretty close approximation. Think We’ll be drinking Grogs and Atomic Grog Viscious Virgin Tributes all week!

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