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

Updated December 2020
See below: Our Yeoman’s Grog review | Ancestor recipe
Tribute recipe | Navy Grog from Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29 NEW
Related: Hamilton Navy Grog recipe (served at The Mai-Kai, February 2019) NEW
Navy Grog ice cone: Lost art revived by cocktail enthusiasts
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 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 seamen a daily ration of rum, often replacing the traditional beer, wine, arrack and brandy. In 1731, an official Navy declaration was made granting a daily ration of wine or rum while on foreign stations. The Cocktail Wonk blog features several deep dives into the history of rum in the British Navy.

In 1740, Admiral Edward Vernon – nicknamed “Old Grog” because of the cloak made of grogram (a silk fabric) that he always wore – sought to cut down on rampant drunkenness. So he ordered what by then had become the official daily rum ration of an imperial half-pint (10 U.S. ounces) be diluted with four parts water.

Some years later, when it was believed that citrus fruit prevented scurvy, lime juice was added to the mix along with sugar to improve the flavor. The world’s first proper tropical drink was born, named the “Grog” after Old Grog himself. In the James Beard Award winning book Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum and the Cult of Tiki (2016), Martin and Rebecca Cate pay tribute to a Grog from the 1700s with a recipe featuring 1/2 ounce lime juice, 1/2 ounce Demerara syrup, and 2 ounces of rum. Shake with cubed or cracked ice and strain into an ice-filled old-fashioned glass.
* More on Navy rum: When men were men, and sailors drank Daiquiris

From a classic Don the Beachcomber menu
From a classic Don the Beachcomber menu.

Roughly 200 years later, when tropical drinks were all the rage in the mid-century, so were “Grogs.” There was the Colonial Grog from Tiki bar pioneer Don the Beachcomber, Voodoo Grog from Don’s competitor Trader Vic, the Captain’s Grog from the Captain’s Inn (Long Beach, Calif.), and many versions of the Coffee Grog.

But the most famous was easily the Navy Grog, popularized by Donn Beach (aka Don the Beachcomber) and Victor Bergeron (aka Trader Vic), its name and flavor profile paying tribute to the original quaffed on the high seas. Beach is credited with serving it first, dedicating the drink “to the gallant men of the American Navy.” The influence and reach of this classic cannot be understated. Just ask Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, the author and Tiki cocktail archaeologist who dug up most of the aforementioned recipes and published them in his six seminal books and app.

In the introduction to Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them (2014), the influential writer talks about the life-changing moment he had 30 years earlier, “sitting in a restaurant I couldn’t afford while sipping a drink I didn’t understand. The restaurant was Trader Vic’s, the drink a Navy Grog.” The self-described “Tiki nerd” became obsessed with finding out why he liked the drink so much and figuring out where it came from. The rest is Tiki revival history.

The Yeoman's Grog is a favorite of Tiki historian and author Sven Kirsten, seen here sharing a toast with Hurricane Hayward on New Year's Eve 2016. (Atomic Grog photo)
The Yeoman’s Grog is a favorite of Tiki historian and author Sven Kirsten, seen here sharing a toast with Hurricane Hayward on New Year’s Eve 2016 in The Mai-Kai’s Molokai lounge. (Atomic Grog photo)

But Berry was just one of many famous (and infamous) figures who were smitten with the Navy Grog. It was believed to be one of Frank Sinatra’s favorite drinks (even though ‘Ol Blue Eyes preferred Bourbon). President Richard Nixon was a fan, sneaking away from the White House to quaff a few after hours at Trader Vic’s in the Capitol Hilton. Not coincidentally, Nixon was a Navy lieutenant who served in the South Pacific. In 2003, record producer Phil Spector enjoyed several Navy Grogs at the Beverly Hills Trader Vic’s the night he murdered actress Lana Clarkson. Court testimony by a Vic’s bartender included reference to the drink’s robust 3 ounces of rum.

Don the Beachcomber’s version also features 3 ounces of rum, and both employ grapefruit and lime juices. The only major difference is the sweetener: Donn Beach preferred his signature honey mix, while Trader Vic used an allspice syrup. Trader Vic’s restaurants use a proprietary “Navy Grog Concentrate,” but Berry has revealed (and taste tests confirm) that this is indeed just a fancy syrup.

Which of the two classics is best depends on who you ask. They’re roughly equal in our estimation. So we checked The Grogalizer, the Tiki home-bartending site that features ratings of some 500 cocktail recipes from Berry and Cate, plus more. With 81 votes, Don the Beachcomber’s version rates 8.2 (out of 10), while Trader Vic’s version scores 7.5 on 22 votes.

Beachbum Berry's Navy Grog Ice Cone Kit from Cocktail Kingdom.
Beachbum Berry’s Navy Grog Ice Cone Kit from Cocktail Kingdom.

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 incorporating the allspice of Trader Vic’s Navy Grog. Instead of replacing the honey, he used both elements. Licudine used a subtle hint of allspice in combination with honey in other cocktails (see the Deep Sea Diver and Rum Julep), but the spice really takes a starring role in the Yeoman’s Grog.

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 discussed over the years in his books, blog and symposiums, the ice cone was a lost art that The Mai-Kai helped keep alive. In 2013, Berry himself continued the tradition with the release of Beachbum Berry’s Navy Grog Ice Cone Kit, the perfect tool for Tiki home bartenders. Check out our review of this nifty gadget, along with more on the Navy Grog:
* Navy Grog ice cone: Lost art is revived by cocktail enthusiasts, handy gadget

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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

The Yeoman's Grog is the perfect drink for the nautically themed Molokai lounge at The Mai-Kai. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, May 2019)
The Yeoman’s Grog is the perfect drink for the nautically themed Molokai lounge at The Mai-Kai. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, May 2019)

Size: Medium

Potency: Strong

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

Review: Very strong dark rum and allspice notes dominate this rich and rummy 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 latest name added to the pantheon of Navy Grog enthusiasts is screenwriter Walter Bernstein, a target of the House Un-American Activities Committee. As a much-needed escape, the blacklisted Hollywood figure wrote, he would “go to Don the Beachcomber and read in the dim light designed for lovers and drink Navy Grogs,” according to the 10th anniversary edition of Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari (2017).

Agree or disagree? Share your reviews and comments below!

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

ANCESTOR RECIPE
Navy Grog
(Don the Beachcomber, circa 1941)
(From Grog Log and 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
(equal parts honey and water, mixed thoroughly)
* 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).

As documented in his books and on his website, this is the cocktail that helped Beachbum Berry crack the code of using honey in classic recipes. It’s a simple drink, owing to its simple roots, but sublime when crafted with the perfect ingredients. It also set Berry off on his journey to create the prefect ice cone.

Navy Grog ice cone

You have two options for making an authentic ice cone: Buy Beachbum Berry’s Navy Grog Ice Cone Kit, or make your own the DIY way. In 2013, Berry joined forces with Cocktail Kingdom to release a nifty stainless steel cone that you can buy online to make perfect ice-cone straws at home. After it was released, we put the gadget to the test with a head-to-head comparison against the pilsner glass method outlined below. Click here to see the full review. We’re told that The Mai-Kai has been using a similar contraption for years.

If you have pilsner glasses on hand and don’t want to spring for another bar tool, here are the instructions Berry outlined in his first recipe book, Grog Log, in 1998:

* 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.

Yeoman's Grog, July 2011
A Yeoman’s Grog featuring a perfect ice cone in July 2011. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Berry wrote in Grog Log that he learned how to make an ice cone from veteran Tiki bartender Tony Ramos in the early 1990s. Prior to the book’s release, only The Mai-Kai and a few old-school Tiki bartenders regularly made them. In the following years, many of the new wave of Tiki mixologists gave it a try and documented their experiences online. Dr. Bamboo posted perhaps the most intensive and meticulous research.

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. But it was no problem to remove after the glass sat at room temperature for 5 minutes.

But as our test revealed, the Navy Grog Ice Cone Kit is superior to the fragile glass, so consider making that purchase if this is a drink you plan on enjoying frequently.

Notes and tips for home mixologists

* Fresh-squeezed lime juice is a must. But white grapefruits aren’t always easily available, so I usually use a bottled brand that contains 100 percent juice with no added sugar, artificial flavors or colors (such as Ocean Spray or Trader Joe’s).

* My rum choices are Cruzan Estate Light, Coruba dark Jamaican, and El Dorado 8. All are among my favorites in their respective categories and blend perfectly in this version of the Navy Grog.

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Tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Yeoman’s Grog
Contributed to The Atomic Grog by Steve Wahlin

Yeoman's Grog tribute by The Atomic Grog
Yeoman’s Grog tribute by The Atomic Grog. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, April 2014)

* 3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
* 1 1/2 ounces fresh grapefruit juice
* 3/4 ounce rich honey mix
(2 parts honey, 1 part water)
* 1/2 teaspoon Don’s Spices #2
(equal parts vanilla syrup, pimento liqueur)
* 1 ounce light Puerto Rican (or Virgin Islands) rum
* 1 ounce dark Jamaican rum
* 1 ounce Demerara rum
* 1/2 ounce soda water

Pulse blend in top-down mixer with 1 cup of crushed ice for 5-7 seconds. Strain into a double old-fashioned glass with an ice-cone straw.

The Mai-Kai’s original mixologist, Mariano Licudine, brilliantly blended the best elements of the Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic’s versions of the Navy Grog. But even then, he probably didn’t just add allspice liqueur. He most likely used a secret weapon: the richer, sweeter Don’s Spices #2. At least this is our theory. The Mai-Kai may have a different formula than equal parts vanilla syrup and pimento dram, but it sure works great in this and several other tribute recipes (see Special Planters Punch, Black Magic and Samoan Grog).

This recipe was the handiwork of Steve Wahlin (aka Quince_at_Dannys on Tiki Central). I had always suggested simply adding allspice liqueur to Donn Beach’s Navy Grog to approximate the Yeoman’s Grog. But his re-formulation was spot-on. And the inclusion of Don’s Spices #2 spurred us to add it to more recipes, such as those noted above. Mahalo Steve!

Notes and tips for home mixologists

* The Mai-Kai’s distinctive lime juice is very tart, featuring a key lime blend that took us years to figure out. Fresh squeezed persian lime juice is fine, but for that extra tart taste we recommenced combining with an equal amount of bottled key lime juice. Like many other Tiki bars, The Mai-Kai uses whichever fresh grapefruit juice is in season, white or red. The more sour white grapefruit is preferred, and you can resort to 100 percent pure bottled juice if necessary. But during the off season, a rich and pulpy red grapefruit juice is perfectly fine, especially if it’s fresh from Florida groves like the kind used at The Mai-Kai.

The Yeoman's Grog (right) and the Navy Grog (Trader Vic's version) are used to test the Navy Grog Ice Cone Kit's performance against the traditional pilsner glass method
The Yeoman’s Grog (right) and the Navy Grog (Trader Vic’s version) are used to test the Navy Grog Ice Cone Kit’s performance against the traditional pilsner glass method. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, October 2013)

* 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. But as stated in many past reviews, Mai-Kai cocktails benefit from a sweeter, more intense 2:1 ratio.

* I’ve always made my own Don’s Spices #2 by combining allspice liqueur (St. Elizabeth is the most common brand, but others are available) with vanilla syrup. Trusty Tiki syrup source B.G. Reynolds also makes a very good bottled alternative (along with vanilla syrup). These hand-crafted syrups are made in Portland, Ore., by Blair Reynolds, former bartender and bar owner who has always had his finger on the pulse of Tiki mixology trends. They feature all-natural ingredients and flavorings, and are used at Tiki bars around the world. His Navy Grog recipe is very similar to the Yeoman’s Grog, featuring both honey and allspice liqueur.

NEW: The Navy Grog at Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29 in New Orleans is also a hybrid of the two classics, not surprising considering the bar owner’s extensive research (see above) and affinity for both versions. Berry revealed the recipe in a June 2020 interview with the A Bar Above podcast:

A Navy Grog from Beachbum Berry's Latitude 29 (BeachbumBerry.com)
A Navy Grog from Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29. (BeachbumBerry.com)

Navy Grog
(As served at Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29)

Frank Sinatra’s favorite Tiki drink. A bracing blend of Jamaican and Demerara rums, perfumed with allspice and laced with lime and grapefruit.

* 3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
* 3/4 ounce white grapefruit juice
* 3/4 ounce honey mix
* 1 ounce light Puerto Rican (or Virgin Islands) rum
* 1 ounce dark Jamaican rum
* 1 ounce Demerara rum
* 2-3 dashes allspice dram (St. Elizabeth)

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

Recommended rums

Latitude 29 likely uses similar rums to the Don the Beachcomber ancestor recipe above. The Mai-Kai also uses a standard light rum as the base, typically a Bacardi or Cruzan product.

Yeoman's Grog, November 2014. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Yeoman’s Grog, November 2014. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

But there are several distinctive rums that give the Yeoman’s Grog a unique flavor. For many years, Kohala Bay dark Jamaican rum (and before that Appleton’s Dagger Punch) was featured in many of the strong drinks on the menu (see the full list). It’s not longer available, unfortunately, and The Mai-Kai began using a proprietary blend in its place in mid-2019. You can use another dark Jamaican rum (such as Coruba), but it won’t have the same funky flavor and 87.6-proof punch. Our recommended alternative is equal parts of Smith & Cross Jamaican rum and El Dorado 12-year-old Demerara rum. We’ve done extensive testing and have a host of other options you can check out here.

Since early 2015, The Mai-Kai has used Ed Hamilton’s 86-proof rum from Guyana in all cocktails calling for a standard-proof Demerara. The aggressive rum’s sweet and smoky flavors are strong, but not too dominant, making it the perfect option. Check out our story on the Hamilton Rum master class held at The Mai-Kai in Feburary 2019, plus a recipe for the Hamilton Navy Grog served at the event. Other recommended Demerara rums include Lemon Hart and El Dorado.
* Check out our story on the history of Demerara and Jamaican rums at The Mai-Kai

The Yeoman Grog’s combination of strong and flavorful rums, bold allspice notes, and rich layers of sweetness create one of the most potent yet smoothly drinkable cocktail experiences available anywhere.

Okole maluna!

PLEASE DRINK RESPONSIBLY!

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Social Media tributes

5 Replies to “Mai-Kai cocktail review: Even landlubbers can appreciate a strong ration of Yeoman’s Grog”

  1. 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!

  2. Great job on the tribute recipe. I had good results when i added some allspice berries and vanilla extract while making the honey mix. I mixed 1:1 honey to water, added about 10 berries, and 1/2 tsp vanilla, let it gently simmer 15 min. and let it sit about an hour. I filtered out the berries as I bottled the mix.

    this saved me a step while making the Yeoman’s Grog.

  3. The more I think about it, the more I believe your Mai Kai tribute recipe is closer to what was served at Don the Beachcomber than the “ancestor” recipe from Berry’s books. Re-reading Berry’s Navy Grog recipe, he seems to have based it on watching a bartender at some rundown Chinese restaurant rather than an actual DtB source.

    1. The other thing to consider is the fact that Donn (and probably also the many folks who ran his bars and restaurants) changed the recipes so many times over the years, you never know which one should be considered the definitive version. It’s usually safe to go back to the original, but that’s not always easy. The Bum’s work finding the original Zombie being a good example. For several recipes (K.O. Cooler, Jet Pilot, et al.) it seems like The Mai-Kai came up with their version by combining several different versions of Donn’s.

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