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.

**************************

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!

**************************

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.

**************************

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!

**************************

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.

**************************

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 2023
See below: Our Black Magic review | Tribute recipes
The Black Magic on Spike’s Breezeway Cocktail Hour UPDATED
NEW: Updates on Mariano’s Mix #7
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.

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 high 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.

************************** Continue reading “Mai-Kai cocktail review: The Black Magic emerges from the darkness as a true classic”

Mai-Kai cocktail review: If you’re ‘Passionate’ about tropical drinks, this one’s for you

The Mai-Kai cocktail review: If you're 'Passionate' about tropical drinks, this one's for you

Updated October 2019

See below: Our Piña Passion review | Ancestor recipe | Tribute recipe NEW
Related: What says ‘Tiki’ better than a drink served in a pineapple?
Mai-Kai cocktail guide

One of the most iconic images of the tropical drink is a vessel made from a hollowed-out pineapple. This over-the-top cocktail experience has been perfected at The Mai-Kai with the classic Piña Passion.

The Mai-Kai's Piña Passion, served in The Molokai bar in June 2016 with a 60th anniversary swizzle stick. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Mai-Kai’s Piña Passion, served in The Molokai bar in June 2016 with a 60th anniversary swizzle stick. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The Piña Passion is served in a fresh pineapple that guests can take home. The one exception is during happy hour in The Molokai bar, when you’ll have to settle for having the drink in an old fashioned glass.

If you ever get a chance to take a peek into The Mai-Kai’s main service bar, tucked way behind the kitchen and hidden from guests, you’ll find cases of pineapples awaiting their fate. [See photo]

Drinks in pineapples were staples on tropical-themed cocktail menus across the country during Tiki’s heyday in the 1950s and 1960s. You can still find them at old-school establishments such as San Francisco’s Tonga Room (est. 1945) and Chicago’s temple of Witco, Hala Kahiki (est 1966). In the Hawaiian language, a pineapple is called “hala kahiki.”

A postcard shows a server in the early years of The Molokai bar holding the welcoming Piña Passion. (MaiKaiHistory.com)
A postcard shows a server in the early years of The Molokai bar holding the welcoming Piña Passion. (MaiKaiHistory.com)

Even in the dark days of Tiki in the 1970s and ’80s, pineapple drinking vessels remained essential on cruise ships and resorts in exotic locales. They go hand-in-hand with the concept of a tropical paradise.

They’re not as easy to find at today’s smaller Tiki and craft cocktail bars, which tend to favor traditional glassware and ceramic mugs. But this is changing in a big way thanks to a new breed of craftsmen who are taking Tiki hospitality to a whole new level.

At Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco, one of the most popular events presented by owner Martin Cate and his team is Domingo de Piña (Pineapple Sunday), which features a selection of cocktails served in pineapples. We recommend Cate’s book – Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum and the Cult of Tiki (2016) – for more in-depth info and recipes for several tasty drinks served in pineapples.

There's nothing more welcoming than a server in The Molokai bar at The Mai-Kai with a tray full of exotic cocktails, including a Piña Passion. (The Palm Beach Post / 2005 file photo)
There’s nothing more welcoming than a server in The Molokai bar at The Mai-Kai with a tray full of exotic cocktails, including a Piña Passion. (The Palm Beach Post / 2005 file photo)

Italy’s Daniele Dalla Pola, who built upon the success of his Nu Lounge Bar to open Esotico Miami in August 2019, is also a big proponent of the spiky fruit. His new exotic bar and restaurant features both food and drink served in fresh pineapples. At The Hukilau 2017, he presented two Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy classes called “Pineapple Paradise” with information and advanced techniques on using the hospitable fruit in tropical drinks.

Of course, the pineapple is iconic as the worldwide symbol of hospitality. It was so sought-after in colonial times that people would rent them for a day to use as a party decoration. Considered the world’s most exotic fruit, pineapples were brought back to Europe by Columbus and other explorers. George Washington praised the fruit in his diary, noting that among his favorite foods, “none pleases my tastes” like a pineapple.

Because of their scarcity and high price, pineapples were typically served only to prestigious guests, and even those who could not afford them picked up on the image to share the sentiment of a special welcome. Towns, inns and households began displaying images of the pineapple to convey a sense of welcoming. You can find pineapple images on historic buildings around the world.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai cocktail review: If you’re ‘Passionate’ about tropical drinks, this one’s for you”

Mai-Kai cocktail review: Jet Pilot soars over its ancestors with flying colors

Mai-Kai cocktail review: Jet Pilot soars over its ancestors with flying colors

Updated September 2020
See below: Our Jet Pilot review | Ancestor recipes
Tribute recipes | Social media tributes
Related: The Atomic Grog makes a Jet Pilot on The Tiki Trail Live
Mai-Kai cocktail guide

Test Pilot

Tiki bar pioneer Don the Beachcomber’s Test Pilot was one of the most copied drinks during the mid-century heyday of Polynesian cocktails. It morphed into the Ace Pilot, Space Pilot and Astronaut, among others. At The Mai-Kai, it became the Jet Pilot.

As discussed in the review of the vintage S.O.S. (Don the Beachcomber’s Three Dots and a Dash), Donn Beach was a decorated World War II veteran and always had a deep connection to the armed forces. In his honor, a B-26 Marauder was painted with a replica of the Don the Beachcomber driftwood sign on its nose. The plane and crew flew many successful missions in the Pacific.

The Test Pilot is also an interesting study in how Donn Beach constantly tweaked his drinks. A Don the Beachcomber cocktail from the 1930s or ’40s could be vastly different than one with the same name in the 1950s or ’60s.

The Jet Pilot features four rums, including Lemon Hart 151, and may be the strongest of the strong
The Jet Pilot features four rums, including Lemon Hart 151, and may be The Mai-Kai’s strongest of the strong. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, January 2015)

Included below is a Test Pilot recipe unearthed by cocktail sleuth and author Jeff “Beachbum” Berry from the 1940s. It’s one of the most popular in the Tiki revival, and it features many of the same ingredients as The Mai-Kai’s Jet Pilot. We’ve also listed a later recipe from a book by Donn Beach’s widow, Phoebe. It’s slightly different but also very strong and has a similar flavor profile. Other popular old-school versions include the Jet Pilot served at Steve Crane’s The Luau chain in the 1950s (revealed by Beachbum Berry in Sippin’ Safari in 2007) and the Space Pilot, still served today at the Tiki Ti in Los Angeles (est. 1961).

In Minimalist Tiki by Cocktail Wonk blogger Matt Pietrek, a 2020 Spirited Award nominee for Best New Cocktail or Bartending Book, the Test Pilot and Jet Pilot are both listed among the “Classic 30” cocktails from the first golden era of tropical mixology.

Like Tiki Ti owner Ray Buhen, The Mai-Kai’s original mixologist, Mariano Licudine, worked for Donn Beach in the early days. In 1956, he was lured from the Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Chicago to design The Mai-Kai’s original tropical drink menu. So it’s likely he had a vast knowledge of multiple versions of the Test Pilot when he created arguably one of the best, The Mai-Kai’s high-octane Jet Pilot.

**************************

The official menu description
Jet Pilot
JET PILOT
Fast and courageous, a vigorous blend of heavy bodied rums and zesty juices.

Okole Maluna Society review and rating

Size: Medium

Jet Pilot (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, September, 2015)
Jet Pilot (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, September, 2015)

Potency: Strong

Flavor profile: Dark and powerful rums, spicy and bitter notes with a hint of exotic sweetness.

Review: Very complex and intense. Not for the timid. Sweet, spicy and strong all at the same time.

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

Ancestry: The Jet Pilot dates back to The Mai-Kai’s original 1956 menu and is based on Don the Beachcomber’s Test Pilot.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai cocktail review: Jet Pilot soars over its ancestors with flying colors”

Mai-Kai cocktail review: Hot Buttered Rum is a heart-warming winter classic

Updated Feb. 24, 2020
See below: Our Hot Buttered Rum review | Tribute recipe UPDATED
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide

What could be more comforting on a chilly winter night than some warm rum and spices with a big dollop of butter? The holiday season would not be complete without a traditional Hot Buttered Rum.

From The Mai-Kai's 1956-57 menu
From The Mai-Kai’s 1956-57 menu.

Like the milk punch, Hot Buttered Rum is a seasonal classic that dates back to colonial times. According to the American Heritage Cookbook, the drink even “found its way into domestic politics.” Candidates would ply their constituents with it to influence their vote. If only today’s politicians would try this method instead of the usual dirty politics.

Drinks using the key ingredients – rum, butter and hot water – were documented during the early days of mixology in cocktail pioneer Jerry Thomas’ mid-19th century bar guides as Hot Rum and Hot Spiced Rum. The Mai-Kai’s version is not very different than the traditional Hot Buttered Rum and was no doubt influenced by Don the Beachcomber’s early Tiki classic.

Hot Buttered Rum and the lesser known Hot Rum Grog were staples on Donn Beach’s early menus. A menu from the 1940s includes this description of the Hot Buttered Rum: “Rums from the islands of Jamaican and Barbados. Mulled with cinnamon, cloves, orange peel, sweet butter and hot water. This will rekindle the fires in your heart.”

The Hot Buttered Rum recipe from the Aku-Aku restaurant in Las Vegas, as published in Beachbum Berry's Sippin' Safari
The Hot Buttered Rum recipe from the Aku-Aku restaurant in Las Vegas, as published in Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari.

By the 1950s, Donn’s copycats were experimenting with the traditional recipe, adding creme de cacao (Pub and Prow Hot Buttered Rum), along with maraschino liqueur and black tea (Volcano House Hot Buttered Rum). We can thank tropical cocktail historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry for these, which he published in Beachbum Berry Remixed (2010) and the Total Tiki app.

Mahalo to the Bum and his 10th anniversary edition of Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari in 2017, we have perhaps the most reverent Hot Buttered Rum recipe to Donn’s original (rum, honey butter mix, nutmeg, clove, cinnamon). Berry gleaned it from a 1969 issue of the Stardust Hotel’s in-house magazine, but those who follow Tiki history will know that the Aku-Aku restaurant, which operated from 1960 to 1980 in the iconic Las Vegas landmark, has a direct connection to Don the Beachcomber. Beach consulted on its creation and undoubtedly contributed his recipes to the cocktail menu. Sippin’ Safari is a must-read for many great stories about Donn and the Aku-Aku.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai cocktail review: Hot Buttered Rum is a heart-warming winter classic”

Mai-Kai cocktail review: This Planters lacks the punch of it’s special cousin

Updated April 23, 2014
See below: Our Planters Punch review | Ancestor recipe
Related: Special Planters Punch is tropical drink history in a glass | Mai-Kai cocktail guide

There are two Planters Punches on the classic cocktail menu of The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale, but one is a lot more special than the other.

The Special Planters Punch is highly recommended. It received 4 1/2 out of 5 stars, putting it near the top of the ratings.

The Planters Punch on the medium menu, however, comes up short. It’s near the bottom of the ratings due to its lack of punch, oddly enough. It’s one of the very few cocktails from the acclaimed bar that aren’t recommended, unless perhaps you’re new to tropical cocktails or just looking for something light but substantial. Unfortunately, it can’t compete with its tasty cousin.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai cocktail review: This Planters lacks the punch of it’s special cousin”

Mai-Kai cocktail review: A near-perfect Zombie, the classic deadly cocktail

The Mai-Kai's Zombie back from the dead for Halloween

Updated Oct. 27, 2022
See below: Our Zombie review | Ancestor recipes | Tribute recipes
Related: More Zombie recipes, facts, history | Mai-Kai cocktail guide
* Beachbum Berry, Ed Hamilton join forces on Zombie rum blend

The Mai-Kai's deadly Halloween quarts and gallons, plus more great moments in Zombie cocktail history
NEW: The Mai-Kai’s deadly Zombie resurrected for Halloween, along with mysterious legend
The iconic cocktail is available for the first time since the historic restaurant closed after an October 2020 storm, and for the first time in takeout quarts and gallons.
>>> FULL COVERAGE OF THE MAI-KAI’S PICK-UP COCKTAILS
VIDEO: How to pour a Mai-Kai Zombie at home
HISTORY: 5 greatest moments in Zombie lore

Few realize that the Zombie – not the Mai Tai – is the drink that kicked off the tropical drink craze. Created in the 1930s by the Dr. Frankenstein of tropical mixology, Donn Beach (aka Don the Beachcomber), the Zombie remains his masterpiece.

Zombie

Beach’s mad scientist approach to combining multiple rums, juices, syrups and spices was groundbreaking and set a standard that remains an influential touchstone for today’s bartenders in both the Tiki and craft cocktail worlds. But if it weren’t for cocktail sleuth, historian and author Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, we might not have ever discovered that legacy.

Berry rescued the Zombie (and many other Tiki classics) from bad bartending and half-assed attempts to re-create the originals. But his first attempt at the Zombie in his seminal 1998 book, Grog Log, was not a whole lot better than the imitators. By 2002, however, he had begun to unearth some great Zombie recipes, three of which are published in his second recipe book, Intoxica. One of these, later dubbed the “mid-century version” and purported to be a Don the Beachcomber recipe published in 1950, is shown below.

But Berry was just scratching the surface of Zombie lore. His 2007 masterpiece, Sippin’ Safari, yielded the motherlode. An entire chapter, “A Zombie Jamboree: The Curse of the Undead Drink,” provides the definitive research on the elusive cocktail. There’s more background on the 1950 Zombie, plus a much different 1956 version attributed to the Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Waikiki.

Beachbum Berry mixes a classic Zombie at the Zombie Jam at The Mai-Kai on April 25, 2011
Beachbum Berry mixes a classic Zombie at the Zombie Jam at The Mai-Kai on April 25, 2011.

The pièce de résistance, however, is Berry’s discovery of a 1934 recipe for “Zombie Punch” in the notebook of 1930s Don the Beachcomber bartender Dick Santiago. The find was considered the Holy Grail of lost tropical drinks, but one frustrating puzzle remained to be solved: the cryptic ingredient listed as “Don’s Mix.” This combination of grapefruit juice and cinnamon syrup has now become a common ingredient, but the 2007 revelation was a landmark in the Tiki drink world. Berry and Cocktail Kingdom later released a 10th anniversary edition of Sippin’ Safari, which includes additional recipes, both old and unpublished, plus new ones from the Tiki revival.
* BeachbumBerry.com: More on Berry’s search for the original Zombie | Books and Total Tiki online + app

In 2010, Beachbum Berry Remixed continued the tradition of digging deeper into the history of the drink that started it all. In addition to the discoveries in Intoxica and Sippin’ Safari, Berry presented several new recipes, including a simplified version of the complex creation. You can also find Berry’s Zombie recipes in his Total Tiki app for iPhone and iPad, a unique repository of more than 250 exotic drink recipes from yesterday and today. Launched in 2022, Total Tiki Online is subscription service accessible via all platforms that takes the app to the next level with exciting new information management features.

If you desire a more tactile way to enjoy Berry’s handiwork, pick up a set (or a case) of his signature Zombie Glasses from Cocktail Kingdom, which include the original 1934 and 1950 recipes on the side along with distinctive artwork and packaging. They’re also available at the author’s New Orleans bar and restaurant, Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29, along with the Bum’s own twist on the vintage recipe.

A contemporary Zombie from "Beachbum Berry Remixed."
A contemporary Zombie from “Beachbum Berry Remixed.”

In addition to his acclaimed books, app and barware, Berry had a profound influence on today’s Tiki and cocktail scenes over the past decade or two by way of his entertaining and boozy symposiums around the world. His first-ever Zombie seminar took place at The Mai-Kai in April 2011 during the Miami Rum Fest. He resurrected that talk at The Hukilau in April 2012, again at The Mai-Kai, with a few additional surprises. [Full coverage]

Of course, The Mai-Kai’s Zombie is a descendant of Don the Beachcomber’s classics. There’s a reason it’s the top-rated cocktail in this guide, and the only one with a perfect rating of 5 out of 5 stars. Perhaps its the complex, undefinable flavors. The Zombie stands atop the tropical cocktail mountain as a true original with its intense flavors and high potency.

Despite its seeming cacophony of flavors, the Zombie (when made correctly) achieves perfect balance. The combination of spices are exotic and unique. The sweet juices and syrups are counteracted by intense anise and sour notes. And the coup de grâce is the blend of three rums in perfect harmony.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai cocktail review: A near-perfect Zombie, the classic deadly cocktail”

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

Updated August 2020
See below: Our Shark Bite review | Ancestor recipe | Tribute recipe
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide
* Shark Bite featuring The Real McCoy 12-year-old Distillers Proof Mai-Kai Blend

We continue our journey through dangerous waters 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.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai cocktail review: Find out what makes the Shark Bite so Jawesome”

Mai-Kai cocktail review: What could be Cooler than a Mai Tai history lesson?

K.O. Cooler, October 2017. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Updated July 2018
See below: Our K.O. Cooler review | Ancestor recipes | Tribute recipe
Related: Trade in Vic’s Mai Tai for this classic | Mai-Kai cocktail guide

Beachbum Berry presents Don the Beachcomber's Q.B. Cooler, which he made during a symposium on the history of the Mai Tai at The Hukilau 2009 at The Mai-Kai. (Photo by Go11Media)
Beachbum Berry presents Don the Beachcomber’s Q.B. Cooler, which he made during a symposium on the history of the Mai Tai at The Hukilau 2009 at The Mai-Kai. (Photo by Go11Media)

It’s 1937. A budding Oakland, Calif., restaurateur named Victor Bergeron ventures south to Hollywood to see for himself what all the hoopla is about surrounding a small tropical-themed bar called Don the Beachcomber. According to legend, Bergeron was inspired to adopt the same Polynesian theme and shortly thereafter changed the name of his restaurant from Hinky Dink’s to Trader Vic’s.

The rest is history, and Trader Vic’s remains the standard-bearer for Polynesian restaurants worldwide with more than 25 locations. The Don the Beachcomber chain disappeared, save for a lone corporate restaurant/bar location at the Royal Kona Resort in Hawaii and a recently closed one-off franchise in Huntington Beach, Calif., that’s reportedly reopening soon in a new location. Neither, however, have much tangible connection to founder Donn Beach. He officially left the company when his ex-wife, Sunny Sund, took the helm during World War II.

Our nation’s soldiers always held a special place in the heart of Beach, a veteran of the Army Air Corps during WW II and recipient of both a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. One of the drinks on Beach’s menu in 1937 was the Q.B. Cooler, named for the Quiet Birdmen, a drinking fraternity of aviators founded by seven World War I pilots in 1921. Donn changed his Q.B. Cooler recipe over the years, but as cocktail historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry revealed in his 2007 book, Sippin’ Safari, the original version tastes remarkably similar to what Trader Vic later introduced to the world as perhaps the most famous of all tropical drinks, the Mai Tai.

Beachbum Berry discusses the history of the Mai Tai and its relation to the K.O. Cooler during his symposium at The Hukilau 2009 at The Mai-Kai. (Photo by Go11Events.com)
Beachbum Berry discusses the history of the Mai Tai and its relation to the K.O. Cooler during his symposium at The Hukilau 2009 at The Mai-Kai. (Photo by Go11Events.com)

As Berry theorized in the book and later demonstrated during a symposium at the 2009 Hukilau at The Mai-Kai, it’s likely that Bergeron created the Mai Tai by copying the flavor profile of the Q.B. Cooler. What’s remarkable is that the Mai Tai contains quite different ingredients (orange curacao, sugar syrup, orgeat syrup). The two drinks have only rum and lime juice in common. But it’s undeniable that the tastes are incredibly similar.

Of course, Bergeron later claimed that he invented the Mai Tai in 1944 and eventually won a court battle that established him as the originator of the famous cocktail. Berry puts forward the theory that Bergeron most likely did invent the Mai Tai as we all know it, but he was inspired by the Q.B. Cooler and re-created it using almost entirely different ingredients. In honor of the battle to make the best Mai Tai, the Royal Kona holds on popular bartending competition every year dubbed the Don the Beachcomber Mai Tai Festival.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai cocktail review: What could be Cooler than a Mai Tai history lesson?”