Mai-Kai cocktail review: Mai-Kai Swizzle showcases old-school technique

Updated July 3, 2014
See below: Our Mai-Kai Swizzle review | Tribute recipe | Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide

Not to be confused with the deadly 151 Swizzle, the Mai-Kai Swizzle is a sweet and fruity mild drink that nevertheless rises above the mundane with a unique combination of juices and syrups plus a healthy dose of gold Jamaican rum.

Authentic swizzle sticks come from trees native to the Caribbean

Authentic swizzle sticks come from trees native to the Caribbean. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, March 2012)

It also sheds some light on a unique technique called swizzling. Many drinks with swizzle in their name are simply shaken or blended (as The Mai-Kai likely does), but a traditional swizzle follows a tried-and-true method that originated in the Caribbean.

Most mixologists today will use a quality bar spoon to swizzle a drink. Simply put: Fill a glass or shaker with your cocktail ingredients and crushed ice, insert the spoon and quickly spin the handle back and forth between the palms of both hands. This will quickly mix/blend the drink, and if you’re doing it correctly the glass or shaker will quickly become cold and frosty, and your cocktail will be ready to drink.

But if you’re looking for a truly authentic swizzle, nothing beats a real swizzle stick from the Swizzlestick Tree (aka Quararibea turbinata), which grows on Caribbean islands such as Martinique. The trees actually grow branches and twigs that all diverge at close to 90-degree angles, resulting in this unique mixology tool (see photo above).

Of course, you’re not going to find this in your neighborhood liquor store, or even in bar supply outlets. You can order one online from Cocktail Kingdom, and it’s well worth the expense since it’s far superior to a bar spoon. It’s also the perfect oddball tool to impress even the most hardcore craft cocktail geeks.

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The official menu description
Mai-Kai Swizzle
MAI-KAI SWIZZLE

A velvet bouquet, slightly rummy and fruity, swizzled with orgeat.

Okole Maluna Society review and rating

Mai-Kai Swizzle

Mai-Kai Swizzle, May 2011. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Size: Medium

Potency: Mild

Flavor profile: Orange juice, orgeat/amaretto, falernum, gold rum.

Review: Fruity, sweet and slightly sour with a nice touch of gold rum.

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

Ancestry: Dating back to the original 1956 Mai-Kai menu, the Mai-Kai Swizzle is most likely a descendant of Don’s Swizzle by Don the Beachcomber.

Bilge: The swizzle dates back to the 19th century in the West Indies, according to this New York Times story on perhaps its most famous offspring, the Queen’s Park Swizzle. The RumDood blog also has an excellent post on the cocktail and the history of the swizzle stick.

Agree or disagree? Share your reviews and comments below!

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Mai-Kai Swizzle tribute

Mai-Kai Swizzle tribute by The Atomic Grog, March 2012

Mai-Kai Swizzle tribute by The Atomic Grog, March 2012. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* 1 1/2 ounces fresh-squeezed orange juice
* 1/2 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice
* 1/2 ounce mango juice
* 1/2 ounce rich sugar syrup
    (2 parts sugar to 1 part water, heated and cooled)
* 1/4 ounce orgeat (almond) syrup or amaretto
* 1/8 ounce falernum
* 2 ounces Appleton Special gold Jamaican rum

Swizzle in a metal cocktail shaker with 1 cup crushed ice. (Or pulse blend with ice for for 4-6 seconds.) Pour into a stemmed cocktail glass and garnish with a speared pineapple chunk, plus red and green cherries.

I have not been able to find an authentic Don’s Swizzle recipe, so once again we turn to our friends on the Tiki Central message board for help in making a great tribute. Way back in June 2005, member “I, Zombie” posted this fairly accurate take that we’ve reconfigured above.

Notes and tips for home mixologists

* Like the S.O.S., another Don the Beachcomber descendant, the Mai-Kai Swizzle features a bold and flavorful orange juice. Be sure to use the sweetest fresh-squeezed juice. (Also notice that the drinks are nearly identical in color and served in the same glassware with similar garnish.)

Branches from the Swizzlestick Tree are cut to create a long handle with spokes at the end that are spun to quickly mix the drink

Branches from the Swizzlestick Tree are cut to create a long handle with spokes at the end that are spun to quickly mix the drink. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, March 2012)

* The mango juice, orgeat and falernum add a distinctive touch and create that “velvet bouquet” touted on the menu. Fee Brothers falernum is preferred by many Tiki mixologists, but there’s no clear consensus on orgeat, which is most notable as a key ingredient in the classic Trader Vic’s Mai Tai but rarely used at The Mai-Kai. Different brands tend to have slightly different flavor notes, so I usually have multiple bottles on hand for variety (currently it’s Trader Vic’s, Sonoma, Torani and B.G. Reynolds). Beachbum Berry recommends Premiere Essence, Trader Vic’s and Fee Brothers. He also includes a how-to on making your own in Remixed. As of June 2014, it appeared that the more easily available amaretto was now being used in this drink at The Mai-Kai. This is perfectly fine as long as you use a quality brand. The flavor cuts through the juices nicely. Just dial it back slightly if it becomes too overpowering.

* Appleton Special shines through all the sweet elements and leaves a lasting impression, so I’ve stuck to that one rum in this tribute.
* See other Mai-Kai cocktails that use Appleton rums

* The Mai-Kai likely pulse blends it in a top-down mixer like many of its other classic drinks (an old Don the Beachcomber technique). But it’s also fun to use the even more classic tenique of the swizzle stick, as discussed above. Or feel free to use a simple bar spoon. A wooden spoon with a thin handle also works fine. But it’s certainly not as effective – or geeky cool – as a real swizzle stick.

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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2 Responses to Mai-Kai cocktail review: Mai-Kai Swizzle showcases old-school technique

  1. Arriano says:

    You may want to update this now that an actual recipe for Don’s Swizzle was revealed in the “Plastic Paradise” film.

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