You had to cancel your winter sojourn to Florida. Last summer’s visit to the Caribbean — canned. Hawaii? No alohas for the year because there are no arrivals.
Cocktails have the ability to transport us to different places. Tiki drinks have a way of doing that unlike any other. The “tiki” movement began in the 1950s but has increasingly been viewed as problematic — representing an insensitive appropriation of Polynesian culture. The term “tiki” still dominates, although “tropical” is pitched as an alternative. Regardless, in an isolated winter, tiki drinks can take us away.
Many myths surround tropical/tiki drinks, mostly because the category has been cheapened and abused by shortcuts, over-proofed alcohol and sweeteners. While fruity, these drinks should not be cloyingly sweet — at least, not as sweet as you might find in a bar.
Rum, born in the tropics, invites fruit juices and fruit flavors. But rum is not the only base spirit in tropical drinks. Some of the best-known use no rum at all. And they weren’t meant to be machine-made frozen drinks.
Most tiki drinks trace their roots to legendary bar Trader Vic’s. While original recipes exist, you’ll find many variations in this class of cocktails where improvisation is welcome.
The gin-based Singapore Sling marries the herbals of gin and Benedictine with pineapple juice and various liqueurs. Every recipe is different. I tried 3/4 ounce of gin and 1/4 ounce each of cherry liqueur, orange liqueur, Benedictine and lime juice. Enjoy this on ice or top it with some soda if you like.
The Mai Tai often includes two rums — aged and a white rum — combined with orange curaçao or triple sec, lime juice and orgeat, a simple syrup and almond extract combination. Even thought the Mai Tai has no pineapple, the orgeat and lime give it unmistakable tropical flavors. The addition of amaretto offers an even nuttier variant that could invite orange or pineapple juice as well.
Tiki culture also adopted existing exotic cocktails, including the long-standing Planter’s Punch. Originally just a combination of rum, lime and simple syrup, it came to include a range of juices and liqueurs. I tried an expansion, using 1.5 ounces of aged rum, 1 ounce of pineapple juice, a 1/2 ounce each of lime and orange juices, and a dash of Angostora bitters served on ice.
I can hear the waves now.