Updated January 2017
See below: Demerara Float review | Ancestor recipe
Official recipe | Tribute recipe
Related: The delicious Demerara Cocktail just can’t stay retired | Mai-Kai cocktail guide
More “lost cocktails” | Tropical drink family tree
Most fans of the spectacular tropical drinks at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale are content with the current 47 cocktails, a majority of them classic concoctions that have withstood the test of time for 60 years. But The Atomic Grog can’t get enough of The Mai-Kai, so like to crank up our flux capacitor and go back in time to dig up a few “lost cocktails” that disappeared from the menu over the years.
When the Demerara Cocktail came out of retirement in August 2012, it gave us the inspiration to dig deeper into the history and explore some of the other long-gone drinks. Here’s the cool part: They’re not really long gone. The old recipes are still kept in owner Dave Levy’s office, safely under lock and key. Levy is the stepson of founder Bob Thornton, and keeper of most of the remaining cocktail secrets.
So after the return of the Demerara Cocktail, the next logical step was to revisit its sister drink, the Demerara Float. It took more than six months, but our wish was granted unexpectedly in early in 2013, when the photo above popped up on the Facebook news feed of The Hukilau organizer Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White. It looked like a Shark Bite with its Appleton rum floater. But this was no Shark Bite. The rum was noticeably darker. Could it be?
Indeed it was, and we rushed down to The Molokai bar the next evening to taste this lost classic, which likely was removed from the menu during the 1980s or early 1990s, when 151 Demerara rum became hard to find. Its return in May 2012 not only re-energized some of The Mai-Kai’s best drinks, it made the return of the Demerara Float possible.
The Demerara Float has the same lineage as many others that have endured on The Mai-Kai’s menu for the past half-century. The first ancestor recipe below, of course, is the handiwork of Tiki cocktail pioneer Donn Beach (aka Don the Beachcomber), who set up shop in Hollywood, Calif., the day Prohibition ended in 1933 and went on to influence the next half-century of tropical mixology. (Click here for the full history and ancestry of all The Mai-Kai’s cocktails.) Beach was so far ahead of his time that he’s just now being fully appreciated by a new generation of craft cocktail enthusiasts.
The Mai-Kai’s head mixologist from 1956 until 1979 was a Don the Beachcomber disciple, Mariano Licudine, who created his vast menu by retooling and renaming many of Beach’s best drinks, and also adding a few of his own. A recently discovered Licudine recipe is featured below, along with my own “tribute” recipe that approximates the recent revived version.
Since its grand 2013 return, the Demerara Float has made repeated appearances, including a “lost Cocktails party” at The Hukilau in June 2013 (see photo), the September 2016 book release party for Tim “Swanky” Glazner’s Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant (see the special menu) and the 60th anniversary party in December 2016 (see menu).
Okole Maluna Society review and rating
Flavor profile: Strong Demerara rum, lime, a hint of passion fruit.
Review: Served in the same size glass but stronger than the Demerara Cocktail, thanks to the high-octane yet flavorful 151-proof Demerara rum. A potent concoction for lovers of dark rum.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars (see how it ranks). If it were on today’s menu, it would be near the top of our rankings, easily in the Top 5.
Ancestry: A direct descendant of Don the Beachcomber’s Demerara Dry Float, it was on the original 1956-57 Mai-Kai cocktail menu but likely removed when Demerara rum became difficult to stock and was removed from The Mai-Kai’s menu in the 1980s or early ’90s.
Bilge: You can find an authentic version of the Don the Beachcomber original at the award-winning Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco, where it’s touted on the menu as “Dry and tart. A vibrant mix of exotic passion fruit, lemon, lime, and Demerara rum. Served with a side of danger.”
Demerara Dry Float
(From Beachbum Berry’s Intoxica!)
* 2 1/2 ounces fresh lime juice
* 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
* 1 1/2 ounces passion fruit syrup
* 1/4 ounce sugar syrup
* 1 ounce Demerara rum
* 1/4 ounce 151 Demerara rum
* 1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
Shake everything – except 151 rum – with ice cubes. Strain into a double old-fashioned glass filled with crushed ice. Carefully float 151. Do not stir.
By Don the Beachcomber, circa 1941.
Tasting and mixing notes
Very similar to Donn Beach’s more stripped-down Demerara Cocktail (and containing many of the same ingredients), this drink is sour and dry – as advertised. But in the Don the Beachcomber tradition, there’s great balance and complexity. It’s also sweet and smoky, thanks to the Demerara rum and passion fruit syrup. In addition, the juices and maraschino liqueur add a nice tart counterpoint to the rums and sweet syrups.
Lemon Hart rum was likely Don the Beachcomber’s go-to 151 Demerara rum, and the recent return of the Lemon Hart 151 to the U.S. market once again makes this vintage version possible. There are many standard-proof Demerara rum options, including those by El Dorado (try the 8-year-old and 12-year-old blends) as well as Hamilton 86 from Guyana.
Fresh-squeezed juices are essential, along with a quality passion fruit syrup. You can find recipes to make your own online and in Beachbum Berry’s books, or order from some of the many small-batch syrup purveyors (most notably Aunty Lilikoi, B.G. Reynolds and Small Hand Foods). Among the more commercial brands, we like Monin and Finest Call the best.
(From Mr. Lemon Hart’s Tropical Treats, 1973)
* 1/2 ounce lime juice
* 1/2 teaspoon sugar
* 1/2 ounce gold Puerto Rican rum
* 1 ounce Lemon Hart Demerara rum
* 3/4 ounce Lemon Hart 151 Demerara rum
Mix ingredients (except 151 rum) with cracked ice and strain into a cocktail or sour glass. Float 151 rum.
This recently discovered recipe from a vintage Lemon Hart Rum cocktail book says it was “created at the Mai-Kai Polynesian Restaurant, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.” [See recipe] We don’t doubt it, since Mr. Lemon Hart’s Tropical Treats was edited by Leonce Picot, an assistant manager at The Mai-Kai from 1957 until 1967. The same book also includes a Demerara Cocktai recipe that was published in Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari.
And, like that sister recipe, the Lemon Hart version appears to be scaled down to half-size, though it’s possible it may have appeared as a small sipper at some point on The Mai-Kai menu. We prepared it in this fashion above, but feel free to double the proportions for a more hefty grog. The Mai-Kai’s vintage menu artwork appears to show a larger version. This recipe also doesn’t list the amount of 151 rum to be floated, but 3/4 ounce seems to work best.
Picot was a key member of The Mai-Kai’s early management team, credited with helping conceive and launch the Mystery Drink, according to Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant. In 2011, author Tim “Swanky” Glazner interviewed Picot, who still lives in South Florida, about his role in the creation of the iconic drink.
While still at The Mai-Kai, Picot edited a series of books spotlighting restaurants and recipes from around the world, Glazner recently told us. The books – including Gourmet International’s Recommended Restaurants of Puerto Rico (1961) and Great Restaurants of the United States and Their Recipes (1966) – were financed by The Mai-Kai’s owners, Bob and Jack Thornton, Glazner said. The books were illustrated by Al Kocab, known for his distinctive artwork for The Mai-Kai (see image).
* See all of Picot’s books on Amazon
Picot was also the Southeast manager of Rums of Puerto Rico, Glazner said. He left The Mai-Kai in 1967 to open the Downunder, which also had recipes in the Lemon Hart book. Picot was “drink editor” of Mr. Lemon Hart’s Tropical Treats, a paperback that includes more than 125 food and rum cocktail recipes, selling for a mere 95 cents in 1973. Good luck finding it at that price today. Used copies fetch more than $50 on Amazon. Note that the cover art was the work of noted British artist Ronald Searle, who illustrated Lemon Hart ad campaigns in the 1950s (see story and more artwork).
Tasting and mixing notes
This version of the Demerara Float is a very potent and dry strong sipper that serves as a great showcase for Demerara rums, Lemon Hart or otherwise. Break it down and it’s just a souped-up Daiquiri. But one of the best Daiquiris you’ll ever taste.
In the tradition of the classic Daiquiri, I used raw organic sugar instead of a simple syrup, diluting it in the fresh-squeezed lime juice before mixing. I suspect that Lucidine and The Mai-Kai made this drink differently in the bar, the provided a simplified version for the Lemon Hart company’s book. But it’s actually not far off what we can taste today (see tribute recipe below).
Also, in The Mai-Kai tradition, we mixed this up in a small pulse-blender instead of shaking like you would a typical Daiquiri. The Mai-Kai uses no shakers whatsoever, strictly following Don the Beachcomber’s creed of pulse-blending. It works well here, the cracked or crushed ice diluting the strong flavors when poured through a strainer.
The rums are the key to this cocktail, so try to stick with Lemon Hart 151 (or Hamilton 151, which is very similar) as the floater. Click here for the full story of the recent history Lemon Hart and Hamilton rums at The Mai-Kai. See our standard Demerara rum recommendations above. If you live in the United Kingdom, you have even more options for sweet and smoky Demerara rums than the U.S. market (Wood’s and OVD, among others). Your choices of gold Puerto Rican rums are many, from an aged Bacardi (8-year, Select, Anejo) and Don Q (Anejo), to Ron del Barrilito (2 Star and 3 Star). Simliar Spanish-style gold rums can be found in the Virgin Islands (Cruzan), Nicaragua (Flor de Cana), and the Dominican Republic (Ron Barcelo). The great rums from Cuba are also widely available outside the U.S. (and hopefully here soon).
Tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Demerara Float
By The Atomic Grog
* 1 ounce fresh lime juice
* 3/4 ounce rich passion fruit syrup
* 3/4 ounce Appleton Special gold Jamaican rum
* 1 ounce Demerara rum
* 3/4 ounce 151 Demerara rum
Pulse blend everything – except 151 rum – with 1/2 cup of crushed ice in a spindle mixer for 6-8 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail or a specialty glass with ice shell. Float 151 rum.
Well-balanced and simple, yet nuanced and flavorful. After returning for several special events over the past several years, the Demerara Float has become our favorite of all the lost cocktails. All the components meld perfectly, and with the recent return of Lemon Hart 151 rum (see below), it has become even more accessible and appealing to newbies. Even Mrs. Hurricane, who prefers milder rum drinks, was smitten.
Second-generation Mai-Kai general manager Kern Mattei told us that aside from the 151 floater, the Demerara Float is very similar to the Demerara Cocktail with a few ingredients “switched up” just a bit. So we upped the lime juice and passion fruit syrup slightly, boosting the tart and sweet elements to better handle the additional 151 rum. The result is very smooth and not too strong, similar to the Shark Bite, which not coincidentally comes in the same glass with the same ice feature.
Notes and tips for home mixologists
* Demerara rums are obviously the star of this cocktail, so be sure to choose wisely. All Demerara rums come from Demerara Distillers in Guyana and should be noted as such on the label. As mentioned above, Lemon Hart is traditionally the gold standard, but its distribution has been spotty until its recent return. In early 2015, The Mai-Kai switched to Hamilton rums from Guyana (86 and 151 proof), which come very close to the flavor profile of Lemon Hart. If you can’t find either of those, many of the El Dorado products work well as the 80-proof rum. I’d recommend the cask aged 5- and 8-year-old rums. If you want to splurge, try the luxury cask aged 12- and 15-year-old rums. Unfortunately, El Dorado doesn’t offer a 151 rum. In a pinch, as The Mai-Kai did when Lemon Hart first become unavailable, you could use Goslings Black Seal 151 from Bermuda. It’s not a Demerara rum, but it’s dark and smoky and hits many of the same flavor notes. Outside the U.S., you may have some other options, so check with your favorite rum specialty shop.
* See our full story on Demerara rums at The Mai-Kai
* The Mai-Kai’s lime juice is distinct, a tart blend of key lime and fresh persian lime juice. It elevates this drink by matching the bold flavors of the rum and syrup. See our in-depth look at the juices used at The Mai-Kai on Tiki Central. Be sure to use a rich and flavorful passion fruit syrup, either homemade (like The Mai-Kai) or a product from one of the many small-batch manufacturers (see above).
* The ice shell is a Mai-Kai trademark used in many cocktails, from the elaborate Special Reserve Daiquiri and Gardenia Lei to more modest Tahitian Breeze. For the Demerara Float, we followed a similar style to the Demerara Cocktail as well as the long-running classic Shark Bite. Those in the know also enjoy the ice feature in the off-menu Zula #2.
For lovers of Demerara rum, this resurrected classic cocktail is an essential addition to your repertoire.
October 2016 update: Mahalo to Hidden Harbor for featuring their own spin on our versions of The Mai-Kai’s Demerara Float and Demerara Cocktail as part of their “Tuesday Tiki Time Machine” menu. (If you can’t see the Facebook post below, click here.)
If you’re ever in Pittsburgh, be sure to check out this modern Tiki bar with great cocktails and an appreciation for the classics as well as inventive new originals.
December 2016 update: The Demerara Float made another triumphant return at The Mai-Kai’s 60th anniversary party, along with several other lost classics: