Mai-Kai cocktail review: The Black Magic emerges from the darkness as a true classic

Updated August 2020
See below: Our Black Magic review | Tribute recipes UPDATED
Postscript: The Black Magic picked up by bloggers and bartenders, goes viral on social media UPDATED
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide
The Mutiny is a worthy foe in the battle of the tropical titans

Prior to the opening of The Mai-Kai in 1956, there were perhaps other icy cocktails that employed dark rum and coffee as key ingredients. But none perfected it quite like the Black Magic.

Courtesy of TheSwankPad.org
From a 1963 Mai-Kai calendar. (Courtesy of TheSwankPad.org)

The drink that has spawned dozens of imitators – and even two similar concoctions at The Mai-Kai – has taken on legendary status in the Tiki cocktail community. The Black Magic is the oldest of what some call the “Holy Trinity” of large snifter drinks at The Mai-Kai: The Black Magic, Mutiny and The Hukilau.

One of the keys to this drink is a distinctive dark rum favored by original Mai-Kai mixologist Mariano Licudine: Dagger was a dark Jamaican brand that stopped production some time ago. It became somewhat of a holy grail of Tiki mixologists looking to duplicate the key flavor in many Mai-Kai cocktails, especially the Black Magic.

During a back-bar tour in November 2011, Manager Kern Mattei revealed the secret of how that flavor is preserved: An obscure dark rum called Kohala Bay that was produced by Wray & Nephew, the same company that previously made Dagger.

Kohala Bay dark Jamaican rum
Kohala Bay dark Jamaican rum was a key ingredient in many Mai-Kai cocktails. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, March 2012)

Needless to say, we immediately went on an intensive search, but short of taking a trip to Jamaica it was nearly impossible to locate. We were told it was being imported only to Florida, and The Mai-Kai was one of only two bars to serve it. After some digging, however, we miraculously found a rare retail outlet that carried Kohala Bay and immediately stocked up. Our discovery of Kohala Bay sparked many other tribute recipes that you’ll find in this guide, and also spurred many other home mixologists to seek out the rum. Click here for more on the history of Kohala Bay at The Mai-Kai and check out this Tiki Central thread for the full story of my search.

UPDATE: But all good things must come to an end. Kohala Bay was taken off the market in April 2016 and has not returned. While still seeking out an appropriate dark and funky run to fill the bill, The Mai-Kai switched to one of the Appleton Estate rums as its dark Jamaican mixer. Then, suddenly, a new rum appeared in April 2019. It’s a secret in-house multi-rum blend , similar to one of those we had been touting here on the blog. Click here for an in-depth guide along with all the suggested Kohala Bay substitutes.

The Black Magic is served in The Molokai bar in October 2016. It's not really raining. That's The Mai-Kai's special windows that simulate a calming tropical downpour. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Black Magic is served in The Molokai bar in October 2016. It’s not really raining. That’s The Mai-Kai’s special windows that simulate a calming tropical downpour. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The name Black Magic comes from the combination of dark rums and coffee, which sets this drink apart from most others from its era. It was reportedly created by Licudine while he was still working for Donn Beach as the No. 2 bartender at the Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Chicago. But even Beach’s top men were not given the opportunity to contribute their own creations to his legendary drink menu.

Lured to Fort Lauderdale to run The Mai-Kai’s bar and create what would decades later become an iconic menu in its own right, Licudine borrowed heavily from Beach’s classics but also added his own flair (Mara-Amu, Derby Daiquiri, etc.). The Black Magic may be his crowning achievement, and it was his first creation to appear on a Mai-Kai menu.

While it’s not nearly as complex, an early Don the Beachcomber cocktail from the 1930s called the Jamoca could possibly have influenced Licudine, since he worked at Don the Beachcomber in Los Angeles at the tail end of that decade. As revealed by Tiki cocktail historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry in his 2007 book, Sippin’ Safari, the Jamoca contains 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice, 1/2 ounce coffee syrup, 1 ounce chilled coffee, 1 ounce gold Puerto Rican rum, 1 ounce gold Jamaican rum, and 4 ounces of crushed ice. Blended at high speed for 5 seconds and poured into a specialty glass, it’s a coffee-heavy drink that hits few of the nigh notes later achieved by Licudine with the Black Magic. Berry theorized that it may have been an early Donn Beach experiment inspired by turn-of-the-century soda fountain fare. It’s historically worth noting, but probably not a true ancestor of the Black Magic. We consider this classic to be a true Mariano Licudine original.

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The official menu description
Black Magic
BLACK MAGIC
The owner’s choice. A superbly smooth but forthright blending of fine dark rums and tropical juices, subtly laced with coffee and truly refreshing.

Okole Maluna Society review and rating

Size: Large

Potency: Strong

Flavor profile: Coffee, dark rum, hints of exotic flavors.

Review: Mysterious, sweet and floral. Strong coffee flavors mingle effortlessly with strong rums and undefinable sweet and sour flavors.

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

Christie "Tiki Kiliki" White enjoys a Black Magic while being interviewed by Rod Hagwood for South Florida.com
Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White enjoys a Black Magic while being interviewed by Rod Hagwood for SouthFlorida.com (click above to see the video).

Ancestry: Created by original Mai-Kai mixologist Mariano Licudine, possibly while he still worked at Don the Beachcomber in Chicago in the 1940s and ’50s. The Black Magic was not introduced to the world until he created the cocktail menu at The Mai-Kai in 1956. It was the only Licudine original on that first menu. A possible inspiration was Don the Beachcomber’s Jamoca, a 1930s-era drink containing lime, coffee and multiple rums.

Bilge: The Black Magic is touted on the menu as “the owner’s choice,” but according to a 1977 article in The Miami Herald, original owner Bob Thornton’s favorite was the Mutiny. The article added that the Black Magic was the favorite of manager Kern Mattei Sr., father of current manager Kern Mattei Jr. It’s also been cited as a favorite cocktail at The Mai-Kai by many celebs, including author Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, The Hukilau co-founder Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White, Tiki Oasis co-founder Otto von Stroheim, and South Florida artist Mike “Pooch” Pucciarelli. Perhaps the best modern homage to the Black Magic (and Mutiny) is the Kiliki Cooler, published in Beachbum Berry Remixed and created as a tribute to Tiki Kiliki. It’s available on the menu at Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29 in New Orleans as Espresso Bongo.

Agree or disagree? Share your reviews and comments below!

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April 2020 update

Hurricane Hayward on Inside the Desert Oasis Room
Hurricane Hayward on Inside the Desert Oasis Room
Listen to the “Covid Chronicles” episode recorded live with Adrian Eustaquio as The Atomic Grog blogger makes his way to The Mai-Kai to pick up Gallons to Go. Also available on iTunes, Spotify and Google Play.

The coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact on the bar and restaurant industry worldwide, and The Mai-Kai was no exception. After closing in late March, The Mai-Kai began an effort to keep some cash flowing into the business by launching an ambitious cocktail takeout effort. In early April, we saw the curbside release of four of the most popular tropical drinks – Barrel O’ Rum, Mai Tai, , and Piña Colada in an impressive new format: Gallon jugs!
UPDATES: Latest info on the Gallons to Go program

Hurricane Hayward with his Gallons to Go of the Black Magic and Rum Barrel from The Mai-Kai, April 2020. (Atomic Grog photo)
Hurricane Hayward with his Gallons to Go of the Black Magic and Rum Barrel from The Mai-Kai, April 2020. (Atomic Grog photo)

When the second round of Gallons to Go was announced for mid-April, we jumped at the opportunity to pick up a gallon or two, plus a bottle of the newly announced 12-year-old Distillers Proof Mai-Kai Blend rum from The Real McCoy. Word trickled out that the mysterious Black Magic was also available upon request, so we snagged one to share with friends. Of course, we also looked forward to the opportunity to examine the Black Magic in The Atomic Grog lab (aka our home bar).

Tribute recipes are typically created and tweaked hours after leaving the bar at the earliest. So having a large volume of the Black Magic so easily available for testing and comparing was both enticing and dangerous. But it was too good an opportunity to pass up, and we plowed ahead with extensive research.

The Mai-Kai bartender who prepared all of the Gallons to Go had assured us that he was carefully mixing, and taste testing, every batch to ensure that they follow the traditional recipes exactly. I can confirm that yes, indeed, this batch ranked right up there among best Black Magics I’d ever had at the restaurant.

A large jug marked "#7" can be seen above The Mai-Kai staff hard at work prepping Gallons to Go in mid-April 2020. That's bartender Max Vrahimis (left) and director of catering John Gelardi. (Mai-Kai photo)
A large jug marked “#7” can be seen above The Mai-Kai staff hard at work prepping Gallons to Go in mid-April 2020. That’s bartender Max Vrahimis (left) and director of catering John Gelardi. (Mai-Kai photo)

It was rich and spicy with bold rum and sour flavors in the forefront. The sharp citrus blended perfectly with waves of coffee, honey and allspice notes to create a symphony of flavors. The bitters and subtle hints of secret mix #7 were still there, but slightly different. I now had a blueprint (and easily accessible jug of Black Magics) to help me fine-tune the latest tribute recipe.

What emerged from those tests is version 3.0 below, featuring all of the same ingredients as version 2.5, plus the addition of a third rum. I felt that the flavors I was tasting were more complex than those I could accomplish with just two rums. Try it out and see what you think. We believe it’s the closest we’ve come yet to nailing the authentic Black Magic flavors.

The new recipe was revealed during a live online symposium meet-up organized by Tim “Swanky” Glazner, author of Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant. Follow Swanky’s Facebook and Instagram pages for info on future Zoom meetings. His first online virtual walking tour was informative and enlightening.

Big kudos also go to The Mai-Kai for keeping the cocktails flowing during these difficult times. In addition to buying Gallons to Go, you can provide support buy visiting The Mai-Kai Trading Post online and picking up a few mugs, along with other cool merchandise. We look forward to a date in the not-too-distant future when we’re sitting in The Molokai bar, sipping on one of our favorite drinks and letting all our current worries and tension drift away.

Tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Black Magic
By The Atomic Grog (version 3.0, updated April 2020)

The new Black Magic tribute by The Atomic Grog alongside an authentic Black Magic via The Mai-Kai's Gallons to Go program. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, April 2020)
The new Black Magic tribute by The Atomic Grog alongside an authentic Black Magic via The Mai-Kai’s Gallons to Go program. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, April 2020)

* 1 1/4 ounces fresh orange juice
* 1 1/4 ounces fresh lime juice
* 1 1/4 ounces fresh grapefruit juice
* 3/4 ounce rich honey mix
* 1 1/2 ounces chilled Colombian coffee
* 1 1/2 ounces dark Jamaican rum (Mai-Kai blend or substitute)
* 1 ounce gold (lightly aged) Spanish-style rum
* 1 ounces dark rum (Bacardi Black or similar)
* 1/2 ounce Mariano’s Mix #7
* 1 teaspoon Don’s Spices #2
* 2 dashes Angostura bitters

Blend with 2 heaping cups of crushed ice in a top-down mixer for 8-10 seconds, or until frothy. Pour into a large snifter glass with more crushed ice to fill. Garnish with a lemon (or grapefruit) peel.

The spices and coffee form a unique cavalcade of flavor that makes this a favorite of many, but its a combination that has always been difficult to nail down. We feel that this revamp of an already excellent recipe is more balanced, not too bitter or strong, resulting in the perfect tribute to the Black Magic.

Hurricane Hayward demonstrates how to make the Black Magic tribute, version 3.0, during an online symposium hosted by the authors of Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant, Tim Glazner and Stephanie Romer. (Atomic Grog photo)
Hurricane Hayward demonstrates how to make the Black Magic tribute, version 3.0, during an online symposium hosted by the authors of Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant, Tim Glazner and Stephanie Romer. (Atomic Grog photo)

April 2020 updates

* The size of the drink: One of the biggest changes from the previous version is the overall volume of the drink. Upon further review, we decided that there was too much citrus, among other things. So we made an effort to achieve an even better flavor profile by keeping the same amount of rum but dropping the total ounces to 10 from 12. We think this was a success, helped by even more crused ice in the tin before blending. It still fills the traditional 24-ounce snifter glass, with a minimal amount of extra ice neeed after pouring. We’ll soon be tweaking the other two snifter drinks, as well as the Rum Barrel, to fit this scaled-down model.

* The rums: As mentioned above, all ingredients remained the same from version 2.5 below, with the addition of a third rum. The 1 1/2 ounce measure of The Mai-Kai’s signature dark Jamaican rum remained the same. But rather than 2 ounces of a “black rum,” we split the 2 ounces between this somewhat dubious style and a lightly aged Spanish-style rum. You could use any quality Puerto Rican or Virgin Islands rum, aged a few years, or even something a little older. During my tours of the back bar, I’ve seen Brugal Anejo from the Domican Republic in the well, so I’m recommending this if you want to be as close to The Mai-Kai’s rum blend as possible. Bacardi Black remains my recommendation in this cocktail. It has a similar flavor to Ron Carlos Black, which was previously featured in The Mai-Kai’s back bar. You’ll want to stick to a Spanish-style rum in this category, but avoid flavor bombs like blackstrap rum. It should play a backing role to the bold and funky dark Jamaican. That signature style, which dates back to Don the Beachcomber’s use of Wray & Nephew’s Dagger and includes the more recently departed Kohala Bay, is discussed in depth below and over on The Rums of The Mai-Kai page.

Notes and tips for home mixologists

* The fresh juices: Equal portions of the three worked best for us when we employed fresh-squeezed Florida white grapefruit juice, a non- or lightly-pasteurized Florida orange juice, and our version of The Mai-Kai lime juice blend. If you squeeze fresh OJ, try to use Florida oranges. Look for more tips below.

The Black Magic in its new glassware in The Molokai bar. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, August 2019)
The Black Magic in its new glassware in The Molokai bar. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, August 2019)

* The amount of coffee stays the same, but we reduced the amount of honey mix and Mariano’s Mix #7 to go along with the reduction in juices. Be sure to mix up a rich honey syrup (2:1) and follow the #7 specs below. Look for a future enhancement to this mysterious syrup that we’re sure Mariano Licudine picked up from his Don the Beachcomber days. We plan to add one more flavor element to the blend of falernum and Herbsaint. If necessary, you could simply employ a rich and bold falernum, such as those made by Fee Brothers and Orgeat Works (aka Latitude 29 Formula Falernum).

* Don’s spices (a 50/50 mix of vanilla syrup and allspice liqueur) remains the same. It’s a key part of this recipe, if used judiciously. If using a straight pimento dram such as St. Elizabeth, you may want to dial it back slightly. It shouldn’t dominate. The bitters was increased to two healthy dashes to help temper the sour and sweet elements.

* I didn’t have a lemon handy, so I used a grapefruit to harvest to signature peel for garnish. It works just as well, if not better, since it’s a larger fruit and can yield a much longer peel.

We hope you enjoy this enhanced version of our take on this classic cocktail. The previous versions of our Black Magic tribute remain below for your mixing pleasure.

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Tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Black Magic
By The Atomic Grog (version 2.5, updated August 2017)

Black Magic tribute by The Atomic Grog. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, February 2017)
Black Magic tribute by The Atomic Grog. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, February 2017)

* 1 1/2 ounces fresh orange juice
* 2 ounces fresh lime juice
* 1 1/2 ounces fresh grapefruit juice
* 1 ounce rich honey mix
* 1 1/2 ounces chilled Colombian coffee
* 2 ounces dark rum (Bacardi Black or similar)
* 1 1/2 ounces dark Jamaican rum (see below)
* 1 ounce Mariano’s Mix #7 (see below)
* 1 teaspoon Don’s Spices #2 (see below)
* 1 dash Angostura bitters

Tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Black Magic
By The Atomic Grog (version 2.0, updated August 2017)

* 2 ounces fresh orange juice
* 2 ounces fresh lime juice
* 1 1/2 ounces fresh grapefruit juice
* 1 1/2 ounce rich honey mix
* 1 1/2 ounces chilled Colombian coffee
* 2 ounces dark rum (Bacardi Black or similar)
* 1 1/2 ounces dark Jamaican rum (Appleton Signature or similar)
* 1 teaspoon Don’s Spices #2 (see below)
* 1 dash Angostura bitters

Blend with up to 1 1/2 cups of crushed ice in a top-down mixer for at least 8 seconds, or until frothy. Pour into a large snifter glass with more crushed ice to fill. Garnish with a lemon peel.

These new versions, particularly the first one featuring Mariano’s Mix #7, come closer than ever to the flavor of the Black Magic you’ll taste today at The Mai-Kai.

August 2018 update

Note that in April 2018, The Mai-Kai started using new, heavier goblet-style mugs in place of the old snifter glasses. They’re much less breakable and also hold 24 ounces.

Now on The Grogalizer! This recipe and other Mai-Kai tributes have been added to the essential database of Tiki cocktail reviews, including the Beachbum Berry collection plus Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum and the Cult of Tiki. Help boost our ratings. It’s quick and easy to sign up.
* Go to The Grogalizer now

August 2017 updates

These new recipes contain some major updates that have been in the works for a while. The only difference between the two is the inclusion of Mariano’s Mix #7, which returned after a long absence as a secret ingredient in several other cocktails (Bora Bora, Mutiny, et al.). It’s the bar team’s reinterpretation of an old mix used by Mariano Licudine, possibly even dating back to Don the Beachcomber. Reliable sources tell us that while the ingredients used in the old mix are no longer available, an old member of Licudine’s bar staff was called in to help recreate it. We’ve tasted it many times since it was reintroduced and think we have a suitable substitute (see notes and tips below). Taste for yourself and see what you think. The second version above is based on the drink as it tasted before #7 returned from the vault, substituting extra orange juice and honey.

The Black Magic in The Molokai lounge, February 2017. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Black Magic in The Molokai lounge, February 2017. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Both are considerably larger than the original tribute recipe below, roughly 12 ounces as compared to around 8. There are several reasons for this. We were told authoritatively that this drink contains 3 1/2 ounces of rum, so we needed to boost the other ingredients as well. Stylistically, it’s comparable to the Barrel O’ Rum, which clocks in at 4 ounces of rum and more than 12 ounces total. We’re told that The Mutiny also has 4 ounces of rum and features the same snifter glass. When snifter glasses are in short supply, both drinks are served in the Rum Barrel mug, filling it to capacity. Both the snifter and barrel mug hold 24 ounces of liquid. It makes sense, then, that the Black Magic (and all of the large snifter drinks) are 12 ounces, plus ice. With that in mind, we think we came up with a great large-format Black Magic for your imbibing pleasure. (Note that The Mai-Kai often uses an alternative snifter glass that doesn’t have the same rounded bottom as the original. It’s simply a matter of the supply chain running short. This glass has the same volume as the original.)

The other major change that drove this tribute recipe update is the discovery that The Mai-Kai does not use cinnamon syrup in any of its drinks. That means no Don’s Mix, which was featured in the original tribute recipe below. Also, we learned that The Mai-Kai uses chilled Colombian coffee in the Black Magic and Mutiny, not Kona coffee as originally thought. The Colombian style is the only coffee used in the restaurant, brewed and served hot in many applications (including the Kona Coffee Grog and Tahitian Coffee). No need for a fancy gourmet blend. We like this premium ground Colombian coffee from Publix. Also note that Angostura bitters was dialed back. The Colombian coffee provides plenty of bitter backbone.

Despite its inaccuracy, we’ve left the original tribute recipe below pretty much as first posted, with a few tweaks added over the years. It’s a favorite of many, so we didn’t want to mess with it. Just know that the above recipes are more comparable to what The Mai-Kai is now serving. But who can’t have too many Black Magic recipes?

The Black Magic tribute recipe now includes the mysterious mix known at The Mai-Kai as "#7." (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, October 2016)
The Black Magic tribute recipe now includes the mysterious mix known at The Mai-Kai as “#7.” (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, October 2016)

Notes and tips for home mixologists

* There’s a lot of juice in this reconfigured recipe, but like the Barrel O’ Rum they play a role in balancing the spices and potent rums. The Mai-Kai’s juices are unique, coming fresh-squeezed daily from Florida citrus groves. These are flavors that are very hard to duplicate at home, especially in other parts of the country. Pasteurized orange and grapefruit juices that sit on the shelf or in a warehouse are just not going to taste the same. Fresh squeezed is always the best option. Also, Florida juices have their own unique flavor, sweeter than California citrus. Note that white grapefruit is preferred, but when it’s out of season The Mai-Kai uses a very pulpy fresh red grapefruit. As for the lime juice, The Mai-Kai is believed to be using a Key lime blend that’s very rich and tart. It’s another intense flavor that gives the drink extra zing. Click here to see our research on The Mai-Kai’s juices and find out our recommendations.

* Always use 2 parts honey to 1 part water in your honey mix for Mai-Kai cocktails. The flavor needs to be rich to hold up against everything else. We prefer orange blossom honey from Florida.

Colombian coffee is featured in The Mai-Kai's hot and cold cocktails. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Colombian coffee is featured in The Mai-Kai’s hot and cold cocktails. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* The coffee, as discussed above, can be simple Colombian coffee and not a Kona or gourmet blend. This makes sense when you think about it. Colombian coffee is typically bolder and darker than Kona, so there’s no need to struggle trying to brew extra strong batches to bring enough coffee flavor to the table. I’ve found that a regular pot of Colombian coffee, chilled for several hours, works fine. If you find it a tad weak, brew it just a little bit stronger. It won’t take much. Also, don’t bother with commercial cold brews. They may be trendy drinks, but the flavors are too mellow for the purposes of this cocktail.

* The rums listed above have recently been confirmed as those currently being poured. The standard dark Jamaican rum being used in many of the bar’s top cocktails is now Appleton Estate Signature Blend, replacing the mysterious Kohala Bay. It doesn’t quite have the same proof and funky flavor, but when used with all the other potent ingredients in this drink, it does a decent job. As noted above and below, we’ve done much research into possible Kohala Bay substitutes if you’d like to experiment. The name Black Magic refers not just to the coffee but also the combination of dark rums, so using a basic black rum as a base is essential. Currently, that’s a Spanish-style “black” (Bacardi Black from Puerto Rico). Previously, we believe that Ron Carlos from the Virgin Islands was used. Nothing fancy, obviously. The dark Jamaican rum is what brings the flavor. We’ve heard that in Licudine’s day, Ron Rico (Puerto Rico) made a dark/black rum that was probably commonly used. Feel free to experiment with other black rums, but try to avoid those that bring too much bold flavor. You don’t want it overwhelming the other ingredients. It’s mainly used here as a base rum. For example, Gosling’s Black Seal works OK, while Cruzan Blackstrap tends to dominate the other ingredients.

* Don’s Spices is discussed below. It’s our attempt to duplicate the sweet and rich allspice liqueur that The Mai-Kai employs. By mixing equal parts allspice (such as St. Elizabeth) and vanilla syrup (as Donn Beach did), it makes for a bigger, bolder flavor.

The Atomic Grog's version of the mysterious mix #7, which was mentioned in Tim "Swanky" Glazner's book on the history of The Mai-Kai, is a blend of falernum and Herbsaint. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Atomic Grog’s version of the mysterious mix #7, which was mentioned in Tim “Swanky” Glazner’s book on the history of The Mai-Kai, is a blend of falernum and Herbsaint. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* Mariano’s Mix #7 is our name for what The Mai-Kai simply calls “Number Seven.” It’s a classic secret mix that dates back to the early days of Tiki and Don the Beachcomber. Look for more on its history in a future article. By using a code name, similar to Don’s Spices #2 and Don’s Mix (both mentioned elsewhere in this article), Donn Beach was able to prevent most of his bartenders from taking his classic drink recipes elsewhere. That’s how the elusive Zombie recipe remained a secret for more than 50 years until Beachbum Berry tracked down some of Beach’s key mixologists who still had the institutional knowledge (as well as their little black recipe books).

In the case of #7, not even Berry knows the secret. It was fairly obscure and used sparingly by Beach. We’ve seen it mentioned in just one old recipe. But original Mai-Kai mixologist Mariano Licudine, who worked at Don the Beachcomber restaurants in Hollywood and Chicago for nearly 20 years, was able to create his own version at The Mai-Kai. You’ll find it mentioned in Tim “Swanky” Glazner’s 2016 book, Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant. It’s now being used in in a handful of recipes, including the Black Magic. We’re not sure exactly when #7 was retired, but according to The Mai-Kai’s managing owner, Dave Levy, it was revived late last summer. If you’ve been to The Mai-Kai in the past year, you’ve no doubt tasted it, though you may not have known what it is. The ingredients in the original mix became unavailable, and it’s possible it was gone for decades. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed the flavor in the 10+ years I’ve been studiously enjoying The Mai-Kai’s cocktails.

A 1958 newspaper ad
A 1958 newspaper ad.

So how has it returned? An old bartender who worked with Licudine comes in periodically to help Levy make this and several other old mixes that have been revived. They’re the only two people who know how they’re made. Not even The Mai-Kai’s bar managers know what they contain. A true throwback to the days of Don the Beachcomber. Levy added that the ingredients are obscure and hard to find. So what does #7 taste like? It’s sweet and floral, but also boasts a distinctive anise flavor. An anise liqueur of some sort, perhaps? But we’re told it’s a proprietary blend, so it’s unlikely we’ll find the answer in just one bottle.
* Tiki Central: More on the return of secret mixes to The Mai-Kai

After much experimentation, I came up with a close approximation by combining a rich and sweet, non-alcoholic falernum (such as Fee Brothers, which The Mai-Kai uses in many other cocktails) and Sazerac’s vintage replica of the original Herbsaint recipe. This 100-proof version has a more gentle, floral anise flavor than other similar liqueurs, such as Pernod or absinthe. Both of these ingredients are filled with spices and herbs, from the falernum’s almond and ginger to Herbsaint’s star anise. While I’m fairly sure this isn’t exactly what The Mai-Kai is using to make #7, it does come close to the same flavor. Here are the exact proportions that I use …

Mariano’s Mix #7
* 1/4 teaspoon of Herbsaint
* 1 tablespoon falernum
Combine and keep at room temperature in a glass bottle. Simply scale up to make larger batches, 1 teaspoon Herbsaint per 2 ounces of falernum, for example. If you can’t find Herbsaint and must use Pernod, just scale back to around 3/4 ounce in the Black Magic. It should linger lightly in the background and not be too dominant.

While these new tribute recipes veer away somewhat from the richness of the original, we feel that they come closer to what you’ll taste today at The Mai-Kai, particularly the version featuring Mariano’s Mix #7.

For posterity, here’s our original tribute recipe, posted in 2012 and updated in 2014 …

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Tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Black Magic, v.1

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

* 3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed orange juice
* 3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
* 3/4 ounce white grapefruit juice
* 3/4 ounce rich honey mix
(2:1 honey to water, mixed and cooled)
* 1 1/2 ounces strong Kona coffee,
freshly brewed, then chilled
* 1 1/2 ounces Coruba dark Jamaican rum
* 1 1/2 ounces Kohala Bay dark Jamaican rum
(substitution suggestion below)
* 1/2 ounce Don’s Mix
(2 parts grapefruit juice to 1 part cinnamon syrup)
* 1 teaspoon Don’s Spices #2 (see below)
* 2 dashes Angostura bitters

Blend with up to 1 1/2 cups of crushed ice in a top-down mixer for around 5 seconds, or until frothy. Pour into a large snifter glass with more crushed ice to fill. Garnish with a lemon peel.

There have been many Black Magic tributes, from Beachbum Berry’s Kiliki Cooler (from Remixed) to Colonel Tiki’s Dark Magic. The recipe above first appeared on the Tiki Central message board but we don’t think it’s an authentic Black Magic recipe. But it’s pretty darn close. We tweaked a few of the ingredients and proportions and fine-tuned the rums, with a little help from some experts (see below).

Notes and tips for home mixologists

* Invest in a top-down mixer if you don’t have one already. It’s essential in getting the right consistency, and that frothy head, on this drink. See past reviews of the Mai-Kai Special, Moonkist Coconut and Shark Bite for other examples.

Kohala Bay (left) and some recommended substitutes during our May 2017 taste tests. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Kohala Bay (left) and some recommended substitutes during our May 2017 taste tests. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* We’re not going to leave you hanging without a proper substitute for Kohala Bay. Our top recommendation is equal parts (3/4 ounce) Smith & Cross Jamaican rum and El Dorado 12-year-old Demerara rum. Click here to see other possible substitutes. Additionally, it mixes nicely with the sweeter Corbua Jamaican rum to give this Black Magic tribute a distinctive taste.

* Strong Kona coffee, freshly made, is preferred. Trying brewing it up to double the normal strength. If that’s too intense, just dial it back a bit.

* A bottled Don’s Mix is made by B.G. Reynolds (now known as Paradise Blend), along with cinnamon syrup and other classic ingredients. You can also make your own cinnamon syrup (and Don’s Mix) with little fuss, as I often do. Recipes are easily available in Beachbum Berry’s books or online.

Revised Black Magic tribute by The Atomic Grog, December 2013
Revised Black Magic tribute by The Atomic Grog, December 2013. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

April 2014 update

For years, I used straight allspice dram (aka pimento liqueur) in this recipe with no complaints. This Jamaican herbal liqueur with a rum base has bold and spicy allspice flavors, perfectly accenting many sweet tropical drinks. It’s a great old-school ingredient used in many Don the Beachcomber recipes and carried over to The Mai-Kai by Mariano Licudine.

But recent efforts at decoding several other Mai-Kai cocktails, including the recently posted new tribute to the Samoan Grog, have given me pause for thought. Perhaps Lucidine also employed the obscure Don’s Spices #2, a mix of equal parts vanilla syrup and pimento liqueur that was revealed by Beachbum Berry in his excellent 2007 book, Sippin’ Safari.

A 1-teaspoon dose of Don’s Spices #2 makes perfect sense in the Black Magic tribute. It keeps the same proportion of allspice dram that was previously called for (1/2 teaspoon), and also adds another subtle layer of flavor and sweetness. And it also could explain the reports of people tasting hints of vanilla in the drink. (The Kahuna Black Magic, a tribute by Basement Kahuna posted on The Grogalizer, includes the vanilla liqueur Cuarenta y Tres, aka Licor 43.)

Black Magic, November 2010
Black Magic, November 2010. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

You can again turn to the world’s premiere source of authentic Tiki cocktail syrups, B.G. Reynolds, for a bottled version of Don’s Spices #2 (known as Tiki Spices). My preference is to make my own Don’s Spices #2 fresh using vanilla syrup and one of the pimento liqueurs I have in stock. Currently, that’s the hard-to-find Wray & Nephew’s Berry Hill brand from Jamaica and the more easily available St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram. Note that The Bitter Truth’s Pimento Dram is relatively new to market, and by all accounts also a fine product. (2017 update: Hamilton Pimento Dram is another highly recommended new product.) And, of course, hardcore Tiki cocktail enthusiasts may want to take a crack at making their own. There are quite a few recipes floating around on various sites as well as Tiki Central.

Postscript I: The Black Magic embraced by bloggers and bartenders

After the Black Magic tribute recipe above was published, it became a favorite on the Tiki Central message board and was featured by other cocktail bloggers such as Tiare on A Mountain of Crushed Ice. On his 5 Minutes of Rum podcast, Kevin Upthegrove even created a tribute to The Atomic Grog’s tribute to the Black Magic. More recently, it has been featured at modern neo-Tiki bars such as Hidden Harbor in Pittsburgh:
The Black Magic at Hidden Harbor

And Lucky’s Cane & Grog, also in Pittsburgh:
Hurricane Hayward (left) with Lucky Munro in The Molokai bar at The Mai-Kai in September 2017.
Hurricane Hayward (left) with Lucky Munro in The Molokai bar at The Mai-Kai in September 2017.

In August 2017, this review, recipe and research were included in an article on the Punch website (“Recreating the Mai-Kai’s Bizarre Black Magic Cocktail”). The story also quotes Beachbum Berry and The Mai-Kai’s Kern Mattei. The article tells “the story behind one of tiki’s strangest classics, and the lengths that bartenders have gone to recreate it.” We’re honored to have been able to bring this beloved cocktail to a larger audience. Mahalo to everyone who enjoys our interpretations of this Mai-Kai classic.

The latest take on the Black Magic comes from The Inferno Room in Indianapolis, the newest Tiki palace in the Midwest:
The Black Magic at The Inferno Room

And, more recently, the always creative mixologists of Hidden Harbor figured out a way to sell a Black Magic in a can during the coronavirus pandemic! Due to state law, they were forced to sell it without alcohol, but it comes with full instructions on how to complete the cocktail by adding rum:Hidden Harbor's Black Magic in a can, served to go

Postscript II: The Black Magic goes viral on social media NEW

Even more fervent than the bartenders and media, home bartenders have latched onto the Black Magic as a favorite in their home bars. We’re honored that they enjoy our recipes above and continue to give us a shout-out when posting. Here’s a selection of some of our recent favorites …

Okole maluna!

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I somehow missed that @theatomicgrog was using @the_maikai_restaurant to-go GALLONS of Black Magic to A-B and workshop his tribute recipe! Brilliant! I was craving this cocktail on #maikaimonday and went to his site (as I often do) for the recipe and was so excited to see version 3.0. I do agree with him, this tastes as close to the real thing as I’ve experienced at home thus far! ?? 1 1/4 ounces fresh orange juice * 1 1/4 ounces fresh lime juice * 1 1/4 ounces fresh grapefruit juice * 3/4 ounce rich honey mix * 1 1/2 ounces chilled Colombian coffee * 1 1/2 ounces dark Jamaican rum (Coruba Dark) * 1 ounce gold (lightly aged) Spanish-style rum (Don Q Añejo * 1 ounces dark rum (Blend of XM 12 and Hamilton 86) * 1/2 ounce Mariano’s Mix #7 * 1 teaspoon Don’s Spices #2 * 2 dashes Angostura bitters ? We got a real winner here!

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Black Magic (from @the_maikai_restaurant) This drink is super complex but delicious. I was intimidated going in to it but I am glad I did. I absolutely loved it! Thanks to @theatomicgrog for the recipe! * 1 1/4 ounces fresh orange juice * 1 1/4 ounces fresh lime juice * 1 1/4 ounces fresh grapefruit juice * 3/4 ounce rich honey mix * 1 1/2 ounces chilled Colombian coffee * 1 1/2 ounces dark Jamaican rum (Mai-Kai blend or substitute) * 1 ounce gold (lightly aged) Spanish-style rum * 1 ounces dark rum (Bacardi Black or similar) * 1/2 ounce Mariano’s Mix #7 (1/4 tsp herbasaint / 1 t Falernum) * 1 teaspoon Don’s Spices #2 (1:1 Vanilla Syrup / Allspice Dram) * 2 dashes Angostura bitters Blend with 2 heaping cups of crushed ice in a top-down mixer for 8-10 seconds, or until frothy. Pour into a large snifter glass with more crushed ice to fill. Garnish with a lemon (or grapefruit) peel.

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Black??Magic

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A take on the Atomic Grog Black Magic tribute served at Tern Club. Excellent! @ternclub @theatomicgrog

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??Cocktail of the Day : Tribute to the Mai-Kai’s Black Magic?? – – This ginormous exotic libation with a legendary status among tiki enthusiasts is one hell of a beast. Tasty, mysterious, potent and laced with Dark Rums, coffee and spices. – The Black Magic was created by Mariano Licudine, Don the Beachcomber n°2 bartender in Chicago, who then became head mixologist for the Mai-Kai Restaurant, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Licudine was already fiddling around with Rums and inventing concoctions when he was working for Donn Beach, but when he was approached by the Thornton brothers, owners of the Mai-Kai, that’s when he could truly express himself creating the restaurant’s cocktail menu. Along with Donn Beach-inspired variations and brand-new drinks came the Black Magic, which may be his crowning achievement and the Holy Grail of the Mai-Kai’s tiki menu. However, like many tiki classics, the recipe is kept secret by the owners and won’t be accessible to the public anytime soon. – Thankfully, Jim “Hurricane” Hayward, from Atomic Grog, went on a quest to find lost exotic cocktails and reverse-engineered many libations, including the Black Magic. The recipe below is the result of Hayward’s impressive amount of work and research and might the closest we can get to the original ! – – TRIBUTE TO THE MAI-KAI’S BLACK MAGIC 1 ½ oz (45 ml) Fresh Orange juice 2 oz (60 ml) Fresh Lime juice 1 ½ oz (45 ml) Fresh Grapefruit juice 1 oz (30 ml) Rich Honey Mix (2 Honey:1 Water) 1 ½ oz (45 ml) Chilled Colombian Coffee 2 oz (60 ml) Dark Rum @goslingsrum 1 ½ oz (45 ml) Aged Jamaican Rum @appletonrumuk 1 oz (30 ml) Mariano’s Mix n°7 (2 tablespoons Falernum & ½ teaspoon Herbsaint) 1 Teaspoon (5 ml) Don’s Spices n°2 (equal parts Allspice Liqueur and Vanilla Syrup) 1 Dash Angostura Bitters Blend everything with 1 ½ cups (Around 185g) of crushed ice for 8 seconds, until frothy. Pour unstrained into a Snifter glass (with the capacity of around 30 oz, but mine wasn’t nearly that big) with more crushed ice to fill and garnish with a lemon zest. – – ??Cheers?? #cocktail #cocktails #homebar #mixology #drinks #recipe #imbibe #cheers #instadrink #tiki #tikidrinks #atomicgrog #blackmagic #maikai

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20 Replies to “Mai-Kai cocktail review: The Black Magic emerges from the darkness as a true classic”

  1. Kohala was available at Gateway liquors at 10482 Roosevelt Blvd N
    Saint Petersburg, FL. I’ve not been there in some time and do not know if they still stock it.

  2. Another great post Hurricane!

    I (and many others I’m sure) would like to know more about Kohala Bay Rum. Who actually makes this rum, what’s the ABV, and who is the importer?

    And of course what other DTB recipes might it work in??

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Craig. Kohala Bay is distilled and blended in Kingston, Jamaica, at 87.6 proof. That’s slightly overproof, of course, but not near Navy strength. It’s unclear where exactly it comes from. The label makes reference to “the fertile valley of the black river parish of St. Elizabeth, Jamaica. … Here, Kohala Bay is hand-blended slowly, carefully, and in small batches.”

      There’s a new importer, which I’m still trying to locate. The supply that I found came from the old importer that no longer handles it. It was bottled in the U.S.

      I’ll definitely be revisiting a few cocktails that I suspect contain Kohala Bay, or used to feature Dagger. I’ll be posting one this week that turned out to be a big surprise.

      Okole maluna!

      1. Hurricane,

        I posted over at TC that Dagger Rum was a Wray & Nephew product:

        http://www.tikiroom.com/tikicentral/bb/viewtopic.php?topic=22455&forum=10&vpost=631343

        So I’m wondering if Kohala Bay is in fact a W&N product that’s sold in bulk to an American importer, who brings it in and bottles it themselves? There are a number of firms that do this type of bulk spirits importing & bottling; Walker & Sons, Barton, Paramount, Heaven Hill etc etc.

    1. Good point Swanky. I didn’t want to go off on too much of a tangent during this review. But that sounds like a great idea for a separate post.

      Thanks for helping identify several other cocktails that probably contain Kohala Bay. We’ll be posting updates soon.

  3. Nice job, I love the Black Magic. I prefer it slightly to the Mutiny, but both are great.

    I remember the first time I visited the Mai Kai, with my wife and two friends of ours; the four of us arrived in the bar in time to get in on the happy hour. Back then it was literally two for one (not half price drinks.) I got the Special Planters Punch, which left an amazing impression on me. But my wife got the Mutiny and someone else got the Black Magic. There were basically four of these coffee monstrosities at the table, which is insane for first time visitors. We were all both blown away by the deliciousness but also somewhat horrified by the crazy flavors and the sheer quantity.

    1. Wow, what an introduction. My first night there started at the beginning of happy hour with a group of friends. We totally lost track of time and the next thing I knew, it was closing time (6 hours later) :>)

  4. So. . . any chance pretty please you can email me the info on the rare retail outlet that stocks Kohala Bay?

    All of your Mai Kai cocktail reviews have totally got me in the mood for Hukilau. Won’t make it down until tomorrow but I can already taste the deliciousness!

  5. I just got my Tiki spices in the mail from B.G. Reynolds, and I’m excited to try this drink out this weekend. Is there any other drinks that call for Don’s spices?? Thanks

    1. Yes, there are few others that I highly recommend. While straight allspice dram works fine, I’ve found that The Mai-Kai’s special homemade mix is a bit sweeter than St. Elizabeth, so using the allspice-vanilla mix is the best option.

      In addition to the Black Magic, try …
      Yeoman’s Grog: http://www.slammie.com/atomicgrog/blog/2011/12/12/mai-kai-cocktail-review-even-landlubbers-can-appreciate-a-strong-ration-of-yeomans-grog/#tribute
      Special Planter’s Punch: http://www.slammie.com/atomicgrog/blog/2011/09/15/mai-kai-cocktail-review-special-planters-punch-is-tropical-drink-history-in-a-glass/#tribute
      Samoan Grog: http://www.slammie.com/atomicgrog/blog/2012/03/22/mai-kai-cocktail-review-the-delicious-samoan-grog-wasnt-born-to-be-mild/#tribute

      Aloha!

  6. This might be a complete long shot, but I don’t suppose #7 could be the so-called “Zombie Mix” that Don Beach created for Aku Aku’s Zombie, do you? Equal parts Pernod (or Herbsaint), Curacao, falernum and grenadine. It’s got your anise and falernum, and Curacao might be hard to detect with orange juice in the Black Magic. Combined with grenadine it might, maybe, kinda give you a floral essence.

    1. That’s hard to say. I wouldn’t think that Don would give away one of his most secret mixes to the Aku Aku, but it’s certainly possible that it’s similar. I was told by a reliable source that The Mai-Kai’s #7 is clear, so that would mean there’s no grenadine in it. I was also told that while it may taste similar to the old mix, it uses different ingredients.

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