What we learned at Appleton master blender Joy Spence’s rum tasting at The Mai-Kai

What we learned at Appleton master blender Joy Spence’s rum tasting at The Mai-Kai

Updated Aug. 27, 2019

What could possibly be better than an Appleton Estate rum tasting at The Mai-Kai? How about the first-ever such event at the historic Polynesian palace hosted by Joy Spence, the longtime master blender for the venerable Jamaican brand synonymous with pure premium rum.

Quick links below
* 5 things you might not know about Joy Spence
* 12 things we learned about how Appleton rum is made
* How Joy Spence wants you to experience Appleton Estate rums
Recipe: Joy Spence’s favorite rum cocktail
* Event preview, Joy Spence biography and Appleton rum overview

Appleton Estate master blender Joy Spence speaks to an enthusiastic group of rum enthusiasts at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale on Aug. 14, 2019
Appleton Estate master blender Joy Spence speaks to an enthusiastic group of rum enthusiasts at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale on Aug. 14, 2019. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The 50 or so enthusiasts who were lucky enough to score a ticket to the sold-out presentation on Aug. 14 were in for a treat. In addition to four delicious Appleton rums, we enjoyed a complimentary Mai Tai and happy-hour prices on The Mai-Kai’s extensive cocktail and pupu menus.

But the most valuable take-away was undoubtedly the fascinating first-hand information provided by the world’s first female master blender. Her articulate and straightforward delivery, sprinkled with entertaining and whimsical anecdotes, made the rum-tasting experience a true Joy.

Here are some of the many insights we learned from Spence during her hour-long appearance in the Fort Lauderdale restaurant’s Tahiti dining room:

5 things you might not know about Joy Spence

* In her youth, she went to an all-girls catholic school and originally wanted to become a nun. “But I’m an only child, and when I told my mother I wanted to become a nun she marched down to the school and told the principal that she needs grandchildren.” Luckily for Appleton Estate and Jamaican rum devotees worldwide, she never joined the convent.

Joy Spence talks about and her early career and her 38 years at Appleton Estate during a special rum tasting at The Mai-Kai on Aug. 14, 2019
Joy Spence talks about and her early career and her 38 years at Appleton Estate during a special rum tasting at The Mai-Kai on Aug. 14, 2019. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* Spence went to college to become a doctor, but she ended up concentrating on her passion for chemistry. When it came time to get some industry experience, she joined Tia Maria as a research chemist. At this time, the company that makes the dark Jamaican liqueur was located right next to J. Wray & Nephew, which makes Appleton Rum.

* She was bored at Tia Maria and always noticed the action at the “happening place” across the road, so in 1981 she sent a resume and set up an interview. “They told me right up front that there were no vacancies,” she said, but two weeks later they offered her a new position as chief chemist because they were so impressed with her resume. Despite the salary being less than her current job, she left Tia Maria and the rest is rum history.

* As chief chemist, Spence worked closely with the master blender, Owen Tulloch. “I became very fascinated with what he was doing in his private room,” she said, and her curiosity led her to knock on his door and find out. Spence recalled: “He started to test me and said ‘you have amazing sensory skills. You’ll become an excellent blender one day.’ So he took me under his wing and I studied with him for 17 years. When he retired, my bosses took a very bold move to appoint me as the master blender. No other woman had ever been given that position in the entire spirits industry. They actually got a lot of flack for it, but they knew what they were doing. My whole life changed after that.”

* The first rum she oversaw as master blender was the Appleton Estate 250th Anniversary release in 1999. She said her knees where shaking during the process. She wasn’t sure how it would be received, “but I got an excellent reaction” and “that gave me the strength and courage to continue and make the other blends that we now have in our portfolio.”

12 things we learned about how Appleton Estate rum is made

The full range of Appleton Estate rums were featured at a special rum tasting at The Mai-Kai on Aug. 14, 2019
The full range of Appleton Estate rums were featured at a special rum tasting at The Mai-Kai on Aug. 14, 2019. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* Appleton Estate, est. 1749, is located in the lush and tropical Nassau Valley. “Believe it or not, it rains every day at 2 p.m., so we don’t have to worry about irrigation,” Spence said. This rainfall feeds the limestone springs beneath the ground, as well as the robust sugar cane crop.

* The estate grows 10 varieties of sugar cane year-round. The crop is harvested between January and May and crushed to yield juice. The juice is then boiled, resulting in crystals of sugar suspended in molasses. A massive centrifuge separates the two. The sugar is sold, and the leftover molasses is pumped over to the distillery, becoming the starting material for the rum.

* The limestone springs – which produce a distinctive turquoise blue water with “a nice soft, sweet taste” – are Spence’s favorite part of the estate. “When I’m feeling depressed and down, I take a glass of Appleton Estate Reserve, drive over to the water source, sit on a rock, and enjoy the beauty of the springs. I sip the Reserve, and by the time my glass is finished, all my troubles have been washed away and I’m ready to go back and face the problems of the distillery.” This unique spring water is added to the molasses.

Continue reading “What we learned at Appleton master blender Joy Spence’s rum tasting at The Mai-Kai”

The Rums of The Mai-Kai: The Atomic Grog presents new class and symposium at The Hukilau 2019

Manager Bob Van Dorpe (left) and head bartender Mariano Licudine (right) show off The Mai-Kai’s rum collection in 1962. Many of those rare and original bottles can still be found in the secluded back service bar (photo from 2017 at right), unseen by guests.

Updated July 6

NEW: Hear The Rums of The Mai-Kai symposium on the Inside the Desert Oasis Room podcast
The Rums of The Mai-Kai, presented by The Atomic Grog at The Hukilau 2019
Mahalo to Adrian Eustaquio and Inside the Desert Oasis Room for documenting the June 9 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 or subscribe on iTunes and other podcast platforms

Full recap coming soon!
NEW: Get detailed reports and photos on Tiki Central
The Atomic Grog presents new class and symposium at The Hukilau
COMING SOON: Exclusive news on a new replacement for Kohala Bay rum at The Mai-Kai, plus more!
More on the rums of The Mai-Kai
NEW: See exclusive info and photos on Tiki Central

The Mai-Kai's original mixologist, Mariano Licudine (right), with his rum collection in 1962. Many of those rare and original bottles can still be found in the secluded back service bar (photo from 2017 at right), unseen by guests. At The Hukilau 2019, we'll take a peek behind the scenes
Manager Bob Van Dorpe (left) and head bartender Mariano Licudine (right) show off The Mai-Kai’s rum collection in 1962. Many of those rare and original bottles can still be found in the secluded back service bar (photo from 2017 at right), unseen by guests. At The Hukilau 2019, we’ll take a peek behind the scenes.

Event preview:

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.

The Rums of The Mai-Kai, presented by The Atomic Grog at The Hukilau 2019
Click here for tickets and more info on The Hukilau 2019

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.

Stephen Remsberg is famous for his private collection of thousands of bottles of rum. (Image by Annene Kaye)
Stephen Remsberg is famous for his private collection of thousands of bottles of rum. (Image by Annene Kaye)

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. Free shuttle will run betwen The Hukilau hotels and The Mai-Kai from 11:30 a.m. until around 5 p.m.

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 Mai-Kai's vintage rum collection attracts industry VIPs from around the world. Joy Spence, master blender of Appleton Rum, paid a visit in November 2018 and found some rare bottles from Jamaica. Alexandre Gabriel, owner of Maison Ferrand and Plantation Rum, tasted a few vintage bottles during a tour after his symposium at The Hukilau 2018 last June. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)
The Mai-Kai’s vintage rum collection attracts industry VIPs from around the world. Joy Spence, master blender of Appleton Rum, paid a visit in November 2018 and found some rare bottles from Jamaica. Alexandre Gabriel, owner of Maison Ferrand and Plantation Rum, tasted a few vintage bottles during a tour after his symposium at The Hukilau 2018 last June. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

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.

Continue reading “The Rums of The Mai-Kai: The Atomic Grog presents new class and symposium at The Hukilau 2019”

Iron TikiTender goes on tour: Deadline looms for Atlanta regional competition

The Iron TikiTender 2018 print by artist B-Rex depicts host Blair Reynolds and the three competitors (Jeanie Grant, Kelly Merrell and Mark Hooper). It's available for purchase at IronTikiTender.com

UPDATE:

ORIGINAL STORY:

Bartenders who hope to gain bragging rights in the Tiki cocktail world have until Monday, Jan. 14, to enter a new regional competition and earn a chance to compete in the finals this summer at Tiki Kon in Portland.
Bonus recipe: Jamaican Bad Decisions, the 2018 winning cocktail

Iron TikiTender

The Iron TikiTender competition has expanded this year and will hit the road to select the finalists for its fourth throwdown, won last year by Jeanie Grant of Pagan Idol in San Francisco. The first of these regionals will be held on Feb. 16 during the second annual Inuhele Tiki weekender in Atlanta.
* Facebook event

Bartenders: Click here to register to compete

The link above includes the official rules. Recipes must be based on the classic Hurricane and include sponsor BG Reynolds Syrups. Bartenders must work in one of 12 southern states.

The three competitors in the Atlanta competition will be selected on Jan. 21. The competition will be held during Inuhele at the Atlanta Marriott Century Center and include three challenges: Speedy Classics to Spec, Garish Garnish, and Mystery Ingredient.

Inuhele: Atlanta's Tiki Weekend

Inuhele: Atlanta’s Tiki Weekend, which debuted last February as a one-day home bar tour, has expanded in 2019 to a three-day weekend of bar-hopping, panels, bands, demos, networking and more. Headquartered at the Marriott, Inuhele (which fittingly means “cocktail journey”) will feature a Friday night bar crawl to the venerable Trader Vic’s plus new venues Tiki Iniki and Tiki Tango.

Panelists include cocktail legend Brother Cleve, artist Derek Yaniger, rum expert Paul Senft and Inuhele organizer Jonathan M. Chaffin of Horror In Clay, the Atlanta-based purveyor of horror, Tiki, and sci-fi themed barware and accessories.

The Iron TikiTender 2018 print by artist B-Rex depicts host Blair Reynolds and the three competitors (Jeanie Grant, Kelly Merrell and Mark Hooper). It's available for purchase at IronTikiTender.com.
The Iron TikiTender 2018 print by artist B-Rex depicts host Blair Reynolds and the three competitors (Jeanie Grant, Kelly Merrell and Mark Hooper). It’s available for purchase at IronTikiTender.com.

Also be sure not to miss History of the Mystery Drink, presented by Tim “Swanky” Glazner, author of Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant.

The Iron TikiTender competition will serve as opening act to musical headliners Kinky Waikiki and The Mystery Men on Saturday night. Deluxe and VIP tickets are already sold out, so act now and don’t miss out.

Launched at Tiki Kon 2014, Iron Tikitender is produced by Blair Reynolds, creator of BG Reynolds Syrups. The event returned to Tiki Kon last year after a two-year absence. Grant emerged victorious after doing battle with fellow finalists Kelly Merrell (Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar) and Mark Hooper (Arkansas-based bartender and Tiki ninja). Hosted by Reynolds with commentary by Ray Wyland (Tiki With Ray) and Jason T. Smith (Tiki treasure hunter), the contest was a spectacle that drew hundreds of Tiki cocktail fans to the main ballroom of the Red Lion Hotel.

Continue reading “Iron TikiTender goes on tour: Deadline looms for Atlanta regional competition”

The Tiki Times – July 2017 Events Calendar: Tales of the Cocktail takes over

Tales of the Cocktail poster

The Tiki Times

From the ashes of the Week in Tiki (and, later, the Month in Tiki) rises The Tiki Times. Still ambitious, but more practical, this monthly guide to what’s going on across the world of Tiki culture will hopefully be a definitive resource of where to find special events that touch on topics of interest to many Tikiphiles. You’ll find all the major Tiki festivals, plus smaller gatherings along with events that scratch our itch for rum and cocktails, surf and rockabilly music, mid-century modern design, even Disney. And don’t forget authentic Polynesian culture, the well from which Tiki springs. The biggest will get extended coverage as “spotlight events.”
Social media: Follow our Facebook page for daily news updates
Pinterest | Coming soon: Twitter and Instagram

JULY 2017 TIKI EVENTS CALENDAR
Spotlight event: Tales of the Cocktail (July 18-23)
Ongoing events | Upcoming events

July 6-9 – Exotica 10 Years After featuring the finest in surf, garage and roots music in venues throughout Chicago.
Exotica 10 Years After

July 8 – Tiki Night at The Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. The American Cinematheque’s 13th annual Tiki Night event starts at 1:30 p.m. with a Tiki marketplace and continues into the evening with an exclusive screening of the 1994 film Rapa Nui. The day’s activities include live music by King Kukulele and the Friki Tikis, performances by the Polynesian Paradise Dancers, Tiki vendors, the Aloha Fridays food truck, and craft Tiki cocktails.
* More info | Facebook event

July 9 – Surfin’ Sundays at the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum. A free, all-ages summer concert series at the Huntington Beach Pier in Southern California. Featuring The MuerTones, Durango 66, Tequila Worms, 3 Balls Of Fire, Driving Guitars (The Ventures tribute), and The Breakaways.
Surfin' Sundays - July 9, 2017

July 14-15 – Spirit of Tiki Cocktail Festival in London. This second annual event brings the tropical atmosphere of the South Pacific to Regent’s Park for a celebration of Tiki culture with a focus on rum and exotic cocktails. Includes Tiki art, performances, music (including British singer Andy Abraham) and food. Organized by Mahiki bar manager Georgi Radev, rum enthusiast Roger Barnes and global rum ambassador Ian Burrell.
* Facebook page | Press coverage (The Spirits business)

July 15 – Tiki Fashion Show at Trader Vic’s in Emeryville, Calif. A showcase of vintage aloha fashions and music from DJ Otto von Stroheim.
Tiki Fashion Show at Trader Vic's

July 15- Tiki Makeke at Don the Beachcomber in Huntington Beach, Calif. More than 60 vendors selling their wares, plus authentic Polynesian music and hula dancers, live bands, food and drinks, plus more. Live music by The Hula Girls.
Tiki Makeke

July 15 – Tiki Run in St. Paul, Minn., featuring races (5k, 10k, half marathon, etc.), costume contest, and post-race party.
* Facebook page

Continue reading “The Tiki Times – July 2017 Events Calendar: Tales of the Cocktail takes over”

Week in Tiki (March 16-31, 2016): Lost Lake fire and more Tiki bar news, event previews, Lemon Hart rum returning?

The staff at Lost Lake in Chicago recovered from a recent fire with the aid of the local hospitality community.

The Week in Tiki Late March was punctuated by upheaval in the Tiki bar world, including a fire at Lost Lake in Chicago and the confirmed closing of Trader Vic’s in Portland. We also have updates on the upcoming Pacific Seas in Los Angeles and False Idol in San Diego, among others. Event previews include The Atomic Grog’s fifth anniversary party, Ohana: Luau at the Lake, and Tiki Kon. We investigate the rumored return of Lemon Hart, the upcoming Midwest Rum Festival, plus more rum news. Quick sips include Thor joining the Tiki Farm team, a new bar at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, a new Tiki-flavored pulp novella, and the aborted end of a re-creation of the voyage of the Kon-Tiki. Regular features spotlight legendary carver Milan Guanko; longtime Tiki entertainer King Kukulele; the historic Tiki bar La Mariana Sailing Club in Honolulu; and the video series Rum Minute. The rum the week, Sailor Jerry, is featured in the Wicked Wahine cocktail.
* Keep up with The Week in Tiki: Facebook page | RSS feed | See past weeks | Archive
* Weekly features: Artist | Band/music | Bar | Website | Rum | Cocktail | Events

TIKI BAR NEWS: Lost Lake hit by fire, Trader Vic’s Portland closing confirmed; changes coming to South Florida’s Kreepy Tiki, Psycho Suzi’s owner honored

The staff at Lost Lake in Chicago recovered from a recent fire with the aid of the local hospitality community.
The staff at Lost Lake in Chicago recovered from a recent fire with the aid of the local hospitality community.

A near tragedy struck acclaimed Tiki bar Lost Lake in Chicago on March 27, when what was originally thought to be a small electrical fire in the kitchen ended up causing extensive smoke damage that kept the year-old establishment closed for weeks. “The Chicago Fire Department put out a fire that was moments away from taking our beloved Tiki bar all the way down – not to mention two apartments upstairs,” Shelby Allison, who runs the bar with Paul McGee, posted on Facebook. “There are lots of very scientific cleaning methods happening at Lost Lake this week, but it could have been so much worse.” According to reports on a A GoFundMe page, the kitchen of the adjoining Thank You restaurant and the front entrance “were completely incinerated” while the bar suffered smoke damage that sadly forced the disposal of the bar’s vast rum collection. Lost Lake, which was recently nominated for a prestigious James Beard Award, received an outpouring of support from the entire Chicago hospitality community in the wake of the fire, from bartenders and bar owners to chefs, distributors, and brands. Bars as far away as Los Angeles also held Lost Lake support events. Allison reported that every member of Lost Lake’s support staff received temporary positions, and many bars hosted special pop-ups to keep the tip-based employees afloat. Special T-shirts were printed, with all profits going to Lost Lake bartenders. The GoFundMe page campaign received 309 donations and raised $20,000 for Lost Lake employee aid.
* More coverage online: Critiki | Time Out Chicago | DNAinfo
* Lost Lake: Official website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
Don’t miss: McGee and Allison will return to The Hukilau in June, participating for the second year in a row in the sold-out Tiki Tower Takeover at the Pier 66 hotel in Fort Lauderdale. [2015 coverage]

Trader Vic's Portland

A fire earlier in March had more devastating effects the Portland Trader Vic’s franchise, as reported in the previous edition of the Week in Tiki. The March 2 fire at the medical office above the 8,000-square-foot restaurant burned through most of the ceiling in the bar and dining room, causing damage that would have closed the restaurant for at least eight weeks for repairs, according to reports. Instead, the owner decided that due to mounting debt and high operating costs, he would close permanently. Weeks went by without an official statement from the franchise owner, but on March 21, J. Clayton Hering posted this on Facebook: “It is with a heavy heart that I inform you of the decision to close Trader Vic’s in Portland after four and a half years. This is effective immediately. We can be proud that we provided an excellent entertainment venue to our customers, families, and private parties. Our menu for appetizers, food and drink as well as our atmosphere were a unique addition to the Portland restaurant scene. Our customers enjoyed Trader Vic’s return to Portland because of the fun environment we created which was unique to the city and well received. We thank you for your support over the last four and a half years.” There was no word on what became of the extensive Tiki-themed decor, though in past Trader Vic’s closings most of the major art pieces were returned to the Trader Vic’s corporation. A dozen black walnut dining room tables later turned up on Craigslist. Of the 20 remaining Trader Vic’s locations, only two are in the United States while 18 are overseas. The Atlanta franchise is still going strong after 40 years, while the corporate-owned flagship location has been in Emeryville, Calif., for 44 years. The original Trader Vic’s was opened by Victor Bergeron in Oakland in 1937.
* Why Trader Vic’s closed its Portland location (The Oregonian)

Continue reading “Week in Tiki (March 16-31, 2016): Lost Lake fire and more Tiki bar news, event previews, Lemon Hart rum returning?”

Upstart spirits share spotlight with major players at sixth annual Miami Rum Renaissance Festival

Miami Rum Renaissance FestivalIt’s a rum enthusiast’s dream: Seven days of nothing but tasting hundreds of rums and cocktails in sunny Miami, learning about the colorful history and culture that envelop every aspect of the industry.

But the sixth annual Miami Rum Festival also revealed a key component of rum’s burgeoning success: It’s rare for an industry to simultaneously embrace both tradition and innovation, giving upstarts equal footing with the industry’s revered giants. In the world of rum, this is possible, and it was on full display in late April.

This story covers my adventures at industry parties during the first Miami Cocktail Week, plus an in-depth look at the festival’s signature Grand Tastings and seminars. Click here for reviews of the week’s best cocktails, including some tasty recipes.

Miami Rum Renaissance Festival was held April 25-27 at the Doubletree by Hilton Miami Airport Convention Center. Miami Cocktail Week was April 21-27 at venues throughout South Florida.
Jump below: Rum reviews | Seminars | Photo gallery | Tasting competition results
Related story: Cocktails reach new heights of creativity at Miami Rum Festival

MIAMI COCKTAIL WEEK: Welcome to the jungle

Daniele Crouch and Matt (Rumdood) Robold serve Caña Rum Bar cocktails featuring Plantation Rum during the Miami Rum Festival party at The Broken Shaker on Monday, April 21
Daniele Crouch and Matt (Rumdood) Robold serve Caña Rum Bar cocktails featuring Plantation Rum during the Miami Rum Festival party at The Broken Shaker on Monday, April 21. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The week of rum-soaked festivities commenced on Monday, April 21, with a kick-off party sponsored by Plantation Rum and featuring a pop-up bar with cocktails from Caña Rum Bar in Los Angeles. Held at The Broken Shaker in Miami Beach, the laid-back event gave early arrivals and locals a chance to mingle and sample some inventive concoctions.
* Click here to check out my review of the cocktails

The vibe and weather were perfect as attendees soaked up both the atmosphere and complimentary cocktails with equal gusto. Rum fest organizers Robert A. Burr and Robin Burr, along with son Robert V. Burr, chilled out and entertained guests as if they were hosting an informal backyard party at their home. At the time, I thought the Burrs were enjoying the calm before the storm, but a storm never arrived. The weather was perfect all week (clear and sunny days, mild nights), and the festival seemed to run without a hitch.

Continue reading “Upstart spirits share spotlight with major players at sixth annual Miami Rum Renaissance Festival”

Cocktails reach new heights of creativity at Miami Rum Festival

Miami Rum Festival Cocktail WeekFueled by the first Miami Cocktail Week, mixologists upped their game at the 2014 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival in April, presenting new and classic drinks with a modern flair. From the full week of events hosted by area bars, to the three-day Grand Tasting exhibits attended by more than 10,000 enthusiasts, there were plenty of opportunities to sample some of the best rum drinks being created today.

This story covers my search for the tastiest and most creative cocktails of the entire week. Click here for an overview of the festival and reviews of the best rums.

Miami Rum Renaissance Festival was held April 25-27 at the Doubletree by Hilton Miami Airport Convention Center. Miami Cocktail Week was April 21-27 at venues throughout South Florida.
See recipes below: Don Q Cocktail | Miami Swizzle | Passion Fontaine | Good Head
Jump below: The Grand Tastings | The Top 10 cocktails
Related coverage: Upstart spirits share spotlight with major players at Miami Rum Fest
Atomic Grog photo gallery | RumXP International Tasting Competition results

Matt Robold pours Plantation Rum as he mixes up Caña Rum Bar cocktails
Matt Robold pours Plantation Rum as he mixes up Caña Rum Bar cocktails at The Broken Shaker on Monday, April 21. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

THE PRE-PARTIES: Cocktail Week kicks off

It’s fitting that the first event of the week was held at Miami Beach’s The Broken Shaker, one of the most acclaimed cocktail bars in South Florida. But this was not just an ordinary evening at the funky indoor/outdoor bar, which would have been just fine. I did manage to squeeze in one of the establishment’s carefully hand-crafted rum cocktails before I left, but the main attraction of the evening was the pop-up bar sponsored by Plantation Rum and featuring mixologists from Caña Rum Bar in Los Angeles. [See the flyer]

There were four complimentary drinks [see menu] expertly mixed by Daniele Crouch and Matt Robold, aka Rumdood. This was no easy task considering the temporary bar set up on the patio, not far from the pingpong table and quite a distance from any traditional bar fixtures and plumbing. But the drinks were spot-on, made to order and consummately garnished. This pair deserves an award for most impeccably produced drinks under strenuous circumstances. I noticed Rumdood sweating in the Miami heat, but he and Daniele never lost their cool. My only complaint would be that they ran out of their homemade peach cordial before I could try the Gypsy Cab cocktail, which got high marks from the folks I talked to.

Continue reading “Cocktails reach new heights of creativity at Miami Rum Festival”

Mai-Kai cocktail review: The Big Bamboo features big flavors, unique history

Updated July 2018
See below: Our Big Bamboo review | Official Mai-Kai recipe
Related: Mara-Amu is a second generation classic | Mai-Kai cocktail guide
More “lost cocktails” | Tropical drink family tree

Big Bamboo appeared on a menu for prospective members of the Okole Maluna Society. (Tim Glazner / MaiKaiHistory.com)
Big Bamboo appeared on a menu for prospective members of the Okole Maluna Society. (Tim Glazner / MaiKaiHistory.com)

Of all The Mai-Kai’s legendary tropical drinks, one of the very best was never available to the general public. Rather, the Big Bamboo is believed to have been an exclusive treat for members of the Okole Maluna Society, whose challenge was to try every cocktail on the extensive menu.

Okole Maluna (translation: “Bottom’s Up,” a traditional Hawaiian toast) was a club The Mai-Kai operated in 1958-59 to promote its fledgling new bar, The Molokai, and at the same time gain customer loyalty and goodwill. Prospective club members received a special menu on which they charted their progress, and a membership card when they checked off every drink.

Loyalty clubs were common in Tiki bars of the mid-century, when competition was fierce. “Most places had five to seven high-end Tiki places in their downtowns,” tropical drink guru and author Jeff “Beachbum” Berry told Tales of the Cocktail for a recent article. “So how do you keep people coming back to your place as opposed to all of the other places that are trying to compete with you? A loyalty program.”

An Okole Maluna Society membership card, re-created by author Tim "Swanky" Glazner for the September 2016 release party for "Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant."
An Okole Maluna Society membership card, re-created by author Tim “Swanky” Glazner for the September 2016 release party for “Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant.”

Berry, who also owns and operates Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29 in New Orleans, first revealed the story of the Okole Maluna Society in his excellent chapter on The Mai-Kai and original mixologist Mariano Licudine in his seminal 2007 book, Sippin’ Safari, which was recently re-released as an enhanced 10th anniversary edition. “You were eligible to join after you’d ordered every one of the 48 drinks on the menu, whereupon you received a personalized bamboo cup filled with a Mariano original called the Big Bamboo – a ‘secret’ drink which he only made for Society members,” Berry wrote.

The Tales of the Cocktail article traces the history of loyalty clubs from the Okole Maluna Society up through popular present-day programs at Tonga Hut in Los Angeles, Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco, and elsewhere. “Anything that engages customers and make them feel more special and part of a club is a good thing,” Berry said. “That ‘Aloha spirit’ is very important. That’s what a loyalty program helps foster.”

But while The Mai-Kai is renowned for its outstanding hospitality and service, the Okole Maluna Society was shut down after only two years, most likely because it was too popular. Author Tim “Swanky” Glazner details the creation and quick demise of the club in his much-anticpated book, Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant (2016, Schiffer). In the chapter “Okole Maluna Society: A Drinking Competiton,” Glazner reveals the lengths to which customers would go to overindulge. Check out this blog post that includes exclusive photos from the book.

Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of The Iconic Tiki Restaurant
The new book by Tim “Swanky” Glazner, released in September 2016, explores the history of The Mai-Kai and its legendary loyalty club, the Okole Maluna Society.

In a frenzy to become “president” of the society by being the first to finish the menu, some guests may have gone a little too far, Glazner wrote. One regular camped out at a nearby hotel, completing the task in just three nights. For his accomplishment, he had his portrait painted on black velvet by noted artist Eric Askew and hung as a centerpiece of a display of member mugs behind the Surfboard Bar.

In the interest of keeping interest in the club going, he agreed to keep his accomplishment secret so others could make a bid for the presidency. “I think we killed a few people,” manager Bob van Dorpe told Glazner. Though the society was a huge success for those two years in the restaurant’s infancy and helped boost the popularity of the cocktails, it was decided that perhaps it was not a good idea to encourage guests to consume them so quickly, Glazner wrote in the book.

Glazner’s account of the Okole Maluna Society contains one distinct difference than Berry’s, however. According to his sources, the name of the secret drink given to members upon completion of the regular menu was called the Okole Maluna. It’s unclear if this was a distinctly different drink than the Big Bamboo that Berry revealed in Sippin’ Safari, or perhaps just a different name for the same recipe. Photos and artwork (see below) show a stylized bamboo mug, and the only menus on which the cocktail was featured appear to be the special Okole Maluna Society cards created for The Molokai bar (see above).

The special mugs for members of the Okole Maluna Society can see seen in this vintage artwork of The Mai-Kai's Surfboard Bar, which was later replaced by a dining area. (Courtesy of Tim "Swanky" Glazner, MaiKaiHistory.com)
The special mugs for members of the Okole Maluna Society can see seen in this vintage artwork of The Mai-Kai's Surfboard Bar, which was later replaced by a dining area. (Courtesy of Tim "Swanky" Glazner, MaiKaiHistory.com)

One thing is clear, however, as Berry explains in his book: Big Bamboo is the predecessor to one of The Mai-Kai’s signature cocktails, Mara-Amu. Containing most of the same ingredients, the Mara-Amu just a bit milder.

By all accounts, both cocktails were original recipes by Licudine, The Mai-Kai’s “Houdini of the liquids” who created the drink menu when the restaurant opened in 1956. Most of the others were Licudine’s take on classics by tropical drink pioneer Don the Beachcomber, for whom he worked during the prior decades in both Los Angeles and Chicago. Many of these drinks and recipes remain exactly as he left them when he retired in 1979. Licudine passed away in 1980.

So assuming you’ve done your duty and sampled all the other drinks on the menu, you’re now an approved member of the Okole Maluna Society and eligible to enjoy this lost classic.

July 2018 update: The Big Bamboo was one of the last of The Mai-Kai’s “lost cocktails” to come out of retirement when it appeared during a special event at The Hukilau in June. Participants in Hurricane Hayward’s Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy class, “How to Mix Like The Mai-Kai,” were given the exclusive privilege of ordering the drink during the Sunday finale in The Molokai bar.
At The Hukilau 2018, students from The Atomic Grog cocktail class not only received the exclusive Big Bamboo, which was being served to the public for the first time since the late 1950s. They earned their own Okole Maluna Society card and a free tour of the restaurant's historic art and architecture from author Swanky himself (pictured with Hurricane Hayward in The Molokai bar)
(Atomic Grog photos, June 10, 2018)
Students from The Atomic Grog class not only received the exclusive Big Bamboo, which was being served to the public for the first time since the late 1950s. They earned their own Okole Maluna Society card and a free tour of the restaurant’s historic art and architecture from author Swanky himself (pictured with Hurricane Hayward in The Molokai bar). You can pick up a signed copy of his book in The Mai-Kai Trading Post’s new online store.

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Big Bamboo

BIG BAMBOO

Okole Maluna Society review and rating

Size: Medium

Potency: Strong

Flavor profile: Gold and dark rums, passion fruit with bitter and sour nuances.

Review: Very well balanced, sweet and full of big flavors similar to Don the Beachcomber’s 1950 Zombie.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (see how it ranks)

The Big Bamboo mugs had handles like a stein and were engraved with the Okole Maluna Society member's name
The mugs thought to be used for the Big Bamboo had handles like a stein and were engraved with the Okole Maluna Society member's name. (Courtesy of Tim "Swanky" Glazner, MaiKaiHistory.com)

Ancestry: Big Bamboo was believed to be a special Mai-Kai cocktail available only to members of the Okole Maluna Society after they had ordered every other drink on the menu. It evolved into the milder Mara-Amu, which remains a favorite on the menu and features its own distinctive mug.

Bilge: There’s little information about the special mugs that were used for the Big Bamboo. Mai-Kai historian Tim “Swanky” Glazner provided the photo at right that shows the case where it’s believed they were kept. Aside from the photo and artwork above, we’ve been unable to find a trace. It joins the long list of sought-after Mai-Kai collectibles. If you find one, please let us know.

Agree or disagree? Share your reviews and comments below!

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OFFICIAL MAI-KAI RECIPE
Big Bamboo

(From Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari)

Big Bamboo by The Atomic Grog, July 2018. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Big Bamboo by The Atomic Grog, July 2018. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* 1/2 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
* 1/2 ounce fresh-squeezed orange juice
* 1/2 ounce grapefruit juice
* 1/2 ounce passion fruit syrup
* 1/2 ounce dark Jamaican rum
* 1 ounce gold Cuban rum
   (or sub Virgin Islands rum)
* 2 dashes Angostura bitters
* 4 ounces (1/2 cup) crushed ice

Put everything in a blender or spindle mixer and blend at high speed for exactly 5 seconds. Pour into a bamboo mug or tall glass. Garnish with a mint sprig.

From the personal notebook of Mariano Licudine, circa 1960.

We like to make a larger version by just doubling the proportions. For a slightly modified version, check out Chemistry of the Cocktail.

Notes and tips for home mixologists

* As usual, fresh juices are essential. I prefer all-natural white grapefruit juice with no sugar added. When white grapefruit is out of season, The Mai-Kai uses red or pink grapefruit, but always fresh squeezed from nearby Florida groves. The Mai-Kai has always used distinctive Florida citrus, which gives its cocktails a rich and fresh flavor. It’s sourced locally and 100 percent non-pasteurized. The lime juice is a unique blend, with Key lime juice dominating the sour and tart flavor. I recommend a specific blend if you want to duplicate The Mai-Kai flavor.
* Tiki Central: Click here for a full guide to the juices used at The Mai-Kai

A prototype of the Big Bamboo served by The Atomic Grog at a party marking the release of "Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant" by Tim "Swanky" Glazner in September 2016. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
A prototype of the Big Bamboo served by The Atomic Grog at a party marking the release of “Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant” by Tim “Swanky” Glazner in September 2016. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* You can create your own passion fruit syrup by making a simple syrup with passion fruit pulp. There’s a recipe in Sippin’ Safari that works well. Among the better bottled brands on the market are Small Hand Foods, B.G. Reynolds, Monin, Fee Brothers, and our favorite, Aunty Lilikoi. A good budget brand of passion fruit puree is made by Finest Call.

* Inspired by the artwork included in Sippin’ Safari and shown above, we included a garnish of fresh mint, which adds a great additional element with the smell arousing the senses and enhancing the drink. One other tip: Gently slap the mint against your hand to release its aromatics before inserting into the glass. The Mai-Kai also used mint when the drink made a rare appearance at The Hukilau 2018 (see photos above).

About those rums …

In September 2016, we were honored to be asked by author Tim “Swanky” Glazner to help celebrate the release of his book Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant by making cocktails for his special guests during a party at a Fort Lauderdale hotel. The Sept. 16-17 festivities also included a walking tour and special on-stage presentation by Glazner at the restaurant, plus the return of two lost cocktails (Hanalei Bay and Dr. Fong) that had not been served in decades.

Hurricane Hayward mixes up the Big Bamboo during a room party as part of a special event for "Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of The Iconic Tiki Restaurant" in Fort Lauderdale on Sept. 16, 2016. (Atomic Grog photo)
Hurricane Hayward mixes up the Big Bamboo during a room party as part of a special event for “Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of The Iconic Tiki Restaurant” in Fort Lauderdale on Sept. 16, 2016. (Atomic Grog photo)

As it turns out, the key to the outstanding flavors in Big Bamboo are the specific rums called for in the original recipe. Unfortunately, neither is currently available. A quality dark Jamaican rum with a bit of funkiness makes this cocktail really shine. Appleton, which is featured in many of The Mai-Kai’s signature cocktails, sponsored the September event and contributed several bottles for the party. While not as bold and funky as some other options, both the Signature and Reserve blends are s full of flavor and complexity, a fine choice for this cocktail. Appleton was recently pressed into service due to the unavailability of Kohala Bay, the direct descendant of the Dagger brand that was likely featured in the original. Click here for the story of Kohala Bay and Dagger, plus many suggested substitutions.

Big Bamboo by The Atomic Grog
Big Bamboo by The Atomic Grog. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, May 2012)

Cuban rum is even harder to find, at least for now. Formerly contraband in the United States thanks to the longtime embargo, it’s now trickling into the states after travel was recently opened up and rum was allowed to pass through customs in small amounts. In the years prior to Fidel Castro’s rule, this superb rum was featured at The Mai-Kai. Check out this photo of historic Cuban rum from the 1950s that still lines the upper shelves of The Mai-Kai’s back bar, spotted during a 2011 bar tour. If you can track down a bottle of Havana Club or another Cuban brand, by all means use it. My supply of Añejo Años (see photo above) is dwindling, but more recently I secured a bottle of Añejo Especial, another outstanding gold rum from Havana Club. For the party, I sought something that replicated those same flavors. There are many gold rums made in the Spanish style similar to Cuban, but the one that made sense in terms of both cost and taste was Ron Barcelo Añejo from the Dominican Republic. Among the many other choices are Virgin Islands rums such as Cruzan Estate Dark, Nicaragua’s Flor de Caña, plus Puerto Rico’s Bacardi Añejo, Bacardi 8, and Barrilito 3 Star. If you have any questions about the quality or taste of rums, a great resource is Robert Burr’s Rum Guide, which includes tasting notes and information on hundreds of fine rums from around the world. Burr also founded and produces the annual Rum Renaissance Festival.

When compared head-to-head, a Big Bamboo containing Kohala Bay and Havana Club is head and shoulders above any other options. While there are many other rum choices, it’s obvious that The Mai-Kai’s “Houdini of the liquids,” Mariano Licudine, knew best when he created this classic.

Okole maluna!

Mai-Kai cocktail review: The Hukilau is worthy of its famous company

Updated August 2018
See below: Our Hukilau review | Tribute recipes UPDATED
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide | Latest news on the annual Hukilau event

Like an ugly stepchild, The Hukilau cocktail at The Mai-Kai is often shunned in favor of its more glamorous siblings. But don’t underestimate this newcomer. It’s one of the more accessible strong drinks and worthy of inclusion on the iconic menu.

The Hukilau (right) with the Black Magic (left) and the Mutiny in April 2012. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Hukilau (right) with the Black Magic (left) and the Mutiny in April 2012. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The Hukilau was added to the menu in the fall of 2006, named in a contest by attendees of the fifth annual Polynesian Pop festival of the same name. But the contest was merely to name the drink. The actual recipe came from an in-house source and was selected by owner Dave Levy.

We’ve been unable to confirm the drink’s exact creator, but it’s obviously a close relative of both the Mutiny and Black Magic (see photo). All three are served in large snifter or goblet glasses, appear on the strong menu and share many of the same ingredients. We like to call them the “Holy Trinity” of Mai-Kai large-format drinks.

The Hukilau, as it appeared on menu from 2006 until 2014.
The Hukilau, as it appeared on menu from 2006 until 2014.

Recently, however, The Hukilau lost one of the defining characteristics of the trinity. In early 2016, the recipe was tweaked to remove the “splash of coffee” that had been touted on the menu since its debut. This was done to offer guests who prefer a non-caffeinated cocktail a chance to enjoy one of these signature drinks. There were apparently frequent requests to “hold the Joe.”

The Hukilau is also a bit sweeter than its siblings. It’s perfect for those who may not care for the flavor of coffee and who like their drinks more tart than exotic and spicy. And it’s also a fine way to honor an event that has called The Mai-Kai home since 2003.

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The official menu description
The Hukilau
THE HUKILAU

The official drink of The Hukilau, an event held yearly at The Mai-Kai, is full flavored with a splash of Appleton Rum.

Okole Maluna Society review and rating

Size: Large

Potency: Strong

The Hukilau, November 2010
The Hukilau, November 2010. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Flavor profile: Passion fruit, tart juices, honey and exotic sweet flavors.

Review: A sweeter and coffee-free alternative to The Mai-Kai’s similar large-format drinks. A smorgasbord of juices and Appleton rum shine through the sweetness to create a perfect balance of flavors.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (see how it ranks)

Ancestry: Added in 2006, The Hukilau is the newest original cocktail on The Mai-Kai’s current menu. The recipe was adjusted in 2016 to remove the coffee and add a secret mix that dates back to the early days of Tiki and Don the Beachcomber.

Bilge: The Hukilau is one of four Mai-Kai cocktails that specifically call for Appleton rum (along with the Shark Bite, Mai-Tai and Special Reserve Daiquiri). No other rum brand is mentioned by name on the current menu.

Agree or disagree? Share your reviews and comments below!

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NEW: Tribute to The Hukilau at The Mai-Kai
By The Atomic Grog (version 2.5, updated August 2018)

The Hukilau tribute by The Atomic Grog, August 2018. Glassware: The Hukilau 10th anniversary snifter glass, produced in 2011, designed by Kevin Kidney.
The Hukilau tribute by The Atomic Grog, August 2018. Glassware: The Hukilau 10th anniversary snifter glass, produced in 2011, designed by Kevin Kidney.

* 2 ounces fresh-squeezed orange juice
* 1 1/2 ounces fresh-squeezed lime juice
* 1 1/2 ounces fresh-squeezed lemon juice
* 1 ounces fresh grapefruit juice
* 1/2 ounce rich honey mix
* 1 1/2 ounces passion fruit syrup
* 1 1/2 ounces light Puerto Rican or Virgin Islands rum
* 2 ounces Appleton rum
* 1/2 ounce Mariano’s Mix #7 (see below)

Blend with up to 1 1/2 cups of crushed ice in a top-down mixer for at least 8 seconds, or until frothy. Pour into a large snifter glass or goblet with more crushed ice to fill.

NEW: Tribute to The Hukilau at The Mai-Kai
By The Atomic Grog (version 2.0, updated August 2018)

* 2 ounces fresh-squeezed orange juice
* 1 1/2 ounces fresh-squeezed lime juice
* 1 1/2 ounces fresh-squeezed lemon juice
* 1 ounces fresh grapefruit juice
* 1/2 ounce rich honey mix
* 2 ounces passion fruit syrup
* 1 1/2 ounces light Puerto Rican or Virgin Islands rum
* 2 ounces Appleton rum

The Hukilau tribute by The Atomic Grog, February 2017. Glassware: The Hukilau 10th anniversary snifter glass, produced in 2011, designed by Kevin Kidney. Mugs: The Hukilau 2016 Mai-Kai Mug (left), The Hukilau 2016 Pier 66 Tower Barrel Mug, both by Eekum Bookum.
The Hukilau tribute by The Atomic Grog, February 2017. Glassware: The Hukilau 10th anniversary snifter glass, produced in 2011, designed by Kevin Kidney. Mugs: The Hukilau 2016 Mai-Kai Mug (left), The Hukilau 2016 Pier 66 Tower Barrel Mug, both by Eekum Bookum.

Blend with up to 1 1/2 cups of crushed ice in a top-down mixer for at least 8 seconds, or until frothy. Pour into a large snifter glass or goblet with more crushed ice to fill.

In the absence of coffee, the addition of Mariano’s Mix #7 in version 2.5 fills the void to keep this cocktail near the top of our rankings. The secret mix adds a sharp anise flavor and exotic richness to temper the sweet and sour elements in this refreshing drink. Version 2.0 is similar to The Hukilau before the reintroduction of the mix and after the removal of coffee. Our original tribute recipe (version 1) is also featured below.

August 2018 updates

This completes the updates of the trinity of strong cocktails served in 24-ounce snifter glasses. Note that in April 2018, The Mai-Kai started using new, heavier goblet-style mugs instead. They’re much less breakable but have the same capacity.

The Mai-Kai now serves The Hukilau (along with the Mutiny and Black Magic) in a large goblet, replacing the more fragile snifter glass.  (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, August 2018)
The Mai-Kai now serves The Hukilau (along with the Mutiny and Black Magic) in a large goblet, replacing the more fragile snifter glass. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, August 2018)

The earlier tribute recipes fell short of filling our similar glasses, so I adjusted all three to feature around 12 ounces of ingredients, similar to the Barrel O’ Rum. When mugs or glasses were unavailable, these drinks routinely swapped vessels, so it follows that they all contain the same volume.

As for the ingredients, the addition of Mariano’s Mix #7 and removal of coffee weren’t the only tweaks. We were forced to remove cinnamon syrup from all of our tribute recipes after learning that this old Don the Beachcomber secret weapon was nowhere to be found at The Mai-Kai. It’s not really missed here, especially in the version that features the spicy #7.

The Hukilau is more accessible than the Black Magic or Mutiny, so we’ve created this tribute as a more mainstream version of those two iconic cocktails. It’s not an exact duplicate, but it’s definitely in the ballpark.

Notes and tips for home mixologists

Bob Roth's New River Groves in Davie. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, October 2016)
Bob Roth’s New River Groves in Davie. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, October 2016)

* There’s a lot of juice in this cocktail, so make sure you use quality, fresh-squeezed versions. As we’ve pointed out in other reviews and this deep dive on Tiki Central, The Mai-Kai looks to South Florida’s Kennesaw for its fresh orange and grapefruit juices. These are fresh-squeezed, pulpy, unpasteurized juices that come straight from Florida citrus groves. Kennesaw juices are sold at old-school South Florida fruit stands, including my favorite, Bob Roth’s New River Groves in Davie, not far from The Mai-Kai. I’ve also seen them pop up recently at area Whole Foods stores. There are other fine orange juice brands, but look for non or lightly pasteurized. Note that Kennesaw rarely offers white grapefruit juice, at least for the retail market. At The Mai-Kai, the style of grapefruit juice changes with the season. The freshest juice is stocked, whether it’s white or red (or sometimes both). Though white is typically preferred in classic cocktails, the Kennesaw red grapefruit juice is the best I’ve tasted and preferable to any canned or bottled white version. One new find, as detailed in that same Tiki Central link, is a fresh white grapefruit juice on the shelf at a local Fresh Market store. Availability seems to be sporadic, unfortunately. The Mai-Kai uses a distinctive, tart Key lime juice (possibly a blend from another food service provider). Squeezing Key limes is not a viable option, so I’ve found that blending a bottled Key lime juice with fresh-squeezed “regular” (aka Persian) limes yields the best result. The Tiki Central post goes into much detail on the types of bottled Key lime juices as well as the recommended blends. If you’re in Florida, look for the 100% natural Terry’s Homemade Key Lime Pie juice. It’s sold by the gallon at New River Groves. It’s by far the best. Finally, it’s fine to use standard fresh-squeezed regular lemons. I’ve been toying with a blend featuring Key West lemon juice, but that may be too tart for some palates.

Honey, Key Lime juice, grapefruit juice and orange juice from Bob Roth's New River Groves, January 2017.  (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Honey, Key Lime juice, grapefruit juice and orange juice from Bob Roth’s New River Groves, January 2017. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* Honey mix is another one of those nods to Don the Beachcomber, a historic ingredient that The Mai-Kai features in more than 20 cocktails. To get the proper amount of sweetness, we recommend a rich syrup (2 parts honey to 1 part water). Shake until thoroughly combined, then refrigerate. It should last for a while. And always use Florida Orange Blossom honey. Commercial brands can be found everywhere, but if you’re in Florida, we recommend seeking out locally produced varieties. I always pick up a bottle of the raw, unfiltered honey from McCoy’s in Loxahatchee when I make a juice run to New River Groves (see above). But any good Florida Orange Blossom honey should work fine.

* Passion fruit syrup is another key sweetener, used in more than a dozen cocktails at The Mai-Kai. There’s a hefty amount in this drink, so you’ll want to make sure it’s not too cloyingly sweet. I like to make a homemade syrup following the recipe I first saw in 2007 in Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari. Monin makes a bottled syrup that’s similar in flavor to The Mai-Kai’s house-made version. There are many other choices, from premium (Small Hand Foods, B.G. Reynolds, Aunty Lilikoi) to budget (Real Syrups, Finest Call) brands.

Appleton Special gold Jamaican rum hasn't changed, but it's been rebranded as J.Wray gold. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, June 2017)
Appleton Special gold Jamaican rum hasn’t changed, but it’s been rebranded as J.Wray gold. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, June 2017)

* Jamaican rums are featured in as many as 40 cocktails at The Mai-Kai, and Appleton (from the J. Wray & Nephew distillery) is the brand of choice. [Click here to see our full guide to Appleton rums at The Mai-Kai] The menu description is misleading, as I believe there’s more than a “splash” of Appleton in this drink. You can clearly taste an ounce or two. The original menu description (see above) described a “splash of coffee and Appleton Rum,” then was shortened to remove the coffee. It’s our guess that the splash referred to the coffee, not the rum. In any case, there’s likely 3 1/2 ounces of rum in this drink, similar to the other large snifter/goblet drinks. A light Virgin Islands or Puerto Rican rum (such as Cruzan, Bacardi or Don Q) forms the base. Appleton brings the flavor, and we’re recommending 2 full ounces. It’s unlikely that the premium Appleton Estate Rare Blend is featured here, but feel free to use a splash, up to 1/2 ounce. Our guess is that J. Wray Gold, which was formerly known as Appleton Special, is used here. It’s a lighter bodied gold rum but still has plenty of flavor and just a hint of Jamaican funk. I don’t believe that Signature Blend (formerly known as V/X) is featured, as that is now the substitute for the defunct Kohala Bay in many other cocktails. The Hukilau was never on the list of funky Kohala Bay drinks. And we’ve been told that Reserve Blend is not in stock behind the bar. Therefore, our recommendation would be 1 1/2 ounces J. Wray Gold and 1/2 ounce Appleton Estate Rare Blend. But feel free to use any combination of Appleton rums. You can’t really go wrong.

The Mutiny and The Hukilau in The Molokai bar, February 2017.  (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Mutiny and The Hukilau in The Molokai bar, February 2017. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* Finally, there’s Mariano’s Mix #7, named for The Mai-Kai’s original mixologist, Mariano Licudine. He was head bartender from 1956 until he retired in 1979 and brought many secret recipes from his 16 years at Don the Beachcomber in Hollywood and (for the majority of those years) Chicago. The Hukilau was created decades after Licudine’s tenure, of course. He passed away in 1980, but his influence can still be felt. The Hukilau originally didn’t contain this mix and was for many years similar to the second tribute recipe above, with the addition of coffee. From time to time, you’ll still get this older version (sans coffee) if the mix is unavailable. Secret mixes were Don the Beachcomber staples, created to both streamline the mixing process and keep his bartenders from stealing his recipes when they moved on to other bars. A few trusted barmen, such as Licudine (and Ray Buhen, who opened the Tiki-Ti in Los Angeles in 1961), either had access to how they were made or reverse engineered their own versions. As the years went by, a few of Licudine’s more obscure syrups disappeared from use when the ingredients became unavailable. Then, in the summer of 2016, we started noticing new flavors in several drinks, such as the Bora Bora. Owner Dave Levy confirmed that indeed these old syrups were being re-created with the help of an old bartender who used to work with Licudine. They’re not exact, but they’re close enough to bring back the historic flavors from the early days of Tiki. Mix #7 tastes like falernum but with floral and anise flavors standing out. In fact, as Beachbum Berry revealed in the new 10th anniversary edition of Sippin’ Safari, Donn Beach had multiple falernum variations. You’ll also find #7 in the Black Magic and Mutiny, used to similar effect to add some extra sweetness and spice to those large cocktails. Though we have no idea what actually goes into the mix, we’ve come up with our best guess at a tribute:
* 1/4 teaspoon of Herbsaint
* 1 tablespoon falernum (Fee Brothers brand preferred)
Combine and keep at room temperature in a glass bottle. Simply increase the proportions to make larger batches. If Herbsaint is unavailable, use Pernod but scale back slightly. The anise flavor should be a background note and not dominate. Herbsaint is slightly more mellow and floral, making it better for this mix. Fee Brothers is the brand of falernum employed by The Mai-Kai. Substitute only rich, non-alcoholic versions such as Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29 Formula Falernum from Orgeat Works. Both are made in the old style used by Don the Beachcomber (and The Mai-Kai).

It’s very difficult to get the balance of this drink correct, but when you do it’s one of the best, hence the high rating.

Our original tribute recipe containing cinnamon and coffee remains below for reference. It’s arguably just as good, if not better, than those above even though it’s no longer accurate. Enjoy them all.

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Tribute to The Hukilau at The Mai-Kai, v.1

The Hukilau tribute by The Atomic Grog, April 2012. Glassware: The Hukilau 10th anniversary snifter glass, produced in 2011. Mug: The Hukilau 2009 by Munktiki. Both designed by Kevin Kidney.
The Hukilau tribute by The Atomic Grog, April 2012. Glassware: The Hukilau 10th anniversary snifter glass, produced in 2011. Mug: The Hukilau 2009 by Munktiki. Both designed by Kevin Kidney.

* 3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed orange juice
* 3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
* 3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice
* 3/4 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
* 3/4 ounce rich honey mix
* 1 ounce passion fruit syrup
* 1/2 teaspoon rich cinnamon syrup
* 1/4 ounce strong Kona coffee, chilled
* 1 1/2 ounces light Puerto Rican or Virgin Islands rum
* 1 1/2 ounces Appleton rum

Blend with up to 1 1/2 cups of crushed ice in a top-down mixer for 3-5 seconds. Pour into a large snifter glass with more crushed ice to fill.

Notes and tips for home mixologists

* The amount of orange juice required may depend on whether you use fresh-squeezed (preferred) or a bottled brand. If you’re tasting too much OJ in the final mix, just reduce to 1/2 ounce. You also may need to slightly adjust the coffee, depending on its strength.

* Kona coffee was our original recommendation, and it works fine if you brew it strong (up to double strength). The Mutiny and Black Magic reviews go into much detail on chilled coffee in The Mai-Kai’s cocktails, including the recent revelation that Colombian coffee is actually the style of choice. It features a heavier, darker flavor and can be used at standard strength.

* B.G. Reynolds makes the intense, rich cinnamon syrup that you’ll need in this version. Feel free to use your own homemade syrup. There are many recipes online or in Beachbum Berry’s books. If it’s on the lighter side, just increase to taste.

Postscript

Mahalo to the Tiki Central members and bloggers who took a liking to our original tribute and shared their photos and reviews online. The most recent was Joe Garcia, who posted his take in February 2018 as part of The Pegu Blog’s annual Tiki Month blogging extravaganza.

We hope you’ll find our latest versions above just as compelling (and delicious).

Okole maluna!

Mai-Kai cocktail review: The Black Magic emerges from the darkness as a true classic

Mai-Kai cocktail review: The Black Magic emerges from the darkness as a true classic

Updated May 2020
See below: Our Black Magic review | Tribute recipes UPDATED
Postscript: The Black Magic picked up by bloggers and bartenders, goes viral on social media UPDATED
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide
The Mutiny is a worthy foe in the battle of the tropical titans

Prior to the opening of The Mai-Kai in 1956, there were perhaps other icy cocktails that employed dark rum and coffee as key ingredients. But none perfected it quite like the Black Magic.

Courtesy of TheSwankPad.org
From a 1963 Mai-Kai calendar. (Courtesy of TheSwankPad.org)

The drink that has spawned dozens of imitators – and even two similar concoctions at The Mai-Kai – has taken on legendary status in the Tiki cocktail community. The Black Magic is the oldest of what some call the “Holy Trinity” of large snifter drinks at The Mai-Kai: The Black Magic, Mutiny and The Hukilau.

One of the keys to this drink is a distinctive dark rum favored by original Mai-Kai mixologist Mariano Licudine: Dagger was a dark Jamaican brand that stopped production some time ago. It became somewhat of a holy grail of Tiki mixologists looking to duplicate the key flavor in many Mai-Kai cocktails, especially the Black Magic.

During a back-bar tour in November 2011, Manager Kern Mattei revealed the secret of how that flavor is preserved: An obscure dark rum called Kohala Bay that was produced by Wray & Nephew, the same company that previously made Dagger.

Kohala Bay dark Jamaican rum
Kohala Bay dark Jamaican rum was a key ingredient in many Mai-Kai cocktails. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, March 2012)

Needless to say, we immediately went on an intensive search, but short of taking a trip to Jamaica it was nearly impossible to locate. We were told it was being imported only to Florida, and The Mai-Kai was one of only two bars to serve it. After some digging, however, we miraculously found a rare retail outlet that carried Kohala Bay and immediately stocked up. Our discovery of Kohala Bay sparked many other tribute recipes that you’ll find in this guide, and also spurred many other home mixologists to seek out the rum. Click here for more on the history of Kohala Bay at The Mai-Kai and check out this Tiki Central thread for the full story of my search.

UPDATE: But all good things must come to an end. Kohala Bay was taken off the market in April 2016 and has not returned. While still seeking out an appropriate dark and funky run to fill the bill, The Mai-Kai switched to one of the Appleton Estate rums as its dark Jamaican mixer. Then, suddenly, a new rum appeared in April 2019. It’s a secret in-house multi-rum blend , similar to one of those we had been touting here on the blog. Click here for an in-depth guide along with all the suggested Kohala Bay substitutes.

The Black Magic is served in The Molokai bar in October 2016. It's not really raining. That's The Mai-Kai's special windows that simulate a calming tropical downpour. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Black Magic is served in The Molokai bar in October 2016. It’s not really raining. That’s The Mai-Kai’s special windows that simulate a calming tropical downpour. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The name Black Magic comes from the combination of dark rums and coffee, which sets this drink apart from most others from its era. It was reportedly created by Licudine while he was still working for Donn Beach as the No. 2 bartender at the Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Chicago. But even Beach’s top men were not given the opportunity to contribute their own creations to his legendary drink menu.

Lured to Fort Lauderdale to run The Mai-Kai’s bar and create what would decades later become an iconic menu in its own right, Licudine borrowed heavily from Beach’s classics but also added his own flair (Mara-Amu, Derby Daiquiri, etc.). The Black Magic may be his crowning achievement, and it was his first creation to appear on a Mai-Kai menu.

While it’s not nearly as complex, an early Don the Beachcomber cocktail from the 1930s called the Jamoca could possibly have influenced Licudine, since he worked at Don the Beachcomber in Los Angeles at the tail end of that decade. As revealed by Tiki cocktail historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry in his 2007 book, Sippin’ Safari, the Jamoca contains 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice, 1/2 ounce coffee syrup, 1 ounce chilled coffee, 1 ounce gold Puerto Rican rum, 1 ounce gold Jamaican rum, and 4 ounces of crushed ice. Blended at high speed for 5 seconds and poured into a specialty glass, it’s a coffee-heavy drink that hits few of the nigh notes later achieved by Licudine with the Black Magic. Berry theorized that it may have been an early Donn Beach experiment inspired by turn-of-the-century soda fountain fare. It’s historically worth noting, but probably not a true ancestor of the Black Magic. We consider this classic to be a true Mariano Licudine original.

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