So much going on these days – some good, some bad. I’m going to stick with focusing on the positive myself. It’s great to be out and about again – visiting a few favorite restaurants for dining in instead of carry-out. My wife and I have made a few shopping excursions to places other than the necessary visits to the drug store and grocery. It was fun to be able to browse at Home Goods last weekend, although their extensive one-way directional signage is so confusing we never did figure out how to get to the back of the store – so no scented candles for us. We even enjoyed sitting at the bar and chatting with bartender Chris Paolini a few nights after the TreeBar at Bennie’s reopened. Normalcy – almost.
As summer is officially underway in most folks’ minds (despite the calendar insisting it’s still spring) I have been craving cold frothy fruity concoctions. I read the other day that tiki drinks were making a comeback. I’m onboard with that … I love to fire up the tiki torches out back and rummage around in the cupboard for those tiki mugs I, uh, liberated from the Trader Vic’s in Atlanta back in my wayward youth.
We bought a new patio umbrella recently, which means we can sit in blessed shade and extend our enjoyment of the outdoors a bit longer. And a tiki drink needs to be consumed outdoors, even if the island you’re on isn’t in Polynesia.
There is no firm definition on what constitutes a tiki drink, but a common denominator is definitely rum. Often more than one type of rum in fact. There’s usually some tropical fruit and juices involved, which is what makes the generally potent libations dangerous; they tend to go down very easily, with the alcohol disguised by fruity deliciousness.
Trader Vic, real name Victor Bergeron, is credited with the first wave of tiki popularity back in the 1950s. In that simpler era anything from overseas was considered exotic, and the appeal of tropical drinks “from the islands” was an instant success when Vic opened his first namesake watering hole. Vic is generally credited with inventing the Mai Tai, a quintessential tiki classic. His lesser-known rival, Donn Beach, actually pre-dated Vic in the tiki world and is considered by those who keep up with such things as the founding father of tiki culture.
Donn Beach, whose real name is way-less-cool Ernest Gantt, opened Donn’s Beachcomber Café in the 1930s in Hollywood. Aficianados cite this as the first tiki establishment. Donn is credited with the invention of the Zombie cocktail.
1 oz. apricot brandy
1 oz. light rum
1 oz. dark or Jamaican rum
1 oz. lime juice
2 dashes grenadine
1 oz. Bacardi 151 Rum
Mix light and dark rum and brandy in a cocktail shaker. Add lime juice and grenadine. Shake well with ice and strain into a tiki glass or highball filled with cracked ice. Fill glass with orange juice leaving space on top. Float the 151 rum as a final touch. Garnish with a cherry and orange slice.
Full disclaimer: This is a modern take on Donn’s original recipe that entailed twice as many ingredients – including velvet falernum, absinthe and cinnamon syrup. I figured we have enough to deal with without trying to find these obscure ingredients.
Legend has it that the Zombie was first created to help a businessman recover from a hangover so he could attend an important business meeting. The fellow returned a day or so later and told Donn he’d felt like a zombie for the next 24 hours. It isn’t documented how the business meeting went, but the drink now had a name – and Donn subsequently put it on the menu, with a caution that patrons were limited to only two. What a great gimmick, huh?
While perusing tropical drinks I ran across an unusual concoction called Jungle Bird. This one was created at the Kuala Lumpur Hilton, in Malaysia – so it’s got a suitably exotic origin going for it. What got my attention, however, is the unusual inclusion of Campari in its ingredient list. This is not common in tropical drinks, and as a fan of the bitter Italian liqueur I knew immediately I had to whip up a Jungle Bird.
1 ½ oz. Dark rum
¾ oz. Campari
½ oz. Demerara syrup (one part Demerara sugar, one part water)
1 ½ oz. Fresh pineapple juice
½ oz. Fresh lime juice
Fill a mixing glass three-quarters full with ice. Add all ingredients. Shake until well-chilled.
Strain into a rocks glass over ice cubes. Garnish with a pineapple wedge.
This third cocktail isn’t exactly in the tiki family, but is instead a clever Caribbean take on the popular Moscow Mule – perfect for sitting in the shade while reading a good book. It’s not as boozy as the first two so you might actually get a chapter or two read!
2 oz. Appleton Estate V/X aged rum
1 oz. ginger syrup (see below)
¾ oz. lime juice
½ oz. pineapple juice
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Place all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake well. Strain into a pilsner glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with a few pieces of candied ginger on a cocktail pick and a lime wheel.
To make ginger syrup: Combine equal parts water and sugar and bring to a boil to make simple syrup. Add an equal part ginger juice (available at health food stores). Stir to combine. Cool and refrigerate.
I’ll be honest. It was too humid for me to willingly boil water, so I omitted the ginger syrup. After mixing everything else I topped my glass with a generous splash of ginger beer – just like in a Moscow Mule. It was tasty, refreshing, and I didn’t have to crank the a/c.