Mai-Kai cocktail review: The Mutiny is a worthy foe in the battle of the tropical titans

Updated August 2018
See below: Our Mutiny review | Tribute recipes UPDATED
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide
The Black Magic emerges from the shadows as a true classic
Texas Tiki Podcast: Hurricane Hayward talks about Mai-Kai cocktails NEW

There are many great cocktail debates, most notably the Martini (gin or vodka?) and Old Fashioned (rye or bourbon?). At The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale, it’s the Mutiny vs. the Black Magic in an epic battle between two classic rum-and-coffee cocktails.

The Mutiny is now served in a heavier but still voluminous mug, which made its debut in April 2018. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The Mutiny is now served in a heavier but still voluminous mug, which made its debut in April 2018. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The only way to truly compare these titans until recently was to sit down at the legendary Molokai bar and taste them side-by-side. This can be a daunting task since they’re both very strong and very large cocktails, not that we haven’t tried many times.

But thanks to our research, you can give it a whirl in your home bar with the tribute recipes posted below and on the Black Magic review. These aren’t simple drinks, but we’re sure you’ll find the results well worth the effort.

I pitch my tent solidly in the Mutiny camp. It’s always been decidedly higher in my Mai-Kai cocktail ratings (currently sitting at No. 10) and has an incredible complexity that keeps drawing me back. The Black Magic isn’t far behind at No. 14.

So where did these distinctive cocktails come from, and why are they so similar? The Black Magic came first, reportedly created before The Mai-Kai’s opening by mixologist Mariano Licudine, who was then working for Don the Beachcomber. It appeared on the original 1956 Mai-Kai menu and was joined some 15 years later by the Mutiny.

Mutiny stands above the Black Magic and The Hukilau in the Atomic Grog ratings

The Mutiny stands above the Black Magic and The Hukilau in the Atomic Grog ratings. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, November 2010)

According to legend, the Mutiny was conceived on one of the many Mai-Kai staff fishing trips at which the participants always brought an ample supply of two cocktails: the Black Magic and Barrel O’ Rum. According to the story, there was a rebellion against those two drinks always being featured. To quell an impending mutiny, an idea was hatched to somehow combine them into one monster drink, and the Mutiny was born.

It’s unclear if they were actually mixed together that day on the boat. More likely, Licudine put his talents to work later to create an amalgamation of two of the most popular drinks on the menu. This would not be out of line for the owners to request. The cocktails already share many of the same ingredients, so it took just a few tweaks to yield some amazing results.

The Mutiny has been cited as a favorite of the late Mai-Kai co-owner Bob Thornton, so perhaps he was the driving force behind the drink’s creation. Over the years, it’s been mentioned as favorite by a who’s who of Tiki revival VIPs, including bar owners and authors Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and Martin Cate, plus Tiki Oasis co-founder Otto von Stroheim.

Regardless of how it was created, the Mutiny stands on its own as a classic tropical drink.

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The official menu description
Mutiny
MUTINY

A superb blend of the finest rums, fresh tropical juices and a splash of coffee. A daily ration, says the Skipper, prevents scurvy and discontentment within the crew.

Okole Maluna Society review and rating

Size: Large

Potency: Strong

Mutiny, April 2011

Mutiny, April 2011. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Flavor profile: Coffee, lime, dark rum, hints of anise.

Review: Bursting with undefinable layers of flavor, an unlikely marriage of rum with sweet, sour, coffee and slight licorice-like notes.

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

Ancestry: The Mutiny did not appear on The Mai-Kai’s menu until the 1970s, but it has become a classic in its own right. It was most likely added around the time of the 1971 re-imagination of The Molokai bar.

Bilge: The name references the decor of The Molokai, which was inspired by (and includes set pieces from) the classic 1962 film Mutiny on the Bounty (starring Marlon Brando). The film is based on a true 1789 event in which a mutiny occurred aboard the British Royal Navy ship HMS Bounty. While at sea near Tahiti, the ship’s sailors were so enamored by the beauty of the island they rose up against their abusive captain. Descendants of some of the mutineers and Tahitians still live on nearby Pitcairn Island. Much of The Molokai decor came from the MGM prop department, which closed and held an auction in 1970. Many props from the movie were purchased and installed by a Hollywood-based nautical decorating firm. This includes everything from the large ropes to the model ships.

Agree or disagree? Share your reviews and comments below!

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NEW: Tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Mutiny
By The Atomic Grog (version 2.5, updated August 2018)

Mutiny tribute by The Atomic Grog, August 2018.

Mutiny tribute by The Atomic Grog, August 2018.

* 1 1/2 ounces fresh-squeezed orange juice
* 2 ounces fresh-squeezed lime juice
* 1 1/2 ounces fresh grapefruit juice
* 1/2 ounce rich honey mix
* 3/4 ounce passion fruit syrup
* 1 ounce chilled Colombian coffee
* 2 ounces light Puerto Rican or Virgin Islands rum
* 2 ounces dark Jamaican rum (Appleton Signature or similar)
* 3/4 ounce Mariano’s Mix #7 (see below)
* 2 dashes Angostura bitters
* 4 drops Pernod

NEW: Tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Mutiny
By The Atomic Grog (version 2.0, updated August 2018)

* 1 1/2 ounces fresh-squeezed orange juice
* 2 ounces fresh-squeezed lime juice
* 1 1/2 ounces fresh grapefruit juice
* 1 ounce rich honey mix
* 1 ounce passion fruit syrup
* 1 ounce chilled Colombian coffee
* 2 ounces light Puerto Rican or Virgin Islands rum
* 2 ounces dark Jamaican rum (Appleton Signature or similar)
* 2 dashes Angostura bitters
* 4 drops Pernod

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 or goblet with more crushed ice to fill.

Very similar to the Black Magic with added anise notes complementing the unique coffee, rum and sour flavors. The addition of Mariano’s Mix #7 in version 2.5 gives the drink a whole new complexion. It’s more floral and sweet, but extremely well balanced with sharp spices that engage the taste buds.

August 2018 updates

Just as we did with the Black Magic, we’ve added two new versions that update the size of the drink and bring it up to 4 ounces of rum, the same as the Barrel O’ Rum. Historically, the drinks often shared the same vessel when there were shortages of either the Barrel mug or the signature snifter. It figures that they both contain the same volume [see photo].

Note: 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 but have the same 24-ounce capacity.

Mutiny tribute by The Atomic Grog, February 2017.

Mutiny tribute by The Atomic Grog, February 2017.

The first version above features what we call Mariano’s Mix #7, which is usually found in the cocktail nowadays. It features unmistakable flavors of falernum and anise, as detailed below. The second version, sans #7, features more honey and passion fruit syrup. It’s a great drink as well, just not as intricate and exotic as the first. If you’re not a fan of anise, you may actually prefer this version (and also consider cutting back on the Pernod).

The other major update is the removal of cinnamon, which was an element (as part of Don’s Mix) in our initial recipe (see below). We’ve since found out that no cinnamon syrup is used anywhere on The Mai-Kai menu, though sticks used as garnish combined with other spices may help create a sensory illusion.

Finally, we’ve also learned that after all of our trial and error in finding the right blend of Kona coffee, The Mai-Kai actually uses only Colombian coffee in this and the Black Magic (as well as the hot coffee drinks). True Kona coffee is neither easy to find nor very affordable. Aside from its easier availability, the bolder flavor of the Colombian style actually works better in the chilled cocktails.

Notes and tips for home mixologists

* The tart juices are plentiful in the Mutiny, and it’s crucial to use fresh-squeezed citrus when possible. The Mai-Kai uses fresh-squeezed orange and grapefruit juices provided by local citrus groves. They’re full of pulp and unpasteurized, unlike most juices you’ll find on store shelves. The lime juice is even more distinctive, a tart Key lime blend that’s also fresh and very rich. You can find our deep dive into The Mai-Kai’s juices on the Tiki Central message board.

* As mentioned above, there’s no need to hunt down a pricey Kona coffee when you can find a quality ground Colombian in many supermarkets. Colombia’s beans are moderate in acidity and sweetness, and moderate to full in body. Actually, if you can’t find 100% Kona and resort to a blend, it’s likely a Colombian or Brazilian coffee with a little bit of Kona thrown in. So you might as well just use Colombian, which features a bold enough flavor to work well in the Mutiny and Black Magic.

The Mutiny (left) and Black Magic, November 2016. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The Mutiny (left) and Black Magic, November 2016. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* With a robust 4 ounces of rum, the Mutiny packs a punch. The 2 ounces of light Puerto Rican or Virgin Islands rum serves as a solid base. Bacardi, Don Q, Cruzan or any other popular brand is fine to use. Like the Black Magic, the key is the dark Jamaican rum, which brings funky flavor and balances the tart and spicy elements. In years past, the Mutiny was one of the many cocktails that benefited from the legendary Dagger rum from Wray & Nephew, a Don the Beachcomber staple that followed Mariano Licudine to The Mai-Kai. It was later replaced by Kohala Bay, which came from the same distillery and hit many of the same flavor notes. Click here to see the full history of Dagger and Kohala Bay at The Mai-Kai. Unfortunately, production ceased in mid-2016 and The Mai-Kai was forced to switch to another Wray & Nephew product, Appleton Signature Blend. It’s not quite as bold and funky as Kohala Bay, so if you’re looking for that old-school flavor we suggest you check out some of the many suggested Kohala Bay replacement blends. The longtime favorite is a 50/50 mix of Smith & Cross and El Dorado 12, but there are many others.

* Last but not least, we have Mariano’s Mix #7, a long-dormant secret syrup in the tradition of Donn Beach (see page 28 of the 10th anniversary edition of Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari). When Mariano Licudine came to The Mai-Kai in 1956, he brought many of the cocktail recipes that he knew well from two decades with Don the Beachcomber in Hollywood and Chicago. Under the direction of Bob Thornton and brother Jack, the master mixologist tweaked the recipes as well as the names in an attempt to raise the bar to new heights. They were highly successful. The Mai-Kai has thrived longer than any Don the Beachcomber restaurant, and those original 1956 cocktails remain the foundation of the popular cocktail menu. Secret mixes and syrups were a bit harder to maintain, however, especially after the original sources went out of business. After Licudine and Bob Thornton died in 1980 and 1989, respectively, it was left to their heirs and proteges to keep the tradition alive (and secrets intact). The Mai-Kai’s managing owner, Dave Levy, has done exactly that.

Mariano's Mix #7 can be approximated using Fee Brothers Falernum and Herbsaint. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Mariano’s Mix #7 can be approximated using Fee Brothers Falernum and Herbsaint. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The entire restaurant still operates under the same systems put in place by the Thornton brothers, and the cocktails still bear the stamp of Licudine (and his mentor Donn Beach). When ingredients became unavailable and several secret cocktail mixes fell by the wayside, Levy didn’t give up. In 2016, he brought back several long-dormant syrups with the assistance of a retired bartender who worked under Licidine. They only appear in a handful of drinks, but they elevate and enhance them. Check out the previous updates of the Black Magic and Bora Bora for more background, along with this Tiki Central thread. I’m not privy to the secret ingredients, but my best estimation of the mix using products that are readily available is this:

Mariano’s Mix #7
* 1/4 teaspoon of Herbsaint
* 1 tablespoon falernum (Fee Brothers brand preferred)
Combine and keep at room temperature in a glass bottle. You can make larger batches by increasing the proportions, 1 teaspoon Herbsaint per 2 ounces of falernum, for example. If Herbsaint is unavailable, feel free to use Pernod but scale back slightly when using the mix. The anise flavor should be a background note and not dominate.

See the additional ingredient notes below the original tribute recipe, included here for posterity …

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Tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Mutiny, v.1

Mutiny tribute by The Atomic Grog, April 2012

Mutiny tribute by The Atomic Grog, April 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
* 1/2 ounce rich honey mix
   (2:1 honey to water, mixed and cooled)
* 1/2 ounce passion fruit syrup
* 1 1/2 ounces strong Kona coffee,
   freshly brewed, then chilled
* 1 1/2 ounces light Virgin Islands rum
* 1 1/2 ounces Kohala Bay dark Jamaican rum
   (substitution suggestion below)
* 1/4 ounce Don’s Mix
   (2 parts grapefruit juice to 1 part cinnamon syrup)
* 2 dashes Angostura bitters
* 2 drops Pernod or Herbsaint

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.

Notes and tips for home mixologists

Inspired by the story above of how the Mutiny is perhaps a mashup of the Black Magic and Barrel O’ Rum, we created this initial recipe based heavily on our Black Magic tribute, adding a few elements of the rum barrel.

* Passion fruit syrup is the most obvious addition, along with a lighter base rum. Just make sure you use a high-quality brand such as Monin, B.G. Reynolds, Small Hand Foods or Fee Brothers. Our favorite is Aunty Lilikoi from Hawaii. Low-cost brands such as Real Syrups and Finest Call also work fine if you’re on a budget. It’s also fairly easy to make your own, and there are many recipes available online.

* The Mai-Kai’s honey mix is intense, likely a 2:1 mix of Florida orange blossom honey to water. Just combine and shake up in a plastic honey container and it should stay fresh in the fridge for weeks.

The Mutiny (center) with The Hukilau (left) and Black Magic, November 2010

The Mutiny (center) with The Hukilau (left) and Black Magic, November 2010. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* When we say “drops” of Pernod, we mean exactly that (not a dash!). Use an eye dropper to precisely add only that amount to your mixing tin. Over-use of Pernod or Herbsaint will add way too much anise flavor to your cocktail. Alternatively, don’t be shy with the Angostura bitters. Most recipes that call for a “dash” assume the mixolgist is using the standard 16-ounce bottle that most bartenders use. If you’re using the much smaller 4-ounce bottle found at many retail outlets, you may need to add an additional dash or two.

* Like most recipes found in this guide, we’re urging the use of a top-down mixer (aka spindle blender) to get a properly aerated cocktail with the right consistency and foamy head. In the tradition of Don the Beachcomber, The Mai-Kai uses these essential tools that resemble milk-shake blenders in a majority of its drinks. Nothing is shaken, and only the frozen drinks such as the Derby Daiquiri are made in a Waring-style commercial blender.

* Don’s Mix is easy to make fresh, but B.G. Reynolds also makes a bottled version (now called Paradise Blend) as well as cinnamon syrup that you may find useful in many old Don the Beachcomber recipes.

I must also again give props to author Jeff “Beachbum” Berry for an outstanding recipe, but in this case it’s not a vintage Don the Beachcomber cocktail that he uncovered but one of his own outstanding creations. The mighty Krakatoa, which can be found in both Grog Log and Remixed, is one of my all-time favorite cocktails. If you enjoy the Black Magic and Mutiny, definitely seek this one out.

Now on The Grogalizer! The Mutiny and other Mai-Kai tribute recipes 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. If you’re a member, add your review and comments. If not, sign up now. It’s quick and easy.

Postscript

While seemingly not as popular as the Black Magic, the Mutiny tribute recipe has been gaining traction and attention from bloggers (including Tiare on A Mountain of Crushed Ice) and at home bars near and far. We were also flattered to see it pop up on a special menu in May 2017 at Forbidden Island in Alameda, Calif. Co-founded by Martin Cate in 2006, three years before he went on to wow the world with Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco, it’s widely considered to be one of the modern Tiki revival’s first great cocktail bars.

The Mutiny at Forbidden Island, May 2017

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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4 Responses to Mai-Kai cocktail review: The Mutiny is a worthy foe in the battle of the tropical titans

  1. Craig Hochscheid says:

    You hit another Grand Slam with this one, thanks for all of your hard work!

  2. Quince at Danny's says:

    Wow, another good one! I hate to say it but it’s a little off, because it’s quite a bit better than the last Mutiny I had at the Mai Kai.

    I did your Kohala Bay substitution, but I used El Dorado 15 instead of 12. Man, that’s good!

  3. Swanky says:

    I looked at this as a slight variation on the Black Magic and wasn’t sure it was much to consider. The way I make a Black Magic isn’t too far from this recipe. However, this is perhaps a superior drink. I struggle to get my Black Magic right and still can’t seem to nail it down. I made 2 rounds of this recipe and they were both quite good. Used my regular coffee with 50% more grounds and the drip machine set to Strong.

    Very good!

  4. Josh Q says:

    I have to say, I followed your recipe once or twice last year, and was quite pleased with the quality of the drink, but perhaps a little more focused on its uniquely exotic flavor than anything else. Revisiting it recently (and with a lot more “experience”) under my belt, I can confidently say, this is an EXCELLENT rendition. Had the Black Magic at Mai Kai in January, not the Mutiny; but, quite frankly, this far exceeds the balance of flavors than the Black Magic I had at at Mai Kai. One of those holy grails of the whole being much greater than the sum of the parts. Congrats, and thanks for sharing it. Perfect as is.

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