Minimalist Tiki

Mai-Kai cocktail review: Origins of the Malayan Mist no longer a mystery

Updated April 10, 2012
See below: Our Malayan Mist review | Ancestor recipe | Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide

The Malayan Mist is sometimes lost amid the many selections on the vast menu of nearly 50 tropical drinks at Tiki’s crown jewel, The Mai-Kai. It may be one of the most notable, however, with origins that date back to the very beginnings of the modern Tiki bar.

1959 Mai-Kai menu
A 1959 Mai-Kai menu.

For a tropical drink that’s been around for at least 55 years, there is precious little information to be found about the mysterious Malayan Mist. Fittingly, it also features a unique sweet flavor profile that’s just as esoteric. Like many of The Mai-Kai’s drinks that have survived a half century of menu updates, the classic artwork remains unchanged (see 1959 menu at right).

That artwork helped us solve the mystery. More than half of the drinks at The Mai-Kai are retooled versions of classic Don the Beachcomber cocktails. Mixologist Mariano Licudine worked for Donn Beach in Los Angeles and Chicago before he was hired away by Mai-Kai owners Bob and Jack Thornton, brothers from Chicago who sought to create the ultimate Polynesian palace in what was then a desolate area west of Fort Lauderdale.

Along with Licudine, they snagged the restaurant’s top chef plus manager Robert Van Dorpe, who provided them with invaluable information. This included the sources for all the glassware and artwork to go with the secret ingredients to make those world famous cocktails. Click here for more on the story of the Don the Beachcomber connection to The Mai-Kai as unearthed by historian Tim “Swanky” Glazner.

Modern Caribbean Rum
Sumatra Kula

Unlike most of The Mai-Kai’s re-imagined Don the Beachcomber cocktails, the Malayan Mist has no obvious ancestor based on the name. There are no “Malayan” or “Mist” drinks on any Beachcomber menu. Like our recent discovery regarding the Zula, we found the answer in the bible of classic Tiki cocktails, Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari. This meticulously researched and wonderfully illustrated recipe book has been an invaluable resource for finding old Donn Beach cocktails.

Persistence paid off on perhaps our 100th browsing of the book when we discovered a very similar photo and recipe in the chapter on mixologist Hank Riddle, who worked for Donn Beach on and off from 1946 into the 1980s. The Sumatra Kula is a vintage drink that Mariano Licudine would have been exposed to when he worked at the original Don the Beachcomber in Los Angeles just before Riddle. It was reportedly one of Beach’s original tropical drinks.

Another piece of cocktail history perfectly preserved on The Mai-Kai’s time warp of a tropical drink menu.


The official menu description
Malayan Mist

Light rum and juices skillfully blended into a refreshingly smooth potation garnished with a sprig of fresh mint.

Okole Maluna Society review and rating

Malayan Mist
Malayan Mist, June 2011. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Size: Medium

Potency: Mild

Flavor profile: Lime, orange juice, mint, light rum.

Review: Distinctive and delicious with bold tart and sweet flavors, plus a hint of mint.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars (see how it ranks)

Ancestry: The Malayan Mist has been on the menu since The Mai-Kai’s 1956 opening and is most likely a descendant of one of the very first modern tropical drinks, the 1930s era Sumatra Kula.

Bilge: According to the Donn Beach bio on the Web site for the Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Huntington Beach (the only location in the mainland U.S.), the Sumatra Kula was a key drink in tropical drink lore. A writer for the New York Tribune reportedly couldn’t get enough Sumatra Kulas, which in those days cost a quarter. Saying it was the best drink he’d had in years, he came back with friends, including Charlie Chaplin, and the legend of Don the Beachcomber began to spread through Hollywood and beyond. Oddly, you can’t get this historic drink at the current Don the Beachcomber, but it’s available at the legendary Tiki-Ti in Hollywood, where the son and grandsons of Don the Beachcomber bartender Ray Buhen continue the legacy he started in 1961.

Agree or disagree? Share your reviews and comments below!


Sumatra Kula

(From Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari)

Sumatra Kula by The Atomic Grog
Sumatra Kula by The Atomic Grog, April 2012. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
* 1/2 ounce grapefruit juice
* 1/2 ounce orange juice
* 1/2 ounce honey mix
   (combine equal parts honey and water, chill)
* 1 1/2 ounces light rum
* 3 ounces crushed ice

Put everything in a blender, saving ice for last. Blend at high speed for no more than 5 seconds. Pour into a pilsner glass. Add more crushed ice to fill. Garnish with a mint sprig.

Purportedly one of the first drinks created by By Don the Beachcomber at his Hollywood bar, circa 1934. As served by Hank Riddle when he worked there in the late ’40s.

Notes and tips for home mixologists

This simple classic needs little elaboration. Just remember to stick with fresh-squeezed juices, white (not pink) grapefruit and a high-quality rum.

The Mai-Kai’s version might have an additional twist or two, but the execution and presentation are remarkably similar. More history in a glass.

Okole maluna!

One Reply to “Mai-Kai cocktail review: Origins of the Malayan Mist no longer a mystery”

  1. An early Don the Beachcomber menu lists one of the ingredients as “wild berry liqueur.” Figure out what that is and I think you’ll know what the Mai Kai’s “additional twist” is.

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