I’ve worked from home the past two weeks. Every day bleeds into the next as time alternately drips and flows at a whim, rendering me a prisoner in a living purgatory. We have no sports, we have no events, we have no milestones on which to pin our hopes to get through the monotony of the week. There is only home. And Zuul.
This is an incredibly dramatic way to say that I’m bored.
Under normal circumstances, I would grab a few of my friends after a long week and hit up the Lei Low, the happiest place in Houston and where I would ideally live out the rest of my years. As that’s not currently an option, I decided last week that I can simply bring the delicious tiki drinks to me. As one of the many services that we here at Staking The Plains provide, we now present to you, our beloved readers, our new series Tiki Tech. On Friday afternoons, we’ll present a classic (or sometimes original!) tiki recipe to help you clearly delineate your work week from your weekend stay-cation.
A Quick Primer on Tiki
Tiki cocktails as we know them got their start right after Prohibition when native Texan Donn Beach (formerly Ernest Gantt) opened up the first Don the Beachcomber bar in Hollywood. Based off his alleged world travels, Beach started creating “rhum rhapsodies” inspired by the recipe for Planters Punch, a Caribbean drink made with “one of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, four of weak.” Not long after, other rival themed bars began to open up, such as Trader Vic’s in San Francisco, and a new fad was born. If you’d like a deeper dive, I’d suggest the previously linked PUNCH article or this one from Men’s Journal; the history, much like cocktails, is a great balance of mysterious and sordid.
While they may seem just like incredibly alcoholic sugar bombs, tiki drinks are actually surprisingly complex and layered, leveraging both sweet, sour, and spice. Aside from the obvious reasons, drinking something like a Navy Grog or Mai Tai is a much different experience than, say, an Old Fashioned or Martini for this reason. Umbrellas and ceramic mugs aside, there’s a ton of nuance in these drinks.
A TIKI-READY BAR
By far the biggest barrier of entry to these are the amount and variety of ingredients needed. Through some trial and error on my part, I’ve tried to make a condensed list of everything you need to get started. As you begin to mix and experiment, feel free to step out and get some more of the exotic ingredients.
Naturally, rum is the backbone of these drinks. In a genre based on nuance, it should come as no surprise that many recipes you see will not only call for “light” or “dark,” but also rums from specific countries like Jamaica or Puerto Rico due to the slight variations on how the rums are produced. As I, a moron, am not the best to explain this, I’d check out this article to learn about all of the differences between age, proof, & country of origin. For our purposes, I won’t do the regional variations and will instead stick basic styles.
- Light/White Rum – Basic and clear. Don’t worry about getting anything high end.
- Dark Rum – I’ve found that you use this way more than you think you will. I go with Bacardi, but you can use Kraken if you’re feeling fancy
- Spiced Rum – If you’re looking to mix things up a bit, you can sub in spiced rum like Captain Morgan to add some more dimension to your drinks
- Overproof Rum – Doesn’t pop up too often, but it’s good to have to sub in for a kick or to add as a floater
- Gin – Shows up on occasion, like in the Singapore Sling or the Scorpion
This is where drinks can really set themselves a part. There’s a big variation in price points, but you can get a lot of these at pretty affordable prices.
- Orange Curacao – This shows up a lot, and is always a great addition. If you can get the non-blue version, do so. If you’re having problems finding it, you can use triple-sec, Cointreau, or Grand Marnier, though these are technically different spirits and the tastes are different
- Coffee Liquer – Kahlua is the go-to, but there are a ton of variations now, so find one you like.
- Creme de Cacao – Usually used in conjunction with the coffee liquer
- Creme de Banane – Doesn’t show up too often, but you’ll need it for a Dirty Banana. DO NOT get 99 Bananas. That is a schnapps, and it’s awful. I found this out the hard way.
- Campari – A great bitter addition for balance, you can also use this for Negronis and Boulevardiers
Juices & Mix-ins
The rest of what you’ll need, one or two of these show up in most drinks. For the juice, authentic tiki drinks are made with freshly squeezed juice, but I typically go with bottled/canned because I don’t need that many quickly perishable things around just for drinks. Also, it’s more work. Certain things, like Coconut & Passion Fruit, you can simply get a syrup for
- Simple Syrup – You can buy it in a bottle or make your own easy enough (it’s just boiled sugar & water)
- Lime Juice – I go with Nellie & Joe’s Famous Key West Lime Juice, it’s pretty easy to find. You’ll use a lot
- Passion Fruit Syrup/Juice
- Creme de Coconut
- Pineapple Juice – The canned Dole stuff is the easiest to find
- Orange Juice
- Grapefruit Juice
- Orgeat – Kind of like an almond simple syrup, this is used in many things (famously Mai Tais). If you have a good liquor store around, Monin’s is a good option.
- Falernum – This is a spiced simple syrup that adds a ton of good complexity. A tiki mainstay, but it can be a little difficult to find. There are tons of homemade recipes around though.
It seems like a lot (and it is!), but you can pick up the basics for one or two drinks and slowly build from there.
Tiki Tech #1 – The Jungle Bird
The perfect intro tiki drink, it features a great balance of sweet, sour, & bitter and it’s easy to make. Adapted from this recipe.
1-1/2 ounces dark rum
3/4 ounce Campari
1/2 ounce lime juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1-1/2 ounce pineapple juice
Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake for ~20 seconds, strain into iced glass
In a time where it never hurts to get a new hobby, hopefully this series serves as a fun entry point to mix up your normal drink routine. We’ll see you next Friday!