Mai-Kai cocktail review: The Hukilau is worthy of its famous company

Updated August 2018
See below: Our Hukilau review | Tribute recipes UPDATED
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide | Latest news on the annual Hukilau event

Like an ugly stepchild, The Hukilau cocktail at The Mai-Kai is often shunned in favor of its more glamorous siblings. But don’t underestimate this newcomer. It’s one of the more accessible strong drinks and worthy of inclusion on the iconic menu.

The Hukilau (right) with the Black Magic (left) and the Mutiny in April 2012. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The Hukilau (right) with the Black Magic (left) and the Mutiny in April 2012. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The Hukilau was added to the menu in the fall of 2006, named in a contest by attendees of the fifth annual Polynesian Pop festival of the same name. But the contest was merely to name the drink. The actual recipe came from an in-house source and was selected by owner Dave Levy.

We’ve been unable to confirm the drink’s exact creator, but it’s obviously a close relative of both the Mutiny and Black Magic (see photo). All three are served in large snifter or goblet glasses, appear on the strong menu and share many of the same ingredients. We like to call them the “Holy Trinity” of Mai-Kai large-format drinks.

The Hukilau, as it appeared on menu from 2006 until 2014.

The Hukilau, as it appeared on menu from 2006 until 2014.

Recently, however, The Hukilau lost one of the defining characteristics of the trinity. In early 2016, the recipe was tweaked to remove the “splash of coffee” that had been touted on the menu since its debut. This was done to offer guests who prefer a non-caffeinated cocktail a chance to enjoy one of these signature drinks. There were apparently frequent requests to “hold the Joe.”

The Hukilau is also a bit sweeter than its siblings. It’s perfect for those who may not care for the flavor of coffee and who like their drinks more tart than exotic and spicy. And it’s also a fine way to honor an event that has called The Mai-Kai home since 2003.

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The official menu description
The Hukilau
THE HUKILAU

The official drink of The Hukilau, an event held yearly at The Mai-Kai, is full flavored with a splash of Appleton Rum.

Okole Maluna Society review and rating

Size: Large

Potency: Strong

The Hukilau, November 2010

The Hukilau, November 2010. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Flavor profile: Passion fruit, tart juices, honey and exotic sweet flavors.

Review: A sweeter and coffee-free alternative to The Mai-Kai’s similar large-format drinks. A smorgasbord of juices and Appleton rum shine through the sweetness to create a perfect balance of flavors.

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

Ancestry: Added in 2006, The Hukilau is the newest original cocktail on The Mai-Kai’s current menu. The recipe was adjusted in 2016 to remove the coffee and add a secret mix that dates back to the early days of Tiki and Don the Beachcomber.

Bilge: The Hukilau is one of four Mai-Kai cocktails that specifically call for Appleton rum (along with the Shark Bite, Mai-Tai and Special Reserve Daiquiri). No other rum brand is mentioned by name on the current menu.

Agree or disagree? Share your reviews and comments below!

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NEW: Tribute to The Hukilau at The Mai-Kai
By The Atomic Grog (version 2.5, updated August 2018)

The Hukilau tribute by The Atomic Grog, August 2018. Glassware: The Hukilau 10th anniversary snifter glass, produced in 2011, designed by Kevin Kidney.

The Hukilau tribute by The Atomic Grog, August 2018. Glassware: The Hukilau 10th anniversary snifter glass, produced in 2011, designed by Kevin Kidney.

* 2 ounces fresh-squeezed orange juice
* 1 1/2 ounces fresh-squeezed lime juice
* 1 1/2 ounces fresh-squeezed lemon juice
* 1 ounces fresh grapefruit juice
* 1/2 ounce rich honey mix
* 1 1/2 ounces passion fruit syrup
* 1 1/2 ounces light Puerto Rican or Virgin Islands rum
* 2 ounces Appleton rum
* 1/2 ounce Mariano’s Mix #7 (see below)

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.

NEW: Tribute to The Hukilau at The Mai-Kai
By The Atomic Grog (version 2.0, updated August 2018)

* 2 ounces fresh-squeezed orange juice
* 1 1/2 ounces fresh-squeezed lime juice
* 1 1/2 ounces fresh-squeezed lemon juice
* 1 ounces fresh grapefruit juice
* 1/2 ounce rich honey mix
* 2 ounces passion fruit syrup
* 1 1/2 ounces light Puerto Rican or Virgin Islands rum
* 2 ounces Appleton rum

The Hukilau tribute by The Atomic Grog, February 2017. Glassware: The Hukilau 10th anniversary snifter glass, produced in 2011, designed by Kevin Kidney. Mugs: The Hukilau 2016 Mai-Kai Mug (left), The Hukilau 2016 Pier 66 Tower Barrel Mug, both by Eekum Bookum.

The Hukilau tribute by The Atomic Grog, February 2017. Glassware: The Hukilau 10th anniversary snifter glass, produced in 2011, designed by Kevin Kidney. Mugs: The Hukilau 2016 Mai-Kai Mug (left), The Hukilau 2016 Pier 66 Tower Barrel Mug, both by Eekum Bookum.

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.

In the absence of coffee, the addition of Mariano’s Mix #7 in version 2.5 fills the void to keep this cocktail near the top of our rankings. The secret mix adds a sharp anise flavor and exotic richness to temper the sweet and sour elements in this refreshing drink. Version 2.0 is similar to The Hukilau before the reintroduction of the mix and after the removal of coffee. Our original tribute recipe (version 1) is also featured below.

August 2018 updates

This completes the updates of the trinity of strong cocktails served in 24-ounce snifter glasses. Note that in April 2018, The Mai-Kai started using new, heavier goblet-style mugs instead. They’re much less breakable but have the same capacity.

The Mai-Kai now serves The Hukilau (along with the Mutiny and Black Magic) in a large goblet, replacing the more fragile snifter glass.  (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, August 2018)

The Mai-Kai now serves The Hukilau (along with the Mutiny and Black Magic) in a large goblet, replacing the more fragile snifter glass. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, August 2018)

The earlier tribute recipes fell short of filling our similar glasses, so I adjusted all three to feature around 12 ounces of ingredients, similar to the Barrel O’ Rum. When mugs or glasses were unavailable, these drinks routinely swapped vessels, so it follows that they all contain the same volume.

As for the ingredients, the addition of Mariano’s Mix #7 and removal of coffee weren’t the only tweaks. We were forced to remove cinnamon syrup from all of our tribute recipes after learning that this old Don the Beachcomber secret weapon was nowhere to be found at The Mai-Kai. It’s not really missed here, especially in the version that features the spicy #7.

The Hukilau is more accessible than the Black Magic or Mutiny, so we’ve created this tribute as a more mainstream version of those two iconic cocktails. It’s not an exact duplicate, but it’s definitely in the ballpark.

Notes and tips for home mixologists

Bob Roth's New River Groves in Davie. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, October 2016)

Bob Roth’s New River Groves in Davie. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, October 2016)

* There’s a lot of juice in this cocktail, so make sure you use quality, fresh-squeezed versions. As we’ve pointed out in other reviews and this deep dive on Tiki Central, The Mai-Kai looks to South Florida’s Kennesaw for its fresh orange and grapefruit juices. These are fresh-squeezed, pulpy, unpasteurized juices that come straight from Florida citrus groves. Kennesaw juices are sold at old-school South Florida fruit stands, including my favorite, Bob Roth’s New River Groves in Davie, not far from The Mai-Kai. I’ve also seen them pop up recently at area Whole Foods stores. There are other fine orange juice brands, but look for non or lightly pasteurized. Note that Kennesaw rarely offers white grapefruit juice, at least for the retail market. At The Mai-Kai, the style of grapefruit juice changes with the season. The freshest juice is stocked, whether it’s white or red (or sometimes both). Though white is typically preferred in classic cocktails, the Kennesaw red grapefruit juice is the best I’ve tasted and preferable to any canned or bottled white version. One new find, as detailed in that same Tiki Central link, is a fresh white grapefruit juice on the shelf at a local Fresh Market store. Availability seems to be sporadic, unfortunately. The Mai-Kai uses a distinctive, tart Key lime juice (possibly a blend from another food service provider). Squeezing Key limes is not a viable option, so I’ve found that blending a bottled Key lime juice with fresh-squeezed “regular” (aka Persian) limes yields the best result. The Tiki Central post goes into much detail on the types of bottled Key lime juices as well as the recommended blends. If you’re in Florida, look for the 100% natural Terry’s Homemade Key Lime Pie juice. It’s sold by the gallon at New River Groves. It’s by far the best. Finally, it’s fine to use standard fresh-squeezed regular lemons. I’ve been toying with a blend featuring Key West lemon juice, but that may be too tart for some palates.

Honey, Key Lime juice, grapefruit juice and orange juice from Bob Roth's New River Groves, January 2017.  (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Honey, Key Lime juice, grapefruit juice and orange juice from Bob Roth’s New River Groves, January 2017. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* Honey mix is another one of those nods to Don the Beachcomber, a historic ingredient that The Mai-Kai features in more than 20 cocktails. To get the proper amount of sweetness, we recommend a rich syrup (2 parts honey to 1 part water). Shake until thoroughly combined, then refrigerate. It should last for a while. And always use Florida Orange Blossom honey. Commercial brands can be found everywhere, but if you’re in Florida, we recommend seeking out locally produced varieties. I always pick up a bottle of the raw, unfiltered honey from McCoy’s in Loxahatchee when I make a juice run to New River Groves (see above). But any good Florida Orange Blossom honey should work fine.

* Passion fruit syrup is another key sweetener, used in more than a dozen cocktails at The Mai-Kai. There’s a hefty amount in this drink, so you’ll want to make sure it’s not too cloyingly sweet. I like to make a homemade syrup following the recipe I first saw in 2007 in Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari. Monin makes a bottled syrup that’s similar in flavor to The Mai-Kai’s house-made version. There are many other choices, from premium (Small Hand Foods, B.G. Reynolds, Aunty Lilikoi) to budget (Real Syrups, Finest Call) brands.

Appleton Special gold Jamaican rum hasn't changed, but it's been rebranded as J.Wray gold. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, June 2017)

Appleton Special gold Jamaican rum hasn’t changed, but it’s been rebranded as J.Wray gold. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, June 2017)

* Jamaican rums are featured in as many as 40 cocktails at The Mai-Kai, and Appleton (from the J. Wray & Nephew distillery) is the brand of choice. [Click here to see our full guide to Appleton rums at The Mai-Kai] The menu description is misleading, as I believe there’s more than a “splash” of Appleton in this drink. You can clearly taste an ounce or two. The original menu description (see above) described a “splash of coffee and Appleton Rum,” then was shortened to remove the coffee. It’s our guess that the splash referred to the coffee, not the rum. In any case, there’s likely 3 1/2 ounces of rum in this drink, similar to the other large snifter/goblet drinks. A light Virgin Islands or Puerto Rican rum (such as Cruzan, Bacardi or Don Q) forms the base. Appleton brings the flavor, and we’re recommending 2 full ounces. It’s unlikely that the premium Appleton Estate Rare Blend is featured here, but feel free to use a splash, up to 1/2 ounce. Our guess is that J. Wray Gold, which was formerly known as Appleton Special, is used here. It’s a lighter bodied gold rum but still has plenty of flavor and just a hint of Jamaican funk. I don’t believe that Signature Blend (formerly known as V/X) is featured, as that is now the substitute for the defunct Kohala Bay in many other cocktails. The Hukilau was never on the list of funky Kohala Bay drinks. And we’ve been told that Reserve Blend is not in stock behind the bar. Therefore, our recommendation would be 1 1/2 ounces J. Wray Gold and 1/2 ounce Appleton Estate Rare Blend. But feel free to use any combination of Appleton rums. You can’t really go wrong.

The Mutiny and The Hukilau in The Molokai bar, February 2017.  (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The Mutiny and The Hukilau in The Molokai bar, February 2017. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* Finally, there’s Mariano’s Mix #7, named for The Mai-Kai’s original mixologist, Mariano Licudine. He was head bartender from 1956 until he retired in 1979 and brought many secret recipes from his 16 years at Don the Beachcomber in Hollywood and (for the majority of those years) Chicago. The Hukilau was created decades after Licudine’s tenure, of course. He passed away in 1980, but his influence can still be felt. The Hukilau originally didn’t contain this mix and was for many years similar to the second tribute recipe above, with the addition of coffee. From time to time, you’ll still get this older version (sans coffee) if the mix is unavailable. Secret mixes were Don the Beachcomber staples, created to both streamline the mixing process and keep his bartenders from stealing his recipes when they moved on to other bars. A few trusted barmen, such as Licudine (and Ray Buhen, who opened the Tiki-Ti in Los Angeles in 1961), either had access to how they were made or reverse engineered their own versions. As the years went by, a few of Licudine’s more obscure syrups disappeared from use when the ingredients became unavailable. Then, in the summer of 2016, we started noticing new flavors in several drinks, such as the Bora Bora. Owner Dave Levy confirmed that indeed these old syrups were being re-created with the help of an old bartender who used to work with Licudine. They’re not exact, but they’re close enough to bring back the historic flavors from the early days of Tiki. Mix #7 tastes like falernum but with floral and anise flavors standing out. In fact, as Beachbum Berry revealed in the new 10th anniversary edition of Sippin’ Safari, Donn Beach had multiple falernum variations. You’ll also find #7 in the Black Magic and Mutiny, used to similar effect to add some extra sweetness and spice to those large cocktails. Though we have no idea what actually goes into the mix, we’ve come up with our best guess at a tribute:
* 1/4 teaspoon of Herbsaint
* 1 tablespoon falernum (Fee Brothers brand preferred)
Combine and keep at room temperature in a glass bottle. Simply increase the proportions to make larger batches. If Herbsaint is unavailable, use Pernod but scale back slightly. The anise flavor should be a background note and not dominate. Herbsaint is slightly more mellow and floral, making it better for this mix. Fee Brothers is the brand of falernum employed by The Mai-Kai. Substitute only rich, non-alcoholic versions such as Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29 Formula Falernum from Orgeat Works. Both are made in the old style used by Don the Beachcomber (and The Mai-Kai).

It’s very difficult to get the balance of this drink correct, but when you do it’s one of the best, hence the high rating.

Our original tribute recipe containing cinnamon and coffee remains below for reference. It’s arguably just as good, if not better, than those above even though it’s no longer accurate. Enjoy them all.

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Tribute to The Hukilau at The Mai-Kai, v.1

The Hukilau tribute by The Atomic Grog, April 2012. Glassware: The Hukilau 10th anniversary snifter glass, produced in 2011. Mug: The Hukilau 2009 by Munktiki. Both designed by Kevin Kidney.

The Hukilau tribute by The Atomic Grog, April 2012. Glassware: The Hukilau 10th anniversary snifter glass, produced in 2011. Mug: The Hukilau 2009 by Munktiki. Both designed by Kevin Kidney.

* 3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed orange juice
* 3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
* 3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice
* 3/4 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
* 3/4 ounce rich honey mix
* 1 ounce passion fruit syrup
* 1/2 teaspoon rich cinnamon syrup
* 1/4 ounce strong Kona coffee, chilled
* 1 1/2 ounces light Puerto Rican or Virgin Islands rum
* 1 1/2 ounces Appleton rum

Blend with up to 1 1/2 cups of crushed ice in a top-down mixer for 3-5 seconds. Pour into a large snifter glass with more crushed ice to fill.

Notes and tips for home mixologists

* The amount of orange juice required may depend on whether you use fresh-squeezed (preferred) or a bottled brand. If you’re tasting too much OJ in the final mix, just reduce to 1/2 ounce. You also may need to slightly adjust the coffee, depending on its strength.

* Kona coffee was our original recommendation, and it works fine if you brew it strong (up to double strength). The Mutiny and Black Magic reviews go into much detail on chilled coffee in The Mai-Kai’s cocktails, including the recent revelation that Colombian coffee is actually the style of choice. It features a heavier, darker flavor and can be used at standard strength.

* B.G. Reynolds makes the intense, rich cinnamon syrup that you’ll need in this version. Feel free to use your own homemade syrup. There are many recipes online or in Beachbum Berry’s books. If it’s on the lighter side, just increase to taste.

Postscript

Mahalo to the Tiki Central members and bloggers who took a liking to our original tribute and shared their photos and reviews online. The most recent was Joe Garcia, who posted his take in February 2018 as part of The Pegu Blog’s annual Tiki Month blogging extravaganza.

We hope you’ll find our latest versions above just as compelling (and delicious).

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: The Hukilau is worthy of its famous company

  1. lc says:

    This drink is basically the same as Mutiny, both are in your top 4/5 list. How do you feel about them?

    • I prefer the Mutiny, but The Hukilau is a nice alternative. Slightly different rum profile and a bit sweeter.

      There will be some updates coming soon. The Hukilau no longer features coffee, so that separates it from the Black Magic and Mutiny a bit.

      Okole maluna!

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