Minimalist Tiki

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.

But if you’re looking for a truly authentic swizzle, nothing beats a real swizzle stick from the Swizzlestick Tree (aka Quararibea turbinata), which grows on Caribbean islands such as Martinique. The trees actually grow branches and twigs that all diverge at close to 90-degree angles, resulting in this unique mixology tool (see photo above).

Of course, you’re not going to find this in your neighborhood liquor store, or even in bar supply outlets. You can order one online from Cocktail Kingdom, and it’s well worth the expense since it’s far superior to a bar spoon. It’s also the perfect oddball tool to impress even the most hardcore craft cocktail geeks.


The official menu description

Mai-Kai Swizzle

A velvet bouquet, slightly rummy and fruity, swizzled with orgeat.

Okole Maluna Society review and rating

Mai-Kai Swizzle
Mai-Kai Swizzle, May 2011. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Size: Medium

Potency: Mild

Flavor profile: Orange juice, orgeat/amaretto, falernum, gold rum.

Review: Fruity, sweet and slightly sour with a nice touch of gold rum.

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

Ancestry: Dating back to the original 1956 Mai-Kai menu, the Mai-Kai Swizzle is most likely a descendant of Don’s Swizzle by Don the Beachcomber.

Bilge: The swizzle dates back to the 19th century in the West Indies, according to this New York Times story on perhaps its most famous offspring, the Queen’s Park Swizzle. The RumDood blog also has an excellent post on the cocktail and the history of the swizzle stick.

Agree or disagree? Share your reviews and comments below!


Mai-Kai Swizzle tribute

Mai-Kai Swizzle tribute by The Atomic Grog, March 2012
Mai-Kai Swizzle tribute by The Atomic Grog, March 2012. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* 1 1/2 ounces fresh-squeezed orange juice
* 1/2 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice
* 1/2 ounce mango juice
* 1/2 ounce rich sugar syrup
    (2 parts sugar to 1 part water, heated and cooled)
* 1/4 ounce orgeat (almond) syrup or amaretto
* 1/8 ounce falernum
* 2 ounces gold Jamaican rum (Appleton Estate Signature recommended)

Swizzle in a metal cocktail shaker with 1 cup crushed ice. (Or pulse blend with ice for for 4-6 seconds.) Pour into a stemmed cocktail glass and garnish with a speared pineapple chunk, plus red and green cherries.

I have not been able to find an authentic Don’s Swizzle recipe, so once again we turned to our friends on the Tiki Central message board for help in making a great tribute. Way back in June 2005, member “I, Zombie” posted a fairly accurate take that we’ve reconfigured above.

Notes and tips for home mixologists

* Like the S.O.S., another Don the Beachcomber descendant, the Mai-Kai Swizzle features a bold and flavorful orange juice. Be sure to use the sweetest fresh-squeezed juice. (Also notice that the drinks are nearly identical in color and served in the same glassware with similar garnish.) The Mai-Kai uses fresh, unpasteurized juice from Kennesaw. It comes straight from Florida groves and is extremely pulpy and flavorful. You can usually find it in Whole Foods stores in South Florida and (if you’re lucky) elsewhere.

Branches from the Swizzlestick Tree are cut to create a long handle with spokes at the end that are spun to quickly mix the drink
Branches from the Swizzlestick Tree are cut to create a long handle with spokes at the end that are spun to quickly mix the drink. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, March 2012)

* The mango juice, orgeat and falernum add a distinctive touch and create that “velvet bouquet” touted on the menu. Fee Brothers falernum is the brand used by The Mai-Kai and is reminiscent of what Don the Beachcomber used in his groundbreaking drinks. Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29 Formula Falernum is very similar. There’s no clear consensus on the best orgeat, which is most notable as a key ingredient in the classic Trader Vic’s Mai Tai but rarely used at The Mai-Kai. Different brands tend to have slightly different flavor notes, so I usually have multiple bottles on hand for variety. One fine option is Latitude 29 Formula Orgeat, which like the falernum is produced by Brooklyn-based syrup company Orgeat Works along with several other variations. We also like the orgeats from Small Hand Foods, BG Reynolds and Luau Lads. Note that The Mai-Kai is also known to use amaretto from time to time. This is perfectly fine as long as you use a quality brand. The flavor cuts through the juices nicely. Just dial it back slightly if it becomes too overpowering.

* Appleton Signature, the entry-level rum in the Estate lineup, shines through all the sweet elements and leaves a lasting impression. It’s featured in quite a few Mai-Kai cocktails.
* More on Appleton rums at The Mai-Kai

* The Mai-Kai likely pulse blends this drink in a top-down mixer like all of the other classic drinks (an old Don the Beachcomber technique). But it’s also fun to use the even more classic technique of the swizzle stick, as discussed above. Or feel free to use a simple bar spoon. A wooden spoon with a thin handle also works fine. But it’s certainly not as effective – or geeky cool – as a real swizzle stick.


MORE: Atomic Grog Cocktail Recipes, A through Z

4 Replies to “Mai-Kai cocktail review: Mai-Kai Swizzle showcases old-school technique”

  1. You may want to update this now that an actual recipe for Don’s Swizzle was revealed in the “Plastic Paradise” film.

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