Tiki Drinks

TikiJMProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

The tiki craze began in the mid 1930’s. Restaurants that served Polynesian food and drink were opened by Ernest Gantt (later Don the Beachcomber) and Victor Bergeron (Trader Vic) in California. The concept was to invoke the exotic through food, drink, and décor and it attracted everyone from stars to those who simply sought an escape. That concept proved to be so popular that those restaurants grew to be chains that spread across the US and internationally. It lasted into the 1960’s before it began to die out.

Tiki cocktails were an odd mix of the created culture, exotic juices, and accessories. There was no real Polynesian food, just Asian and south Pacific, but the drinks used the flavors of those regions—coconut, pineapple, orange, pomegranate and passion fruit among them. They also mimicked the popular rum punches of the previous century except that most tiki drinks included a mix of different rums. Cocktails were served in special tiki mugs with large fruit garnishes and in the cliché version with paper parasols as the final embellishment

They should have been little more than a craze except for the fact that drinks were excellent and, because of that, popular. True tiki drinks included the fresh juices and mixes that have reappeared in the nouveau cocktail establishments that are so popular today. House made grenadine, fresh squeezed juices and mixes of simple, aged, spiced, and overproof rums all combined to make a potent drink, even if it was sweet and fruity. It should be no surprise that they are making a resurgence as people take the time to use quality ingredients to make complex drinks.

The problem for the home bartender is that very complexity. I began the first week of this concept trying to juice a fresh pineapple. I have no idea why it is so hard to find fresh squeezed pineapple, but in the end my only choice was to cube a fresh one, pulverize it in the blender and strain it through cheesecloth. And that was just one juice. As you will see in the recipes, there are typically multiple juices, more than one rum and other added spirits all of which offers a challenge for those mixing themselves.

The proposal was that we each try a couple of tiki drinks that we had not done before. In my case I chose the Scorpion, which was apparently popular as a group drink in large bowls with multiple straws, and the Blue Hawaiian.

Here are the recipes:
Scorpion

Juice of half a lime
¾ ounce brandy
¾ ounce light rum
¾ ounce dark rum
¼ ounce triple sec
1 ½ ounces orange juice

Lime wedge garnish
Shake with ice and pour over more ice. I added some pineapple juice, which some recipes included, at the request of the tasters.

Blue Hawaiian

¾ ounce rum
¾ ounce blue curacao
¾ ounce crème de coconut
2 ounces pineapple juice
Cherry and pineapple wedge garnish
Shake with ice and serve over ice. In this case, we added some neon food coloring because fresh pineapple juice and blue curacao create a less then “blue” Hawaiian. The other option is to make Painkillers which use similar ingredients, have essentially the same taste, and are a much more pleasant color.

And Here’s David’s Review:

easterAll hail il the tiki. Though a celebratory impulse always surrounds cocktails, tiki drinks raise that urge to a sense of abandon. The silly cups, the lurid colors, the fruity and spirited concoctions, the weighty and elaborate skewers of garnishes all say, “Let’s pretend we’re on vacation.”

Martinis tiki drinks are not. James Bond will never ask for a Bahama Mama or a Five Island Fizz.

On a trip out to the east coast my son (and friends) took my wife and me to a restaurant in Bushwick, Brooklyn called King Noodle. My son seemed disappointed that, since his last visit, the owners had swapped rough-hewn but tasteful paneling for the black walls and day-glow posters he expected, but the bar was suitably dim, the menu suitably surprising, and the drink service suitably lavish and languid. I started with a Planter’s Punch and moved onto an Ancient Mariner, but no one in the party chose the same libation. We traded plenty.

Besides a Planter’s Punch and Ancient Mariner, I tried a classic tiki Mai Tai, a Zombie, a Hot-Buttered rum, and Singapore Sling. The next night, in honor of my sister-in-law’s birthday, I created some tiki drinks myself, a Blue Hawaiian, a Blue Lagoon, and the old standard Dark n’ Stormy. So I tried nine tiki drinks, folks. Reviewing them all is just too much work, but testing so many varieties led me to some critical conclusions:

  1. Something in rum’s molasses-y overtone couples perfectly with fruit juice
  2. Even on an unexpectedly cold night, a good tiki drink has a warming, highly spirituous soul.
  3. Tiki drinks are best enjoyed out… unless you love blue curacao and keep ample passion fruit juice on hand
  4. It’s all about the layers, ethereal rum and dark rum, spice and sharp citrus flavors chasing each other
  5. One tiki drink is never enough. Try something new. Anyone who chooses a second round of their first choice should go back to Manhattans
  6. The cups are key, reflecting not only the unlikely combinations but also the pagan excess of the proceedings. No Easter Island style mug? Fine, but retrieve your most fanciful stemware from the back of the china cabinet. Let loose.

tiki glen rockAs I own no Hawaiian shirts, have never had the epithet “the beachcomber” tied to my name, and enjoy surf music only from time to (much separated) time, I’ll never muster the devotion necessary to become any more savvy about tiki than I am about any other style of drink. However, this vacation—in the both the literal and figurative sense—was quite welcome.

Jonathan’s take: The drinks are fantastic but save them for a tiki party so that all that trouble of making fresh juices and buying multiple rums is worth it.

David’s Take: Tiki-dom will never be everyday, but I won’t be embarrassed choosing a crazy cup when the opportunity arises.

Next Week (Proposed By David):

It’s Derby time! I wouldn’t be so boring as to propose a julip (though I love them), so I’ll be seeking some variation involving bourbon, mint, and sugar. I’m not entirely sure which I’ll choose or which Jonathan will choose, but I figure we can’t go too wrong. And I will be betting on the race, even if it’s only with friends for paltry sums. The Kentucky Derby is all about celebration, and I won’t (and can’t) miss out.

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Cherry Blossom Tini

sake 2Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

The Japanese word for cherry blossom—sakura—is one of the first characters a school child learns to write, and the week or so of peak blooms holds a central place in the culture. I have a special affection for Japanese aesthetics, and, if former lives are real, I’m sure I’ve been Japanese. Then again, maybe I was Helen Herron Taft, the First Lady responsible for the exchange that brought cherry trees to Washington, DC in 1912.

I write a haiku a day on another blog and, as I compose, I often think about one of the central tenets of Japanese art, the balance between sabi (simplicity or, more broadly, poverty) and wabi (impermanence or, more broadly, freshness). Together they foster an appreciation of those instants when direct and uncomplicated observations give momentary pleasure. These ideas contribute to an interest in economy and intimacy, an unexpected joy in asymmetry and imperfection, and a shared sense that anything, even the most unconventionally beautiful, can be cause for celebration. Most importantly, sabi-wabi suggests right now is really all that’s important.

Perhaps you see the connection to cocktails.

This particular cocktail mimics the pink of the cherry blossoms while also deploying sake, the Japanese rice wine, and other smaller quantities of delicate influences: orange liqueur, orange bitters, lime juice, and cranberry. I suppose the combination might be considered a punch or another version of the cosmopolitan, but the name suggests some comparison to a martini, the most straightforward sabi-wabi cocktail I can imagine.

If you go online, you can find a number of sites predicting and reporting the moment cherry trees are most laden with blooms, both in Washington and in Tokyo. When I did my research before proposing this cocktail, I consulted those sites, and, sure enough, this week my Facebook page featured plenty of selfies in front of pink blankets of blossoms. I hear that, though we think of the pure aesthetic enjoyment of visiting groves of flowers, apparently the picnics occasioned by the celebration can be quite raucous. That too seems to fit the Cherry Blossom Tini.

Here’s the recipe:

  1. Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
  2. Shake well.
  3. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

And here’s Jonathan’s Review:

jbmsakeA couple of months ago my youngest son and I went out for a mid-week sushi dinner. The restaurant was offering a saketini special where they would make any classic martini with sake. With little to lose, it was just 3 bucks, we both ordered dirty saketinis – a mix of olive juice and sake. There was a lot to lose. The sake was viscous like a roux gone bad and with the brine of the olive juice created a combination that could best be described as tepid sea water. I am ashamed to say I drank it all. It was either out of some bizarre sense of pride that having ordered it I had to finish it, or the lasting legacy of the “clean plate club” where we were encouraged as kids to finish all the food we were given.

So when David suggested the drink for this week, my first reaction was fear. Never mind that my bad experience was probably a mix of low-end sake and a poorly selected combination. I was afraid. Fortunately it was all for naught. The Cherry Blossom tini started off better, at least I think it did, because I chose a better sake. It also benefitted from a combination of orange, lime, and cranberry that are much more closely aligned with the rice wine than green olives.

Doubtless there is a drink that uses vodka instead of the sake was included in this cocktail, but this mix benefitted from the body that the sake provided. One of the added benefits touted for this drink is that sake is a much lower proof than standard cocktail spirits like vodka. The experience with this drink makes me wonder how many other cocktails could benefit from subbing out vodka or gin for a quality sake.

One last thing to taunt David. I wanted to include a picture of this drink with the spectacular pink blooms of our kwanzan cherry tree. Alas, spring is far enough along here in Charlotte that we are on the down side of that bloom, as well as the white dogwoods. The azaleas are incredible right now, so we mixed the last cherries, some dwindling dogwoods and a few azaleas to provide the backdrop to the drink.

Jonathan’s take: I need to go back to that sushi place and try a better combination. Or maybe I should buy my own sake for even tastier mixes.

David’s take: It seems I’ve been using the word “delicate” a lot, which is a way of saying I want to use it again… but I especially enjoy using the word this time.

Next week (Proposed By Jonathan):

Other than beer weeks and our first annual retrospective weeks, we haven’t taken any time off. And we won’t be doing it now dad gummit! I did note to David that I have an annual golf trip coming up and it seems appropriate that I select the drink for that week. So my hybrid proposal is both a way to (kind of) take some time off, to give me the selection for golf week, and to honor the resurgence of tiki (trust me, it’s coming). About.com’s cocktail section includes an article on essential and popular tiki drinks. We have tried some of the classics, but I am proposing that we try 2 more over the next couple of weeks. There will be single write up to lessen our “work” load. For my part, I will be choosing between the Scorpion, Blue Hawaiian, and Beachcomber, but will offer David the option to choose among those and the other classics that we have yet to try.

St. Germain Cocktail

St Germain.JBMProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

There are times when I feel like my introductions are more eighth grade book report than history… if I was reading alcohol literature in eighth grade, that is. The book in this case has been mentioned before and is Jason Wilson’s Boozehound: On the Trail of the Rare, Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits. The author is described as a columnist on travel, food and drinks, which is quite the career description. Darn, have to go on a business trip to France, drink and eat well and then write about it. Woe is me.

The fourth chapter of his book discusses the marketing and romance of the liqueur part of the spirit industry. The better and more mysterious the back story, it seems, the better the liqueur. In the case of St. Germain, an elderflower liqueur, the author relates the tale of the simple, yet magical, gathering of the flowers necessary to make the elixir. This gathering story includes a very limited time and place when the flowers are ready to be picked (a few short days in May in the French Alps), mustachioed gatherers dressed in berets, and the simple transportation of bags of the harvested blooms borne by bike to be processed. The actual production of the liqueur is also said to be based on a special maceration process that gently elicits the honeyed sap of the flower without bruising and damage. It is all a marketing tale that the cynical, like me, will quickly dismiss yet it is still so evocative that I have always felt the need to have this liqueur. And now I do.

This is simple cocktail that features the St. Germain liqueur. There are two versions that I have found – one in Collins glass form and the other served in champagne flutes. I chose the former and mixed 1.5 ounces St. Germain, 4 ounces Prosecco and 2 ounces sparkling water. That was served over ice with a twist of lemon as garnish. If you want the more elegant fluted version, it calls for 1.5 ounces St. Germain poured into the glass with 2 ounces of sparkling wine. The liqueur is delicate, from all that careful gathering and maceration of course, so a simple sparkler works best.

Here’s David’s Review:

St Germain C.DMMy memories of Easter when Jonathan and I were growing up don’t include any special celebration on my parents’ part—certainly no Easter cocktail—and no deviation from the usual routine of church-going other than perhaps some “new” handed-down clothes and candy for breakfast. This Easter my wife and I are in the throes of a property search. We’re empty-nesters no longer responsible for hiding eggs or filling baskets, and this place has grown too big for us.

And the Saturday afternoon before Easter, which once involved dying eggs, was decidedly more quiet. The St. Germain cocktail, in fact, seemed an ideal accompaniment to our circumstance. It also is quiet, the liqueur being as subtle as the prosecco and the seltzer diluting even that. The lemon actually seemed assertive, and we added only a slice.

We enjoyed it. St. Germain is wonderful stuff in any concentration and who doesn’t like bubbly? The liberal quantity of seltzer made the cocktail super carbonated, but not many cocktails can be described as “refreshing” as this one can. Maybe I’m becoming an inveterate drinker, but my only complaint about was that it seemed almost too subtle. The combination of liqueur and white wine is wonderful by itself. A couple of Christmases ago, our son bought us a bottle of St. Germain and added it to champagne for dinner. You could create something less effervescent (and more striking) by choosing the champagne flute over the Collins glass, skipping the ice, and topping the cocktail conservatively with a splash of seltzer, if you add any at all. You might also substitute tonic, as I did on the second go-round, to cut some of the sweetness. The idea of introducing a second liqueur would also be interesting to me.

As holidays go, Easter has always seemed a little melancholy to me, coming as it often does before spring has really sprung and usually affording less of the relaxation offered by Christmas or even Thanksgiving. You might get Good Friday or Easter Monday off, but it’s a holiday generally taken in stride, a pause instead of a break. Perhaps the frantic search for a new home has infected me, but the St. Germain cocktail matches that on-the-run feel of this holiday—a pleasant celebration but nothing that will stop the world for long.

Jonathan’s take: The drink is simple and spring ready. It could probably use a tiny bit of one of its cousins, Benedictine or Chartreuse, to jazz it up though.

David’s Take: I know it sounds like I have faint praise for this cocktail, but that isn’t no praise at all. It’s quite drinkable (deceptively so), just muted.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

In honor of Washington DC’s cherry blossoms, which should reach their peak sometime in the next week or so, and my affection for all things Japanese, which inspires me to compose a haiku a day, I’m proposing a Cherry Blossom Tini. Though the name suggests a variation on a martini, the cocktail actually combines orange liqueur with sake and a little lime and cranberry juice. Another delicate cocktail of spring, it at very least promises to be beautiful.