Established in 1956, The Mai-Kai is a national historic landmark with many iconic features that guests see every time they visit, from the Polynesian Islander Revue, to the distinctive design and decor, to the gracious staff.
But there’s one key element to the experience that you rarely ever see, but almost always taste: The rums of The Mai-Kai. Using tropical drink recipes that can be traced directly back to Don the Beachcomber’s 1930s-era classics, the behind-the-scenes bartenders follow generations-old methods of mixing rum cocktails.
Hurricane Hayward of The Atomic Grog will take guests of The Hukilau 2019 on an virtual journey to the Caribbean to learn about the key rums and styles that have dominated The Mai-Kai’s acclaimed cocktails for more than 60 years. This includes an intimate class for bartenders and enthusiasts at the Pier Sixty-Six hotel, and an interactive symposium on stage at the Polynesian palace in Fort Lauderdale.
Here are the details on both events:
The Rums of The Mai-Kai: The Classic Tiki Template
Saturday, June 8, at Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina
Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy class in the Commodore Room, 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Don the Beachcomber’s groundbreaking use of multiple rums in a single cocktail is crucial to the style that came to be known as Tiki. Nearly 90 years later, that exact same blending of spirits is still practiced today at The Mai-Kai. Hurricane Hayward of The Atomic Grog blog will guide hands-on lessons on how the flavors from different Caribbean islands are used in concert to create some of the world’s most famous rum rhapsodies. Put these practices to use to make your home bar sing. Special guest “professor” Stephen Remsberg, famed rum historian and collector, will share his knowledge and a few treats from his collection.
Another special treat: Students will shake up cocktails using sponsor rums and actual Mai-Kai ingredients. The restaurant will provide us with ample quantities of several classic drinks, sans rums, for our mixing pleasure. Also, there will be raffles held throughout the class with an assortment of door prizes, including signed books and barware from Cocktail Kingdom’s Beachbum Berry Collection.
All class members are also invited to The Mai-Kai on Sunday for special events that include rare “lost cocktails” from The Mai-Kai’s 1956 menu, plus reserved seats for an on-stage rum presentation by Hurricane Hayward and Matt Pietrek, aka Cocktail Wonk. Select students will participate in the symposium while a group of others will receive an exclusive, private tour of The Mai-Kai’s back bar and historic rum collection.
BUY TICKETS: Class sizes are limited, so act now before this sells out. Tickets for all Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy classes cost $49 plus fee, and include a special series of barware (rum sippers, spoons, muddlers, strainers, and a flask) created especially for students by Tiki Diablo. Participants get one item per class, plus the many rum samples, cocktails, and door prizes mentioned above.
The Rums of The Mai-Kai: From the Back Bar to Your Glass
Sunday, June 9, at The Mai-Kai
The Mai-Kai Grand Finale, noon to 4 p.m., featuring live music in The Molokai bar by Skinny Jimmy Stingray. Symposium in the main dining room at 1:30 p.m.
Take a deep dive into the historic rum collection of the legendary Polynesian restaurant with Jim “Hurricane” Hayward of The Atomic Grog blog and special guest Matt Pietrek, rum expert and author of the award-winning Cocktail Wonk blog. Discover new information on The Mai-Kai’s connection to Tiki cocktail forefather Don the Beachcomber through the rums they have in common. Includes an interactive, multimedia presentation and rare “lost cocktails” from the archives, as we enjoy The Mai-Kai before it opens to the public.
Three retired cocktails from the 1956 menu will be served at The Hukilau for the first time since 2017. That was the same year Hayward presented his first symposium, “The Menus of The Mai-Kai: 60 Years of Tiki Cocktail History.” This year, he’ll be joined on stage by esteemed rum expert Pietrek for an exploration of The Mai-Kai’s most distinctive rums, past and present. Afterward, they’ll escort a select group of students from Saturday’s cocktail class on an exclusive tour of the rarely-seen back service bar where Mariano Licudine presided from 1956 through his retirement in 1979. Remarkably little has changed in the years since, which is a good thing for rum and Tiki cocktail fans.
SUNDAY’S GRAND FINALE: Like always, Sunday’s festivities at The Mai-Kai are included in the price of most of The Hukilau’s multi-day passes, including the five-day South Seas and Big Kahuna passes, the four-day Aloha Pass, and the three-day Luau Pass. Other passes are often accepted at the door, and those without passes typically pay only a minimal cover charge. Click here to see all the passes that are available. New for 2019, Pier Sixty-Six will also host a Sunday party geared toward South Florida locals featuring live bands, a pool party with guest bar cocktails, rum samples, and educational sessions. These events are scheduled to run until 6 p.m. After hitting The Mai-Kai’s finale at noon and symposium at 1:30, villagers will have time to head back to Pier Sixty-Six for several hours of the pool party.
SCHEDULE: Check to see what’s happening on all five days
PREVIEW: Exploring The Rums of The Mai-Kai
“What one rum can’t do, three rums can.” – Don the Beachcomber.
Donn Beach’s groundbreaking use of multiple rums in his revolutionary cocktails introduced after the repeal of Prohibition set the stage for the entire Tiki bar craze that lasted decades. He knew the spirit well, having spent time in the Caribbean as a bootlegger during those dry years. Not only was rum cheaper and more accessible than bourbon or gin, it fit perfectly into the “rum rhapsodies” that the inventive mixologist was creating.
Beach was familiar with classic but simple Caribbean cocktails such as the Daiquiri and Planters Punch. But his genius was in creating symphonies of flavor using different styles of rum when he opened his first “exotic cocktail” bar in Hollywood in 1933.
For instance, he combined a pot-stilled, dark and funky Jamaican rum with a column-stilled, lighter bodied Puerto Rican rum. Then he added a rich and smoky, blended Demerara rum from Guyana. These were then used in different proportions with a seemingly endless array of juices, syrups, liqueurs, and bitters. In doing so, Don the Beachcomber created an entire genre of mixology that spawned hundreds of imitators. His “farm-to-table” style is still the benchmark at today’s modern Tiki and craft cocktail bars.
Using those combinations of groundbreaking ingredients, Beach created some of his most complex and enduring cocktails. These include the Zombie, Three Dots and a Dash, Test Pilot and Navy Grog. Many of the recipes were finally revealed over the past 20 years in six books and an app by author and dogged researcher Jeff “Beachbum” Berry.
Mariano Licudine worked at Don the Beachcomber for decades before coming to The Mai-Kai to open the bar program for owners Bob and Jack Thornton. Rather than re-invent the wheel, they took the classic elements of Beach’s empire and perfected them in one grand establishment. In addition to snagging their head bartender, the Thorntons also procured one of the top managers at the Don the Beachcomber in Chicago, Bob Van Dorpe.
Most of Donn Beach’s original recipes were kept secret, made with mixes and syrups kept in unmarked or coded bottles. But Licudine was in the know, and his little black book of recipes formed the foundation of The Mai-Kai’s original 1956 cocktail menu. He was also a master of taking those cocktails to a higher, more accessible level – aided by the insights and palates of the Thornton brothers. Together, they created a cocktail lineup arguably superior to even Don the Beachcomber’s. These recipes are still followed to this day, under the careful guidance of a new generation of the family-run restaurant, managing owner Dave Levy and manager Kern Mattei.
At The Hukilau 2019, Hurricane Hayward will reveal for the first time a rare document showing The Mai-Kai’s entire rum list from 1956-57. This snapshot of Tiki and rum history was provided by Van Dorpe to historian Tim “Swanky” Glazner, author of Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant. As expected, it shows a remarkable similarity in style to the rums used by Don the Beachcomber during the same era. It even includes some of the same specific brands.
Because The Mai-Kai’s cocktail menu has remained virtually unchanged over the past 62 years – and the recipes perfected by Licudine and the Thorntons have remained secret – so too have the rum styles. Rums from Jamaica, Guyana and Puerto Rico remain the core components in most of the cocktails.
During The Rums of The Mai-Kai, Hayward and his special guests will look at the rums employed in the secret back bars, from 1956 to today. Students in the
Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy class will get a chance to taste these rums, old and new, and mix up cocktails using actual ingredients from The Mai-Kai. Stephen Remsberg will offer his knowledge (and several samples) of the historic rums from his collection.
At Sunday’s Grand Finale, select students will get an exclusive tour of the main bar, which is hidden from view from most guests in the bowls of The Mai-Kai’s kitchen. They will see Mariano Licudine’s extensive rum collection from more than 40 years ago, preserved for posterity. Other students will join Hayward and Matt Pietrek on stage in a rum-tasting competition for a grand prize. Meanwhile, all guests will be able to order three “lost cocktails” from 1956 that have not been on The Mai-Kai’s menu in more than 30 years.
Fans of vintage rum, Tiki mixology, and The Mai-Kai’s cocktails are advised to clear their calendars for these special events at The Hukilau 2019.
About Hurricane Hayward: A longtime journalist and blogger best known as creator of The Atomic Grog, Hayward has been a member of The Hukilau crew since 2008. He created the blog in 2011 to document the best events, music, art, cocktails and culture in the Tiki revival. His true passions are Tiki cocktails and The Mai-Kai, which he writes about extensively in the definitive guide to the restaurant’s historic drinks. This year’s Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy class is a follow-up to last year’s sold-out How to Mix Like The Mai-Kai at Pier Sixty-Six.
See below: Recap and photos from How to Mix Like The Mai-Kai
About Stephen Remsberg: A retired maritime attorney living in New Orleans, the “professor” is a private rum collector with thousands of rums ranging from priceless bottles dating back to the late 1870s to Tiki staples and modern standbys. Beachbum Berry calls Remsberg his hero, naming a drink after him when he opened his New Orleans bar, Latitude 29, in 2014. The professor was instrumental in helping Berry find modern rums to match those in the vintage recipes he was decoding for his books. Remsberg knew those old rums well because he tasted most of them, along with many of the classic cocktails during his decades frequenting the bars at Don the Beachcomber’s restaurants. Remsberg has appeared at The Hukilau multiple times over the years, many with Beachbum Berry. He was a Master Mixologist judge and member of the Rum Rat Pack in 2011. Remsberg has also lectured on rum at the National Archives in Washington and Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. In 2018, his fame earned him a rum named for him when Plantation released “The Collector,” a limited-edition Jamaican rum of the highest order. Also announced last year: Remsberg will donate his extensive collection to the Ferrand Plantation Foundation, a new facility in France for research and preservation of rum cultures. Plans call for this museum of rum history to be open to rum aficionados, collectors, and scholars.
At The Hukilau: Remsberg is also teaming up with global rum ambassador Ian Burrell for the sold-out symposium Professor? Ambassador? Both! at 12:30 p.m. Friday.
About Matt Pietrek: A New Orleans-based spirits blogger and researcher who went from computer geek to cocktail wonk, Pietrek has been nominated for writing awards by Tales of the Cocktail and Saveur magazine. A software developer and author specializing in Microsoft Windows, Pietrek started writing Cocktail Wonk in 2013 as a hobby that has developed into a new career offering up “deep insights into spirits, cocktails, and drinking.” His technical background takes him on deep dives about topics not covered anywhere else, including fascinating explorations of rum and cane spirits. He travels the globe to write about historic distilleries and mysterious merchants. Pietrek also writes for national publications and websites including Bourbon+, Punch, and Bevvy.
At The Hukilau: Pietrek will be busy during his first official appearance, presenting both a cocktail class and symposium on Saturday, June 8. Tickets are still available at TheHukilau.com for Stocking Your Home Tiki Bar and How the British Navy Influenced the Birth of Tiki.
The Hukilau: Wednesday through Sunday, June 5-9, 2019, at the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina, B Ocean Resort and The Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. Featuring Tikiyaki Orchestra, Tikiyaki 5-0, Surfer Joe, The Volcanics, The Hula Girls, The Intoxicators, Gold Dust Lounge, Skinny Jimmy Stingray, The Swingin’ Palms, Slowey and the Boats, King Kukulele, Brother Cleve, Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid, Ian “Rum Ambassador” Burrell, and 25 top Tiki bars and bartenders from around the world.
* TheHukilau.com | Facebook: Page and Group
More on The Atomic Grog
* Tiki Tower Takeover cocktail party sold out – Preview, photos and complete history
* Last party at Pier Sixty-Six? Events sell fast as new cocktail classes added
Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy 2018: How to Mix Like The Mai-Kai
The cocktail recipes at Fort Lauderdale’s legendary Mai-Kai are closely guarded secrets. But for the past seven years, Hurricane Hayward has reverse engineered more than 50 tropical drinks from menus past and present, publishing in-depth reviews and “tribute recipes” on The Atomic Grog. At The Hukilau 2018, Hayward shared his experiences in re-creating these classic cocktails, presenting a crash course in making your home bar the next best thing to The Mai-Kai. Mystery Girl and Samoan fire dancers not included.
Here are highlights from the sold-out Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy class on Friday, June 8:
The key elements that make the cocktails at The Mai-Kai great are tradition, technique and ingredients. Longtime managing owner Dave Levy, stepson of founder Bob Thornton, says that the Thornton brothers made a concerted effort to not have their cocktails be exact copies of Don the Beachcomber’s. By the time original bartender Mariano Licudine retired in 1979, he created a legacy that continues to this day.
Nearly every drink on the menu still follows his recipes. In the tradition of Donn Beach, they’re kept secret, down to employing syrups with cryptic numbers. There are two service bars, both hidden from view of guests, and the mixologists who work there are the unsung and unheralded heroes of The Mai-Kai.
The genius of Licudine, in addition to creating his own unique drinks such as the Derby Daiquiri and Black Magic, was taking Beach’s recipes and making them more assessible for the vast, tourist-driven clientele of The Mai-Kai. A perfect example is the S.O.S., a take on Beach’s famous Three Dots and a Dash, and the first featured cocktail of the class.
Using a top-down mixer, Hayward demonstrated how to make his S.O.S. tribute recipe, then gave the full-sized cocktail to a student who correctly answered a Donn Beach trivia question. Some technique was discussed, including the fact that none of The Mai-Kai’s cocktails are shaken. All are made either in a top-down mixer or a Waring-style blender (for the frozen drinks).
After the first drink, Hayward shared more info on the three distinct elements of every Mai-Kai cocktail: Juices, syrups, and rums. These four juices are the most popular: Lime (46 drinks), orange (21), grapefruit (11), and pineapple (8). The first three feature distinctive Florida citrus, supplied fresh from the area’s groves.
Next, we served samples one of the lesser known strong cocktails, Bora Bora, a Mai-Kai version of Don Beach’s Donga Punch. Mahalo to Lucky Munro of The Hukilau bar team, who took the lead role in making the batched cocktails and also provided some of his expertise to the class.
This brought us to a discussion of The Mai-Kai’s most popular syrups: Honey mix (23 drinks), falernum (20), simple (16), passion fruit (15), grenadine (9), allspice (8), and fassionola (7). According to manager Kern Mattei, all of The Mai-Kai syrups are made in-house, with the exception of Fee Brothers falernum. It’s known to be close in flavor of the old A.V. Stansfield brand that Donn Beach and many other mid-century Tiki bars used.
Next was a discussion of secret mixes #7 and #4, another link back to Don the Beachcomber. Based on an exclusive screen shot from Plastic Paradise, which was filmed at The Hukilau and The Mai-Kai and released on PBS in 2013, we confirmed that both the Mai-Kai Swizzle and Don’s Swizzle contain both #4 and #7. Look for updated recipes coming soon.
There was then a quick discussion of Angostura bitters (19 drinks) and Pernod (16), a secret weapon of Don the Beachcomber when used in tandem. Then it was on to the rums.
As students enjoyed sample K.O. Cooler cocktails, Hayward discussed the history and the drink’s ancestor, the Q.B. Cooler. It appears that Licudine created the K.O. Cooler by combining elements two different K.O. Cooler recipes, from 1937 and 1941. A student who answered a trivia question was treated to the full cocktail that Hayward made during another demo.
Mahalo to all the sponsors who provided ingredients, especially Lemon Hart Rum. Students received a bunch of free promotional items from Lemon Hart, as well as napkins and swizzles from The Mai-Kai. There was also a class syllabus to take home with resources and info.
In examining the current cocktails, we found the following rums used most commonly: White and gold Spanish-style (39 drinks), dark Jamaican (19), gold Jamaican (17), aged Jamaican (3), Demerara (8), and 151 Demerara (10). As mentioned above, many of those are used in different combinations to create distinctive flavor profiles, just as Don the Beachcomber did.
After a review of the key rums used at The Mai-Kai, Hurricane Hayward revealed a recently discovered bottle of Kohala Bay, the dark Jamaican rum that evolved from a Don the Beachcomber favorite, Dagger Punch. Unfortunately, it went off the market in 2016. A lucky student took home the bottle in a silent auction.
The students were then invited to mix up their own cocktails using the many sponsor rums, juices, and syrups on their tables. This included orange and lime juice that Hurricane Hayward uses in tribute recipes to best match The Mai-Kai’s distinctive juices. The goal was to create their own unique takes on The Mai-Kai style. Each table compared their results and nominated one drink to compete against the others. The five finalists were then handed off to Hayward and his guest judges to decide a winner.
Many outstanding drinks were created in a short amount of time, but one finalist rose above the others with its balance and bold flavors, plus just the right amount of Pernod. The cocktail creator received a copy of the 10th anniversary edition of Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari, thanks to sponsor Cocktail Kingdom.
We gave away other goodies, including Atomic Grog T-shirts and Mai-Kai cocktail menus. Students also received their own Okole Maluna Society membership card, a reproduction of the actual card that was issued by The Mai-Kai in 1958-1959 for the short-lived rewards program that encouraged guests (perhaps unwisely) to consume every cocktail on the menu.
Students were also treated to extracurricular activities on Sunday in The Molokai bar, including exclusive access to a rare lost cocktail, Big Bamboo, which had never before been served since its 1950s heyday. Author Tim “Swanky” Glazner also provided a special guided history tour.
PHOTOS: Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy – How to Mix Like The Mai-Kai
June 8, 2018, at The Hukilau at Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina, Fort Lauderdale
(All photos by The Atomic Grog unless noted)
Demerara Rum – The Mai-Kai’s Secret Weapon
The Atomic Grog presented a special happy-hour talk during The Mai-Kai Takeover event on Jan. 19, presented by the Magical Tiki Meet-Up and Retro Rekindled.
* Full event recap and photos
See also: Rums of The Mai-Kai include potent, funky flavors from Guyana and Jamaica
More on Mai-Kai rum and cocktails on The Atomic Grog
* The Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide: Okole Maluna Society
* Full list of 100+ cocktail recipes
* The Mai-Kai updates bar menu, adds classic ‘lost’ cocktail
* Mai-Kai tropical drink family tree
* Heeeeeeere’s the rich history and lost stories of The Mai-Kai
* Tour of The Mai-Kai’s mysterious bars and kitchen (with photos)
Previous Hukilau 2019 coverage
* Tiki Tower Takeover cocktail party sold out – Preview, photos and complete history
* Last party at Pier Sixty-Six? Events sell fast as new cocktail classes added
* 100 Days to The Hukilau: Weekend events at The Mai-Kai feature The Surfrajettes
* Tickets on sale, book your room now for June 5-9 bash in Fort Lauderdale
* Hotel room parties are back, plus preview events, more
* First official announcement promises enhancements, same vintage experience
The Hukilau past coverage
* 2018 recap: Photos and video from social media | More 2018 coverage
* 2017 daily recaps, news, photos and video | More 2017 coverage
* More recaps: 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011
The Atomic Grog on Marooned: A Texas Tiki Podcast
Listen to Hurricane Hayward and Texas Tiki and cocktail podcaster David Phantomatic in the Samoa Room at The Mai-Kai as they discuss (what else) the historic tropical drinks and influence of South Florida’s Polynesian Palace.
* Official site | Trading Post | Twitter
* Facebook: Official page | Friends of The Mai-Kai group
* Instagram: Restaurant | The Molokai bar | Trading Post
* Mai-Kai history: Book and official website | Facebook page