The 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.
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:
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.
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.
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 …
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
JANUARY 2019: Exploring Demerara rum 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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
DEMERARA RUMS: Lemon Hart, Hamilton shine in strong, flavorful cocktails
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.
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
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.