Mai-Kai cocktail review: This daiquiri is special in more ways than one

Updated September 2015
See below: Our Special Reserve Daiquiri review | Ancestor recipe | Tribute recipe
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide

The Mai-Kai’s Special Reserve Daiquiri is a throwback to another era with its classic recipe and flamboyant presentation in a frozen ice shell, a lost art that the Tiki cocktail mecca has almost single-handedly helped keep alive for the past half-century.

Jeff "Beachbum" Berry enjoys a Special Reserve Daiquiri at The Hukilau in April 2012
Jeff "Beachbum" Berry enjoys a Special Reserve Daiquiri at The Hukilau in April 2012. (Photo by Harold Golen)

The daiquiri – invented in Cuba in the late 19th century and popularized at El Floridita bar in Havana – is not a complex drink. The original recipe is simply lime juice, sugar and rum (shaken, not blended). But in the hands of a master like Donn Beach, aka Don the Beachcomber, this simple sonata became a baroque symphony. Beach, who invented the tropical cocktail in the 1930s and inspired the original Mai-Kai drink menu, had an arsenal of daiquiris. One of his early recipes likely inspired the Special Reserve Daiquiri.

The high quality and authenticity of the Special Reserve Daiquiri was confirmed in April 2012 at The Hukilau, when the big kahuna of tropical mixology, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, was spotted with the drink in his hands on multiple occasions over the course of the annual Tiki fest. The author of the definitive books on the subject is known to have a soft spot for aged Appleton rum, which is the star of this cocktail.

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Mai-Kai cocktail review: Find out what makes the Shark Bite so Jawesome

The Shark Bite is always served with a "side of danger" (in this case, a shot of aged Appleton rum). (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, March 2017)

Updated August 2018
See below: Our Shark Bite review | Ancestor recipe | Tribute recipe
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide

We continue our journey through dangerous waters this week with another of The Mai-Kai’s signature drinks, the Shark Bite.

Hurricane Hayward enjoys a Shark Bite in The Molokai bar in September 2016 during a book-release party for Tim "Swanky" Glazner's "Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant." (Atomic Grog photo)
Hurricane Hayward enjoys a Shark Bite in The Molokai bar in September 2016 during a book-release party for Tim “Swanky” Glazner’s “Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant.” (Atomic Grog photo)

Considering that this is the heart of the summer vacation season and we’re still digesting Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week,” this is an appropriate choice. Actually, the Shark Bite’s potency is a bit overstated. It’s our favorite drink from the “medium” section of the menu.

Like the much stronger Shrunken Skull, the Shark Bite has an ominous name and also a shot of flavorful rum added as it’s served. It’s also one of many of the legendary Fort Lauderdale Polynesian restaurant’s drinks that date back to the early days of Tiki, when Donn Beach (aka Donn the Beachcomber) laid out the template for tropical drinks that is still followed to this day.

The Shark Bite is an almost spot-on copy of the Shark’s Tooth, a drink featured on Don the Beachcomber menus as well as other bars and restaurants during the mid-century golden age of Tiki. You’ll find a Shark’s Tooth recipe below that was unearthed by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry for his seminal 1998 book, Grog Log, and later republished in Beachbum Berry Remixed (2010). Also below is a slight variation that we’re calling a tribute to the Shark Bite.

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Mai-Kai cocktail review: The mystery of the Gardenia Lei

Updated June 30, 2014
See below: Our Gardenia Lei review | Ancestor recipe
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide

Though it’s officially listed on The Mai-Kai’s legendary cocktail menu as an after-dinner drink, the Gardenia Lei is well worth checking out at any time, especially if you’re a fan of classic Tiki drinks.

Ice shells are prepared and waiting in The Mai-Kai's back bar. (photo by Go11Events.com, June 2010)
Ice shells are prepared and waiting in The Mai-Kai's back bar. (Photo by Go11Events.com, June 2010)

It’s also a great showcase for the lost art of the ice shell. Our tribute to the Special Reserve Daiquiri, another drink that uses this same technique, includes instructions on how to make one. We saw how they were stored in the back bar’s freezer during our special tour in November 2011.

The Gardenia Lei is a vintage cocktail that has been on the menu since the opening of The Mai-Kai in 1956, with its roots going even farther back to Don the Beachcomber’s Mystery Gardenia. As we’ve pointed out in many other reviews, a majority of The Mai-Kai’s cocktails have their origins in the 1930s and 1940s when Donn Beach invented the tropical drink as we know it today.
Related: The Mai-Kai’s tropical drink family tree

Many original Don the Beachcomber recipes have been unearthed by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and published in his many highly recommended books. Berry’s dogged research resulted in a greater understanding of the art of tropical mixology and helped spur the Tiki cocktail revival that shows no signs of abating.

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