Mai-Kai cocktail review: Tiki Swizzle bows out, joins list of ‘lost cocktials’

Updated June 2018
See below: Our Tiki Swizzle review | UPDATE: Official recipe
Related: New cocktail menu unveiled at anniversary party | Mai-Kai cocktail guide
NEW: The Mai-Kai updates bar menu, adds classic ‘lost’ cocktail

In 2014, when The Mai-Kai rolled out the first major update of its classic menu of tropical drinks in decades, it also made the rare introduction of a new cocktail. The Tiki Swizzle also held the distinction of being the only drink on the menu to feature spiced rum.

The Tiki Swizzle in September 2016. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The Tiki Swizzle in September 2016. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Unfortunately, the Tiki Swizzle’s a run on the menu didn’t last long. It was removed during the next major menu update in May 2018, replaced by the iconic Suffering Bastard.

While four years may be a long run on a menu at a modern craft cocktail bar, it’s merely the blink of an eye at The Mai-Kai. Most of the drinks have been on the menu for decades, and a majority date back more than 60 years to the restaurant’s 1956 inception.

The Tiki Swizzle now joins a small group of “lost cocktails” that were removed from the menu over the years. While certainly not as iconic as the Demerara Float or Liquid Gold, it does have a back-story and history that connects it to the current Tiki revival.

The drink was introduced at The Hukilau in June 2013, created by The Mai-Kai for Kahakai Tiki rum. It was promoted in the months that followed on special table cards in The Molokai bar and proved to be so popular that it made its way onto the revamped menu.

The Tiki Swizzle is a new drink on The Mai-Kai's redesigned cocktail menu

The Tiki Swizzle was added to The Mai-Kai’s redesigned cocktail menu in 2014.

The inclusion of spiced rum, always popular with the general public and the tourist-heavy crowd that frequents The Mai-Kai, probably had a lot to do with its sudden popularity. Sales of spiced rum has surged over the past decade, and it’s only natural that The Mai-Kai would create a drink to meet demand.

It also gave those seeking out a strong drink a sweeter option. It may be the sweetest of all the strong drinks, or the strongest of the sweet drinks. It’s sort of a mash-up of the Mara-Amu and Hidden Pearl, and if you fancy those two medium-strength drinks you’ll probably enjoy this entry-level strong drink.

Unfortunately, that rum also became the cocktail’s downfall. Kahakai Tiki’s promotional efforts ceased, and the rum became unavailable to The Mai-Kai. Substitute rums were used and the Tiki Swizzle lost its initial buzz. When the time came for a menu update, it was the natural choice to bow out and make way for a classic that had become a favorite during sporadic appearances during “lost cocktail” events and The Mai-Kai’s “Flashback Friday” promotion in 2017.

Sometimes, especially in the world of classic Tiki cocktails, new and trendy is not necessarily a recipe for longevity. However, if you’re a fan of the Tiki Swizzle, we’re told that it remains in the bar’s inventory and you should be able to order it as an off-menu drink.

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The official menu description (2014-2018)
Tiki Swizzle
TIKI SWIZZLE

Made with Kahakai Tiki Rum, fresh juices and homemade syrups, this concoction is sure to please.

Okole Maluna Society review and rating

Size: Medium

Potency: Strong

Flavor profile: Lime, passion fruit, spicy rum.

The Tiki Swizzle, January 2014

The Tiki Swizzle in January 2014. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Review: Refreshing and easy to drink for a strong cocktail, with a tart and sweet flavor punch.

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

Ancestry: A new drink introduced at The Hukilau in 2013, concocted by The Mai-Kai’s bar staff to showcase a new spiced rum.

Bilge: Before the Tiki Swizzle, the only other new recipe to crack The Mai-Kai’s lineup of classic tropical drinks was The Hukilau, named for the annual Polynesian Pop festival that has called The Mai-Kai home since 2003.

Agree or disagree? Share your reviews and comments below!

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Tiki Swizzle by The Atomic Grog, January 2014

Tiki Swizzle by The Atomic Grog, January 2014. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

OFFICIAL MAI-KAI RECIPE
(Adjusted by Hurricane Hayward)

TIKI SWIZZLE

* 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
* 1/2 ounce rich passion fruit syrup
* 1/4 ounce rich simple syrup
* 1/2 ounce club soda
* 2 dashes Angostura bitters
* 1 1/2 ounces spiced rum
* 3/4 ounce dark Jamaican rum
* 1 cup (8 ounces) crushed ice

Pulse blend at high speed for 5-8 seconds, until frothy. Pour into a specialty cocktail glass or Tiki mug of your choice. Garnish with a pineapple spear.

This recipe is slightly different than the one that was published during The Hukilau 2013 and featured on the Kahakai Tiki website. Not satisfied with the final product, owner Dave Levy wisely decided to add the distinctive Kohala Bay dark Jamaican rum to the mix, giving the drink more kick and a deserved spot on the strong section of the menu. Our recipe also bumps up the passion fruit syrup to offset the extra rum. The passion fruit taste should be up-front, but the dark Jamaican rum subtly lurks in the background along with the spiced rum.

Notes and tips for home mixologists

 Kahakai Tiki had a booth at The Hukilau in June 2013, where they introduced the Kahakai Tiki Swizzle

Kahakai Tiki had a booth at The Hukilau in June 2013, where they introduced the Kahakai Tiki Swizzle. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* There’s an intense sweetness in this drink thanks to The Mai-Kai’s distinctive, homemade syrups. Use a rich sugar syrup (2 parts sugar to 1 part water, heated and cooled). It’s nearly impossible to duplicate the unique taste of the house passion fruit syrup, but you could try making a rich syrup using 2:1 sugar to fresh passion fruit or frozen pulp. If you must use a bottled product, the Monin brand comes closest to the flavor of The Mai-Kai’s syrup. Among the others we’re happy recommending are Small Hand Foods, B.G. Reynolds and Aunty Lilikoi.

* Don’t skimp on the bitters. It adds a nice dry element to offset the sweetness.

* The success of this drink hinges on the rums. The loss of Kahakai Tiki, then Kohala Bay, may have doomed the Tiki Swizzle at The Mai-Kai. But that doesn’t mean you can’t experiment with alternative rums at home. The 80-proof Cruzan 9 spiced rum comes close to the 70-proof Kahakai Tiki’s blend of cinnamon, nutmeg and other spices. Both eschew the typical cloyingly sweet caramel/vanilla flavors found in most spiced rums in favor of interesting spices, and this helps them mix well in cocktails. Among our other favorites are the 75-proof Foursquare Spiced from Barbados and 80-proof 3 Howls Spiced from Seattle. Kohala Bay appeared in many Mai-Kai cocktails, particularly the strong ones [see the full list]. Very dark and bold at 87.6 proof, it worked well with the 70-proof Kahakai Tiki. Since Kohala Bay went off the market, The Mai-Kai has been using 80-proof Appleton Estate Signature Blend, which doesn’t have quite the same funky flavor and heat. Our top recommended substitute is a 50/50 mix of El Dorado 12-year-old Demerara rum and the Navy strength (114 proof) dark Jamaican rum from Smith & Cross. You can find many other recommendations here. Experiment and keep the spirit of the Tiki Swizzle alive.

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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One Response to Mai-Kai cocktail review: Tiki Swizzle bows out, joins list of ‘lost cocktials’

  1. JFL says:

    Interesting I’m really glad to see you write about this one. Anytime I see a drink that’s sweet and made with spiced rum it really does set of my loudest danger warnings. We’ll mix one up sometime.

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