Mai-Kai cocktail review: Bring a friend and sink your teeth into the classic Sidewinder’s Fang

Updated September 2015
See below: Our Sidewinder’s Fang review | Ancestor recipe
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide

The Sidewinder's Fang, which dwarfs the potent Barrel O' Rum, is designed to be shared by two or more. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, March 2015)

The Sidewinder’s Fang, which dwarfs the potent Barrel O’ Rum, is designed to be shared by two or more. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, March 2015)

It may sound and look intimidating, but the whopping Sidewinder’s Fang is the perfect cocktail for a couple to share while enjoying a romantic evening at Fort Lauderdale’s landmark Mai-Kai Polynesian restaurant. Typically served in a giant snifter, it’s a fun and accessible cocktail that should appeal to newcomers and tropical drink aficionados alike.

The distinctive snifter is sometimes in short supply, so you may receive this giant cocktail in two separate glasses (see photo). But it’s been a long time since we’ve noticed a shortage of glasses, so this unique cocktail experience will live on exactly as it has for some 50 years. The Mai-Kai is one of the few restaurants in the world to use this rare 48-ounce glass.

The cocktail itself is a classic communal Tiki drink, dominated by fruit juices and similar to the Mystery Drink, just not quite as complex. Many Polynesian restaurants served a Sidewinder’s Fang when exotic drinks flourished in the mid-century, but it’s unclear who invented it.

The drink has also been resurrected at many neo-Tiki bars of the current revival, and there are multiple recipes available online. We’ve gone to our old reliable source for the ancestor recipe below. The Mai-Kai’s version is undoubtedly a riff on this old standby.

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The official menu description
Sidewinder's Fang
SIDEWINDER’S FANG

You’ll need help with this festive concoction served in a colossal snifter (serves two).

Okole Maluna Society review and rating

The Sidewinder's Fang serves 2 (or more)

The Sidewinder's Fang serves 2 (or more). (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, April 2012)

Size: Extra large

Potency: Strong

Flavor profile: Lime and orange juice, passion fruit, just a hint of rum.

Review: Deceptively mild tasting for a strong drink, it’s fruity and tart in the same vein as the Mystery Drink.

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

Ancestry: Added to The Mai-Kai menu after a 1959 update, the Sidewinder’s Fang was a common sight at many mid-century Polynesian restaurants and bars.

Bilge: The Sidewinder’s Fang and Mystery Drink are the only two signature cocktails not included in the daily 2-for-1 happy hour.

Agree or disagree? Share your reviews and comments below!

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Sidewinder's Fang by The Atomic Grog. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, March 2015)

Sidewinder’s Fang by The Atomic Grog. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, March 2015)

ANCESTOR RECIPE
Sidewinder’s Fang

(From Beachbum Berry’s Grog Log and Remixed)

* 1 1/2 ounces fresh lime juice
* 1 1/2 ounces orange juice
* 1 1/2 ounces passion fruit syrup
* 1 ounce dark Jamaican rum
* 1 ounce Demerara rum
* 3 ounces club soda

Shake everything – except club soda – with ice cubes. Pour unstrained into a large snifter. Stir in soda. Add more ice to fill.

From the Lanai in San Mateo, Calif., circa 1960s.

Notes and tips for home mixologists

* This is the single serving, of course. You’ll want to triple this recipe to achieve the colossal status of The Mai-Kai’s version. The club soda adds a fizzy element not associated with most tropical cocktails. But it nicely offsets the sweet and sour ingredients and adds volume to this extra large concoction.

September 2015 updates:

* After years of going without Demerara rum, The Mai-Kai in April 2012 returned to its original recipe featuring the iconic Lemon Hart brand. U.S. distribution was interrupted in 2014, when a switch was made to another Demerara rum, El Dorado Superior Dark. Then, in early 2015, a suitable Lemon Hart replacement hit the market, the 86-proof Hamilton from Guyana. It’s very subtle, but the taste of the smoky rum from Guyana shines though in this sweet and tart monstrosity.
* More on the Demerara rum saga at The Mai-Kai

The Mai-Kai's Sidewinder's Fang was revamped in 2012 to feature Demerara rum

The Mai-Kai's Sidewinder's Fang was revamped in 2012 to feature Demerara rum. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, July 2012)

The addition of the bold Hamilton rum provided the inspiration to revisit this classic and perhaps come up with a tribute recipe. However, I quickly realized that the recipe from Grog Log is pretty darn close. The challenge was using the most specific ingredients to perfectly match the flavor punch of The Mai Kai’s Fang. I think I came close.

* First off, to stay in line with The Mai-Kai’s usual mixing techniques, we recommend you pulse blend with 6-8 ounces of crushed ice instead of shaking with cubed ice.

* To supplement the aggressive Hamilton 86, I used Appleton Special gold rum instead of a dark Jamaican. (Appleton V/X would also work.) The gold rum should take a background role and lets the other flavors shine.

* The passion fruit syrup adds a huge dose of sweetness and requires a very sweet blend. The syrup that nails this flavor best is the gourmet Monin brand. I know this cloyingly sweet syrup is not to everyone’s taste, but it works well here (as well as other intensely sweet drinks such as the Hidden Pearl). It contains pure cane sugar, which puts it a step above the similar tasting Trader Vic’s brand (containing high fructose corn syrup). I’m fairly sure The Mai-Kai uses Monin or a similar syrup in this and other drinks. If your local grocer stocks frozen passion fruit puree, you can make a great homemade syrup by combining that with a rich sugar syrup (2 parts pure cane sugar with 1 part purified water). Simmer on the stove, then let cool. It should stay fresh in the fridge for several weeks. Enough time for several rounds of Sidewinder’s Fangs.

The Mai-Kai's version of the Sidewinder's Fang features distinctive ingredients. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, March 2015)

The Mai-Kai’s version of the Sidewinder’s Fang features distinctive ingredients. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, March 2015)

* The final piece of the puzzle was the orange juice, which I’ve struggled with for years. I’ve come to the conclusion that The Mai-Kai uses a blend of juices that comes from Florida groves, so ordinary off-the-shelf juices won’t cut it. I’ve tried fresh-squeezed, which works well in some drinks, but the Sidewinder’s Fang and a few others (such as the S.O.S.) demand a fuller, sweeter OJ flavor. I usually reach for the Indian River Select brand of 100 percent Florida premium juices, bottled nearby in Fort Pierce. The Valencia orange juice became my favorite because of its rich, sweet taste. The Valencia orange is a sweet orange that’s also grown in California and popular during the summer months. Then, I read about about “Honeybell oranges,” which really aren’t oranges at all. Rather, they’re tangelos developed in Florida early in the 20th century. (True Honeybell tangelos are a hybrid of a Thompson tangerine and a pomelo, aka grapefruit.) They’re grown in many family-run and commercial orchards across north-central to south-central Florida. They’re very juicy with a colorful pulp and sweet tangerine flavor. This brings me back to Indian River, who makes a orange-Honeybell blend. It’s labeled as a “limited edition,” but I’ve never had trouble finding it on the shelf in South Florida. Indian River claims they have “masterfully blended” the juice from “the gem of the Florida citrus crop” (Honeybell tangelos) with other peak season tangelos and 100 percent Florida oranges to create the “perfect citrus juice.” I can’t argue with that. It’s now my go-to OJ for all applications, but it particularly shines in Mai-Kai cocktails and especially the Sidewinder’s Fang. I’m not saying this is the exact blend used by The Mai-Kai, but it’s as close as I’ve been able to find.

* There’s also a secret to The Mai-Kai’s lime juice, but that’s a story for another day.

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: Bring a friend and sink your teeth into the classic Sidewinder’s Fang

  1. Sunny&Rummy says:

    I haven’t mixed up a Grog Log Sidewinder’s Fang in a couple of years, but thanks to your post I am enjoying one right now. Very tasty — sort of a low-impact Rum Barrel and definitely a nice accessible gateway cocktail for the Tiki newcomer.

    Thanks for another great post!

  2. Hello Hayward,

    I made a Sidewinder’s Fang and a couple other of your Mai Kai tribute recipes last night. I squeezed my own OJ, using 3 parts fresh, ripe Valencias, 1 part Honeybell Tangelos, and 1/2 part Cara Cara. The drinks turned out amazing, among my best efforts yet. You teased us with a mention of something that the Mai Kai does to their lime juice. Can you give us any more on that yet?

    Mahalo,

    Craig

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