Recently there’s been a torrent of articles in the mainstream press heralding the re-emergence of Tiki drinks as worthy of the craft cocktail movement, and highlighting well-regarded top-tier Tiki bars like Smuggler’s Cove, Three Dots and a Dash, and Hale Pele. Readers are regaled with tales about bars with hundreds of rums and all sorts of exotic ingredients, making these bars destination-worthy. I’m completely down with this upsurge in interest, and I myself regularly go overboard in my home bar, creating drinks with ten-plus ingredients, multiple rums, and flaming garnishes.
However, it recently occurred to me that all these exotic Tiki recipes that specify seemingly esoteric ingredients and very specific types of rum can seem a little daunting to the beginning or mid-level home bartending enthusiast. I imagine it’s easy to flip though a Tiki recipe book (or the incredible Beachbum Berry’s Total Tiki app) and feel deflated that you can’t find a single recipe to make with what’s already in your home bar.
With this in mind, I set out on a small research project: Determining the minimum set of ingredients necessary to make a dozen or so of the most popular, beloved Tiki and tropical drinks. By deconstructing classic Tiki recipes and finding the most common elements, I’ve created a minimal working set of ingredients, which enables you to craft all sorts tropical libations without spending a fortune and taking over your living space. It’s too late for me in that regard, but you can enjoy top- notch Tiki cocktails at home with limited space and budget.
My starting point is a list of Tiki/tropical cocktails that I consider the essential classics; as all lists are, it is completely subjective, but I’ve also conferred with Jason Alexander, @tikicommando. who makes classic and original Tiki drinks for a living at the Tacoma Cabana. For consistency, my recipe reference is the aforementioned Total Tiki app. Because some Tiki recipes have evolved with multiple variations, when there’s more than one recipe I’ve selected the oldest version. Without further adieu, here we go:
- 1.5 oz Peruvian Pisco
- 0.75 Gentiane aperitif, e.g. Salers or Suze
- 0.5 Apricot liqueur, e.g. Giffard Abricot du Roussillon
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
What Erik created with my loosely defined request knocked my socks off, and he graciously provided the recipe, handwritten on a coaster, sans name. While incorporating all my ideas (sherry, Ancho Reyes for the spice, Islay scotch for the smoke), Erik saw what I was missing – a base flavor to bring together the flavors I’d requested. I had an “Of course!” moment when he mentioned that an apple brandy (Laird’s Bottled in Bond) was his starting point. In Erik’s creation, no one flavor dominates, and the apple, sherry, pepper spice, and smoke flavors harmonize well together.
Naming drinks is always the hard part, and Erik left that to me. Thinking about the ingredients–Spanish sherry, smoky scotch, Mexican pepper (from the Ancho Reyes) and robust apple–it seemed to me like something Ernest Hemingway would drink – robust and manly! (If I do say so myself…) All are bold flavors, strongly associated with their respective countries. Hemingway was born in the US, and traveled in Spain and Mexico, but I couldn’t find a solid reference to him traveling to Scotland. I like to think that if he’d visited, he’d have gone to Islay, home of smoky scotch, which is part of the Hebrides isles, and when he arrived at the bar, he’d have had something like this:
Hemingway in the Hebrides
- 1.5 oz Laird’s Apple Brandy (100 proof, bottled in bond)
- 0.75 oz Ancho Reyes
- 0.75 oz Lustau East India Sherry (sub sweet Oloroso or PX sherry in a pinch)
- 0.5 Laphroaig (sub other smoky Islay scotch)
- 1 dash Angostura Bitters
|Bar coaster with recipe from Erik Hakkinen, Zig Zag Cafe, Seattle|
- 1 oz Laird’s Apple Brandy
- 0.5 oz Ancho Reyes
- 0.75 oz Lustau East India Sherry (sub sweet Oloroso, or PX sherry in a pinch)
- 0.75 Laphroaig (sub other smoky Islay scotch)
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
- 2 oz Sauza 901
- 1 oz sweet white vermouth (such as Dolin Blanc)
- 0.5 oz Suze
A highlight of the CocktailWonk blog last year was attending TikiKon 2014 in the Portland/Vancouver vortex. In addition to classes and parties, my personal highlight was the Iron TikiTender competition, which my good friend Jason Alexander, owner of the Tacoma Cabana, won in his first time as a competitor. The contest pits three bartenders against each other in a series of challenges, such as “Most Mai Tais in 10 minutes” and “Best drink with a mystery ingredient,” with judging by rum celebrities like Martin Cate of Smuggler’s Cove. Sadly, I’ll be missing the 2015 TikiKon as Mrs. Wonk and I are headed to New Orleans a few days in advance of Tales of the Cocktail. Nonetheless, I was glad to hear that some of my local, Seattle-based bartenders are applying to compete at Iron TikiTender 2015.
- 2 oz rye
- 0.75 oz sweet vermouth
- 2 teaspoons (1/3 oz) Cherry Heering
- 0.5 teaspoons (1/12 oz) Absinthe (*)
- 1 oz rye
- 1 oz aged, dry rum (*)
- 0.5 oz sweet vermouth
- 0.5 oz Cherry Heering
- 1 dash absinthe, for rinse
Even non-cocktailians are aware of Angostura bitters, the ubiquitous bottle in bars everywhere with the oversized white label, which bartenders use like salt and pepper in all sorts of drinks. Recently, the Trinidad-based company took a bold step and released a new spirit — Amaro di Angostura. Unlike the brand’s well known orange and namesake Angostura bitters, the Amaro Di Angostura isn’t intended to be used just few dashes at a time. I was intrigued enough to contact Angostura USA’s PR firm and they graciously sent me a bottle to review.