Proposed 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:
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.
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:
All 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:
- Something in rum’s molasses-y overtone couples perfectly with fruit juice
- Even on an unexpectedly cold night, a good tiki drink has a warming, highly spirituous soul.
- Tiki drinks are best enjoyed out… unless you love blue curacao and keep ample passion fruit juice on hand
- It’s all about the layers, ethereal rum and dark rum, spice and sharp citrus flavors chasing each other
- One tiki drink is never enough. Try something new. Anyone who chooses a second round of their first choice should go back to Manhattans
- 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.
As 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.