Modern Caribbean Rum

Lost Cocktails of The Mai-Kai: Take a journey to the exotic Island of Martinique

This is the final review of the drinks that appeared on original 1956-57 era menus but were later retired.

See below: Ancestor recipe | Review
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide | More “lost cocktails”

Of all the cocktails that disappeared from The Mai-Kai’s bar menu since the famed Polynesian restaurant opened in Fort Lauderdale in 1956, perhaps the most elusive has been the Martinique Cocktail. It lasted into the 1980s, but disappeared without a trace.

A menu from Don the Beachcomber's Chicago restaurant, circa 1963
A menu from Don the Beachcomber’s Chicago restaurant, circa 1963.

A 1979 menu described the drink as “a small, yet robust creation of Martinique Rum, fresh juices and harmonious syrups” (see image below). I was able to identify this drink as a descendant of a classic cocktail by tropical mixology’s founding father, Donn Beach, aka Don the Beachcomber. Although I haven’t seen it on many Beachcomber menus, I was delighted to find the Martinique Cocktail listed as one of the “original rum drinks” at the Chicago location in 1963, seven years after The Mai-Kai opened.

It’s highly likely that this was the same drink, and not just because of the name. Mariano Licudine, The Mai-Kai’s original bar manager and mixologist, had a history of borrowing recipes from his days working at Don the Beachcomber, which began in 1939 in Hollywood. He was the No. 2 bartender at that very same Chicago location from 1940 until 1956, when he joined owners Bob and Jack Thornton at The Mai-Kai.

The Mai-Kai's 1956-57 menu
The Mai-Kai’s original 1956-57 menu includes 33 cocktails still served today, and 10 that are no longer offered, including the Martinique Cocktail.

However, finding a recipe was another matter entirely. I discovered many “Martinique Cocktail” recipes online, but none attributed to Donn Beach. But, of course, Tiki cocktail historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry once again came to the rescue with his most exhaustive research effort to date, the voluminous Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them, published in December by Cocktail Kingdom. The hardcover opus deservedly won the 2014 Spirited Award for Best New Cocktail/Bartending Book at Tales of the Cocktail in July.

Included in the chapter on the influence of the Caribbean on early Tiki cocktails is a recipe for Don the Beachcomber’s Island of Martinique Cocktail, along with the backstory. Like many Donn Beach drinks, there were multiple recipes over the years, including an early version based on the classic Caribbean drink the Ti Punch (aka Petit Punch), which dates back to the late 1800s in Martinique. It was a simple combination of rum, lime and sugar, what Berry calls the “holy trinity” of tropical mixology.

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Minimalist Tiki

Think you know rum? Step up your game at Miami Rum Fest with tastings, seminars, cocktail events

2014 Miami Rum Festival recaps:
Upstart spirits share spotlight with major players | Cocktails reach new heights

Make no mistake: The Miami Rum Renaissance Festival is the perfect place for newbies to get their feet wet and sample a wide array of styles, learning the basics about an incredibly versatile spirit that’s equally at home in cocktails and sipped neat.

Miami Rum Renaissance Festival

But the real treasure of the sixth annual event – which kicks off Monday with a test run of Miami Rum Festival Cocktail Week and culminates with three days of “grand tastings” attended by up to 15,000 – is the wealth of opportunities to meet and learn from the world’s foremost rum experts. For enthusiasts, it’s a unique opportunity to vastly broaden one’s knowledge of cane spirits and the rum lifestyle.

2014 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival: Friday, April 25, through Sunday, April 27, at the Doubletree by Hilton Miami Airport Convention Center. Tickets, hotel and more info at MiamiRumFest.com and Facebook.
Previous: Six reasons to look forward to the sixth annual Miami Rum Fest
Rum festival expands, introduces Miami Cocktail Week | 2013 recap

Those same newbies may scoff at the notion of a “lifestyle” based on booze. But ignoring the clichéd images of pillaging pirates, the burgeoning rum world offers a surprising sophistication and myriad ways to enjoy the spirit on many levels. At Miami Rum Renaissance Festival, the Grand Tasting booths on the convention center floor are the main draw, but you’re missing out if you don’t check out some of the events during the week, plus the many educational seminars held during the Grand Tastings. Here’s a rundown:

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Mai-Kai cocktail review: Trading Martinique for Guyana, milk punch gets a boost from new rum

Updated March 15, 2016
See below: Our Martinique Milk Punch review | Ancestor recipe | Tribute recipe
Related: Rums of The Mai-Kai: Hamilton rums from Guyana fill the Lemon Hart gap
Mai-Kai cocktail guide

Don’t let the name “Martinique Milk Punch” fool you. This traditional rum drink, a popular classic during the winter holidays, recently received an upgrade at The Mai-Kai.

Like several other vintage recipes, most notably the Bora Bora and S.O.S., recent updates have replaced the long-established Martinique rum with the sweeter and smokier Demerara-style rum from Guyana.

Hamilton 86

The improvement is dramatic. The Martinique Milk Punch benefits from the replacement of the earthy and pungent agricole rum and the recent addition of the 86-proof Hamilton rum from Guyana. As a result, the cocktail vaults up an unprecedented eight spots in The Atomic Grog’s rankings, from No. 41 to No. 33. Bora Bora made a similar leap, moving up 10 positions and also increasing from 2 1/2 stars to 3 stars.

Since its return in April 2012, Demerara rum has become a key flavor in many of The Mai-Kai’s traditional Tiki cocktails (see full story). We had not revisited the often-ignored Martinique Milk Punch since we posted this original review in December 2011, so it’s possible that Demerara rum was incorporated into the recipe any time since mid-2012.

With winter cocktails on our mind, we ordered a Martinique Milk Punch in late 2015 and immediately noted the difference. The distinctive Demerara rum flavor shines through with just the right amount of sweetness and a dusting of nutmeg, making for a much more balanced drink. The Martinique rum that The Mai-Kai previously used tended to dominate the other ingredients, its grassy taste a little too aggressive for this mild dessert-style drink.

The Martinique Milk Punch is served in the same glass as two popular ice-cream drinks, the Chocolate Snowflake and Mai-Kai Blizzard. While it’s not on the after-dinner menu, it could easily fill that role.

Saveur magazine recipe

A traditional milk punch dates back to colonial times. Ben Franklin had his own recipe, which you can check out here. It became fashionable in 18th century England after it was introduced by merchants and often featured whiskey or brandy instead of rum.

It’s unclear if the version using rum from Martinique is indigenous to that island or was created elsewhere. We do know that it was featured on early Don the Beachcomber menus, and this is likely the genesis of the version that was originally served at The Mai-Kai.

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Mai-Kai cocktail review: The classic Last Rites returns from the grave

Updated January 2017
See below: Ancestor recipe | Last Rites review | Official Mai-Kai recipe
UPDATE: Tribute recipe
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide | More “lost cocktails” | Tropical drink family tree
2012 Hulaween party resurrects lost cocktail

The Mai-Kai’s cocktail menu includes many drinks that have survived since the Fort Lauderdale Polynesian palace’s inception in 1956. Our unofficial count is 33 originals among the current menu’s 47 cocktails. The origins and recipes for some of these have long been mysteries, and we hope this guide unravels a few.

From Sippin' Safari: This vintage photo shows Mariano Licudine displaying his rum collection in 1962.
From Sippin' Safari: This vintage photo shows Mariano Licudine displaying his rum collection in 1962.

But even more mysterious are the great lost cocktails of The Mai-Kai. Those drinks that appear on early menus but for one reason or another were retired or replaced. Among the 12 of these that we’ve been able to identify are such exotic temptations as the Impatient Virgin, Dr. Fong and Liquid Gold. Those three, along with many others, were descendants of Don the Beachcomber cocktails that original Mai-Kai bartender Mariano Licudine reconfigured after spending decades learning from tropical drink originator Donn Beach.

This connection, along with the rich history of The Mai-Kai, is detailed in depth by cocktail historian Jeff “Beachbum Berry” in his excellent 2007 book, Sippin’ Safari. This lavishly illustrated guide is recommended not only for all the great recipes, but for the stories behind the cocktails that you won’t find anywhere else. Look for a special 10th anniversary edition – featuring new recipes, photos and stories – to be released in July 2017.

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