Because it’s summer, because it’s the weekend, and because the Eichler Network has just published a sneak preview of CA-Modern’s big spread on tiki culture (which I wrote when it was a good deal colder out), I feel like we’re all entitled to a strong, sweet, brightly colored drink. It seems like there are a million recipes out there for thousands of tiki drinks, but here are five of my personal favorites, all easily replicated at home.
Jason Smith’s Mai Tai: I’ve had plenty of chances to sample this recipe, championed by my friend Jason Smith. I won’t pretend like my affection for it doesn’t have to do with the fact that every time I get one I’m hanging out with good pals and doing something fun. Hopefully that is exactly how you will enjoy this. The entire process is best read in Jason’s own words, in a write-up he did for Kissing Culture, where he's published the recipe and a full set of instructions on how best to enjoy it
Beachbum Berry’s Zombie: The zombie is perhaps my favorite tiki drink of them all. For all my fondness of the Technicolor sweetness this genre of drinks offers, I find the zombie most palatable because it includes some nice dry, tart flavors along with the syrup. I’m not alone. “From the end of Prohibition to the dawn of Disco, the Zombie was the world’s most famous drink. It kick-started the whole Tiki craze, and put Don The Beachcomber’s Hollywood bar on the map,” wrote Beachbum Berry, the legendary tiki drink researcher and writer. Berry spent a decade tracking down Don the Beachcomber’s original recipe. The New York Timespublished this simplified version that you can actually make at home:
Kickass Karen: This extremely basic version of a pina colada comes from my college pal Karen Mitchell, who is now an upstanding family lady and probably wouldn’t dream of messing about with coconut rum and Mountain Dew. (Probably.) But I would. When called upon recently to help a friend dispose of his liquor cabinet before a cross-country move, I immediately knew what to do with his bottle of coconut rum, the only vessel containing more than a finger or two of booze. Mountain Dew was procured, and the following recipe enjoyed by all present, to many of the guests’ surprise (and eventual regret):
2 oz. Malibu (or other coconut) rum
Pour rum into a highball glass with ice. Mix with Mountain Dew to taste. Do not admit to anyone over the age of 22 that you do this.
Raffles Singapore Sling: This drink is special to me because it represents a time when I actually did live in one of the exotic locales the tiki culture holds dear. During the year of 2010, I worked at a newspaper in Jakarta, Indonesia. While Indonesia is a largely Muslim country and doesn’t have a strong drinking culture, neighboring Singapore sure does. The gin-based Singapore Sling is the signature drink of the former British colony where I was sent for visa run after two weeks in country. A bartender at the Raffles hotel invented it, and the current version supposedly comes from the long memories of old bar staff. If you can’t enjoy one in the Raffles’ colonial-era barroom, making this recipe from Fodors’ Josie Taylor will at least transport you there in spirit.
Gary Regan's Scorpion Bowl: What I really wanted to include here was the Tonga Room’s scorpion bowl, because that was one of the drinks that first got me into tiki culture. I used to drink at the Tonga, sometimes on a fake ID, when I was a college kid. And a couple of those scorpion bowls represented value for money split between our little group. I had one recently, as an adult, and I felt a rush of that same childish giddiness that comes with stealing candy or sneaking a movie at work. Anyway, I couldn’t find the Tonga Room’s recipe anywhere online, but I did find an exhaustive comparison of recipes over at Kaiser Penguin. The first one, from Gary Regan’s The Joy of Mixology, sounded like it would taste even better than the Tonga’s.