Lost Cocktails of The Mai-Kai: Take a journey to the exotic Island of Martinique

This is the final review of the drinks that appeared on original 1956-57 era menus but were later retired.

See below: Ancestor recipe | Review
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide | More “lost cocktails”

Of all the cocktails that disappeared from The Mai-Kai’s bar menu since the famed Polynesian restaurant opened in Fort Lauderdale in 1956, perhaps the most elusive has been the Martinique Cocktail. It lasted into the 1980s, but disappeared without a trace.

A menu from Don the Beachcomber's Chicago restaurant, circa 1963

A menu from Don the Beachcomber’s Chicago restaurant, circa 1963.

A 1979 menu described the drink as “a small, yet robust creation of Martinique Rum, fresh juices and harmonious syrups” (see image below). I was able to identify this drink as a descendant of a classic cocktail by tropical mixology’s founding father, Donn Beach, aka Don the Beachcomber. Although I haven’t seen it on many Beachcomber menus, I was delighted to find the Martinique Cocktail listed as one of the “original rum drinks” at the Chicago location in 1963, seven years after The Mai-Kai opened.

It’s highly likely that this was the same drink, and not just because of the name. Mariano Licudine, The Mai-Kai’s original bar manager and mixologist, had a history of borrowing recipes from his days working at Don the Beachcomber, which began in 1939 in Hollywood. He was the No. 2 bartender at that very same Chicago location from 1940 until 1956, when he joined owners Bob and Jack Thornton at The Mai-Kai.

The Mai-Kai's 1956-57 menu

The Mai-Kai’s original 1956-57 menu includes 33 cocktails still served today, and 10 that are no longer offered, including the Martinique Cocktail.

However, finding a recipe was another matter entirely. I discovered many “Martinique Cocktail” recipes online, but none attributed to Donn Beach. But, of course, Tiki cocktail historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry once again came to the rescue with his most exhaustive research effort to date, the voluminous Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them, published in December by Cocktail Kingdom. The hardcover opus deservedly won the 2014 Spirited Award for Best New Cocktail/Bartending Book at Tales of the Cocktail in July.

Included in the chapter on the influence of the Caribbean on early Tiki cocktails is a recipe for Don the Beachcomber’s Island of Martinique Cocktail, along with the backstory. Like many Donn Beach drinks, there were multiple recipes over the years, including an early version based on the classic Caribbean drink the Ti Punch (aka Petit Punch), which dates back to the late 1800s in Martinique. It was a simple combination of rum, lime and sugar, what Berry calls the “holy trinity” of tropical mixology.

But by 1948, Berry notes, Beach had “thoroughly Tikified” the drink, resulting in the Island of Martinique Cocktail recipe he was given by ex-Beachcomber bartender Tony Ramos. Revealed for the first time in Potions of the Caribbean, this recipe so closely fits the flavor profile that Licudine developed with his original lineup of cocktails at The Mai-Kai, it’s safe to assume that he did little tinkering beyond simplifying the name.

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Island of Martinique Cocktail by The Atomic Grog

Island of Martinique Cocktail by The Atomic Grog. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, May 2014)

ANCESTOR RECIPE
Island of Martinique Cocktail

(From Beachbum Berry’s Potions of the Caribbean)

* 1 1/2 ounce gold rhum agricole vieux
* 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
* 1/2 ounce falernum
* 1/4 ounce Don’s honey (see below)
* Dash Angostura bitters
* Scant handful (3 ounces) crushed ice

Put everything into a blender. Blend at high speed for 5 seconds, then strain through a fine wire-mesh sieve into a chilled cocktail glass.

Note that the sieve may not be necessary, unless the honey mix becomes crystallized or clumpy (more on that below). Also note that while most small, strained cocktails are typically shaken with ice cubes, this drink employs the classic Donn Beach technique of “pulse blending” with a small amount of crushed ice (usually in a spindle mixer). This method of drink mixing is ubiquitous at The Mai-Kai, where not one cocktail is shaken.

This small but potent sipper contains all classic, quality ingredients. I would rank it not far behind the Demerara Cocktail and Hanalei Bay among the other small, flavor-packed lost cocktails.

Thanks to Beachbum Berry's 'Potions of the Caribbean,' we can now enjoy the classic Island of Martinique Cocktail

Thanks to Beachbum Berry’s ‘Potions of the Caribbean,’ we can now enjoy the classic Island of Martinique Cocktail. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, September 2014)

Notes and tips for home mixologists

* Make sure to use a quality aged, amber agricole rum from Martinique or Guadeloupe. In Potions, Berry recommends the J.M. Neisson and Clément brands. My go-to agricole is Rhum Clément V.S.O.P.

* Falernum, the distinctive lime-ginger-clove syrup (and sometimes liqueur) from Barbados, was a favorite “secret ingredient” of Donn Beach and adopted similarly by Licudine at The Mai-Kai. In Potions of the Caribbean, Berry recommends the Fee Brothers, Velvet and Bitter Truth brands. In Mai-Kai cocktails, I tend to favor Fee Brothers because, as Berry points out, it most closely resembles a popular brand that was the standard in the mid-20th century. It’s a reformulation of A.V. Stansfeld’s Genuine Falernum, which according to the bottle, was “prepared and bottled from an original Barbados, B.W.I. formula.”

* This recipe is the first reference in any of Beachbum Berry’s books to “Don’s honey,” which is made by stirring 2 parts clover honey with 1 part hot water until you get a rich syrup. It will keep for several weeks in the fridge. I’ve always recommended a rich 2:1 mix in all The Mai-Kai cocktails that call for honey (Rum Julep, Moonkist Coconut, et al.), with the exception of several that employ the more obscure honey cream mix (Deep Sea Diver, Gardenia Lei). In Berry’s previous books, all recipes described a mix combining equal parts of honey and water. I’ve encountered few problems in years of use, but it’s possible the rich mix may develop sugar crystals or become grainy. This is likely why the fine wire-mesh sieve is recommended. You can avoid this by making smaller batches, and stirring or shaking the container occasionally so it doesn’t settle. Or just make a fresh batch when needed. It’s well worth having a more intense honey mix to punch up your classic Mai-Kai cocktails.

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MARTINIQUE COCKTAIL

Okole Maluna Society review and rating

Martinique Cocktail, circa 1979

From a 1979 cocktail menu.

Size: Small

Potency: Mild

Flavor profile: Strong (rum), sour (lime) and sweet (honey, falernum) in perfect harmony.

Review: An elegant, flavor-filled small cocktail that would fit in seamlessly at any of today’s craft cocktail bars.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars (see how it ranks). If this were on today’s menu, I would place it near the top of the 3-star ratings, perhaps second only to the Bora Bora.

Ancestry: One of many drinks on the original 1956 menu at The Mai-Kai that were revamped versions Don the Beachcomber classics, the Martinique Cocktail was last spotted on a menu in 1979 and was retired in the 1980s. At that time, there was a trend away from small cocktails served strained into stemmed glasses, such as the Impatient Virgin, Island Queen and Liquid Gold, which were all retired around this same time. Ironically, drinks such of these have recently made a big comeback at craft cocktail bars across the country.

Bilge: There’s some new debate over whether tropical cocktail pioneers Donn Beach and Trader Vic Bergeron actually used the distinctive rhum agricole, which is distilled from freshly squeezed sugar cane juice, in their early recipes. There’s new evidence put forward by rum and cocktail expert Martin Cate of Smuggler’s Cove that the Martinique rum used in Trader Vic’s original Mai Tai is actually a molasses-based rum. This would make a big difference in the taste of some classic cocktails. (For more on this, check out this story on A Mountain of Crushed Ice, a highly recommended blog.) However, it’s widely accepted that the Ti Punch, which inspired the Martinique Cocktail, was a showcase for rhum agricole. So even if Beach didn’t originally employ agricole rhum in the 1930s and ’40s, he and Trader Vic were undoubtedly using it by the 1950s and ’60s when their drinks were popularized and The Mai-Kai was launched.

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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3 Responses to Lost Cocktails of The Mai-Kai: Take a journey to the exotic Island of Martinique

  1. Tiare says:

    That is a great post on a great cocktail! and to my amazement it reminded me about a pineapple-twist i made of that drink when i wrote about Zwazo rhum arrangè ananas…

    “Next cocktail to play with was the Island of Martinique Cocktail, which is a Don Beach drink circa 1948. This drink is actually a tikified ti-punch…

    It was described in Beachcomber´s 1948 menu as a drink with “Lusty Martinique rums aged in casks for 120 moons. Subtly combined with falernum, wild honey, Angostura bitters and Maui mountain limes”

    http://www.amountainofcrushedice.com/?p=18684

  2. Tiare says:

    And mahalo for the mention!! 🙂

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