The Week in Tiki (Sept. 7-20, 2015): Ohana: Luau by the Sea and Mod Palm Springs, plus more event previews

The Week in TikiThe summer may be ending soon, but there’s no shortage of Tiki events, including Ohana: Luau by the Sea in Fort Lauderdale and Mod Palm Springs in California coming in early October. Check out previews of both, plus this month’s Tonga Room 70th anniversary in San Francisco, a Tiki cocktail history seminar in D.C., Tiki Day at Disneyland, and Thee Hot Rod Luau in Southern California. We also have recaps of the recent Fong Fest in Chicago, and Don the Beachcomber’s International Tiki Market Place. Plus news from the Chicago Area Tiki Tour and a possible Tiki bowling establishment coming to Atlanta. Regular features honor the late Florida artist Wayne Coombs; South Florida’s Cutback Surfband; the Bootlegger Tiki bar in Palm Springs; and the Ministry of Rum website. The rum of the week, Coruba Original, is featured in a vintage Planter’s Punch.
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Last chance for Ohana: Luau by the Sea tickets

Don’t miss out on the very first Ohana: Luau by the Sea, set for Oct. 1-3 in Fort Lauderdale. Online ticket sales will end at 8 p.m. Eastern time on Monday, Sept. 21, so the organizers can get an accurate head count and prepare for their Saturday night luau at the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Airport hotel, headquarters of the event. There will be no same-day ticket sales.

Ohana: Luau by the Sea

Brought to you by the Fraternal Order Of Moai – the same friendly, fez-wearing folks who earlier this year presented the sister event Ohana: Luau at the Lake in upstate New York – this inaugural event is being hosted by the charity organization’s Gumbo Limbo chapter in South Florida.

Attendees can enjoy live music, DJs, seminars, contests, a rum tasting, vendors, auctions, prizes, food and the legendary dinner show at The Mai-Kai restaurant. Tickets are $85, or $135 if you pair it with a limited edition event mug by PopTiki of Colorado.

Your ticket gives you access to three days of Tiki-themed festivities:

Continue reading “The Week in Tiki (Sept. 7-20, 2015): Ohana: Luau by the Sea and Mod Palm Springs, plus more event previews”

Lost Cocktails of The Mai-Kai: Take a trip back to Hanalei Bay

Hanalei Bay came out of retirement at The Mai-Kai in September 2016 for a special party marking the release of 'Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant' by Tim 'Swanky' Glazner. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Updated November 2016
See below: Ancestor recipe | UPDATE: Tribute recipe | Hanalei Bay review
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide | More “lost cocktails” | Tropical drink family tree

Montego Bay

Some lost Mai-Kai cocktails are easier to trace than others. Even though the drink known as Hanalei Bay disappeared from the menu when the United States was still embroiled in the Vietnam War, its legacy is easy to figure out. This small but powerful drink was an obvious take on Don the Beachcomber’s Montego Bay.

Looking at old Mai-Kai and Don the Beachcomber menus, the resemblance both in name and menu artwork is obvious. Named for the second largest city in Jamaica, the Montego Bay cocktail dates back to the early days of Tiki. We’ve included a vintage recipe below, thanks to the research of tropical drink historian and author Jeff “Beachbum” Berry.

Montego Bay was very similar to the Navy Grog and Zombie, also invented by Donn Beach (aka Don the Beachcomber). All were re-invented by mixologist Mariano Licudine when The Mai-Kai opened in 1956. Licudine spent decades behind the bar at Don the Beachcomber restaurants in Los Angeles and Chicago before he was lured away to Fort Lauderdale. His re-creations of Beachcomber classics usually included a tweak or two, and the Montego Bay is no exception.

Hanalei Bay came out of retirement at The Mai-Kai in September 2016 for a special party marking the release of 'Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant' by Tim 'Swanky' Glazner. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Hanalei Bay came out of retirement at The Mai-Kai in September 2016 for a special party marking the release of ‘Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant’ by Tim ‘Swanky’ Glazner. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

But exactly how were we able to figure out those tweaks? Hanalei Bay was served at The Mai-Kai for the first time in nearly 50 years at a special event in September 2016 celebrating the release of a lavish new book, Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant by Tim “Swanky” Glazner.

It was one of the last remaining “lost” recipes (along with Dr. Fong) that had not been featured at special events over the past several years. I had almost given up hope of ever tasting it when The Mai-Kai’s general manager, Kern Mattei, revealed during the summer of 2016 that both had turned up in an old Mariano Licudine recipe book. It was great to take a trip back in time while enjoying the book release party with Tikiphiles and Mai-Kai fans who had traveled across the country for the event. [More photos on Tiki Central]

Glazner gave a guided tour of The Mai-Kai’s dining rooms, plus a special on-stage presentation featuring stories and photos from the book and his archives. The video clip of Johnny Carson enjoying a Mystery Drink on The Tonight Show is always a highlight (see past coverage). Be sure to pick up a copy of the book to check out the stories and more than 400 images, many revealed for the first time. You can find it in The Mai-Kai gift shop and other brick-and-mortar locations. It’s also available online via Amazon.

Continue reading “Lost Cocktails of The Mai-Kai: Take a trip back to Hanalei Bay”

UPDATE: Rums of The Mai-Kai include potent, funky flavors from Guyana and Jamaica

Vintage Lemon Hart bottles in the back service bar at The Mai-Kai, along with the latest version of the venerable 151 Demerara rum (right). (Atomic Grog photo, February 2018)

Updated October 2021

APRIL 2021: Deconstructing Kohala Bay

Hurricane Hayward joined the Austin Rum Society online to reveal several new rum blends that hope to duplicate The Mai-Kai’s late, great dark Jamaican mixing rum. In the video below, we also enjoyed a Rum Barrel featuring the new recipe and discussed the history of The Mai-Kai …

AUGUST 2020: The Mai-Kai’s first signature rum

The Mai-Kai re-releases signature rum from The Real McCoy, plus new glassware and spirits menu
The Mai-Kai re-releases signature rum, plus new glassware and spirits menu
Check out our tasting notes on The Real McCoy 12-year-old Distillers Proof Mai-Kai Blend, plus cocktail recipes, the new rum menu and the updated cocktail menu.
* New sipping rum menu introduced
Bonus recipes: The Real McCoy Shark Bite and Special Reserve Daiquiri
Previous coverage: More on Bailey Pryor, The Real McCoy and the new Mai-Kai rum

JUNE 2019: A Mai-Kai rum deep dive at The Hukilau

The Rums of The Mai-Kai, presented by The Atomic Grog at The Hukilau 2019
The Rums of The Mai-Kai symposium on Inside the Desert Oasis Room
Mahalo to Adrian Eustaquio and Inside the Desert Oasis Room for documenting the presentation featuring Hurricane Hayward and Matt Pietrek of Cocktail Wonk live on stage at The Mai-Kai during the closing festivities of The Hukilau 2019.
Click here to listen now

The Rums of The Mai-Kai, presented by The Atomic Grog at The Hukilau 2019
The Atomic Grog presents new class and symposium at The Hukilau 2019
Hurricane Hayward of The Atomic Grog took guests 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. He was joined by rum expert Stephen Remsberg for an Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy class at the Pier Sixty-Six hotel, and by Cocktail Wonk writer Matt Pietrek for an on-stage symposium at The Mai-Kai. See the event preview

The Atomic Grog presents new class and symposium at The Hukilau

JANUARY 2019: Exploring Demerara rum at The Mai-Kai

Demerara Rum: The Mai-Kai's Secret Weapon on Jan. 19, 2019, at The Mai-Kai
Demerara Rum: The Mai-Kai’s Secret Weapon
The Atomic Grog was pleased to present a special happy-hour talk during The Mai-Kai Takeover event, presented by the Magical Tiki Meet-Up and Retro Rekindled. Click here to check out our full event recap, including photos and highlights of our Demerara rum discussion.

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Most of the information below is from 2019 and before. Read our historical coverage and check out the news above. Stay tuned for full update, coming soon.

THE RUMS OF THE MAI-KAI

For more than 60 years, The Mai-Kai has carried on the tradition of Tiki forefather Don the Beachcomber by serving some of the world’s most acclaimed tropical drinks. The secret recipes created by Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt (aka Donn Beach) in the 1930s and ’40s became the basis for many of the exotic cocktails on the menu when Bob and Jack Thornton opened their Polynesian palace in Fort Lauderdale in 1956.

More on The Mai-Kai’s rums below
* Rums from Guyana star in classic cocktails
* The legacy of Jamaica’s dark rums
* Rating the Kohala Bay replacements
* Appleton rums: Jamaica’s gold standard
* Full list of sipping rums
Related: The Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide, reviews and ratings

From Sippin' Safari: This vintage photo shows Mariano Licudine displaying his rum collection in 1962.
From Sippin’ Safari: This vintage photo shows Mariano Licudine displaying his rum collection in 1962.

To run the bar program, the Thorntons tapped one of Beach’s top mixologists, Mariano Licudine, who spent 16 years honing his craft at Don the Beachcomber in their native Chicago. Licudine brought more than skills, secret recipes and a penchant for creating his own distinctive cocktails. He brought a great appreciation for rum. That legacy continues today in the drinks that carry on the tradition of Beach, the Thornton brothers and Licudine.
Menu: Vintage Don the Beachcomber rum list from 1941

By their very nature, Tiki bars are known for their rums and cocktails highlighting cane spirits. But The Mai-Kai takes it to the extreme. The 48 drinks on Licudine’s original menu called for 43 different brands of rum, reports author and Tiki historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry in The Mai-Kai chapter of Sippin’ Safari, the seminal 2007 book on Tiki’s unheralded bartenders that was recently expanded and enhanced for a 10th anniversary edition.

The back of an Okole Maluna Society membership card, circa late 1950s.
The back of an Okole Maluna Society membership card, circa late 1950s.

A membership card for the Okole Maluna Society, the short-lived rewards program that challenged guests to sample every cocktail on the menu, touted 52 different rums, “light and dark … obscure and renowned … robust and delicate.” The society has its own chapter in historian Tim “Swanky” Glazner‘s 2016 book, Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant.

“Shortly after opening, The Mai-Kai became the largest independent user of rum in the U.S., pouring more than 2,000 cases of Puerto Rican rum in 1958 alone,” Berry wrote in Sippin’ Safari. Some 60 years later, lighter bodied rums from the Spanish-speaking Caribbean islands still make up a large chunk of the total volume of rum poured in The Mai-Kai’s secluded back bars. They play a key role in the many popular drinks on the tourist-friendly mild section of the menu.

But Beach’s true genius, as carried on by his brethren at The Mai-Kai, was the ability to blend rums of different body and character and create an entirely new and bold flavor profile. Many of The Mai-Kai’s most robust cocktails feature three and four different rums, such as the Zombie and Jet Pilot.

A 1941 rum menu from Don the Beachcomber in Chicago, where mixologist Mariano Licudine worked for 16 years before starting The Mai-Kai's bar program with owners Bob and Jack Thornton in 1956.
A 1941 rum menu from Don the Beachcomber in Chicago, where mixologist Mariano Licudine worked for 16 years before starting The Mai-Kai’s bar program with owners Bob and Jack Thornton in 1956.

The rums that define The Mai-Kai style are straight out of Donn’s playbook. As a counterpoint to the Spanish-style column-stilled rums, Beach often added two English-style pot-stilled rums: The dark and funky rums from Jamaica, and the rich and smoky Demerara rums from Guyana. These have always been the distinctive flavors that define many of The Mai-Kai’s best cocktails, particularly those on the strong section of the menu.

Thanks to Berry and his research, The Atomic Grog has been able to document in the Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide the direct connection between The Mai-Kai’s cocktails and those Donn Beach classics.

Following is a deep dive into these two rum styles as they’re served at The Mai-Kai today and through history, including discussion and reviews of the current brands and cocktails.

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DEMERARA RUMS: Lemon Hart, Hamilton shine in strong, flavorful cocktails

Lemon Hart 151 Demerara rum
The newest release of the iconic Lemon Hart 151 Demerara rum.

The Mai-Kai began using the latest reboot of Lemon Hart 151 Demerara rum, the iconic mixing rum from Guyana, in September 2016. This black blended overproof rum, which disappeared from the U.S. market in mid-2014, was reintroduced in the summer of 2016 and continues to regain distribution across the country. Lemon Hart’s 80-proof rum (known as Original 1804) is making slower progress, and The Mai-Kai continues to use Hamilton 86 as its standard black blended Demerara rum as of mid-2018.
* Tiki Central: Latest updates on Lemon Hart’s return

It was during the two-year absence of Lemon Hart that Hamilton 151 and 86, also from Guyana, stepped up to fill the void. The Hamilton rums were embraced not only at The Mai-Kai, but at Tiki and craft cocktail bars across the country. While some bars have chosen to stick with Hamilton across the board, The Mai-Kai is splitting the difference with Lemon Hart 151 and Hamilton 86.

Following is a list of the drinks at The Mai-Kai using Lemon Hart and Hamilton rums. The links will connect you with reviews and recipes.

Cocktails featuring Lemon Hart 151 Demerara rum at The Mai-Kai. (Atomic Grog photo, April 2018)
Cocktails featuring Lemon Hart 151 Demerara rum at The Mai-Kai. (Atomic Grog photo, April 2018)

151 Swizzle (151 proof)
Bora Bora (86 proof)
Jet Pilot (151 proof)
K.O. Cooler (151 and 86 proof)
Martinique Milk Punch (86 proof)
Oh So Deadly (86 proof)
Shrunken Skull (151 proof)
Sidewinder’s Fang (86 proof)
S.O.S. (86 proof)
Special Planters Punch (151 proof)
Suffering Bastard (151 proof)
Yeoman’s Grog (86 proof)
Zombie (151 proof)

Retired cocktails featuring Demerara rum: In addition to the current drinks listed above, you can also sample a few recipes for drinks that are no longer featured on The Mai-Kai menu. Both of these have made comebacks at special events, so you never know when they will return for an encore.
Demerara Cocktail | Demerara Float

HISTORY: The saga of Demerara rums at The Mai-Kai

An ad for the new Lemon Hart 151 rum, which is returning to its traditional yellow label after several years off the market in the United States.
An ad for the new Lemon Hart 151 rum, which returned to its traditional yellow label after several years off the market in the United States.

What exactly is Demerara rum and why is it so important to Tiki cocktails? According to Berry, aged Demerara rums “are the rich, aromatic, smoky ‘secret weapon’ in most truly memorable tropical drinks.” They hail from the banks of the Demerara River in Guyana, hence the name. The last remaining distillery in Guyana is Demerara Distillers, which produces its own extensive suite of rums under the El Dorado brand. It also supplies all of the world’s Demerara rum, including those bottled by Lemon Hart and Hamilton.

The historic distillery, aka Diamond Distillery, was established in 1670. The rums are made using molasses from local Demerara sugar, which along with the distillery’s special strain of cultured yeast, historic stills and Guyana’s tropical climate, provide a unique combination that yields some of the world’s richest rums. Diamond employs some of the oldest and unique stills the world, including the last wooden pot stills, which can be traced back to the 1730s.

There are more than 20 different styles of rum produced at the distillery, we learned in a 2014 seminar at the Rum Renaissance Festival in Miami. Master distiller Shaun Caleb offered a fascinating look at the inner workings of Diamond Distillery and the excellent El Dorado rums.

Continue reading “UPDATE: Rums of The Mai-Kai include potent, funky flavors from Guyana and Jamaica”