Lost Cocktails of The Mai-Kai: Search for authentic recipe strikes Liquid Gold

Updated June 2017
See below: Ancestor recipe | Tribute recipe | Liquid Gold review
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide | More “lost cocktails” | Tropical drink family tree
Liquid Gold returns for Flashback Friday in June 2017

Most classic cocktails at the venerable Mai-Kai Polynesian restaurant – both existing and retired – are descendants of Prohibition-era Tiki bar pioneer Don the Beachcomber. But even when it’s clear which drink is the ancestor, it can become a challenge to pinpoint the correct version.

Beachcomber's Gold

This tendency of Don the Beachcomber namesake Donn Beach to create multiple versions of the same drink became a point of frustration for tropical drink historian and author Jeff “Beachbum” Berry as more and more historic recipes turned up. One of the most confusing cases is that of Beachcomber’s Gold. Berry devotes five pages in his 2010 book, Remixed, to this dilemma and explores three different recipes.

All three are authentic and represent different eras in Beach’s career. Our task was to find the one that was most likely known best by original Mai-Kai mixologist Mariano Licudine when he created the restaurant’s 1956-57 menu and a drink called Liquid Gold. We also sought the drink that fit The Mai-Kai’s distinctive cocktail style.

A 1970s version of Beachcomber’s Gold fit neither criteria and was quickly eliminated. Another, possibly dating from a 1980s menu, was my favorite and had the right flavor notes, but it was way too late to be influential on Licudine. The obvious winner was the version that comes from the Don the Beachcomber in Hollywood, Calif., circa 1937. The same recipe also turned up in a bartender’s recipe book at the Beachcomber restaurant in Palm Springs in the 1950s. This recipe comes from the exact same time when Licudine worked for Beach in California and Chicago.

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Two different ice shells are prepared for the Beachcomber's Gold and Liquid Gold (left) and the Cuban Daiquiri

Two different ice shells are prepared for the Beachcomber’s Gold and Liquid Gold (left) and the Cuban Daiquiri. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, May 2013)

ANCESTOR RECIPE
Beachcomber’s Gold

(By Don the Beachcomber, from Beachbum Berry’s Remixed)

* 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
* 1/2 ounce sugar syrup
* 1 ounce gold Puerto Rican rum
* 1/2 ounce gold Jamaican rum
* 1/2 ounce dark Jamaican rum
* 6 drops (about 1/8 teaspoon) Pernod
* 4 drops almond extract

Blend with around 1/4 cup of crushed ice and strain into a champagne saucer or cocktail glass lined with an ice shell (see photo).

This is the “Hollywood and Palm Springs” version of the Beachcomber’s Gold, which Berry traced back to 1937 (see story above).

Tasting notes

A very complex cocktail spotlighting, not surprisingly, the gold rums. The underlying sour and anise notes give it a nice dry finish, while the almond and sugar add a subtle sweetness.

The only problem: Like many 1930s-era Donn Beach cocktails, this is not as sweet and savory as most of the drinks you’ll find on The Mai-Kai menu. Licudine was a master of taking Beach’s classics and making them more palatable to the mid-century tourist crowd that was The Mai-Kai’s bread and butter.

Liquid Gold, a "lost cocktail" that had not been served in decades, comes out of retirement at The Mai-Kai on Saturday, April 26

Liquid Gold, a “lost cocktail” that had not been served in decades, comes out of retirement at The Mai-Kai in April 2014. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

May 2014 update

Luckily for us, most of The Mai-Kai’s “lost cocktail” recipes have survived the ensuing decades, safely tucked away in a vault to be brought out on special occasions. Over the past several years, manager Kern Mattei has revived the Demerara Cocktail, Demerara Float, Impatient Virgin, Island Queen, Last Rites, and even the off-the-menu Suffering Bastard. We can now add Liquid Gold to this list.

During the festivities surrounding the 2014 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival in April 2014, VIPs were treated a retooled version of the Liquid Gold, specially made for sponsor Don Q Rum. Click here for the recipe, photos and more on the Don Q Cocktail. But this was not a revival of the lost recipe.

Later in the week, however, Mattei surprised us with a vintage Liquid Gold, presumably featuring its original recipe of three gold rums (see photo below). Though I once got a sneak peak before the Lost Cocktails Party at The Hukilau last year (the drink didn’t make the cut for the party), this was the first time I’d had the full-blown cocktail. What a surprise. This intricately crafted small sipper would be at home on any of today’s acclaimed cocktail bars. Though it didn’t feature the original ice shell, the flavor was equally retro and contemporary. The updated tribute recipe below comes very close to capturing this classic, timeless drink.

June 2017 update

The Mai-Kai's "lost cocktails" menu at The Hukilau 2016

The Mai-Kai’s “lost cocktails” menu at The Hukilau 2016.

It sometimes takes years, but if you’re patient you’ll encounter The Mai-Kai’s lost cocktails when they return for special events. In the case of Liquid Gold, the next appearance after its 2014 return was at The Hukilau in June 2016. This was a full-blown revival, with The Molokai bar full of thirsty Tikiphiles for the June “Lost Cocktails Party” (see menu at right).

From all apperances, the Liquid Gold we sampled that day was the same recipe as the 2014 version. It had the same strong anise notes in the foreground, much in the tradition of early to mid-20th century cocktails. The tart juice and gold rums gave it extra punch and flavor. In a change from 2014, the drink was served on the rocks in a small snifter glass instead of strained into a cocktail glass (see photo below). This was probably done to speed up service due to the large crowd during The Hukilau Finale. The other two drinks that day were served in a similar style.

In 2017, The Mai-Kai lauched a new monthly special called Flashback Friday, featuring lost cocktails from the past. In June, the featured drink is Liquid Gold. We hope to revisit this classic during its latest revival. Stay tuned for updates.

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Liquid Gold tribute by The Atomic Grog

Liquid Gold tribute by The Atomic Grog. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, May 2013)

Tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Liquid Gold
By The Atomic Grog

* 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
* 3/4 ounce rich sugar syrup
   (2:1 sugar to water, heated and cooled)
* 1 ounce gold Puerto Rican rum
* 1/2 ounce gold Jamaican rum
* 1/2 ounce dark Jamaican rum
* 6 drops Pernod or Herbsaint

Pulse blend with 1 cup of crushed ice for 8-10 seconds and strain into a frozen cocktail glass (with optional ice shell). Optional: Pour unstrained into a small snifter or cocktail glass.

The reinterpretation

The first order of business was creating an ice shell to make the drink as authentic as possible. Luckily, I’ve had plenty of practice with a previous review. The Special Reserve Daiquiri recipe includes step-by-step instructions. While I was at it, I made a more diminutive shell for the Cuban Daiquiri, which appears smaller in the menu artwork.

Like the previously reviewed Island Queen, Beachcomber’s Gold was a very simple Don the Beachcomber drink from the late 1930s that doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for improvisation. It’s unlikely Licudine changed much, and the version we sampled in April 2014 proved this point.

Liquid Gold was served in June 2016 during a special "lost cocktails" party at The Hukilau. In a change from its original presentation, it came on the rocks in a small snifter glass. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Liquid Gold was served in June 2016 during a special “lost cocktails” party at The Hukilau. In a change from its original presentation, it came on the rocks in a small snifter glass. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The only change I could detect was likely more lime and sugar to make it slightly more accessible. Also note that The Mai-Kai’s syrups are rich and intense. However, the sweetness is tempered by a deft dose of Pernod, which gives it a dominant anise flavor that really boosts this above ordinary daiquiri status. Use more than 6 drops if you’re not getting a strong licorice flavor. But dial it back if you’re not tasting the rums and lime. Everything should be in perfect balance.

As far as I could tell, there was no almond flavor in this latest revision by The Mai-Kai, so I’m omitting the orgeat that was in a previous version of the tribute recipe. Donn Beach used almond extract, and The Mai-Kai has been known to use Amaretto. None of these will make a huge difference in the flavor, but feel free to experiment. Leave it out if you’d rather have the Pernod dominate.

Using the right gold rums will make a huge difference, so choose carefully. For this tribute, I tried to mimmick what The Mai-Kai probably used, both now and back in the day. My choices were Bacardi Añejo (gold Puerto Rican), Appleton Special (gold Jamaican), and Appleton Extra (dark Jamaican). Both brands are touted on the menu and widely used in many of the cocktails. [Click for links to all the Appleton cocktails]

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LIQUID GOLD

Okole Maluna Society review and rating

Liquid Gold

Size: Small

Potency: Mild

Flavor profile: Pernod, gold rums, lime.

Review: A complex and dry daiquiri featuring sweet gold rums perfectly accented by anise notes that are both tasty and aromatic.

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars (see how it ranks). After tasting the real deal in April 2014, I’m boosting the rating by a half-point. Like many of the other retired cocktails, it would probably rank solidly in the middle of the pack of 3 1/2 star drinks on today’s menu.

Ancestry: The Mai-Kai’s version of Beachcomber’s Gold, a Don the Beachcomber drink that dates back to the early days of tropical cocktails. Liquid Gold was an opening-day cocktail that was last seen on a 1980s menu but fell out of favor sometime after that. Mattei explained that small 3- and 4-ounce cocktails became less and less popular as the decades went by. They’ve made a comeback, however, with the craft and Tiki cocktail revival. Thanks to Beachbum Berry, mixoligists continue to riff on Don the Beachcomber classics. Check out Oro de los Tontos (Fools Gold) from Kevin Upthegrove of the 5 Minutes of Rum podcast and blog for a tasty new version.

Bilge: Donn Beach designed different cocktails to be imbibed at different times of day. Beachcomber’s Gold, which was allegedly the favorite of actress Marlene Dietrich, was intended for sundown [citation].

Agree or disagree with this review? Share your comments below!

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 Lost Cocktails of The Mai-Kai: Search for authentic recipe strikes Liquid Gold

  1. Arian says:

    Interesting. But what are the “West Indian spiced liqueurs” as described on the Don the Beachcomber menu? I would have guessed falernum, pimento dram or both.

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