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.
First, consider the name. Per Wikipedia, an amaro is “an Italian herbal liqueur that is commonly drunk as an after-dinner digestif. It usually has a bitter-sweet flavor…” Using amaro in the name is an interesting choice – technically it’s correct usage, but may be confusing to people who don’t realize that amaro is a category of liqueurs, rather than a specific brand.
To truly understand Amaro Di Angostura, it’s first necessary to really grasp the flavor of Angostura bitters. Angostura bitters are typically used in small quantities as part of a cocktail, so many people would be hard pressed to describe the flavor in isolation. Taken straight, the Angostura bitters flavor is very strong and quite bitter (no surprise given the name), with gentian root, cinnamon, clove, and citrus flavors. The exact ingredients are a closely guarded recipe – supposedly only five people know the Angostura secret.
Here’s a fun fact I spring on people: Angostura Bitters are 90 proof, equal to that of your typical rum, gin, or whiskey, so it’s entirely possible to use it as a full-fledged spirit in a cocktail, rather than as an accent. Two house favorites that do exactly that are the TrinidadSour and the Port of Spain, each utilizing up to a 1/2 ounce or more of bitters. (Budget tip: Buy your Angostura bitters in the 16 oz. size. I have several such bottles in reserve at any given moment.) The deep red color of Angostura bitters also adds a wow factor to drinks that feature it in large quantities.
The marketing story of the Amaro Di Angostura unfolds like this: “… [We] combined Angostura® aromatic bitters with neutral spirit and added more spices until a magnificent herbal liqueur was created. The spirit, spices, and bitter herbs were mixed and then left to marry for 3 months.” In short, Amaro Di Angostura is a combination of Angostura bitters, neutral spirits and more spices. Given that the House of Angostura also makes rum, the neutral sprit is likely rum distilled to a very high proof.
When I read this, my wonky senses lit up with questions: While Angostura Bitters are 90 proof, the Amaro di Angostura is 70 proof, so 10 percent less ABV by volume than the bitters. Yet if the description is to be believed, neutral spirits (at close to 190 proof) were added to the mix, presumably to aid in the extraction of flavors from the additional spices. To bring the proof down to 70, water must have been added–something not mentioned. What’s more, Amaro Di Angostura is sweeter than straight Angostura bitters, so some sort of sweetener, e.g. sugar, was likely added. This isn’t to say that Amaro Di Angostura isn’t a pleasure to drink – just that the marketing material likely omits a few things.
As an experiment, I took a half ounce of Angostura bitters and diluted it with enough 1:1 simple syrup to bring it down to 70 proof, equivalent to Amaro Di Angostura. Side-by-side, the sweetness was roughly equivalent, but I found the Amaro Di Angostura to be less harsh. I also enlisted Mrs. Wonk in a blind tasting, and she much preferred the Amaro Di Angostura. The marketing description mentions cinnamon, toasted caramel, liquorice, and chocolate notes. I get the cinnamon and to a much lesser extent the chocolate; Mrs. Wonk noticed the toasted caramel and cinnamon too.
The Amaro Di Angostura is eminently sippable straight. However, with its palate of intense flavors, it begs for use in cocktails. Since Angostura bitters, cinnamon, and sugar are frequently found in Tiki drinks, it was a no-brainer to go that route. And since Angostura makes rum, the choice there was obvious as well. I named the drink after a small island off the coast of Trinidad rumored to have a storied pirate past, including buried treasure.
- 2 oz. Angostura 1919 rum
- 1 oz. Amaro Di Angostura
- 0.5 oz. lime juice
- 0.5 oz. honey syrup (honey and water, 1:1)
Shake with ice, serve in double old-fashioned glass or tiki mug over crushed ice.
The packaging for Amaro Di Angostura is attractive and reasonably classy without going overboard. The slightly ribbed bottle has a hint of elegance, and the bright yellow cap remains true to the yellow cap tradition of the Angostura Bitters bottle. The Amaro Di Angostura retail for around US $25 for a 750 ml bottle. While it’s quite a bit different than your traditional Italian amaro, if you’re a fan of the classic Angostura bitters taste I’d recommend having a bottle on hand.