Cocktail flights soar at Mai-Kai Mixer, reveal revolutionary use of rums

Related: ‘Mai-Kai Mixer’ shakes up South Florida with rockin’ retro cocktail party
Lemon Hart returns to the promised land | Mai-Kai’s cocktail family tree
Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide | Exclusive bar and kitchen tour

The first “Atomic Grog Mai-Kai Mixer” on June 9 served up not only a rousing party featuring a cool retro DJ and live vintage surf music, but also an inside look at some of the 55-year-old Polynesian landmark’s acclaimed tropical drinks.

Mai-Kai Mixer participants enjoy their cocktail flights and a prize from B.G. Reynolds' Hand-Crafted Exotic Syrups.
Mai-Kai Mixer participants enjoy their cocktail flights and a prize from B.G. Reynolds' Hand-Crafted Exotic Syrups.

Surf band Skinny Jimmy & The Stingrays and DJ Mike “Jetsetter” Jones rocked the house all night long as partygoers enjoyed the festive vibe in the Fort Lauderdale restaurant’s elaborately themed Molokai bar. Click here for a full recap of the entertainment, plus photos. But for some, the event’s highlight came during happy hour.

Early arrivals were promised “blind tastings” of three vintage cocktails presented by Mai-Kai manager Kern Mattei. There were 32 flights served in the packed bar, with at least 44 tasters participating. Prizes were awarded to those who correctly guessed which exotic drink they were tasting. Priced at just $15 for three 8-ounce drinks, it was a bargain for the lucky participants. In addition, everyone enjoyed the regular early Saturday happy hour featuring half-priced drinks and appetizers from 4:30 to 7 p.m.

Continue reading “Cocktail flights soar at Mai-Kai Mixer, reveal revolutionary use of rums”

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: Tasty Tahitian Breeze is packed with tropical flavors, history

Updated November 2015
See below: Our Tahitian Breeze review | Ancestor recipes | Tribute recipe
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide

Tahitian Rum Punch

Though it appears on the surface to be a simple, light and breezy rum drink, The Mai-Kai’s Tahitian Breeze is actually a complex creation with roots that date back nearly 80 years to the world’s first Tiki cocktails.

A close cousin of the Hidden Pearl in both look and taste, the Tahitian Breeze evolved from Donn Beach’s Tahitian Rum Punch, one of the original drinks served at Don the Beachcomber in Hollywood, Calif., in the 1930s.

Mariano Licudine, who created The Mai-Kai’s original 1956 menu, started working for Donn Beach in 1939 in Hollywood, then spent 16 years at the Don the Beachcomber in Chicago. So he most likely knew the Tahitian Breeze very well as it evolved over the years.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai cocktail review: Tasty Tahitian Breeze is packed with tropical flavors, history”

Mai-Kai cocktail review: Bring a friend and sink your teeth into the classic Sidewinder’s Fang

Updated September 2015
See below: Our Sidewinder’s Fang review | Ancestor recipe
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide

The Sidewinder's Fang, which dwarfs the potent Barrel O' Rum, is designed to be shared by two or more. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, March 2015)
The Sidewinder’s Fang, which dwarfs the potent Barrel O’ Rum, is designed to be shared by two or more. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, March 2015)

It may sound and look intimidating, but the whopping Sidewinder’s Fang is the perfect cocktail for a couple to share while enjoying a romantic evening at Fort Lauderdale’s landmark Mai-Kai Polynesian restaurant. Typically served in a giant snifter, it’s a fun and accessible cocktail that should appeal to newcomers and tropical drink aficionados alike.

The distinctive snifter is sometimes in short supply, so you may receive this giant cocktail in two separate glasses (see photo). But it’s been a long time since we’ve noticed a shortage of glasses, so this unique cocktail experience will live on exactly as it has for some 50 years. The Mai-Kai is one of the few restaurants in the world to use this rare 48-ounce glass.

The cocktail itself is a classic communal Tiki drink, dominated by fruit juices and similar to the Mystery Drink, just not quite as complex. Many Polynesian restaurants served a Sidewinder’s Fang when exotic drinks flourished in the mid-century, but it’s unclear who invented it.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai cocktail review: Bring a friend and sink your teeth into the classic Sidewinder’s Fang”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading “Mai-Kai cocktail review: This Daiquiri is special in more ways than one”

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 Mutiny is a worthy foe in the battle of the tropical titans

Updated July 2021
See below: Our Mutiny review | Tribute recipes
Postscript: Mutiny on blogs, in bars, and on social media
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide
The Black Magic emerges from the shadows as a true classic

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 restaurant’s 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.

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

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 December 2021
See below: Our Black Magic review | Tribute recipes
The Atomic Grog on Spike’s Breezeway Cocktail Hour
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: Mai-Kai Swizzle showcases old-school technique

OCTOBER 2021 UPDATE: Mai-Kai Swizzle on Spike’s Breezeway

The Mai-Kai Swizzle tribute recipe was featured on Spike’s Breezeway Cocktail Hour. Check out the YouTube video below and follow Spike on Instagram and Facebook.

Look for more news and updates coming soon!

See below: Our Mai-Kai Swizzle review | Tribute recipe
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide | 100+ Mai-Kai recipes

Not to be confused with the deadly 151 Swizzle, the Mai-Kai Swizzle is a sweet and fruity mild drink that nevertheless rises above the mundane with a unique combination of juices and syrups plus a healthy dose of gold Jamaican rum.

Authentic swizzle sticks come from trees native to the Caribbean
Authentic swizzle sticks come from trees native to the Caribbean. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, March 2012)

It also sheds some light on a unique technique called swizzling. Many drinks with swizzle in their name are simply shaken or blended (as The Mai-Kai likely does), but a traditional swizzle follows a tried-and-true method that originated in the Caribbean.

Most mixologists today will use a quality bar spoon to swizzle a drink. Simply put: Fill a glass or shaker with your cocktail ingredients and crushed ice, insert the spoon and quickly spin the handle back and forth between the palms of both hands. This will quickly mix/blend the drink, and if you’re doing it correctly the glass or shaker will quickly become cold and frosty, and your cocktail will be ready to drink.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai cocktail review: Mai-Kai Swizzle showcases old-school technique”

Mai-Kai cocktail review: The delicious Samoan Grog wasn’t born to be mild

Updated March 31, 2014
See below: Our Samoan Grog review | Ancestor recipe | Tribute recipe
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide

Many folks skip right over The Mai-Kai’s “mild” cocktails, heading straight for the medium-strength classics and high-octane strong drinks on the voluminous menu. But that would be a mistake.

Colonial Grog

There are many tasty cocktails on the less-intense side of the menu, including the Samoan Grog, one of the top picks among all the “mild” drinks. In the case of this and several others, “mild” is a misnomer.

Sure, it contains less alcohol than some of its stronger brethren, but the Samoan Grog packs quite a punch with its complex, exotic flavor profile. And like more than half the drinks on the menu, it’s a descendant of a Don the Beachcomber classic, the Colonial Grog (see ancestor recipe below).

Original Mai-Kai mixologist Mariano Licudine had a knack for turning old-school Don the Beachcomber cocktails from the 1930s and ’40s into sweeter, more accessible Mai-Kai staples. Sometimes, like in this example, all it took was a few simple tweaks.

This cocktail is also an example of how research into the link between Don the Beachcomber and The Mai-Kai can sometimes take a few twists and turns. It was originally thought that the Samoan Grog was a descendant of Don’s Own Grog, a similar drink that appeared in Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari in 2007. That drink dated back to to the 1930s, when Licudine worked at the flagship Don the Beachcomber location in Hollywood. So I was fairly certain that this had to be the inspiration for The Mai-Kai’s mild drink, which has been on the menu since opening day in 1956.

Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them

But luckily Jeff “Beachbum” Berry continues to unearth long-lost recipes (and puts them in some great books). His latest tome, Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them (Cocktail Kingdom), includes another deep dive into the legacy and history of Donn Beach (as Don the Beachbomber was known), among many others.

And right there in the middle of Chapter 5 is a full page dedicated to the Colonial Grog, which bears a striking resemblance to the Samoan Grog. Not surprisingly, this circa 1944 (previously unpublished) recipe comes from the private papers of Mariano Licudine, who worked at Don the Beachcomber from 1939 to 1956. You’ll find the recipe below, along with instructions on how to make its unique ice shell.

The Samoan Grog may not get the attention of its stronger cohorts on The Mai-Kai menu, but it’s a classic example of cocktail history in a glass.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai cocktail review: The delicious Samoan Grog wasn’t born to be mild”