Minimalist Tiki

NEW RECIPES: A frightening flight of deadly cocktails for Halloween 2023

Updated Nov. 3

The pursuit of dangerous Zombies and other potent libations served in ominous mugs is a year-round pursuit for many of us. But the Halloween season is prime time for mixologists to conjure up creative new potions for the not-so-faint of heart.

To meet that challenge, we offer up a flight of three deadly drinks with a dark and foreboding flair. And, of course, more than a touch of Tiki.

Go directly to the recipes
Round 1: The Black Magic Cocktail
Round 2: Shrunken Pumpkin Head
Round 3: Return of the Zombie Dolphin NEW

Hulaween on hiatus: Relive 12 years of madness at The Mai-Kai
Hulaween on hiatus: Relive the madness at The Mai-Kai
With the Tiki temple closed for refurbishment, take a look back at 12 years of Halloween events in The Molokai bar.

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First, let’s warm up with a new twist on the ever-popular classic from The Mai-Kai Polynesian restaurant

The Black Magic Cocktail
(A tribute to The Atomic Grog’s tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Black Magic)

Modern Caribbean Rum
The Black Magic Cocktail at The Atomic Grog, October 2023. The Mai-Kai Shrunken Head mug by Tiki Tony and Eekum Bookum for The Hukilau 2017. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Black Magic Cocktail at The Atomic Grog, October 2023. The Mai-Kai Shrunken Head mug by Tiki Tony and Eekum Bookum for The Hukilau 2017. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

• 1/4 ounce fresh orange juice
• 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
• 1/2 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
• 1/2 ounce rich honey mix
• 3/4 ounces freshly brewed and chilled coffee
• 1 ounce dark Jamaican rum (Mai-Kai blend or substitute)
• 1 ounce gold (lightly aged) Spanish-style rum
• 1/2 ounces dark rum
• 1/4 ounce Mariano’s Mix #7
• 1/2 teaspoon allspice dram
• 1-2 dashes Angostura bitters

Pulse blend with 1 cup of crushed ice for 5 seconds. Strain into a chilled 6-ounce cocktail glass.

There’s a symphony of flavors packed into this small sipper. It’s rich and heavy on the spice and coffee, even more so than its big brother. Without the ice in the glass, it stays robust to the last drop. The bitters and allspice balance the sweet and sour notes, leaving the rums to form a solid but not overwhelming backbone.

Mixing tips: Yes, there are lots of ingredients here, no less than the beloved 10-ounce original served in a 24-ounce snifter with loads of crushed ice. The only simplification is allspice dram instead of Don’s Spices #2.

The Atomic Grog's tribute to The Mai-Kai's Black Magic featuring Mariano's Mix #7.  (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, April 2020)
The Atomic Grog’s tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Black Magic featuring Mariano’s Mix #7. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, April 2020)

However, this condensed version manages to be both more intensely concentrated, yet also very easy to drink. Resist the urge to shake like a Daiquiri. The spindle blender perfectly aerates the drink and gives it that signature foamy head.

If you’re having a party, feel free to mix up a larger batch in a Waring-style blender. Just be sure to use the proper amount of crushed ice and pour into small chilled coupes through a wire-mesh strainer.

Ingredient notes: Here are some simplified tips. For a deep dive into the ingredients, check out the history of Black Magic tribute recipes. Fresh but chilled coffee is a must, along with fresh juices. Florida OJ is always best, along with white grapefruit. In a pinch, we’re not opposed to using a bottle of Ocean Spray’s “Pure 100%” juice. It’s preferable to fresh red grapefruit.

Mariano’s Mix #7 is discussed in depth in the Black Magic story, so check there for details. It’s an exotic syrup that dates back to Don the Beachcomber, later brought to The Mai-Kai in 1956 by original mixologist Mariano Licudine. Our hack is to combine falernum syrup with Herbsaint. We don’t mind if you simply use a rich falernum (like Fee Brothers) and one or two drops of Herbsaint, Pernod or absinthe for just a hint of anise.

Like the original, the rum blend is a bit complicated but worth the effort. There’s no need to reach for expensive bottles, however. Standard brands, such as Don Q or Cruzan, are fine for the “gold” rum. Bacardi Black is preferred, but Goslings is also an OK substitute for the dark rum. The Mai-Kai’s Jamaican rum blend is the key, however. Until the restaurant reopens and we can get our hands on the new 100-proof Mai-Kai Rum No. 1, we have many possible options to replace the long-lost Kohala Bay and Dagger. For the purposes of this recipe, the easiest route is to simply use equal parts of 114-proof Smith & Cross and 80-proof El Dorado 12.

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

We hope that this more elegant but only slightly less powerful version of the Black Magic (2 1/2 ounce of rum instead of 3 1/2) will kick off our frightening flight in style.

Mahalo to Derek for featuring the Black Magic Cocktail on the Make and Drink channel on YouTube …

The Black Magic Cocktail on social media

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Round 2 takes things up a notch with a sinister, seasonal spin on The Mai-Kai’s deadly Shrunken Skull, aka Don the Beachcomber’s Skull & Bones.

Shrunken Pumpkin Head
(A seasonal Shrunken Skull tribute by the Atomic Grog)

The Shrunken Pumpkin Head at The Atomic Grog, October 2023. Vintage Shrunken Skull mug from The Mai-Kai, circa 1960s. Biodegradable straw by Hay Straws. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Shrunken Pumpkin Head at The Atomic Grog, October 2023. Vintage Shrunken Skull mug from The Mai-Kai, circa 1960s. Biodegradable straw by Hay Straws. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

• 5 drops salt solution (optional)
• 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
• 3/4 ounce pumpkin puree syrup
• 1/4 ounce pomegranate grenadine
• 1/2 teaspoon Don’s Spices (or allspice dram)
• 1 ounce gold (lightly aged) Spanish-style rum
• 1 ounce Demerara rum (80 or 86 proof)
• 1/2 ounce 151-proof Demerara rum
• 1/2 ounce club soda

Pulse blend with 1 1/2 cups of crushed ice for 10-12 seconds. Pour into a 12-ounce skull mug or double old-fashioned glass. Top with grated nutmeg.

The Shrunken Pumpkin Head is rich and spicy with a sweet and boozy backbone, guaranteed to light you up for Halloween. Just beware: One too many and your noggin may feel like one of those jack-o’-lanterns that overstayed its welcome.

Mai-Kai cocktail review: Drink like a native with the deadly Shrunken Skull
Mai-Kai cocktail review: Drink like a native with the deadly Shrunken Skull

Background: The Shrunken Skull is a mainstay on menus at Tiki bars worldwide, including The Mai-Kai. It’s believed to have originated with Tiki bar pioneer Don the Beachcomber and his Skull & Bones (also served at the venerable Tiki-Ti in Los Angeles).

The Shrunken Pumpkin Head takes inspiration – and most of the ingredients – from the classic recipes and adds some seasonal flavors, namely pumpkin and nutmeg. We dialed back the grenadine and adjusted the rums, but the overall vibe of the cocktail remains.

Ingredient notes: Though you could easily skip it, the salt solution is a nod to the modern mixology movement in general, and Garret Richard (author of Tropical Standard) in particular. In many drinks, we take Richard’s lead and add saline to separate and elevate the flavors in complex tropical drinks. Richard’s spec is an 80:20 solution using water and salt, measured on a scale in grams.

The Shrunken Skull at The Mai-Kai, August 2018. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Shrunken Skull at The Mai-Kai, August 2018. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

You could try one of the many DIY pumpkin syrup recipes available online, but were prefer Pumpkin Reàl, the pumpkin puree syrup from Reàl Infused Exotics. It’s not hard to find online and in stores. Because it’s designed by a cocktail syrup manufacturer, it tends to blend well with the other ingredients in the glass and not leave a gritty or odd texture and flavor.

Some of the other ingredients are discussed along with our Shrunken Skull tribute recipes. Basically, always use fresh-squeezed lime and a real pomegranate (not artificially flavored) grenadine. Don’s Spices (equal parts allspice dram and vanilla syrup) adds spice and just a touch of sweetness, paying homage to Tiki’s godfather. Straight allspice liqueur is fine if you want to keep it simple.

See our notes on the gold rum in the The Black Magic Cocktail recipe above. There are many to choose from. Our recommended Demerara rums for the Shrunken Pumpkin Head are Hamilton 86 and Hamilton 151. But if those aren’t available in your market, you can employ the 80- and 151-proof rums from Lemon Hart and/or El Dorado. Note: Diamond Reserve is a new aged (dark) 151 rum from Guyana’s Diamond Distillery and the owners of the El Dorado brand. Avoid the old unaged (white) 151 rum from Diamond.

The Shrunken Pumpkin Head may lack its classic cousin’s “side of danger,” but it includes a healthy dose of 151 rum (and 2 1/2 ounces of rum overall). It boasts a richer flavor profile and features all the hallmarks of the original.

All it needs is its own signature Shrunken Pumpkin Head mug. Among those we have our eye on include Halloween Pumpkin Skull by Munktiki, plus Pumpkin Skull and Jack-O-Lantern Dude by Haven Cove Customs.

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Last but not least, it’s time to wake the dead with a dynamic blend of dangerous yet delicious rums. In the past, we’ve explored a whole horde of Zombies, from traditional to a little offbeat. Our new creation takes us into uncharted territory and reanimates a left-for-dead garnish.

Return of the Zombie Dolphin
(By Hurricane Hayward, The Atomic Grog)

Return of the Zombie Dolphin at The Atomic Grog. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Return of the Zombie Dolphin at The Atomic Grog. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

• 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
• 3/4 ounce pineapple juice
• 3/4 ounce pumpkin puree syrup
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon syrup
• 1/2 ounce banana liqueur
• 1/2 teaspoon allspice dram
• 2 ounces Hamilton Beachbum Berry’s Zombie Blend Rum (118 proof)

Pulse blend with 1 heaping cup of crushed ice for 6-8 seconds. Pour over 1 cup of crushed ice in a 24-ounce snifter. Garnish with a banana dolphin corpse.

Return of the Zombie Dolphin combines festive seasonal flair with powerful, funky rums and tropical juices to conjure up an undead but delicious delight. It’s rich and balanced but loaded with intense layers of .

Background and garnish: Admittedly, this concoction is a Zombie in name only. It does have a handful of ingredients in common with Don the Beachcomber’s classic versions: lime, cinnamon, overproof Demerara and Jamaican rums, even pineapple juice (see the 1950 “Spievak” version).

In this 2008 depiction by artist Mocarny Kot, the banana dolphin doesn't seem so happy. It's as if he knew what lie ahead once food designers and cocktail bars got a hold of him and stuck a piece of fruit in his mouth. (Creative commons / DeviantArt.com)
In this 2008 depiction by artist Mocarny Kot, the banana dolphin doesn’t seem so happy. It’s as if he knew what lie ahead once food designers and cocktail bars got a hold of him and stuck a piece of fruit in his mouth. (Creative commons / DeviantArt.com)

Allspice is not far off course, adding some bite and traditional Tiki flavor notes. But we took a dive into the deep end with pumpkin and banana, creating a monster that conjures up memories of Halloween parties gone awry. But somehow, it all seems to work.

That brings us back to the cocktail’s name, inspired by a garnish that some may like to see dead and buried. The over-the-top flavors demand an equally flamboyant garnish, and what better image than the reanimated corpse of the kitschy banana dolphin.

There’s no use trying to explain. Just Google “banana dolphin” and you’ll see a feeding frenzy of interest in this garish garnish dating back to the aughts. Its popularity can be credited to (or blamed on) Paul McGee and his late, great Chicago cocktail bar Lost Lake (2015-2022).

McGee’s banana dolphin actually dates back to his days at Chicago’s Three Dots and a Dash. It became so trendy, in fact, it was featured in People magazine in a 2013 story under the headline “Raise a Glass to the World’s Cutest Cocktail.”

There’s a time and place for “cute” cocktails, but this is definitely not it. Furthermore, it could be argued that the banana dolphin has outlived its welcome in these days of sustainability and waste-free garnishes. Poor Flipper has likely been “deep-sixed” by most mindful bar programs.

With this is mind, we fished the old boy out from the bottom of the sea for one last hurrah. Unfortunately, he snagged a mermaid on his way up to the surface. Feel free to add some special effects, ala Tom Savini, such as gashes dripping with bloody grenadine.

Beachbum Berry’s Zombie Blend from Hamilton Rum. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Beachbum Berry’s Zombie Blend from Hamilton Rum. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The rum: What makes this cocktail fun, beyond the ghoulish garnish, is the rum. We tried several combinations of high-octane blends, and all worked well. The rums pack a wallop but also allow all the other flavors to break through and shine.

The most bang for your buck will come from Beachbum Berry’s Zombie Blend, a one-bottle solution to all your Zombie needs that was developed by its namesake, Tiki cocktail historian and author Jeff “Beachbum” Berry. The Bum had a lot of help from rum importer Ed Hamilton, who released the blend of rums from Jamaica, Guyana and Trinidad in 2021.

We can’t get enough of the Zombie Blend and find it useful way beyond its intended purpose in the Zombie. Also highly recommended is Hamilton Beachbum Navy Grog Blend,a similar rum (bottled at 114 proof) designed for a singular cocktail but also eminently versatile. Both are excellent choices for the Return of the Zombie Dolphin.

If neither is available in your area, we have other excellent suggestions:
• 1/2 ounce 151-proof Demerara (Hamilton or Lemon Hart), 1/2 ounce unaged Jamaican overproof (Rum Fire), 1 ounce dark Jamaican overproof (Worthy Park 109).
• 1 ounce dark Jamaican (Coruba), 1 ounce Demerara (Hamilton 86), 1/2 ounce overproof Jamaican (Doctor Bird).
• 1 ounce blended overproof (Plantation O.F.T.D.), 1 ounce aged Jamaican (Appleton 8).

Pumpkin syrup is full of festive fall flavors, including cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and clove. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Pumpkin syrup is full of festive fall flavors, including cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and clove. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

You could play around with other high-proof Jamaican and Demerara rums if you’re so inclined. This drink is a great template for experimentation.

Other ingredient notes: Naturally, fresh is best when it comes to the juices. Pumpkin syrup is discussed above in the Shrunken Pumpkin Head recipe. Homemade pumpkin syrup recipes are plentiful, but the widely available Pumpkin Reàl ensures consistency and mixability. We make our own cinnamon syrup (based on a recipe in Beachbum Berry’s books), but BG Reynolds also makes a fine bottled version.

Giffard’s Banane du Brésil is a well respected banana liqueur and highly recommended. There are now multiple options for allspice liqueur, from standby St. Elizabeth to a Hamilton product labeled “pimento dram.” In Jamaica, the tree that yields allspice berries is known as the Pimenta dioica, aka pimento.

Be advised that the Return of the Zombie Dolphin goes down easy but packs a punch that could raise the dead, even from undersea. If you manage to make it through the frightening flight unscathed, more death-defying cocktails await below.

Okole maluna!

PLEASE DRINK RESPONSIBLY!

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MORE CREEPY COCKTAILS

15 Zombie recipes, from classics to new originals
15 Zombie recipes, from classics to new originals
Savor the complex flavors and stories behind the original deadly cocktail invented by Don the Beachcomber, plus many of the best modern variations.

The Mai-Kai's Shrunken Skull
The Atomic Grog’s A-Z Cocktail Guide
Here are some other drinks guaranteed to spice up your next haunted happening:
* Blood Island Green Potion #2 (The Mai-Kai tribute / The Atomic Grog)
* Captain’s Blood (Traditional)
* Formidable Dragon (Martin Cate of Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco / Served at The Hukilau 2015 / The Atomic Grog tribute)
* The Last Fang (Oriol Elias / Minimalist Tiki)
* Last Rites (The Mai-Kai tribute / The Atomic Grog)
* The Mad Doctor’s Green Blood Potion (Jason Alexander / Devil’s Reef in Tacoma, Wash.)
* Shrunken Skull (The Mai-Kai tribute / The Atomic Grog)

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SPECIAL FEATURES

Okole Maluna Society: The Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide
Okole Maluna Society: The Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide

Reviews and ratings of the historic restaurant’s current and past tropical drinks, plus ancestor and exclusive tribute recipes.

The Mai-Kai restoration guide
The Mai-Kai restoration guide
Get the latest news, photos and social media updates on the multimillion-dollar renovation and refurbishment of South Florida’s Polynesian palace, plus an archive of past coverage.

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