Mai-Kai cocktail review: Tasty Tahitian Breeze is packed with tropical flavors, history

Updated November 2015
See below: Our Tahitian Breeze review | Ancestor recipes | Tribute recipe
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide

Tahitian Rum Punch

Though it appears on the surface to be a simple, light and breezy rum drink, The Mai-Kai’s Tahitian Breeze is actually a complex creation with roots that date back nearly 80 years to the world’s first Tiki cocktails.

A close cousin of the Hidden Pearl in both look and taste, the Tahitian Breeze evolved from Donn Beach’s Tahitian Rum Punch, one of the original drinks served at Don the Beachcomber in Hollywood, Calif., in the 1930s.

Mariano Licudine, who created The Mai-Kai’s original 1956 menu, started working for Donn Beach in 1939 in Hollywood, then spent 16 years at the Don the Beachcomber in Chicago. So he most likely knew the Tahitian Breeze very well as it evolved over the years.

Below are two distinctly different ancestor recipes, plus a tribute that pulls elements from both. Though it tastes deceivingly simple and balanced, the Tahitian Breeze is a prime example of a Donn Beach “rum rhapsody,” a perfectly orchestrated concerto of exotic flavors.

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The official menu description
Tahitian Breeze
TAHITIAN BREEZE

One of the classic tropical drink creations, a delightfully refreshing blend of light rum, passion fruit and fresh juices.

Okole Maluna Society review and rating

Size: Small

Potency: Medium

Tahitian Breeze

Tahitian Breeze. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, November 2010)

Flavor profile: A melange of tangy (passion fruit, guava), sweet (vanilla, banana, honey), and strong (light and gold rum) flavors.

Review: A very complex and intense array of flavors lurk beneath a sweet facade. The result is perfectly balanced, very similar to the Hidden Pearl.

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

Ancestry: An descendant of an early 1930s Don the Beachcomber cocktail, the Tahitian Rum Punch, the Tahitian Breeze dates back to The Mai-Kai’s original 1956 menu.

Bilge: At The Mai-Kai, it’s possible to be seated in the Tahiti dining room and have a Tahitian Breeze cocktail along with the Tahitian Cheese Tangs appetizer, then savor the Lobster Tahitienne entree, and end your evening with a Tahitian Coffee.

Agree or disagree? Share your reviews and comments below!

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ANCESTOR RECIPES

Two versions of the Tahitian Rum Punch by The Atomic Grog

Two versions of the Tahitian Rum Punch by The Atomic Grog. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, May 2012)

Tahitian Rum Punch
(By Don the Beachcomber, from Beachbum Berry’s Intoxica! and Remixed)

* 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
* 1 ounce grapefruit juice
* 1 ounce orange juice
* 1 ounce unsweetened pineapple juice
* 1 ounce dry white wine
* 1 ounce gold Jamaican rum
* 1 1/2 ounces light Puerto Rican rum
* 1 teaspoon creme de banana
* 1 teaspoon brown sugar
* 2 drops vanilla extract

Shake everything with ice cubes. Strain into a pilsner glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with a mint sprig.

One of the first drinks created by Don the Beachcomber, circa 1934.

Tahitian Rum Punch
(By Don the Beachcomber, from Hawai’i – Tropical Rum Drinks & Cuisine)

* 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
* 1/2 ounce fresh passion fruit juice
* 1/2 ounce falernum
* 1/2 ounce honey cream mix (see below)
* 3/4 ounce gold Jamaican rum
* 3/4 ounce light Puerto Rican rum
* 1 dash Angostura bitters

Blend with 6 ounces of cracked ice. Strain into a glass with a special frozen ice mold. Note: Ice is molded inside the glass and hard frozen to retain its shape during drinking.

Notes and tips for home mixologists

* To make honey cream mix, combine equal parts sweet (unsalted) butter and honey after heating both separately in the microwave. Whisk until well blended and use immediately. You’ll find this old technique in a few old Don the Beachcomber recipes (Don’s Pearl, Mystery Gardenia, Pi Yi) to add a rich honey flavor. If you’re making multiple drinks, it may be simpler to use a rich honey syrup (2 parts honey to 1 part water), which will keep easier in the fridge.

* Ceres (in a carton) is our favorite brand of passion fruit juice, though it does occasionally seem to go out of season. Canned Goya passion fruit cocktail is more readily available, but note that it contains high fructose corn syrup and is more like a passion fruit syrup.

* Falernum is no longer as exotic and hard-to-find as it used to be, though depending on where you live it still may be one of those online-only purchases. Fee Brothers is our favorite. And it’s in so many recipes that it may be worth making your own. Here’s an article on the pros and cons of buying vs. DIY.

* Our Hidden Pearl review includes directions on how to create the signature ice mold that both drinks share.

Both of these recipes are quite complex, a hallmark of Donn Beach. They also provide a great example of how his recipes changed over the years. The lime juice and rums are the only common ingredients. But despite the radically different ingredients, the drinks have the same basic flavor profile.

What’s even more interesting is the discovery that The Mai-Kai’s Tahitian Breeze seems to be an amalgam of both recipes. It seems to have the banana and vanilla notes from the first one, and the passion fruit, honey and ice mold of the second. Following is a tribute to this complex classic:

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Tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Tahitian Breeze
By The Atomic Grog

Tahitian Breeze tribute by The Atomic Grog, May 2012

Tahitian Breeze tribute by The Atomic Grog, May 2012. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
* 1 ounce fresh passion fruit juice
* 3/4 ounce guava juice
* 3/4 ounce rich honey mix (see above)
* 1/4 ounce fassionola (see below)
* 1/8 ounce falernum (see above)
* 1 1/2 ounces light Virgin Islands rum
* 1/2 ounce gold Jamaican rum
* 1/4 ounce creme de banana
* 4 drops vanilla extract
* 2 dashes Angostura bitters

Blend with 1/2 cup of crushed ice for around 15 seconds, then pour into a stemmed glass with a frozen ice shell. Click here for more on how to create the ice shell.

It’s an obvious direct descendant of the Tahitian Rum Punch, but the Tahitian Breeze has a distinctly different color and some sweeter elements. Guava juice, which also appeared in the Hidden Pearl, and fassionola add the appropriate red hue. Some extra honey mix and banana liqueur increase the sweetness. Mariano Licudine was a master at making old Don the Beachcomber recipes tastier and more accessible. This is a prime example.

Notes and tips for home mixologists

Samples of the Tahitian Breeze tribute with grenadine (left) and fassionola (right)

Samples of the Tahitian Breeze tribute with grenadine (left) and fassionola (right). (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* Though not mentioned in either old version of the Tahitian Rum Punch, we have a sneaking suspicion that the red and fruity syrup known as fassionola is a featured ingredient in the Tahitian Breeze, if for no other reason than to enhance the color. We also tried the same amount of an intense red grenadine, but it was nowhere near the same (see photo). See our Cobra’s Kiss review for full details on this old-school ingredient that’s rarely used anywhere these days except, of course, The Mai-Kai. It was fairly common in the years following Prohibition, so it’s possible it was included in a different Tahitian Rum Punch recipe. Or maybe Licudine just thought it would enhance the look and taste of his Tahitian Breeze. Regardless, this fruit syrup with cherry/raspberry and orange notes is pretty obscure, so you may need to check eBay or dark corners of the Internet for a bottle. A simpler solution is a very viable substitute that was just brought to our attention. Just combine equal parts of a dark and rich grenadine (such as Fee Brothers) and Smucker’s Red Raspberry Syrup. The difference is barely noticeable.

* If you can’t find fresh passion fruit juice and must use a sweeter passion fruit syrup or Goya passion fruit cocktail (see notes above), cut back to 3/4 to 1/2 ounce, depending on the intensity. The passion fruit taste is not dominant in this drink, unlike the much simpler Hidden Pearl.

* There’s a subtle hint of a good gold rum shining through the incredible array of flavors in this drink, probably the old standby Appleton Special from Jamaica. If so, it joins a host of other Mai-Kai cocktails containing this well-regarded brand.

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: Tasty Tahitian Breeze is packed with tropical flavors, history

  1. Sunny&Rummy says:

    Spun up your tribute Jet Pilot on Saturday. Very good, and the Lemon Hart sings in it. Now I guess I have to shell out for a bottle of Fassionola on eBay to see if that gets it even closer to Mai Kai’s Jet Pilot.

  2. I had the pleasure of going to the Mai Kai for the first time last night for my birthday, and the first drink I had was the Tahitian Breeze(later I had the Black Magic). I found it really sour, like a lime juice overload,( I have a hard time with really sour things), however the aftertaste was a wonderful coconutty one, which I loved(although I noticed there was no coconut in the drink, perhaps I was getting some combination of the vanilla and banana?)/

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