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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Mai Tai

20140713_180821_resizedProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

I am afraid. Very afraid actually. Who could have known, before doing research on this drink and the background, that people are so into and argumentative about all things tiki. The disputes run deeper than the origin of the Mai Tai, there are debates, web sites and input all over the board about tiki decoration, tiki food and especially tiki cocktails. I can’t prove it, but am fairly sure that someone sent an attack yellow jacket to sting my hand yesterday to leave me incapable of typing. Despite the swelling and itching, though, in the name of all that is right in cocktailia, I am pushing forward.

The Mai Tai is included on virtually every list of the top 100 cocktails of all time. It meets the basic definition of two parts spirit (rum in combination of types), one part sour (lime) and one part sweet (the mix of orgeat and orange liqueur) at least in the basic recipes. The odd thing is that there is no simple, basic recipe.

This cocktail is less disputed as to the creator than it is about actual ingredients. There is little doubt that Victor Bergeron created a drink that is now known as the Mai Tai at his Trader Vic’s restaurant and bar in California. That drink highlighted an extremely well-aged rum (J. Wray & Nephew which is no longer available) and paired it with lime, orange curaçao, orgeat, and simple syrup. Sometime before that, however, Ernest Gantt (perhaps better known for his name alteration – Don the Beachcomber) had also made a drink ultimately called a Mai Tai. It is a much more complicated mix of ingredients which included grapefruit juice, Pernod, and bitters among other things. Search Wikipedia and one can find a link to wikibooks with no less than 11 recipes for the Mai Tai. I am perfectly happy to give both of them credit.

Not surprisingly, David and I exchanged messages this week about what recipe to use. I settled on this one, but even that changed a couple of nights later when I made the pictured drinks. From Speakeasy Cocktails: Learn from the Modern Mixologists:

1 ounce aged rum
1 ounce heavy rum
½ ounce Grand Marnier
1 ounce fresh lime juice
½ ounce orgeat

Combine the rum, Grand Marnier, lime juice, orgeat and ice in a shaker. Shake and pour, unstrained, into a rocks glass, add a half of the previously juiced lime and a sprig of mint. Of course, I added the parasols since we are talking faux tiki here.

The first test version, which I made after creating the homemade orgeat (still quite a task but worth it), included Pusser’s Navy Rum and an aged rum along with a Grand Marnier knock off. That drink had too many parts that came to the forefront. The official tasting version included the same aged rum, but substituted Muddy River Rum and triple sec for the Navy rum and Grand Marnier. It was a much better blend. The rest of the debate about all things tiki? You’ll need to take that up with Martha Stewart. Just watch out for yellow jackets

Here’s David’s Review:mt2

As a category, tiki drinks have an ironic appeal for me. The crazy glasses, the pastel colors, and the fruity profusion of exotic secondary ingredients make tiki drinks the circus clowns of the cocktail world. I might drink one just to grin at the monstrosity before me, just to inform the world I’m not afraid of stepping out and standing out.

As Jonathan notes, the Mai Tai may be the greatest of the tiki drinks, the granddaddy of the them all and, as such, bartenders have created many lurid and gaudy variations. Like Jonathan, however, I went with the classic Mai Tai to test the theory that serious cocktails can make do with elegant simplicity. I had to have the little parasols too, but otherwise I meant to do Trader Vic proud. Nor was I disappointed.

My appreciation of fresh squeezed lime increases each time we use it. Depending on the context, a lime can add sweetness, tartness, or a citrusy spiciness. In this setting the lime seemed to do all three, mixing with the caramel overtones of the aged rum to give the drink depth as well as freshness. Curaçao is a little sweet—I always wish it were more like marmalade than candy orange wedges. And my version included a “rock candy simple syrup” that is two parts sugar to one water. I’m unconvinced of the necessity of the extra sweet simple syrup, as Jonathan’s version includes no simple syrup the simple syrup I had, which was not so sweet, was too sweet. The orgeat, however, contributed an interesting weight and smoothness, almost like adding egg whites. I wish I’d made mine from scratch as Jonathan did, but the version I found was quite good… even if it was a little expensive. Plus, I have more, should I find other recipes calling for it.

I was tempted, of course, to put the concoction in a party-store-purchased pink plastic hurricane “glass,” decorate the rim with pineapple, and add a twisty straw along with a sword skewer of cherry, grape, and melon ball, but I’m older now. It would not befit my age and station any more than the Hawaiian print shirt still hanging in the back of my closet. Besides, any addition to this recipe would be gilding a lily. The secret of the Mai Tai, a couple of glasses tell me, is its assertiveness… no equivocation allowed.

My sister (who, coincidentally, is also Jonathan’s sister) and her husband visited Chicago this weekend, and, though they gave me no lengthy reviews, they seemed to appreciate the sour attack of this sweet and substantial drink. As my brother-in-law noted, it’s also a potent drink, and that’s sure to pave the way for greater enjoyment still. An accomplished and famous cocktail, the Mai Tai is clearly the product of careful and sensible proportions and blending.

David’s Take: I would have another… and another… though I’d ask how the bartender makes his Mai Tai if I ever order one out.

Jonathan’s take: I came into this week thinking fruit juices and rum when I thought Mai Tai, but leave fairly confident in Trader Vic and his simple orgeat version.

Next Week (proposed by David):

I’d like to stay on the summer theme by suggesting the Tabernacle Crush, a cocktail featuring a fruit I love—peach—and an ingredient I’ve wanted to return to—Lillet. This one will also call for basil, but it’s an herb that even we Chicagoans can grow in the summer.