What is a tiki cocktail?
There is no real definition of what makes a drink worthy of the tiki category, however there are some characteristics found in tiki cocktails.
- Rum - The majority of tiki cocktails include at least one rum, though many will combine up to three different styles of rum.
- Fruit - In true tropical style, the tiki drinks will include fruit juice, and many will have multiple fruits in the drink. The majority of the time these will be tropical fruits such as pineapple, orange, passion fruit, guava, and coconut. These fruits also hide the heavy alcohol taste, making these cocktails ideal for drinkers who prefer less alcohol flavor. This last point also makes these drinks slightly more dangerous because they taste so good one almost forgets how potent they are.
- Layers of Flavor - Those first two characteristics of the tiki cocktail is an indication of this. The tiki cocktail will often have four or more ingredients and adds depth to the drink's flavor making these one of the most interesting and delicious taste experiences.
- Spice - Though not a requirement in a tiki cocktail, you will find that many have an ingredient that adds just a touch of spice. Pimento dram, spiced rum, and spices the likes of nutmeg can be found in a number of tiki cocktails for a more interesting flavor.
- Variations - For one reason or another, tiki cocktails are the most likely to have multiple variations in the recipe. The Navy Grog is a good example of this, though almost every drink on this list has had ingredients added, subtracted, and substituted multiple times over the years. One theory is that there is so much going on in these drinks and the recipes were often kept secret for so long that bartenders began interpreting what may be in the drinks in order to recreate them.
How did the tiki bar begin?
Ernest Raymond Beaumont Grant (aka Donn Beach) opened the first tiki bar in the 1930's on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. The bar was the now famous Don the Beachcomber and was decorated with items from the South Pacific. Beach developed a cocktail menu that celebrated the many styles of rum he had tasted over the years in elaborate, very secret recipes.
Around that same time, Victor Bergeron transformed his Oakland, California saloon Hinky Dinks into Trader Vic's after touring the South Seas. At his new tropical-themed bar, Bergeron created rum drinks in the same fashion and with the same prestige as Beach and the two became rivals as well as the pioneers of the tiki culture. Both bars expanded into chains and continue to operate today.
Post World War II, interest in South Pacific culture blossomed and the tiki boom took off. Soon, tiki bars popped up all over the country, each attempting to out shine one another with lavish tiki decor, mammoth bowls of cocktails, and, of course, tiny umbrellas in every drink. The tiki craze has slowed a bit in recent decades, though there are still plenty of tiki bars and many more tiki-themed parties to be found.
The Mai Tai is the ultimate tiki cocktail and is the creation of Bergeron. The drink consists of both dark and light rum, lime juice, orange curacao, and orgeat syrup.
This drink was created by Donn Beach and is one of the more complex drinks in the list. This particular recipe is Dale DeGroff's interpretation (a personal favorite), made up of light and dark rums, orange curacao, lemon, lime, and orange juices, passion fruit, grenadine, and bitters with the option of floating 151-proof rum on top.
The Hurricane is and was the signature cocktail of New Orleans' Pat O'Briens bar and was first created around 1940. Another intense list of ingredients, this cocktail includes light and dark rums, passion fruit, orange and lime juices, simple syrup, and grenadine.
The two tiki giants mentioned above have both taken credit for this modernized Navy Grog cocktail whose inspiration was the daily rum ration of British sailors in the 1700's. The drink is customarily comprised of light, dark, and demerara rums, lime and grapefruit juice, honey, and club soda.
The Rum Runner is one of the simpler tiki cocktail, but in no way lacks flavor or punch. This mix is made of gold rum, blackberry brandy, creme de banane, orange juice, and either Falernum or grenadine.
The Bahama Mama has a slightly darker profile than most tiki cocktails, though the pineapple juice volume helps balance everything out. This one is made up of dark and 151-proof rums, coffee and coconut liqueurs, and lemon and pineapple juices.
Painkiller recipes do not vary as much as the other tiki cocktails. It is typically a mix of navy rum (or dark), pineapple juice, cream of coconut, and orange juice with a touch of nutmeg to spice it up.
The Scorpion is another potent mix with a lot of alcohol in it. In this round we have light and dark rums, brandy, triple sec, and lime and orange juices.
The Blue Hawaiian is one of the more mellow tiki cocktails and it is a beautiful shade of blue. The cocktail is made up of rum, blue curacao, creme de coconut, and pineapple juice.
The Beachcomber is the lightest of these cocktails and it is the only drink not served in a tall glass. In this cocktail, which can be either blended or shaken, we mix light rum, triple sec, lime juice, and maraschino liqueur.