Tiki-Tock Goes the Cocktail Clock

Ah, Tiki drinks….For some we imagine ourselves on a sandy white beach on an island paradise that we can’t pronounce.  Toes in the sand, a cool breeze blowing and a refreshing exotic fruit beverage in our hand adorned with pineapples and cute little umbrellas…For others, it leaves a bad taste in their mouth (literally) from consuming what that cheesy smiling bartender in a bad flower shirt served them, having the nerve of calling it a “Mai Tai”, at some bamboo shack with neon Corona signs and wooden parrots hanging from the ceiling every 10 feet and the same 5 ukulele songs set on repeat….  Seriously, when is the last time you can really recall having a “Tiki” cocktail that didn’t just taste like tons of pineapple juice, fake grenadine and cheap artificially fruit flavored rum?  I thought so.  Well, we are going to resurrect the ancient ritual of Tiki mixology, long lost to mediocre bartenders and the fascist rule of pseudo Tiki lounges slanging
 out blasphemies they call “Tiki”.  We shall offer up poorly mixed Mai Tai’s, and watery Mojito’s to the Tiki gods and create true ambrosia that they shall sing songs of and share with man.  This month’s subject for Mixology Monday is non other than the iconic Tiki.  The clock just struck 5 o’clock somewhere…it’s Tiki time!

OK, maybe I’m being a little over dramatic but it’s true that most Tiki drinks have so many variations that it’s really hard to find anything remotely resembling their once pure form.  Heck, I grew up thinking a Mai Tai had pineapple juice and grenadine (nothing against pineapple and grenadine, mind you, just not in my Mai Tai please).  Though, it’s not hard to understand why this is so when you really look at the history of the Tiki.  We first starting seeing a wave of Americans wanting cocktails made with sweet rums and exotic fruit after WWII, when soldiers returned home after being stationed throughout the Pacific.  In those days two men were responsible for the Tiki uprising; Victor “Trader Vic” Bergeron and Don “The Beachcomber” Beach (or as he was once known, Ernest Gantt, before legally changing his name).  Don being considered the father of the Tiki culture when he first started mixing fruit juices with syrup and rum back in the late 30’s early 40’s at his place, Don the Beachcomber in Los Angeles on Hollywood Blvd.  Since most proprietors guarded their secret blends, some going to extremes as to have bartenders pour from just numbered bottles, most bartenders and imitators had to approximate and guess what went in their potions.  The same is true for so many other famous Tiki legends such as the Zombie, Painkiller, Singapore Sling, Test Pilot, Fog Cutter, and the list goes on.

What started out as a small endeavor turned into a cultural phenomena and Tiki joints were popping up all over the U.S. and abroad, especially at busy exotic tourist locations.  These joints conjured up numerous Tiki themed libations, with everyone putting their own spin on someone else’s creation.  Victor Bergeron would soon follow in Don’s shoes and open up Trader Vic’s back in 1934 in California (actually called Hinki Dink’s before changing the name and concept), and the first franchised Trader opened in 1940 in Seattle, Washington (we’re kinda trend setters here in the Emerald City).  Tiki joints were all the rage in the 40’s and 50’s and up until their inevitable decline in the early 70’s.  Taking notes from Mr. Bergeron and Mr. Beach, I am going to focus on 2 of their popular and iconic creations; the Mai Tai and Navy Grog, and use those as the blueprint for my Tiki revival.

The Mai Tai.  Perhaps no other boat drink (a term coined by Jimmy Buffet) rings true to the simplistic form of the Tiki.  And yes, there will be absolutely NO pineapple juice or grenadine in here!  Created by Victor Bergeron…wait, or was it Don Beach?…well, if you were to ask them back in the day, each would say “of course’ I and anyone who says otherwise is a stinker!”.  Well, at least Vic would put in those words, he tended to use that phrase a lot with his “creations”.  Whomever  was the first, I believe Vic did his the best.  If you don’t take my word for it, take a few patrons of his from Tahiti whom after tasting his magic declared “Maita’i roa ae!” (Literally “very good!”, figuratively “Out of this world! The Best!”) — hence the name.

 Mai Tai (Trader Vic)
1 oz Jamaican or Rhum Agricole (Appleton V/X is a fine choice)
1 oz Dark Rum (Cruzan Blackstrap is a fine choice)
1 oz Fresh Lime Juice
1/2 oz Triple Sec
1/2 oz Simple Syrup
1/4 oz Orgeat (Monin is a fine choice, or homemade)
Fresh Mint Leaves for Garnish

Combine in a shaker tin, add ice and shake well.  Strain into a large Old Fashioned glass filled with crushed ice.  Garnish with the mint.  Enjoy.

Guru and aficionado of all things Tiki, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry has written numerous books on the subject of Tiki and boat drinks.  Many of Don Beachs’ Tiki legends such as the Zombie, and one of my personal favorites, Navy Grog, have all been resurrected on the pages of Berry’s writings.  Grog was what British navel officers called their concoctions which contained basically rum and water, named after Admiral Edward Vernon nicknamed “Old Grog” because of a grogram coat he wore.  Add a little sugar and nutmeg you have a Bamboo.  I like the idea of featuring the Navy Grog along side the Mai Tai, as it shows how structurally similar both cocktails are, yet taste completely different.  A true testament to a well constructed Tiki, this recipe is Don’s own taken from Beachbum Berry’s Grog Log.

 Navy Grog (Don the Beachcomber)
1 oz Puerto Rican Rum
1 oz Dark Rum
1 oz Demerara Rum
3/4 oz Fresh Lime Juice
3/4 oz Fresh Grapefruit Juice
3/4 oz Honey (or use honey syrup 1:1)
1 oz Club Soda
Fresh Lime and a Brandied Cherry for Garnish (not in the original)

Combine the rums, honey and juices into a shaker tin with ice.  Shake and strain into a large Old Fashioned glass or Tiki mug filled with crushed ice.  Top with club soda, stir gently, and garnish with the lime wedge and cherry.  Enjoy.

Now that I have the inspiration courtesy of Mr. Beach and Mr. Bergeron, I wanted to create something that was faithful to their legacy, yet at the same time being original in itself.  Of course I dabbled with many flavor combinations, some worked, but felt one dimensional.  Most just tasted like fruit cocktail.  So then I thought of a scenario; you’re stranded on a island paradise, with nothing more than some coconuts, sweet rum and a soccer ball…Eureka!  And that’s how the Castaway found it’s way home. (I actually found a classic Tiki drink with this name after I created it.  But no worries, completley different, so I will keep the name!)

2 oz Rhum Barbancourt 8 Year
3/4 oz J.D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum
1/4 oz Lemon Hart Demerara Rum 151
2 oz Coconut Water
2 oz Guava Nectar or Juice
3/4 oz Fresh Lime Juice
5 to 7 drops Bittermans Elemakule Tiki Bitters
Fresh Mint for Garnish

Combine everything except demerara rum in a shaker tin with ice.  Shake and strain into a large Tiki glass filled with crushed ice.  Top with demerara rum and garnish with mint.  Enjoy

I tend to like to create cocktails in two’s so I pondered what could still be considered Tiki temptation, yet be unique from anything I have previously tried?  This led to me venturing into territory unknown to most.  I’ve seen many Tiki-esq drinks that utilized things like Batavia Arrack, Swedish Punsch, tequila; you name it.  But then I was lounging around the house, a refreshing Pimm’s Cup in hand, and I thought to myself “does anyone use this stuff for anything else but a Cup?”.  Well, what has 2 thumbs and a penchant for experimentation?  This guy.

Pimm’s Plantation
2 oz Pimm’s #1 Cup
1/2 oz Creme de Banane (Marie Brizard is a fine choice)
3/4 oz Pineapple Syrup (Monin is a fine choice, or homemade)
3 oz Izze Grapefruit Soda
3/4 oz Fresh Lime Juice
Lime Wedge and Brandied Cherry for Garnish

Combine everything with ice.  Shake and strain into a large Old Fashioned glass or Tiki mug with crushed ice.  Garnish with lime wedge and a brandied cherry.  A pineapple wedge would be quite nice as well, if you have one lying around.  Enjoy.

I hope I’ve enticed you to give the Tiki the recognition it rightfully deserves, and maybe inspired
imbibers and enthusiasts alike to re-kindle the long lost Tiki culture for a new generation.  Check out more Mixology Monday submissions at The Pegu Blog (oops, i guess it’s The Tiki Blog this month).  Cheers!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. zach says:

    Nice couple of cocktails here Scott, and I hear you on the fruit cocktail flavor profile…much too often Tiki drinks can simply taste like sweet fruit, we need more distinction from this

  2. Zach says:

    Hey Scott – with respect to the profile of Okolehao, it is rather distinct, but given its mix with evaporated cane juice I would definitely consider it more similar to a sweeter rum profile than a bourbon (if anything). It also shares a bit with a tequila anejo, altho not as similar in my opinion. hum should be rather available as well, definitely given that one a try, very unique and nice to work with

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