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June 18, 2010

Remember Tiki culture?  Nowadays, many look at it as a bunch of  partiers in silly shirts and straw hats wearing gaudy paper flower leis and drinking overly sweet, superfluity rum drinks while trying not to burn down the backyard with torch fuel being spilled on the grill.  But in reality TIKI culture was quite different…

It all started with, yep you guessed it, Prohibition.  The Great Booze Ban had relieved legal Hooch from the U.S., but Americans stayed thirsty, and, well it wasn’t too hard to pack a bag and head to  the Islands.  There, imbibers found a whole different world of drinks to quench that thirst, and afterwards brought back these drinks once the Drought was over.  In all honesty, the only places to find quality mixology were in newly opening Tiki Bars of the 1940’s. 

The two big names  of the Tiki world were Victor Bergeron (Trader Vic) and Donn Beach (Don the Beachcomber).  They brought the Island culture back to America, and in their restaurants, bartenders served fresh fruit cocktails in an atmosphere that teleported guests to another place without having to pack an over-night.  Mixers and syrups were made in secret by these two men, and the drink recipes did not allow knowledge of the true ingredients.  This is, along with using fresh fruits, veggies, nad herbs is something that bartenders and mixologists have begun to do again.

The popularity of  Tiki drinks grew fast, and other bars tried to copy the secret formulas with little success.  And so we end up with many well-known names being made with rum and a bunch pre-packaged fruit juices.  In turn, the once well-respected Tiki drinks all began to taste the same. 

However some of the recipes were released in later years.  And when done right, they rank among the other great cocktails of history like the Manhattan and the Martini.  So let’s take a look at a couple.

Loosen you’re Tie, and Grab a Mai Tai

There was debate as to whether Don or Vic first created this drink.  Some even say neither did, and that it was first made in Hawaii.  But it is generally accepted that Trader Vic is the originator, and here is his recipe:


  • 1/2 oz light rum
  • 1/2 oz amber rum
  • 1/2 oz orange Curacao
  • 1/2 oz fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 oz cane syrup
  • 1/2 oz Orgeat syrup (almond syrup)

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice, and shake.  Strain into an ice filled glass and garnish with a mint sprig.

Wait a second……There’s no fruit juice other than lime in there?  You are correct, Sir!  The trick here is the orgeat and the cane syrup and Vic’s secret recipes for each.  However, the combination of ingredients here creates a flavor profile beyond what any of the individual tastes are alone.  A truly magnificent drink.

Mommy, it’s The Zombie

Considered one of the greats in Tiki Culture, The Zombie is Don Beach’s signature cocktail.  Cocktail?  Yeppers, it contains all the elements of a cocktail by definition (spirits, sugar, water, bitters).  The original recipe was listed from 1934, but the Don himself changed it over time.  This is the last known recipe he himself used.

The Zombie (circa 1956)

  • 1 1/4 oz Gold Rum
  • 1 oz Dark Rum
  • 1 oz overproof (151) rum
  • 3/4 oz fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 oz grapefruit juice
  • 1 1/2 oz pineapple juice
  • 3/4 oz maraschino liqueur
  • 1/2 oz grenadine (real stuff here please)
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 1/4 oz Falernum syrup (spiced syrup available online or make your own)
  • 1/2 tsp Pernod

Combine all ingredients in a blender with ice, and pulse blend to crush ice (don’t make it into a slushy please).  Pour into a large tumbler and garnish with mint sprig.

Now that will get the party going!

It’s not just a Rum Thing

Though most tiki drinks feature rum as their primary spirit, but if rum doesnt’ float your boat try a Houla Houla (gin, orange Curacao, orange juice), a Pinky Gonzales (basically a classic margarita with a little orgeat), or a Chi Chi (a pina colada using vodka instead of rum).

In fact, there are many bars now using fresh ingredients purchased from local farmer’s markets, and even grown by the bar themselves alongside proprietary bitters and syrup.  Yes dear friends,  this is nothing new; only lost for a time and thankfully rediscovered. 

Cheers to You Trader Vic and Don Beach!

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Bill permalink
    June 21, 2010 9:03 am

    For those of you that want to take it to the next level, Popular Mechanics just published some plans for building your own tiki bar at home.

  2. June 29, 2010 5:16 am

    For those of you that want to take it to the next level, Popular Mechanics just published some plans for building your own tiki bar at home.


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