Tiki drinks are the badly behaved uncle of the cocktail world. Just like your dad's brother who refuses to settle down and grow up, traveling the world with a woman in every port of call and no job to speak of, Tiki drinks are a party in a glass – at least, they think they are. Many even come bearing gifts like that prodigal family member - served as they so often are in souvenir mugs.
Tiki culture got its start in the U.S. with the opening of Don the Beachcomber, a Polynesian-themed restaurant that opened in Hollywood in the early 1930s. Known for strong fruit flavors, heavy use of rum, and insanely complex recipes, Tiki drinks are every bit as classic as Manhattans, Martinis and Old-Fashioneds despite so many of the recipes being up for debate.
The confusion over the proper mix of ingredients stems from the rich and heated competition between Tiki bars and bartenders during the original Tiki craze and its resurgence in the 90s and early part of the new millenium. Starting with the feud between Trader Vic's and Don the Beachcomber's over which place created the original Mai Tai, Tiki drinks have long been controversial. Everyone has a secret formula, their own take on a classic, whether it's a Zombie, Scorpion or Rum Runner.
No matter the recipe, Tiki drinks generally have far more liquor than expected. Sweet and fruity as a general rule, they're ideal party drinks and set the stage for all sorts of nights to remember, or forget, depending on how many you have. Below are FoxBYO's take on some of the classics, all of which would fit match perfectly with anything from a pig roast to a barbecue or rooftop get together.
The Mai Tai
The quintessential Tiki Drink, the Mai Tai is more hotly debated than virtually any cocktail other than the martini. Created by either Trader Vic or Donn Beach, the owner of Don the Beachcomber's, the Mai Tai is without a doubt one of the most delicious drinks known to mankind. Even if you aren't such a fan of the flavor, you'll forget about that once you down a few, thanks to the fairly strong liquors that make up most of the ingredients.
According to one story, Trader Vic first mixed the Mai Tai for a group of friends visiting from Tahiti, who shouted the Tahitian word for “very good” when they tasted it. That word sounded a whole lot like “Mai Tai,” and the name stuck. The cocktail served at Don the Beachcomber's is significantly different, but the current “standard” recipe is similar to the one first mixed at Trader Vic's. The cocktail includes rum, orgeat syrup, orange curacao, simple syrup and lime and is tangy, sweet, and masks the massive dose of booze all too well.
1 oz. rum (an aged rum like Cockspur 12 tones down some of the sweetness in the cocktail and makes it a bit more sophisticated, even though it's not the traditional Jamaican rum)
½ oz. Orgeat
½ oz. Orange Curacao
¼ oz. Simple Syrup (equal parts sugar and water heated and stirred until combined)
Juice of one lime
Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake gently. Pour into a highball glass full of ice and garnish with some fruit. Or maybe a nice paper umbrella. If you must, you can add pineapple juice to top it off but know that, if you do, Trader Vic will be rolling in his grave.
Celebrate the undead by raising a glass of the cocktail that supposedly contains enough alcohol to add any man or woman to the ranks of the walking dead, or at least the severely hung over. Made famous by Don the Beachcomber's, the Zombie is complicated, with a variety of fruit juices and a hefty slug of no less than seven different types of booze. Not a drink for the faint of heart, but with the different fruits playing a counterpoint to the bite and spice of the liquor, it's a great, albeit complicated cocktail for anyone looking for an amazing way to kick off a great and somewhat blurry evening.
3/4 oz. Lime Juice
1/2 oz. Grapefruit Juice
1/2 oz. Falernum (Fee Brothers makes an excellent version of this sweet tropical syrup)
1/2 oz. Simple Syrup
1 ¼ oz. aged rum (Believe it or not, Captain Morgan Private Stock works really well here)
1 oz. Demerara 151 (a high proof rum – Lemonhart is the traditional brand in the Zombie)
1 oz. dark rum (Gosling's Black Seal is far from traditional here, but it brings a great richness to the cocktail and some real tropical feel)
1 oz. spiced rum – (Kilo Kai is a perfect fit, and brings some great anise, vanilla and banana flavors to the party)
1 oz. oak aged rum (Pyrat has the caramel and molasses flavors to look for, especially if you splurge and go with Pyrat Cask 1623)
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 dash Absinthe
3 dashes Grenadine
3/4 oz. Maraschino Liquor
Combine all the ingredients in a shaker full of ice and shake briskly. Pour into a tall glass filled halfway with ice and decorate with whatever fruit you feel appropriate. This is the drink to go over the top with, so if plastic monkeys, half a banana, an orange wedge and a bowl of maraschino cherries find their way into the drink, more power to you.
The Rum Runner
A latecomer to the party, the Rum Runner was developed in the early ‘70s the mad genius bartender John Ebert at the Holiday Isle Resort in the Florida Keys. High-proof enough to easily light on fire, it's still well-balanced and tasty enough to quaff far more quickly than any drink with four types of booze in the mix should be, especially when one of those liquors is 151 proof rum. It's slightly sour with a complex molasses and toasted banana flavor that combines nicely to ease the cloying sweetness of more than a half ounce of grenadine. Even better, it's a slushy - designed to be blended with crushed ice. One couldn't ask for a better summer drink, especially within stumbling distance of home.
½ oz. black rum (Bacardi Select or Goslings Black Seal would work equally well here, depending on how sweet you want your cocktail)
½ oz. 151 proof rum (Lemonhart ups the sophistication of the Rum Runner, but Bacardi 151 works fine in a pinch)
1 oz. blackberry brandy
1 oz. banana liqueur
5/8 oz. grenadine
1 oz. lime juice
Combine all ingredients in a blender with crushed ice, pour into a tall glass and enjoy a slush better than any to be found at 7/11.