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

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

Updated October 2021

APRIL 2021: Deconstructing Kohala Bay

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

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

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

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

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

The Rums of The Mai-Kai, presented by The Atomic Grog at The Hukilau 2019
The Atomic Grog presents new class and symposium at The Hukilau 2019
Hurricane Hayward of The Atomic Grog took guests on an virtual journey to the Caribbean to learn about the key rums and styles that have dominated The Mai-Kai’s acclaimed cocktails for more than 60 years. He was joined by rum expert Stephen Remsberg for an Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy class at the Pier Sixty-Six hotel, and by Cocktail Wonk writer Matt Pietrek for an on-stage symposium at The Mai-Kai. See the event preview

The Atomic Grog presents new class and symposium at The Hukilau

JANUARY 2019: Exploring Demerara rum at The Mai-Kai

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

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

THE RUMS OF THE MAI-KAI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hukilau rewind: A whirlwind weekend of tropical delights

* More photos and recaps: Facebook page | Facebook group
* Press coverage: Special audio feature and story from NPR | Broward New Times photos
* More coverage from The Atomic Grog
* Official photos from Go11 Media

The Hukilau

Hundreds of Tikiphiles from around the world gathered in Fort Lauderdale on April 19-22 for the 11th edition of the largest event on the U.S. East Coast dedicated to Polynesian Pop culture. It was a jam-packed four days of informative symposiums, live music, artists and vendors, and – of course – many tropical-themed cocktails.

Here’s a full recap with highlights and first-hand reports. Check back soon for more in-depth features on several of the symposiums, plus a special audio slideshow when all the photos are released.

The party actually started a day early on Wednesday, April 18, when early arrivals migrated to the legendary Mai-Kai restaurant for happy hour and a full evening spent reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. And with the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival holding its Tiki Time event that same evening, there were plenty of cocktail lovers in the house. Rum fest DJ Mike “Jetsetter” Jones provided the tunes in The Molokai bar and a large group enjoyed the authentic Polynesian dinner show, the longest running in the United States.

Continue reading “Hukilau rewind: A whirlwind weekend of tropical delights”

Audio slideshow flashback: Los Straitjackets highlight a rockin’ 2009 Hukilau

The 2012 Hukilau will be held April 19-22 at The Mai-Kai and several Fort Lauderdale beachside hotels. Official sites: TheHukilau.com | Facebook page | Facebook group

Other flashbacks: 2011 contest was a Barrel of fun | 2010 party features Shag
Previous posts: Beachbum Berry digs deep to unearth vintage Zombies
Hukilau announces mug, cocktails, new rum sponsor | Full Hukilau coverage

The Hukilau

The Hukilau is an all-encompassing celebration of Polynesian Pop culture: Art and architecture, food and drinks, music and fashion. It’s a trip back in time with hundreds of like-minded Tiki disciples to an era when kitsch was king. The entire event is an orgiastic fest of the senses – from the outrageous lowbrow art and Tiki carvings to the exotic music to the decadent drinks and food. Fort Lauderdale’s beachside locale and historic Mai-Kai restaurant are the perfect backdrop for the revelry.

To warm up for this month’s 11th annual Hukilau, let’s take a trip back to 2009, when lucha-masked surf and rockabilly band Los Straitjackets headlined the event. Click here or on the image below to see a special audio slideshow of all the festivities. Be sure to turn up your speakers! Below that is a recap of the schedule for reference. This year’s event promises the same experience, plus much more. Eddie Angel of Los Straitjackets is back with his new band, The Martian Denny Orchestra. We hope to see you there!

Continue reading “Audio slideshow flashback: Los Straitjackets highlight a rockin’ 2009 Hukilau”

Mai-Kai cocktail review: Trading Martinique for Guyana, milk punch gets a boost from new rum

Updated March 15, 2016
See below: Our Martinique Milk Punch review | Ancestor recipe | Tribute recipe
Related: Rums of The Mai-Kai: Hamilton rums from Guyana fill the Lemon Hart gap
Mai-Kai cocktail guide

Don’t let the name “Martinique Milk Punch” fool you. This traditional rum drink, a popular classic during the winter holidays, recently received an upgrade at The Mai-Kai.

Like several other vintage recipes, most notably the Bora Bora and S.O.S., recent updates have replaced the long-established Martinique rum with the sweeter and smokier Demerara-style rum from Guyana.

Hamilton 86

The improvement is dramatic. The Martinique Milk Punch benefits from the replacement of the earthy and pungent agricole rum and the recent addition of the 86-proof Hamilton rum from Guyana. As a result, the cocktail vaults up an unprecedented eight spots in The Atomic Grog’s rankings, from No. 41 to No. 33. Bora Bora made a similar leap, moving up 10 positions and also increasing from 2 1/2 stars to 3 stars.

Since its return in April 2012, Demerara rum has become a key flavor in many of The Mai-Kai’s traditional Tiki cocktails (see full story). We had not revisited the often-ignored Martinique Milk Punch since we posted this original review in December 2011, so it’s possible that Demerara rum was incorporated into the recipe any time since mid-2012.

With winter cocktails on our mind, we ordered a Martinique Milk Punch in late 2015 and immediately noted the difference. The distinctive Demerara rum flavor shines through with just the right amount of sweetness and a dusting of nutmeg, making for a much more balanced drink. The Martinique rum that The Mai-Kai previously used tended to dominate the other ingredients, its grassy taste a little too aggressive for this mild dessert-style drink.

The Martinique Milk Punch is served in the same glass as two popular ice-cream drinks, the Chocolate Snowflake and Mai-Kai Blizzard. While it’s not on the after-dinner menu, it could easily fill that role.

Saveur magazine recipe

A traditional milk punch dates back to colonial times. Ben Franklin had his own recipe, which you can check out here. It became fashionable in 18th century England after it was introduced by merchants and often featured whiskey or brandy instead of rum.

It’s unclear if the version using rum from Martinique is indigenous to that island or was created elsewhere. We do know that it was featured on early Don the Beachcomber menus, and this is likely the genesis of the version that was originally served at The Mai-Kai.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai cocktail review: Trading Martinique for Guyana, milk punch gets a boost from new rum”

Mai-Kai cocktail review: Demerara rum, secret mix revive classic Bora Bora

The Bora Bora in The Molokai bar in October 2016, shortly after receiving an upgrade with the inclusion of a long-dormant secret mix originally created by The Mai-Kai's founding mixologist, Mariano Licudine, circa 1956. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Updated July 2018
See below: Our Bora Bora review | Ancestor recipe | Tribute recipe 3.0
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide

The Bora Bora in The Molokai bar in October 2016, shortly after receiving an upgrade with the inclusion of a long-dormant secret mix originally created by The Mai-Kai's founding mixologist, Mariano Licudine, circa 1956.  (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Bora Bora in The Molokai bar in October 2016, shortly after receiving an upgrade with the inclusion of a long-dormant secret mix originally created by The Mai-Kai’s founding mixologist, Mariano Licudine, circa 1956. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

What a difference and new rum and secret syrup can make. Relegated to the bottom end of our ratings and nearly forgotten, The Mai-Kai’s Bora Bora made a comeback in 2012 thanks to the return of the rich and flavorful Demerara rum to The Mai-Kai, which gives this cocktail a much-needed boost.

The little-known Bora Bora has always been a potent concoction. I used to recommended it to folks who like a strong Mai Tai (classic, Trader Vic style) due to its intense combination of sour juices and Martinique rum. But with the smoky and tasty Demerara rum from Guyana replacing the earthy and sometimes harsh agricole rum, this drink took on a whole new life.

It immediately jumped up five spots in our ratings (rising from 2 1/2 to 3 stars) and inspired the first two tribute recipes below. After further study, we moved it up another five spots to the top of the 3-star rankings. Click here for more on the return of Demerara rum to The Mai-Kai.

Then, in the late summer of 2016, it was among a handful of drinks to get a boost from the return of a mysterious secret ingredient that dates back to the early days of The Mai-Kai. Now featuring Mariano’s Mix #7, Bora Bora takes on a whole new life with a bold yet sweet and approachable anise flavor vying for your attention. As a result, we boosted our rating from 3 to 3 1/2 stars, moving it into the Top 25. [See the rankings] Check out the third version of the tribute recipe below.

July 2018 update: The Bora Bora was one of three cocktails featured at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale in June in Hurricane Hayward’s Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy class, “How to Mix Like The Mai-Kai.” In the sold-out event, students learned tips and techniques for turning their home bars into a Tiki cocktail paradise by exploring the key elements of Mai-Kai cocktails.
The Bora Bora was one of three cocktails featured at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale in June in Hurricane Hayward's Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy class, "How to Mix Like The Mai-Kai
(Atomic Grog photos from The Hukilau’s Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy at the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina on June 8, 2018)
After discussing the syrups, Hayward revealed documents that show how The Mai-Kai faithfully follows Don the Beachcomber’s early secret recipes, including one that features both Mariano’s Mix #7 and the even more obscure “#4”. The class then received sample drinks featuring the Bora Bora tribute recipe, batched by Hayward with expert assistance from Lucky Munro, proprietor of Lucky’s Cane & Grog in Pittsburgh.
See photos from the class: Facebook | Flickr

Continue reading “Mai-Kai cocktail review: Demerara rum, secret mix revive classic Bora Bora”

Mai-Kai cocktail review: Trade in Vic’s Mai Tai for this classic

Mai-Kai cocktail review: Trade in Vic's Mai Tai for this classic

Updated August 2020
See below: Our Mai Tai review | Tribute recipe UPDATED
Related: The off-menu Suffering Bastard was just a Mai Tai with a kick
What could be Cooler than a Mai Tai history lesson? | Mai-Kai cocktail guide

More than 75 years after its invention, the Mai Tai is widely hailed as the definitive tropical drink. You’ll get some arguments from Zombie fans like myself, but there’s no denying that the Mai Tai is one of the world’s most popular and distinctive cocktails, period.

The Mai Tai (front) is one of The Mai-Kai's signature drinks. (Photo by by Go11Events.com, courtesy of The Mai-Kai; waitress: Maima)
The Mai Tai (front) is one of The Mai-Kai’s signature drinks. (Photo by Go11Events.com, courtesy of The Mai-Kai; waitress: Maima)

Much has been written about how to make an “authentic” Mai Tai, as created by Victor “Trader Vic” Bergeron, circa 1944. Tiki cocktail author and historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry has a very concise history lesson and recipe posted here. As the Bum points out, the argument over who really invented the drink persists to this day.

We subscribe to Berry’s theory that Trader Vic created the Mai Tai after tasting a Don the Beachcomber drink with a similar flavor profile called the Q.B. Cooler. Donn Beach, who created the Tiki bar concept in 1934 in Los Angeles, also had a drink called the Mai Tai Swizzle, but it was gone from the menu by 1937. It’s widely accepted that Vic frequented Don the Beachcomber in Hollywood before opening his first Trader Vic’s in Oakland. Could he have lifted the name from one drink and the flavor profile from another in creating his Mai Tai?

It’s entirely possible, but that has nothing to do with The Mai-Kai, or its version of the Mai Tai. The Mai-Kai already serves a descendant of the Q.B. Cooler called the K.O. Cooler (See our previous review). If you’re looking for the taste of a proto Trader Vic’s Mai Tai, try the K.O. Cooler.

The Mai Tai served at The Mai-Kai is one of many variations created in the wake of the success of the original drink. You’ll find some good examples from vintage Tiki restaurants in Beachbum Berry’s cocktail books and app, including the Bali Hai Mai Tai, Damon’s Mai Tai, Kon-Tiki Mai Tai and Surf Room Mai Tai. Until recently, many bars offered an inferior or bastardized copy. But the Tiki and craft cocktail movements have resulted in a much more creative atmosphere, especially where the Mai Tai is concerned. Check out the links below for examples:
* Florida bartender wins Chairman’s Reserve Mai Tai Challenge at The Mai-Kai
* More Mai Tai recipes on The Atomic Grog

A Mai Tai at The Mai-Kai in April 2013
A Mai Tai at The Mai-Kai in April 2013. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

In the mid-century, however, The Mai-Kai was not quick to jump on the Mai Tai bandwagon. The cocktail has not been spotted on a menu before 1970 (see image). It’s missing from all previous menus in our collection, including this one from 1966.

At first, it was likely an off-menu drink made upon request, like the Scorpion and Suffering Bastard, two other Trader Vic’s classics popular with many guests. The latter finally made it to The Mai-Kai’s menu during the last major update in 2018.

Rather than copying Vic’s recipe, Mai-Kai mixologist Mariano Licudine put his own spin on the Mai Tai (and Suffering Bastard), owing to his roots as one of Don the Beachcomber’s early Filipino barmen. He worked behind one of Donn Beach’s original Hollywood bars in 1939 before becoming assistant bar manager at the Chicago location during his years there (1940-1955). He joined The Mai-Kai as bar manager in 1956, crafting its opening day menu with owners Bob and Jack Thornton.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai cocktail review: Trade in Vic’s Mai Tai for this classic”

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?”