The Big Bamboo from the Mai Kai
Few Tiki joints in America inspire the kind of evangelical love as does the Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale, FL. It is a living fossil; perhaps the only of the original independent Tiki palaces which never slipped quietly into that dark night. I’ve been there, and it is a nigh-veritable Disneyland quality execution of commercial Tiki. It has live shows, multiple bar rooms, and food that doesn’t suck. It hosts the annual Hukilau Tiki festival. And it has a long tradition of serious Tiki drinks.

During my one visit, I was pleasantly surprised at how close to old-school the drinks were. But the menu is not, fortunately, frozen in time. Still, if you update the menu, some old classics will be lost. The Big Bamboo is such a drink, now replaced by a “milder” version called the Mara-Amu.

  • 1/2 oz lime juice
  • 1/2 oz orange juice
  • 1/2 oz grapefruit juice
  • 1/2 oz passionfruit syrup
  • 1/2 oz dark Jamaican rum
  • 1 oz gold rum
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine all ingrendients with 4 oz crushed ice and flash blend for five seconds. Serve in a tall glass or Tiki mug. Jungle garnish.

This is really a delicious cocktail, and surprising in many ways. Orange juice is a bitch of an ingredient in any style cocktail, as even just a little too much can take over anything. But in this recipe it behaves itself nicely, bringing what it should to the party without dropping its pants and dancing on the furniture like it usually does. Together, all the fruits meld to form one of those marvelous, “tropical” flavor gestalts that make Tiki drinks so cool. But the bitters and all that ice neatly balance out what I was expecting to be a fairly sweet drink, instead producing a tart, zesty, highly refreshing result that brings an immediate smile. The feel here is neither in the Vic school, nor the Don to my way of tasting. I like that and want to find more such drinks this year, to expand my Tiki horizons. With only an ounce and a half of alcohol in a large vessel drink, it is pretty gentle. I’m not sure how much effect specific rums will have on this drink, but I will make enough of them to find out, I assure you.

As an exit question, the characterization of the Mara-Amu as “milder” comes from the Bum, in Sippin’ Safari. I’ve never had one of those, so I’m curious, in what way is it milder? The Mara-Amu is listed in the Medium section of the Mai Kai’s menu, and the Big Bamboo is a veritable kitten compared to the Swizzles and Jet Pilots in the Strong section. Any of my South Florida readers want to lay some knowledge on us?

Update: Here are two more takes on the Big Bamboo from last year: The Atomic Grog Blog, which expands on the history of the drink, and Chemistry of the Cocktail, which concentrates on trying to improve it.

And hey! This post is part of Tiki Month 2013 here at the Pegu Blog! Be sure to look around for LOTS more Tiki stuff all February!