As was briefly touched on previously, the glory (and blame) for tiki culture can be set at the feet of two enterprising gentlemen: Donn Beach and Trader Vic (Victor Bergeron).  Both started creating tropical themed bars and drinks by opening bars soon after the end of prohibition.  Both of them claim to have created one of the quintessential tiki drinks, the Mai Tai.  Most reports have them being amicable rivals.

So what is the tiki culture all about?  The basics are bright colors, tropical (at the time rare) fruit, rum, bamboo decorations, stone heads sitting around, and specialty mugs.  The basis to most tiki drinks is a matter of splitting the traditional ratios (which were discussed earlier) into smaller portions to add complexity.  So for sweet, instead of just using simple syrup, you can use a mixture of orgeat, pineapple juice, and passionfruit puree.  Same thing with your spirit, instead of just using rum, you can use a blend of dark rum, white rum, amber rum, and overproof rum.  Playing with the fractions will adjust the flavor of the drink and allow you to dial in your flavor preferences.

Tiki is currently being derided as insensitive to the Pacific Island culture, as the very name Tiki is from the name of the first man in Maori mythology.  The other complaint is that by having Americans be the one to popularize these elements here in the states, it continues the tradition of Americans as colonizers.  While I’m sympathetic to the complaints about taking a religions iconography and using it as decoration, I have zero sympathy to the complaints about the states appropriating the culture.  The people who started enjoying the tiki culture, and helped it become huge in the 40’s were generally US service people returning back to the states, and celebrating portions of the new culture they had experienced.  I’m sure none of you really care about my thoughts on this (but I’ll try to be around to discuss in the comments if you are), and are just here for the drinks.

Let’s start with the one name checked above:

Mai Tai:

  • 2 part clear rum
  • 2 part dark rum
  • 1 part orange curacao
  • 1 part orgeat
  • 2 part lime juice
  • ½ part simple syrup (if needed)
  • Garnish: lime wheel and a sprig of mint

To build this, put everything but the dark rum into a shaker.  Shake and then strain over ice, top with the dark rum.  If you want to tweak it, there’s all sorts of variants you can do.  Add a splash of pineapple juice, substitute out the simple syrup for some grenadine for another splash of color, add in some bitters (Jamacan would be a treat here), or swap out some of the clear rum for a barrel aged/overproof rum.  It’s your drink, twist it to what you enjoy.

Let’s move on to one that will give you an excuse to have some blue curacao in your bar:

The Blue Hawaiian:

  • 3 part white rum
  • 1 ½ part blue curacao
  • 4 part pineapple juice
  • 1 ½ part cream of coconut
  • Garnish: Pineapple wedge and a maraschino cherry

Put all the ingredients into a shaker filled with ice, stir for a smoother drink, shake for a frothier one, then strain into a collins glass filled with ice.  Yep, you’ll have a bluish-green drink that should work quite well as the weather starts getting warmer.

Finally, one that’s built up a reputation and a name for itself:

The Zombie:

  • 3 part dark rum
  • 3 part gold rum
  • 2 part demerara rum (picking up a theme yet?)
  • 1 part lime juice
  • 1 part absinthe
  • 1 part falernum (or sub out some orgeat and some spiced simple syrup/bitters)
  • ⅔ part grapefruit juice
  • ⅓ part cinnamon simple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon grenadine
  • 1 dash bitters

Build this by putting it all into a shaker filled with crushed ice, shake and strain into a large mug over more ice.  Keep in mind that there’s a lot of alcohol in this drink, and most bars will limit people to one or two of them per visit.

Next time we’ll be moving into making a decent frozen cocktail, so put the ice cream maker chambers into the deep freeze, and brush up on how to use your ice cream maker.