Calamity’s Corner: Let’s Have a Tiki!

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Tiki bars have come and gone, then come again, and gone, then come back… I think you get the drift. For 80 some odd years Tiki culture (and yes, there is such a thing) has waxed and waned. No other word in the bartending community can evoke such debate as TIKI!

Tiki Bar 680

As I said, about 80 years ago Tiki started, Raymond Beaumont Gannt AKA Don the Beachcomber (he legally changed his name to Donn Beach at some point) created the restaurant Don the Beachcomber, in Hollywood. There is where tiki really got started. Gannt had spent a good chunk of his youth in the South Pacific and Caribbean. That’s where his ideas for fruity, syrupy cocktails from. He paired them with food that was inspired by Hawaii, Polynesian cuisine and even some Cantonese. After WWII Beachand his wife divorced and she got control of the Don the Beachcomber name. However, Donn Beach took to Hawaii and, before its statehood, opened up a Don the Beachcomber there.

A few years after Don the Beachcomber opened up Victor Begeron came into the scene, he would become known as Trader Vic. He lost his leg to tuberculosis as a child, but later spun wild stories of exotic adventures to amuse and entertain. Trader Vic’s opened up in Oakland, CA. Trader Vic’s grew into a multimillion dollar industry with over 25 locations around  the world.

In the 50’s tiki was huge, movies like South Pacific and Elvis Presley’s Blue Hawaii just fueled American’s obsession with the tropics. In the 60’s and 70’s interest in the tiki waned, either to the usual fading of a fad or what, no one is quite sure why. In the 90’s tiki’s popularity rose again. People fell in love, again, with the mugs, the decor, the kitsch of it all. The drinks, however, weren’t really all that good so the fad, once again, faded away. The movie Cocktail  and songs like the Beach Boys’ “Kokomo” may have something to do with the interest, or perhaps it was the other way around.

Elvis Presley Blue Hawaii

In the early 2000’s Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, a huge fan of tiki, wrote several books on the tiki culture and as a result craft bartenders began to take a more serious look at that genre of libation. Drinks were treated with more respect than the mass produced Hurricane and Mai Tai mixes that were around. Berry pried the secrets, long thought lost, and brought them to bartenders, educating them on the history and fundamentals of the drink.

What are the Fundamentals of Tiki? Well, to start off with, there’s rum. While there are tiki drinks that call for gin, Scotch or other whiskies, even tequila. Tradition, however, is in the tropics, and when it comes to tropical booze, rum’s your girl. When it comes to rum you should have 3 types in your bar (it is worth mentioning that some tiki bars today boast hundreds of rum on their shelves): a rich Demerara rum, a Jamaican rum, and a crisp Cuban or Puerto Rican white rum. You’ll also need fruit juices. Fresh is better, avoid anything with additional sweeteners. You don’t want a drink that tastes like syrup. Avoid pre-made mixers. Keep flavor layering in mind.  Start with blending your rums and then build on top of that. Then there comes the spice! Syrups and bitters made from spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, pepper, almonds, and whatever else sounds good, these can be crucial to making a successful tiki drink. Garnishes like fresh mint, tropical fruits, cherries, oranges should be on hand. Make those garnishes fabulous! Go ahead and put the drink in a fancy tiki mug, or just a simple glass. However you choose to present it is up to you and your creativity.


Here’s a couple of recipes to get you started:


1 oz light rum

1  oz dark rum

1/2 oz each lemon juice, lime juice

1 1/2 oz each passion fruit puree or syrup, and orange juice

1/2 oz grenadine

2 dashes of Angostura bitters

1 oz 151 rum (optional)

Pour all ingredients into a shaker, add ice and shake well. Strain into a tall glass filled with crushed ice. Float 151 on top.



2 oz Navy proof rum (or dark rum)

4 oz pineapple juice

1 oz cream of coconut

1 oz OJ

dash of Nutmeg

Pour ingredients into a shaker, add ice and shake well. Strain into a tall glass filled with ice. Sprinkle a dash of nutmeg on top as garnish.
Here at the Labs we have been planning on making our own tiki drink, someday. Who knows, maybe we’ll have one at the next Symposium.

(Check out Beach Bum Berry Remixed  by Jeff Beachbum Berry)

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