Mai-Kai cocktail review: Double your pleasure with the exotic and delicious Zula #1 (and #2)

Updated November 2016
See below: Our Zula reviews | Ancestor recipe | UPDATE: Tribute recipes
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide

The mysterious Zula #1 is easily one of the most curious (and deliciously distinctive) cocktails on The Mai-Kai’s 56-year-old tropical drink menu. And, as usual, it has a fascinating back-story.

Zula No. 1 (left) and Zula No. 2, February 2012. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Zula No. 1 (left) and Zula No. 2, February 2012. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The cocktail’s flavors are just as exotic as its origins, which both took us years to figure out. The pineapple-forward taste is unlike any other you’ll find at The Mai-Kai.

But there’s another secret about Zula #1 that not many guests may be aware of: It shares its name (and flavor profile) with a secret off-menu sister drink, the smaller and sweeter Zula #2. But it wasn’t always that mysterious.

If you look back at older menus, you’ll find both drinks. On The Mai-Kai’s original 1956-57 cocktail menu, there’s “Zula No. 1” in a tall glass and “Zula No. 2” in a stemmed coupe similar to other lost classics such as Liquid Gold.

Long-stemmed glassware was extremely popular in the 1950s. You’ll find a dozen cocktails on early menus using the elegant coupe glass, which faded from use at The Mai-Kai but made a big comeback at craft cocktail bars in the early 21st century.

The Mai-Kai's original cocktail menu, circa 1957.

The Mai-Kai’s original cocktail menu, circa 1957.

By 1979, when the menu had been arranged in its now-familiar “mild,” “medium” and “strong” groupings, the names had changed slightly to Zula #1 (strong) and Zula #2 (mild), but the coupe glass endured. It’s now served in a short rocks glass similar to the Shark Bite, Oh So Deadly and Mai-Kai Special.

We’ve seen menus from the ’80s that still feature Zula #2. But by the 1990s it was gone, never to be seen on a menu again. What many didn’t realize as the years went by, however, is that you could still order the milder Zula. By the time I started bellying up to the bar in the 2000s, it was a distant memory. I only discovered it while researching the history of Zula #1 for this cocktail guide.

Is this the source of the name

Is this the source of the name “Zula”? While doing research for Hulaween 2016, we discovered a vintage Betty Boop clip from 1937 called "Zula Hula." Click above to watch.

I give credit to Tiki Central friends for helping track down the drink’s origins. As we know now, a majority of the vintage cocktails served at the Fort Lauderdale Polynesian palace (32 at last count) can be traced back to drinks created by tropical drink godfather Donn Beach (aka Don the Beachcomber).

Most are relatively easy to figure out. Some (Rum Julep, 151 Swizzle) have the exact same name, while others are obvious tweaks (Cobra’s Fang to Cobra’s Kiss, Don’s Pearl to Hidden Pearl).

However, nothing in Beach’s vast repertoire seemed to resemble the Zula. But there it was in Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari (2007), right under our nose: Penang Afrididi. Don’t ask us how the names relate, but the flavor profile is indeed remarkably similar. The clincher: There are two versions of both cocktails, known as Penang Afrididi #1 and Penang Afrididi #2.

So the next time you’re at The Mai-Kai and want to impress your friends, order Zula #2, the retired classic that never really retired.

**************************

The official menu description
Zula
ZULA #1

A tasty concoction flavored with special syrups, herbsaint and pineapple.

Okole Maluna Society review and rating

Size: Medium

Potency: Strong

Flavor profile: Pineapple, gold rum, hints of anise.

Review: One of the most distinctive of The Mai-Kai’s cocktails. A prominent zing of anise mixes nicely with the pineapple juice, and there are hints of a few other exotic flavors, such as falernum. Zula #2 is richer and sweeter than #1, full of the same bold and exotic flavors. We give both the same rating, but you may prefer #2 if you like milder, sweeter drinks.

Zula #2 as it appeared on the 1979 cocktail menu.

Zula #2 as it appeared on the 1979 cocktail menu.

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars
(see how it ranks)

Ancestry: Zula dates back to The Mai-Kai’s opening in 1956, when there were two versions of the drink on the menu (see above). It’s a direct descendant of Don the Beachcomber’s Penang Afrididi, which had the same flavor profile and also featured two versions (see below).

Bilge: Herbsaint from New Orleans is an anise-flavored liqueur considered a less-expensive alternative to Pernod, which itself was created in France as an alternative to absinthe when that controversial spirit was banned early in the 20th century. Donn Beach used Pernod in small doses to dimensionalize drinks, and Mariano Licudine followed suit at The Mai-Kai. Some prefer Herbsaint and consider its flavor more earthy and mixable. Author and bar owner Martin Cate uses it extensively at Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco.

Agree or disagree? Share your reviews and comments below!

**************************

ANCESTOR RECIPE
Penang Afrididi #1

(From Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari)

Penang Afrididi # 1

Penang Afrididi #1 by The Atomic Grog. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, March 2012)

* 1/4 ounce fresh lime juice
* 1/2 ounce unsweetened pineapple juice
* 1/2 ounce orange juice
* 1/2 ounce passion fruit syrup
* 1 1/2 ounces white Puerto Rican rum
* 1 1/2 ounces amber Virgin Islands rum
* 6 drops (1/8 teaspoon) Pernod
* 6 ounces (3/4 cup) crushed ice

Put everything in a blender, saving ice for last. Blend at high speed for no more than 5 seconds. Pour into a tall glass. Add more ice to fill.

As served at Don the Beachcomber’s Cabaret Restaurant in the International Marketplace in Honolulu, circa 1958. It was created by Donn Beach in Hollywood around 1937. To make a Penang Afrididi #2, simply cut every ingredient in half, blend as above, and strain into a cocktail glass.

Mai-Kai mixologist Mariano Licudine learned his craft working for Donn Beach starting in 1939 in Hollywood, where he would have been familiar with Penang Afrididi. Licudine’s genius, however, was not just in duplicating the old recipes for The Mai-Kai. Teaming up with Mai-Kai owner Bob Thornton, they actually made many of the classics better, infusing them with bolder, tastier flavors (see tribute recipes below).

Penang Afrididi at Lost Lake in Chicago. (From LostLakeTiki.com)

Penang Afrididi at Lost Lake in Chicago. (From LostLakeTiki.com)

Like many of the classic recipes published in Beachbum Berry’s books, Penang Afrididi caught the attention of Tiki cocktail fans and bloggers. Among the most notable are Cocktail Virgin and A Mountain of Crushed Ice, which features several delicious new takes (called, of course, Penang Afrididi #3 and #4) by author Helena Tiare Olsen.

Penang Afrididi has also become a classic favorite on menus at some of the Tiki revival’s most celebrated bars, from Hale Pele in Portland to Lost Lake in Chicago, where acclaimed mixologist Paul McGee created his own distinctive version, and even took it on the road.

Notes and tips for home mixologists

* Created just four years after the end of Prohibition, Penang Afrididi has all the hallmarks of a 1930s Donn Beach cocktail: Multiple juices and rums, plus Pernod to add some extra pizzazz. It’s simple compared to more complex creations from that era, such as the Zombie and Q.B. Cooler. Just be sure to use high-quality spirits to get the most out of this rum-forward concoction.

**************************

Tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Zula #1
By The Atomic Grog (v.2, updated November 2016)

Tribute to Zula #1 by The Atomic Grog. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, October 2016)

Tribute to Zula #1 by The Atomic Grog. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, October 2016)

* 1 1/2 ounces fresh pineapple juice
* 1/2 ounce fresh-squeezed orange juice
* 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
* 1/2 ounce rock candy syrup (aka rich sugar syrup)
* 1/8 ounce falernum (Fee Brothers)
* 1 1/2 ounces white Puerto Rican rum
* 1 1/2 ounces gold Jamaican rum
* 3 drops Herbsaint or Pernod

Pulse blend with 1 cup crushed ice for 3-4 seconds. Pour into a tall glass, adding several mint sprigs and more crushed ice to fill.

As pointed out in the comments below by Quince at Danny’s, the Zula highlights the juices more than the Penang Afrididi, which is a hallmark of The Mai Kai and Mariano Licudine’s reinterpretations of Donn Beach’s classics. In our humble opinion, many of these achieve new heights of deliciousness. The Zula is a prime example.

The Mai-Kai's Dave Levy is a hands-on and accessible owner who can often be found in his bar sampling drinks for quality control, or attending high-profile events such as the Tiki Tower Takeover at The Hukilau 2016. Here he hobnobs with entertainer King Kukulele (right). (Atomic Grog photo)

The Mai-Kai’s Dave Levy is a hands-on and accessible owner who can often be found in his bar sampling drinks for quality control, or attending high-profile events such as the Tiki Tower Takeover at The Hukilau 2016. Here he hobnobs with entertainer King Kukulele (right). (Atomic Grog photo)

November 2016 update

If you’ve noticed lately that the Zula goes down a little easier than it used to, it’s not your imagination. “The flavors were toned down,” confirms The Mai-Kai’s managing owner, Dave Levy. The stepson of founding owner Bob Thornton continues to fine-tune the recipes to meet current customer tastes. Levy has been around the cocktails his entire adult life and probably knows them better than anyone alive.

Over the years, he’s had to deal with cocktail recipe changes due to the sudden disappearance of rum brands, the difficulty of sourcing obscure and hard-to-duplicate syrups, plus changes in popular tastes. Despite all this, he’s kept these classic cocktails remarkably consistent and reverential while operating a daunting high-volume bar. Kudos to Mr. Levy for his devotion.

In the case of Zula #1, it’s now more sweet and accessible. But it didn’t take much to accomplish this. It’s a wonder how a few simple tweaks can make a cocktail so much more approachable. Here’s the previous version, with just a few differences (noted in italics) …

Tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Zula #1
By The Atomic Grog (v.1, circa 2012)

Zula tribute by The Atomic Grog, March 2012. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Zula tribute by The Atomic Grog, March 2012. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* 1 ounce fresh pineapple juice
* 1 ounce fresh-squeezed orange juice

* 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
* 1/2 ounce rock candy syrup (aka rich sugar syrup)
* 1/8 ounce falernum (Fee Brothers)
* 1 1/2 ounces gold Puerto Rican rum
* 1 1/2 ounces dark Jamaican rum
* 6 drops Herbsaint or Pernod

Pulse blend with 1 cup crushed ice for 3-4 seconds. Pour into a tall glass, adding several mint sprigs and more crushed ice to fill.

The new version achieves more balance with extra pineapple juice, plus less OJ and Herbsaint. The original is slightly more intense by blending gold and dark rums, instead of white and gold. Make both to compare and choose your favorite. But beware, both contain a healthy 3-ounce dose of rum. Zula #1 is on the “strong” menu for a reason.

For something a bit milder, try our newest tribute …

NEW: Tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Zula #2
By The Atomic Grog (October 2016)

Tribute to Zula #2 by The Atomic Grog. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, October 2016)

Tribute to Zula #2 by The Atomic Grog. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, October 2016)

* 1 ounce fresh pineapple juice
* 1/4 ounce fresh squeezed orange juice
* 1/4 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
* 1/2 ounce rock candy syrup (aka rich sugar syrup)
* 1/2 teaspoon falernum (Fee Brothers)
* 3/4 ounce white Puerto Rican rum
* 1 ounce gold Jamaican rum
* 1 drop Herbsaint or Pernod

Pulse blend with 1 cup crushed ice for 3-4 seconds. Pour into a small, flared cocktail glass with an optional ice shell. Note that this is the same glass and ice feature used for the Shark Bite and another “lost classic,” the Demerara Cocktail.

We completed this tribute recipe recently after tasting the mysterious cocktail a few more times and confirming the extra sweetness with owner Dave Levy. Note that it’s the same amount of sugar syrup as Zula #1, however many of the other ingredients are reduced. This is good tip when adjusting your own recipes: You don’t necessarily need to increase sweeteners to make things sweeter. A few tweaks of other ingredients sometimes does the trick. The only other major difference from the larger Zula is the lack of mint.

Notes and tips for home mixologists

For all of the above recipes, please note:

* As we like to reiterate in every recipe, using the freshest juices available makes a huge difference. The Mai-Kai does use the ubiquitous Dole brand of pineapple juice, but feel free to press your own fresh juice. The other juices are more difficult to duplicate since The Mai-Kai gets their lime and orange juices fresh-squeezed from local Florida groves. If possible, squeeze your own Florida oranges or find a source of unpasteurized Florida OJ. You might want to try Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. The extra tart key lime juice is even more distinctive. If you can’t find unpasteurized, fresh key lime juice, we’ve recommend mixing 2 parts of bottled key lime juice from concentrate with 1 part of fresh-squeezed Persian lime juice.
* Tiki Central: Click here for a full guide to the juices used at The Mai-Kai

* A rich 2:1 sugar syrup is essential to add the required sweetness to balance the liquors and acidic juices.

Zula #2 is a "lost cocktail" that you can still order at The Mai-Kai. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, October 2016)

Zula #2 is a “lost cocktail” that you can still order at The Mai-Kai. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, October 2016)

* We’ve confirmed that Fee Brothers is the falernum used at The Mai-Kai, so we recommend it (or another rich, non-alcoholic variety) over other versions that may contain alcohol. Beachbum Berry has said that it also most closely resembles the old formula that Don the Beachcomber would have used to spice up his vintage Tiki cocktails.

* Though a strong drink, the Zula features smooth rums that take a backseat to the pineapple and other flavors. We like to use Jamaica’s Appleton Special as the gold rum, and it’s likely The Mai-Kai does as well. Appleton is the most common rum on the menu and is featured in dozens of drinks (see the full list). In the first tribute recipe, try one of Appleton’s excellent aged dark rums in the Estate line, such as Rare Blend and Reserve Blend. We believe one of these was featured during The Mai-Kai’s 2016 Hulaween in the Appleton Zula (see event recap, photos). Recommended Puerto Rican rums (both gold and white) include Don Q, Ron del Barrilito and the higher-end Bacardi brands. But any good Spanish-style rum should work, including those from the Virgin Island (Cruzan), Nicaragua (Flor de Cana), and elsewhere. Support one of the new craft American rums if you’d like.

* Herbsaint and Pernod can be considered interchangeable, though as noted above Pernod has a more aggressive flavor. That’s why we prefer the milder Herbsaint in the Zula. However, it’s likely The Mai-Kai currently uses Pernod, despite the menu description that dates back to the 1970s.

Agree or disagree? Share your reviews and comments below!

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.
This entry was posted in Cocktail reviews, Cocktails, Cocktails, History, Mai-Kai, Recipes, Rum and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Mai-Kai cocktail review: Double your pleasure with the exotic and delicious Zula #1 (and #2)

  1. Quince at Danny's says:

    Lovin’ these recipes! This is a great undertaking and a truly indispensable resource.

    In regards to the Zula’ anscestor–I think it’s quite similar to the Penang Afrididi #1 (see Sippin’ Safari). It has a similar flavor profile (lime, pineapple, orange and herbsaint) and DTB also offered it as a #1 (on the rocks) or #2 (smaller and served up).

    In any case I’m having one of these tonight

    • Mahalo Quince, I just saw what you and mamelukkikala posted on Tiki Central. That one slipped by me, and all the other experts who I shared my list with.

      That now makes 28 known Don the Beachcomber descendants on The Mai-Kai menu. I’ll be updating the review and posting the ancestor recipe posthaste.

      Okole maluna!

  2. Quince at Danny's says:

    Really tasty! Definitely more juice-centric than the Penang, which is totally consistent with the character of the Mai Kai.

    The Zula is a really intersting drink to me–I didn’t care for it when I first tried it, but as my tastes matured it grew on me. I rank it right up there with my other favorites, the Special Planters, the Zombie, the Gardenia Lei, the Cobra Kiss, and the 151 Swizzle.

    Keep up the great work! I especially like that you’re turning me on to drinks I’ve overlooked in the past, like the Hidden Pearl, and the KO Cooler (definitely trying those on my next visit.)

  3. GatorRob says:

    You forgot the 1/2 passion fruit syrup in your repost of the Penang recipe. Makes a big difference. 🙂

    • Thanks Rob, it was an oversight. I’ve added it.

      Let me know what you think of the tribute recipe. I used sugar syrup instead of passion fruit and it seemed to come closer to The Mai-Kai’s version. I’ve never tasted passion fruit in the Zula.

      Mahalo!

  4. Blake Sturges says:

    Wow. This is one of my new favorite recipes! Great job.

    Anestiki

  5. Nice update! there´s something so intriguing about these drinks and their history…

  6. Forgot to say that it can´t be a coincidence that the stronger one #1 is served in a zombie glass 🙂 and btw mahalo also for the mention! Cheers!

  7. Quince at Danny's says:

    Great job on the update, tastes like what I remember. A really fantastic cocktail.

    The old version from several years ago was more sour, I remember it being kind of lemony and more anise-forward.

  8. Steve says:

    Tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Zula #1 ABV is 20%, not too heavy on the palate despite the 3 oz. rum. Just mixed it up and tasted it and it is a well balanced drink. I used Mount Gay Eclipse and Coruba Dark, shaken with cracked ice, all poured into a Trader’s tiki mug (Don doesn’t really sell anything nicer), Guests will love this tribute that is better than the original.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.