Updated June 2023
See below: Our Cobra’s Kiss review | Ancestor recipe | Tribute recipe
* The ever-evolving story of fassionola UPDATED
Postscript: The Cobra’s Kiss tribute on social media NEW
Related: The Mai-Kai cocktail guide
The Cobra’s Kiss is one of the hidden gems at The Mai-Kai, a complex and layered cocktail on the medium-strength section menu that may take newbies time to fully appreciate. But if you truly savor rum and exotic flavors, you’ll eventually experience a revelation.
For The Atomic Grog, that revelation came during the 2010 Hukilau (see photo). It became the event’s drink du jour, a suddenly under-appreciated classic. If you hang out at The Mai-Kai and sample enough of the cocktails, you’ll have many similar experiences. Fittingly, the cocktail made a grand return to The Hukilau 13 years later at the 2023 opening-night party at the Beachcomber Resort while the restaurant nears the home stretch in its massive restoration project.
The Hukilau highlights: Photos and memories from Tiki weekender
While the Cobra’s Kiss flavor profile is distinctive, it’s not unique. Tiki cocktail fans may already be familiar with the Cobra’s Fang, an early Don the Beachcomber classic.
But as he did with many of Donn Beach’s classics, former Beachcomber bartender Mariano Licudine tweaked the Cobra’s Fang just enough to give it his own stamp at The Mai-Kai. In this case, it is indeed milder but also arguably more polished than the original.
Below, you’ll find recipes for both Beach’s original and our own interpretation of The Mai-Kai’s version. Both rely heavily on falernum, an exotic elixir that originated in Barbados, for their distinctive taste. The Art of Drink delves into the origins and history of falernum, while other blogs such as Rum Dood and The Cocktail Chronicles have posted recipes for making your own. You’ll find many more examples that have emerged over the years.
We’ve noticed falernum in many Mai-Kai cocktails. In most instances, it’s subtle. In others – such as the Mai-Tai and Moonkist Coconut – it’s much more forward. But the Cobra’s Kiss is perhaps the No. 1 showcase for this wonderful ingredient.
Note: Some past menus have referred to this drink as “Cobra Kiss,” and it was originally listed that way here. But most of the printed menus, including the sweeping 2014 update, changed it to “Cobra’s Kiss,” so we’re now going with that spelling.
The official menu description
Full bodied and full flavored, featuring the famous West Indies dark rums.
Okole Maluna Society review and rating
Flavor profile: Orange juice, dark rum, falernum, Pernod.
Review: An extremely exotic and distinctive cocktail featuring an explosion of tart fruit and flavorful rums.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (see how it ranks)
Ancestry: The Cobra’s Kiss dates back to the original 1956 Mai-Kai menu. It’s a very close descendant of the Don the Beachcomber classic Cobra’s Fang.
Bilge: It would be negligent to not give an occasional credit to the 50-year-old landmark Tiki Ti in Los Angeles, the only other bar in the world serving as many authentic Don the Beachcomber tropical drinks as The Mai-Kai. “The Ti,” as its known to its fans, features more than 80 classic cocktails hand-made by the son and grandson of the late Ray Buhen, a former Beachcomber bartender from the same era as The Mai-Kai’s late Mariano Licudine. These include the Tiki Ti’s version of the Cobra’s Fang. The tiny Sunset Boulevard bar doesn’t approach The Mai-Kai in size and scope, but its cocktails are just as impeccably delicious. In more recent years, the Cobra’s Fang has been revived by many of the crafty new bars in the Tiki revival, including one of our favorites: Suffering Bastard in Sanford, Fla.
Agree or disagree? Share your reviews and comments below!
(By Don the Beachcomber, from Hawai’i – Tropical Rum Drinks & Cuisine)
* 1 ounce fresh lime juice
* 1 ounce orange juice
* 1 ounce falernum
* 1/2 ounce fassionola
* 1 ounce dark Jamaican rum
* 1 ounce Demerara 151 rum
* 1 teaspoon grenadine
* 2 dashes Angostura bitters
Blend all ingredients with 8 ounces of crushed ice for 5 to 8 seconds. Pour into a tall glass, adding more ice to fill. Garnish with mint and lime wheels.
Notes and tips for home mixologists
* Note that we’ve basically doubled the recipe called for in the Hawai’i book (co-written by Donn Beach’s widow, Phoebe) and reprinted elsewhere. Feel free to make the original recipe, but it seems too small to properly enjoy all the great flavor notes.
* Fee Brothers is the recommended brand of falernum since it follows a similar style to the non-alcoholic falernum syrup (as opposed to a liqueur) that Donn Beach used back in his day. Latitude 29 Formula Falernum from Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and Orgeat Works is also a great option since it was engineered to duplicate the flavor of the old A.V. Stansfeld’s brand.
* Myers’s is the recipe’s recommended dark Jamaican rum, but there are plenty of choices on the market today that would work just as well, if not better. You could go traditional dark (Coruba), middle of the road (Appleton, Plantation), or ultra funky (Hamilton, Doctor Bird). Lemon Hart used to be the only choice for 151 Demerara rum in the United States. But thanks to importer Ed Hamilton, we now have Hamilton 151. Also keep an eye out for Diamond Reserve Overproof 151, an aged dark rum from the owners of the El Dorado brand. Plantation O.F.T.D. (138 proof) would also work well in this application, and some countries (especially the U.K.) have other options.
The ever-evolving story of fassionola
The key to this drink is an old-school ingredient called fassionola. It was most popularly used in the original Hurricane and was reportedly invented in New Orleans. The Phoebe Beach book calls for it often, suggesting a substitute of fruit punch. Our first attempts using a bottled fruit juice labeled “punch” did not work. Even the most flavorful off-the-shelf drink was too thin and watery to provide the correct “punch.” When we first came across this ingredient after buying the book, around 2008, we tried different suggestions we found online, such as fruit punch syrup, punch-flavored snow cone syrup, and Hawaiian Punch concentrate. None really came close to the correct strength and proportion for this drink. Desperate, we even tried the infamous Pat O’Brien’s Hurricane Mix, which did give the drink the correct deep red color. But the artificial taste was a definite turn-off.
After we first posted this story and original recipe in November 2011, the fassionola story played out for the next decade, even earning its own Wikipedia page. There appears to be no end in sight.
May 2012: Greetings, Jonathan English. Our big breakthrough came thanks to eBay (and the current owners of the Jonathan English branded fassionola). It turns out that this legacy brand was the last still making fassionola at that time, mainly for clients in the bar industry. There was no retail presence, other than eBay. We later discovered that the Tiki Ti most likely uses Jonathan English syrups. This product made a huge difference in all the drinks we tried it in, especially the Cobra’s Fang. It was thicker and richer than any of the previous DIY suggestions, and the dark red color was perfect. Buyer beware: It comes in a plastic bottle and is designed for a long shelf life, so it does contain artificial ingredients (and high fructose corn syrup). But this is a real old-school bar syrup, and it performs as such. The flavor is cherry/raspberry with a hint of orange. Note that the company makes two other fassionola syrups (the passion fruit flavored “gold” and lime-guava flavored “green”). The red syrup is preferred for the Cobra’s Kiss and other classic uses. Around 5 years later, Jonathan English launched a website, but it still contains little beyond contact information. As of the latest update of this review (June 2023), the syrups are all still available only on eBay with a new label since around 2018.
July 2012: A simple homemade option. A worthy DIY substitute was shared by Atomic Grog reader and fellow cocktailian Brian Stamp that remains viable today: Equal proportions of grenadine (Brian prefers homemade) and the widely available Smucker’s Red Raspberry Syrup. The latter may seem like an odd ingredient for cocktails, but it’s actually a favorite of “Dr. Cocktail” (aka Ted Haigh), who wrote one of the great recipe books on classic drinks, Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails (2009). From the book’s Resource Guide: “There are many raspberry syrups available. My secret (don’t tell!) is that I use Smucker’s Red Raspberry Syrup, an elegant, highly flavored fruit syrup. It’ll transform your cocktails. … You can make your own raspberry syrup, or you can buy some organic brand, but seriously, for the right flavors in your forgotten cocktail, you need the Smucker’s. Everything else is just wimpy by comparison.” It’s featured in The Blinker, a vintage cocktail from 1934 resurrected by Dr. Cocktail. In that recipe, he explains that raspberry syrup was a common substitute for grenadine in Prohibition-era European and 19th century American recipes. So Brian’s suggestion was actually deeply rooted in cocktail history. When we make this version, we use a rich red grenadine, such as Fee Brothers or BG Reynolds.
July 2013: Cobra’s Kiss at Trader Vic’s. A new fassionola recipe surfaced, thanks to Colin Powers, who wrote the Cocktail Hour column for The Oregonian in Portland. He was also involved with events at the late Portland Trader Vic’s and Tiki Kon, and in 2013 helped bring the Cobra’s Kiss tribute to a special Vic’s menu. It’s an honor to have the recipe below served at the venerable Vic’s. [Click here for the full article.] Here’s that fassionola recipe: 1/4 cup Smucker’s raspberry syrup (or raspberry puree), 1/4 cup grenadine or cherry syrup, and 1/2 teaspoon orange extract. It’s a slightly tweaked version of Brian Stamp’s recipe above, with the addition of orange extract.
December 2014: An all natural option. We discovered a new raspberry simple syrup from Royal Rose, which is 100 percent organic and uses fair trade cane sugar made from evaporated cane juice. If you’re looking to avoid high fructose corn syrup (contained in both fassionola and Smucker’s), it’s worth seeking out. It won’t have the same intensity or complexity as the Jonathan English product, but if you want to go all-natural, you can combine it with a extra rich homemade grenadine (and perhaps some orange extract), to approximate the flavor of fassionola.
September 2015: New craft cocktail darling. The fassionola saga officially went mainstram with a story on the Eater website (What happened to fassionola, the Tiki world’s lost syrup?). Five years after our initial experimentations, craft cocktail bars and mixologists started embracing fassionola, including several in Texas making their own (Russell Thoede at Lei Low in Houston, and Eddie Eakin at Rapscallion in Dallas). A blog reader contributed a very straightforward recipe to the comments below.
April 2016: First “craft” fassionola debuts. As homemade fassionola recipes continued to flourish, a New Orleans-based small business led by two former bartenders launched a line of naturally flavored cocktail syrups in 2015 using locally sourced sugar, fruits and herbs. In 2016, they introduced their version of fassionola, which contains fresh Louisiana strawberries, hibiscus, and lime. This is definitely a high-quality product and remains arguably the most respected commercial fassionola on the market, especially in craft cocktail circles. It was touted by Tales of the Cocktail as “The Hurricane’s long-lost ingredient.” After putting it to the test in the Cobra’s Kiss and other Tiki classics, however, we found it to be too light and lacking the deep red color that made the original fassionla essential to The Mai-Kai and other bars. It’s also not always available since bottles are released only during the Louisiana strawberry season from mid-March to May.
Summer 2018: BG Reynolds kick starts fassionola. The modern Tiki bar syrup company founded by former bartender Blair Reynolds introduced its own fassionola as part of a Kickstarter campaign to bring back three lost syrups. It remains available in online stores, though it seems to have disappeared from the company’s official website. If it’s gone for good, that would be unfortunate since we find this to be the best bottled alternative to Jonathan English. It’s also a more natural product, using only water, cane sugar, cherry concentrate, passion fruit concentrate, and mango juice concentrate. My only critique is that like other BG Reynolds products, it’s a thinner syrup with more water and/or less sugar than I’d prefer.
Summer 2020: Fassionola goes analog. Matt Pietrek of the Cocktail Wonk blog took a fresh approach with his “analog” recipe, meaning it uses all natural ingredients including fresh fruit and was designed to be made without cooking or heating. Besides all the fruit (strawberries, blueberries, pineapple, et al.), the recipe features passion fruit puree and sugar. Using science and nature, the concoction becomes a syrup after just a few days and a little mashing and straining. By all accounts, the result is just as sweet and potent as any other modern fassionola. The recipe became a hit online, especially in the COVID days when everyone had time to try new things in their home bars.
Pietrek’s analog version is on a short list of new homemade ingredients we need try. In the meantime, we continue to recommend the Jonathan English and BG Reynolds brands as being the most effective in any of our Mai-Kai ancestor or tribute recipes that call for fassionola.
Coming in 2023: Secrets to be revealed in new book. The final word on fassionola is likely to come soon when Fassionola: The Torrid Story of Cocktail’s Most Mysterious Ingredient is released. Soon after the book by Gregorio Pantoja and Martin S. Lindsay hits shelves, we’re told that a new bottled syrup similar to the classic version of fassionola – or “passionola” as the book will reveal – will likely hit the market. The 240-page softcover book launched on Kickstarter in September 2022 and is expected to be published in August 2023 by Classic San Diego Books. Lindsay previously wrote Classic San Diego Tiki (2016). In January, we experienced his presentation at Inuhele 2023 in Atlanta and came away fascinated with the detailed (and sometimes sordid) history of what the authors call “P/Fassionola” due to its dual historical names. Their research will culminate with the syrup, being developed in association with noted Tiki mixologist and bar designer Daniel “Doc” Parks (Pagan Idol, Zombie Village, Wilfred’s Lounge).
While we await the arrival of the book and syrup, recipes continue to proliferate in bars and blogs online. Popular YouTube vlogger The Education Barfly tackled the subject in October 2022, sharing his own recipe in a 15-minute show that features the Cobra’s Fang and several other recipes. It’s defiinitely worth watching.
Tribute to The Mai-Kai Cobra’s Kiss
By The Atomic Grog (updated June 2023)
* 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
* 1 ounce fresh orange juice
* 3/4 ounce falernum
* 1/2 ounce fassionola
* 1/4 ounce grenadine
* 1 ounce Demerara rum
* 1 ounce dark Jamaican rum
* 2 dashes Angostura bitters
* 1/4 teaspoon Pernod
Blend all ingredients with 1 cup of crushed ice for 5 seconds. Pour into a glass or goblet. Garnish with a cinnamon stick.
Some different amounts and proportions were employed to make a slightly smaller cocktail, but there are very few changes from the Cobra’s Fang recipe above. Pernod, an anise liqueur similar to absinthe, is the key enhancement. This was a favorite of Donn Beach and it’s likely he used this very flavorful herbal liqueur in one of his versions of the Cobra’s Fang. It has a strong presence in the Cobra’s Kiss. But go easy, too much will ruin the drink. As noted above, this is a milder version of Beach’s original but no less flavorful.
Notes and tips for home mixologists
NEW: We made one adjustment in June 2023 in advance of The Hukilau when we learned that The Mai-Kai uses a standard-proof Demerara rum (not 151) in their version of this classic. Hamilton 86 has been the traditional standard Demerara rum used behind the bar in recent years. If unavailable, we’d recommend El Dorado 8 or Lemon Hart, both clocking in at 80 proof. If using 80-proof rum, you can add a splash of 151 Demerara rum (Hamilton or Lemon Hart) for a little extra kick, as The Mai-Kai did at The Hukilau 2023.
* As of June 2023, The Mai-Kai uses its own dark Jamaican rum blend, designed to replicate the extinct Kohala Bay that had been used for many years. This rich, slightly higher proof and power-packed rum is a descendant of Wray & Nephew’s Dagger, an iconic brand used widely by Donn Beach. It’s likely he employed it the Cobra’s Fang, so feel free to use our recommended substitute in that recipe above as well. Our longtime blend is equal parts Smith & Cross Jamaican rum and El Dorado 12-year-old Demerara rum, but several new options have recently been tested and proved to be just as viable. Until The Mai-Kai’s new signature rum is released when the restaurant reopens, we recommend any of the top substitutes detailed in our online presentation for the Austin Rum Society in April 2021.
* The Mai-Kai’s juices are distinctive and locally-sourced. They use 100% Florida orange juice from Kennesaw instead of squeezing it behind the bar. This not only speeds up production in the high-volume environment, it ensures drinks remain consistent no matter the season. You can find Kennesaw juices in Whole Foods stores in Florida, but they have a short shelf life due to being only “gently pasteurized,” so bottles don’t travel far. Natalie’s, also based in South Florida and lightly pasteurized, has wider distribution and would be a fine second option. If you decide to squeeze your own juice, try to use Florida oranges if possible. As noted in many other recipes, it’s no secret that The Mai-Kai uses Key lime juice in its drinks instead of the more traditional fresh-squeezed Persian limes. It’s possible they make an in-house blend, or source it from a provider, since the drinks featuring lime taste fresher and brigher than those we’ve tried using commercial Key lime juice (from concentrate). Our recommendation is to make a 50:50 blend of fresh-squeezed Persian lime juice with bottled Key lime juice. It’s not perfect, but it comes close to matching the sharp, tart flavors you’ll encounter in Mai-Kai cocktails. In South Florida, look for Terry’s Key Lime Juice, which is 100 percent juice and not from concentrate. We like to make a 2:1 blend of Key to Persian lime juice with this all-natural product..
* We believe that over the years, The Mai-Kai has made its own fassionola in-house in addition to purchasing it from vendors. In the early years, management used the same sources for its syrups and secret mixes as Don the Beachcomber, since both manager Bob Van Dorpe and head bartender Mariano Licudine came from the Chicago location. At some point, those sources ceased to exist, so The Mai-Kai likely made its own syrups from that point on. Either way, the flavor profile as well as the bold red color of the drinks that use it tells us that it matches the Jonathan English style. Our other recommendations are the same as noted above: The DIY version (grenadine and raspberry syrup) as well as BG Reynolds’ fassionola. The grenadine should also be a rich, dark red variety to stand up to all of the other bold flavors. Our preference is Fee Brothers, since it’s a traditonal style that comes very close to the flavors we taste at The Mai-Kai. But more and more quality grenadines have entered the market recently, so feel free to experiment. Just avoid those that are on the light side. As noted in the Cobra’s Fang recipe above, Fee Brothers is also our preferred falernum.
If you’re wondering what other Mai-Kai tribute recipes feature fassionola, here’s the most updated list:
Impatient Virgin | Jet Pilot | Mai Tai | Special Reserve Daiquiri | Suffering Bastard Tahitian Breeze
These are all timeless classics and, like our appreciation of the Cobra’s Kiss, never go out of style.
In addition to getting love on YouTube, the Cobra’s Kiss has been the subject of social media posts by home bartenders over the years. We appreciate everyone who takes the time to share their handiwork. Here’s a sampling …
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????You may have seen my recent post where I fell in love with the Cobra's Kiss at @the_maikai_restaurant. Yesterday I used @theatomicgrog's recipe to try to recreate it and I think it came really close! I was really happy with the result and am looking forward to tweaking it. I already have my next attempt written down! Here is the current recipe I used: ?? 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice 1 ounce orange juice 3/4 ounce @maggiesfarmrum falernum 1/2 ounce @bgreynolds fassionola 1 ounce @appletonestateja Reserve 1 ounce Coruba Dark 1/4 ounce homemade grenadine 2 dashes Angostura bitters 1/4 teaspoon Pernod