Take 5: Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Tiki cocktail author and historian extraordinaire

Jeff “Beachbum” Berry is extremely passionate about Tiki, tropical drinks and The Mai-Kai. In April, we caught up with the author of such essential Tiki cocktail bibles as Grog Log and Sippin’ Safari in his natural habitat (The Mai-Kai gardens) and posed the following questions.

Jeff "Beachbum" Berry (right) and Hurricane Hayward enjoy their classic Mutiny cocktails in The Mai-Kai gardens
Jeff “Beachbum” Berry (right) and Hurricane Hayward enjoy their classic Mutiny cocktails in The Mai-Kai gardens. (Photo by Susan Hayward, April 2013)

Interview by Jim “Hurricane” Hayward

1. If you could transport yourself for one night back in time to any Tiki bar or restaurant, what would it be and when?

That would be Don the Beachcomber’s in 1934: Ground zero, the big bang, the creation of the Tiki bar as we know it – by Donn, right after Prohibition. I would have loved to have seen what that was like.

2. If Food Network or the Travel Channel came to you and said, “Pitch us a show about tropical drinks,” what would you suggest?

I would suggest that they just take their suggestion and shove it. Because none of those channels, none of those hosts, none of that garbage is about what these places are about. What these places are about is “aloha,” it’s about the spirit of true hospitality, of welcoming, of making you feel important, of making you feel good. All of these TV channels traffic in all of this competition bullshit, where restaurants are not places to go to relax and unwind. Where you get stressed out and compete against your fellow chefs or bartenders. I hate all that. That’s the antithesis of the true spirit of hospitality, of genteel camaraderie, of going to a place to exchange confidences and emotions, and happy experiences with people that you either know or you’ve met at these places. It’s not about competition, it’s not about who’s the best, it’s not about some guy with spiked hair telling you about the awesomeness of the food. That’s just artificial garbage. … All these people are self-appointed experts. They don’t know anything about anything.

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The 12 Days of Christmas, Mai-Kai style

Derby Daiquiri. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, November 2011)
Derby Daiquiri. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, November 2011)

On the first day of Christmas
The Mai-Kai gave to me
a Derby Daiquiri

On the second day of Christmas,
The Mai-Kai gave to me,
Two Shrunken Skulls,
And a Derby Daiquiri.

On the third day of Christmas,
The Mai-Kai gave to me,
Three Shark Bites,
Two Shrunken Skulls,
And a Derby Daiquiri

On the fourth day of Christmas,
The Mai-Kai gave to me,
Four Hidden Pearls,
Three Shark Bites,
Two Shrunken Skulls,
And a Derby Daiquiri.

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Mai-Kai cocktail review: The Mutiny is a worthy foe in the battle of the tropical titans

The Mutiny is now served in a heavier but still voluminous mug, which made its debut in April 2018. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Updated August 2018
See below: Our Mutiny review | Tribute recipes UPDATED
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide
The Black Magic emerges from the shadows as a true classic
Texas Tiki Podcast: Hurricane Hayward talks about Mai-Kai cocktails NEW

There are many great cocktail debates, most notably the Martini (gin or vodka?) and Old Fashioned (rye or bourbon?). At The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale, it’s the Mutiny vs. the Black Magic in an epic battle between two classic rum-and-coffee cocktails.

The Mutiny is now served in a heavier but still voluminous mug, which made its debut in April 2018. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Mutiny is now served in a heavier but still voluminous mug, which made its debut in April 2018. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The only way to truly compare these titans until recently was to sit down at the legendary Molokai bar and taste them side-by-side. This can be a daunting task since they’re both very strong and very large cocktails, not that we haven’t tried many times.

But thanks to our research, you can give it a whirl in your home bar with the tribute recipes posted below and on the Black Magic review. These aren’t simple drinks, but we’re sure you’ll find the results well worth the effort.

I pitch my tent solidly in the Mutiny camp. It’s always been decidedly higher in my Mai-Kai cocktail ratings (currently sitting at No. 10) and has an incredible complexity that keeps drawing me back. The Black Magic isn’t far behind at No. 14.

So where did these distinctive cocktails come from, and why are they so similar? The Black Magic came first, reportedly created before The Mai-Kai’s opening by mixologist Mariano Licudine, who was then working for Don the Beachcomber. It appeared on the original 1956 Mai-Kai menu and was joined some 15 years later by the Mutiny.

Mutiny stands above the Black Magic and The Hukilau in the Atomic Grog ratings
The Mutiny stands above the Black Magic and The Hukilau in the Atomic Grog ratings. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, November 2010)

According to legend, the Mutiny was conceived on one of the many Mai-Kai staff fishing trips at which the participants always brought an ample supply of two cocktails: the Black Magic and Barrel O’ Rum. According to the story, there was a rebellion against those two drinks always being featured. To quell an impending mutiny, an idea was hatched to somehow combine them into one monster drink, and the Mutiny was born.

It’s unclear if they were actually mixed together that day on the boat. More likely, Licudine put his talents to work later to create an amalgamation of two of the most popular drinks on the menu. This would not be out of line for the owners to request. The cocktails already share many of the same ingredients, so it took just a few tweaks to yield some amazing results.

The Mutiny has been cited as a favorite of the late Mai-Kai co-owner Bob Thornton, so perhaps he was the driving force behind the drink’s creation. Over the years, it’s been mentioned as favorite by a who’s who of Tiki revival VIPs, including bar owners and authors Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and Martin Cate, plus Tiki Oasis co-founder Otto von Stroheim.

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