If you’ve been around these parts or the Cocktail Wonk Instagram feed for any length of time, you know Tiki drinks play a big role in the Wonky lifestyle. I revere the classics like the 1944 Mai Tai and the Jet Pilot, while celebrating modern recipes from my Tiki Monster friends like Jason Alexander, Martin Cate, Justin Wojslaw, and Zac Overman. Every so often I dip my toes into crafting my own concoctions using elements of the Tiki pattern and Minimalist Tiki principles. So hereby I present an original Tiki recipe that we’ve been enjoying the hell out of lately: The Tonga Thunder.
One of the first principles of the Cocktail Wonk ethos is obsessively documenting recipes I’ve made. By using Microsoft OneNote, I have instant access to my notes anywhere I’ve got an internet connection. Looking for ways to work through a recent abundance of fresh grapefruit, I was trolling through my notebook and came across a “Tonga Thunder” entry, the result of some improvising I’d done two years prior. Revisiting it with fresh eyes, my recipe seemed overwrought — too many ingredients and simply too fussy. It was the clear result of overdoing Mr. Potato Head mixology – an ounce of this, half an ounce of this liqueur, three drops of something-something bitters, and so forth.
The bones looked solid though, and I undertook the task of stripping it down to something more manageable. The revised version below qualifies as intermediate level Tiki: Nothing too exotic, but features multiple juices and two rums that may not yet be on the beginner bartender’s shelf.
Tonga Thunder (Matt Pietrek, 2017)
- 1.5 oz Hamilton Navy Strength Rum (114 proof Guyana/Jamaica blend)
- 1.5 oz unaged agricole, ideally at ~100 proof
- 1.0 oz grapefruit juice
- 1.0 oz orange juice
- 1.0 oz lemon juice
- 1.0 oz rich cinnamon syrup (2:1)
- 0.25 oz Hamilton Pimento Dram (or half that if using St. Elizabeth or similar)
- Angostura bitters, to float
Shake all ingredients except the Angostura bitters with ice. Strain into a chilled double old-fashioned glass or other festive vessel, and top up as needed with crushed ice. Liberally douse with Angostura bitters and garnish as you see fit.
The Tonga Thunder is a powerful drink that earns the “thunder” moniker with three ounces of higher proof rums. However, three ounces of fresh squeezed juices balance it well, offering a fresh tropical feel rather than bludgeoning with rum. (Wait — is there such as thing as too much rum flavor? Nah…)
The Hamilton Navy Strength is relatively new and may not be readily available where you are. It’s been well received, however, and is worth tracking down. In its absence, you can approximate it fairly easily by blending five parts of 93 proof Hamilton Jamaican rum (gold or black) with three parts of Hamilton 151 proof Demerara rum. Another reasonable substitute is the Pusser’s Gunpowder Proof, although you’d lose the Jamaican funk as the Pusser’s is a blend of Guyana and Trinidad rums.
For the unaged agricole component, I have a number of 100 proof contenders from the major producers to choose from. However, I went for the Rhum St. Barth’s “Cool,” with its particularly interesting honey-esque note that punches through everything else going on in this recipe. Don’t hesitate to experiment with other high-proof rhums in this category though.
When it comes to the pimento dram, aka “allspice dram,” I deliberately chose the Hamilton pimento dram as it’s less bracing and sweeter than the St. Elizabeth version. I find the St. Elizabeth version will run all over a drink if used in quantities over an eighth of an ounce. Of course, your palate may vary, so taste and adjust to your taste accordingly.
A note about the Angostura float: I use the 16 ounce Angostura bottle as the dashes are bigger; ten or twelve dashes will likely suffice. While the Angostura looks clumpy at first, in time it spreads out to evenly cover the surface. Your guests may be inclined to stir the Angostura into the drink, but I recommend leaving it alone, otherwise the drink gets too bitter. By leaving it to the end, the Angostura layer dilutes a bit and provides a final punch of flavor as you finish.
Given there are only so many permutations and combinations of canonical Tiki ingredients, I figured their surely must be an existing Tiki drink out there similar to this. So far, the closest I’ve found is Jeff Berry’s Ancient Mariner, which also uses a similar blend of rums, grapefruit, and allspice dram. However, the Tonga Thunder adds unaged agricole, swaps lime for lemon, and adds orange juice. If you find similar recipes or have suggested tweaks to this recipe, hit me up in the comments!