Tiki drinks have always looked like a lot of fun, but frankly I never knew where to start. The stuff of 50s kitsch and pop culture, they seemed to be as mysterious as the question Who Created the Mai Tai?.
Well after a little research and experimentation, Tiki drinks are still just as cool but a little less mysterious. In this post I’m going to present a Cliff’s Notes version of Tiki and give you three easy Tiki-inspired cocktails that’ll have you doing the Haka in no time.
Using the mythical traditions and carvings of south pacific peoples for inspiration, Tiki is a 20th century development. A Polynesian theme created by restaurants and clubs, Tiki transports guests to exotic far away lands. And needless to say, Tiki drinks are a big part of that 😉
Don the Beachcomber & Trader Vics
Modern Tiki culture can be traced to 1934 with the opening of Don the Beachcomber in Hollywood, California by native Louisianan Ernest Raymond Beaumont-Gantt (aka Donn Beach). Featuring flavored syrups, fresh fruit juices and rum, Tiki drinks accompanied exotic Cantonese cuisine to attract celebrities ranging from Howard Hughes to Charlie Chaplin and beyond. Soon Tiki themed Trader Vics surfaced in Oakland which would expand to encompass the globe and spread the culture.
Soon events a series of events combined to rocket Tiki drinks and culture into American consciousness. The return of South Pacific war veterans, the compelling Kon-Tiki Expedition and Hawaiian statehood thrust Polynesian culture into the limelight and Tiki along with it. Needless to say it was a perfect storm.
Tiki’s Decline and Revival
Although Tiki grew to be a cornerstone of pop culture into the mid 1960s, its popularity soon began to wane. Hitting a low point in the following two decades, Tiki culture experience a revival in the 1990s when craft cocktail bars started serving traditional Tiki drinks to eager patrons. The culture continues to thrive appealing to everyone from collectors of Tiki kitsch to cocktail fans (like me).
The Challenge of Tiki Cocktails
Despite my fascination with the culture, Tiki cocktails appear challenging out of the gate. To be honest most Tiki drinks require a long list of non-standard ingredients that would make any beginning bartender cringe. I know I did. Complicated, expensive and intimidating don’t really sound all that fun for a newbie home bartender, but with a little planning anyone can get a taste of Tiki without freaking out.
Tiki Drinks: 3 Easy Recipes
With the caveat that I’m a total novice, I was able to find a handful of Tiki-inspired cocktails that anyone can easily make without ridiculous quantities of expensive, hard-to-find ingredients. Yes basically I’m lazy and cheap when experimenting with different cocktails, but once I’ve found a winner I’m all in.
Here are three Tiki drinks that I think will win you over:
The Painkiller Cocktail
A cocktail trademarked by Pussers Rum, the Pain Killer is definitely on the more tropical end of the spectrum. Purportedly created on the island of Jost Van Dyke at the six seat Soggy Dollar Bar, there’s an entire story about it. Nonetheless, this tiki drink has just a handful of ingredients which includes freshly ground nutmeg. Hopefully that’s not overly difficult to find in your neck of the woods.
- 2 oz Pusser’s Rum
- 4 oz Pineapple juice
- 1 oz Orange Juice
- 1 oz Cream of coconut
- Cracked Ice
- Maraschino Cherry (Garnish)
- Orange Wedge (Garnish)
- Freshly Grated Nutmeg (Garnish)
- Combine Rum, Juices & Cream of Coconut With Ice
- Stir Well
- Serve in Hurricane Glass
- Garnish & Serve
Batida Rosa Cocktail
Packed with fruit flavor, this tiki-inspired cocktail was created by well-known Portland, Oregon bartender Jeffery Morganthaler. And since it uses the Brazilian sugar cane spirit Cachaça (pronounced Ca-sha-sa), you get double the exotic-ness. *Note: Cachaça should be generally available in most areas.
- 2 oz Cachaça (e.g. Leblon)
- 1 oz Pineapple juice
- 1 oz Lemon juice
- .75 oz Real Grenadine (How to Make Grenadine)
- ½ oz. Simple Syrup
- 3 oz. Club soda
- 1 Pineapple Spear (Garnish)
- Combine Cachaca, Juices & Grenadine in a Shaker with Cracked Ice
- Shake, and strain into a wine glass filled with fresh ice.
- Top with the club soda
- Garnish with a Pineapple Spear
The Rum Runner Cocktail
Named in honor of the prohibition rum smugglers, the Rum Runner’s history is as murky as it’s original recipe. While there appears to be little debate that this classic Tiki cocktail originated at the Holiday Isle Tiki Bar in Islamorada Florida, there are a variety of different recipes and this is one that I found particularly tasty (and easy).
- 1 1/2 oz. Gold Rum
- 1/2 oz. Blackberry Brandy
- 1/2 oz. Crème de Banana
- 4 oz. Orange Juice
- Dash of Grenadine
- Pour all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice
- Shake well
- Strain into a chilled hurricane glass
On the surface creating Tiki drinks might look like a complicated, expensive affair but they don’t need to be. Get your feet wet with these three easier tropical cocktails and you’re sure to be popping out the Mai Tais and Zombies in no time.