Is “Minimalist Tiki” an Oxymoron?

Tiki drinks, by their very nature, lends themselves to excess. Why use one rum when you can use three?  A tasteful, simple lime wedge garnish? That simply won’t do! Not when you can layer together pineapple fronds, mint, a swizzle stick, and perhaps a flaming lime shell for good measure.

Indeed, short of molecular mixology, Tiki drinks may be the most complicated style of cocktails you can make. So, what were my wife Carrie and I thinking when we named our book Minimalist Tiki?

It turns out a few people have had the same question. Here’s a recent example, plucked from the comments of a post in the Facebook Tiki Recipes forum:

Every time I see a recipe from there, it’s got at least half a dozen ingredients, several of which I don’t have and may not be able to find and/or make. This one, eight ingredients and I don’t have three. And I’ve got a bunch of extra stuff for making exotic drinks.

Rum & coke. Or rum & falernum. That’s “minimalist.”

It seems like an entirely reasonable question, for sure. Luckily, we anticipated this question. In fact, we addressed it in the opening paragraphs of the first chapter:

The notion of “minimalist” tiki seems like the ultimate oxymoron: A classic tiki drink conjures elaborate garnishes — orchids, flaming lime shells, swizzle sticks — perched atop outlandish glassware filled to brimming with countless rums and exotic potions. There’s no disputing that on the cocktail spectrum, tiki drinks fall toward the outer extremes of complexity. But they’re worth the effort — just about everyone loves a well-balanced tiki cocktail exploding with tropical spice flavors.

Spend any time perched on a barstool at tiki temples such as Smuggler’s Cove, Latitude 29, or Lost Lake, and you’ll watch skilled bartenders wielding a vast collection of ingredients from all manner of bottles. Behind them likely looms a wall of rums from all corners of the Caribbean and beyond.

Even for the home bartender who’s comfortable crafting an old fashioned, Manhattan, or a daiquiri, facing off with these tiki masterpieces may seem a wee bit daunting. To the uninitiated, it can seem like every tiki recipe calls for dozens of esoteric rums and exotic liqueurs such as falernum and allspice dram that aren’t often found outside of the tiki realm.

The good news: Making great tiki isn’t hard and is absolutely possible at home, even in small spaces; the legion of home tiki aficionados Instagramming their latest libation is a colorful testament to this.

Minimalist Tiki begins by methodically analyzing tiki recipes and establishing core concepts, getting you on the path to tiki nirvana with a sane starting point that is easily achievable at home or in any competent drinking establishment.

Minimalist Tiki is foundational and incremental. Rather than beginning with a large, comprehensive list of every ingredient you might ever use (cheery heering, anyone?), you’ll learn which ingredients, equipment, and techniques form the bedrock of tiki. From there, incrementally add to your foundation as your skill grows. Each addition opens up new avenues of tiki goodness.

Once you’re comfortable with the Minimalist Tiki core principles, later chapters will steer you into more advanced topics, taking your creations to the next level. Master them and you might just open your own tiki palace!

The core of Minimalist Tiki centers on the classics — the beloved set of cocktails such as the Mai Tai, Jet Pilot, and Cobra’s Fang, most of which originated during the golden era of tiki, the end of Prohibition through the early 1960s. But tiki doesn’t rest on its laurels — the final section of the book transitions to modern takes from the vanguard of the new Tiki Revival. These bars and bartenders fully embrace the tiki credo in a big way, regularly creating and sharing new recipes.

There’s no shortage of recipes within in these pages. All are focused on being accessible without the luxury of a molecular mixology kitchen. As a home tiki enthusiast with an extensive home bar, I’m keenly aware of the frustration of finding an interesting new recipe, then realizing it requires a quarter ounce of some incredibly esoteric ingredient. You’ll find few recipes calling for exotic or complex ingredients within these pages. Minimalist and practicality are two sides of the same coin here.

Reading the aforementioned Facebook comment, I realized I had more to say. I replied:

The “Minimalist” part of the title comes from the approach of understanding the core ingredients and equipment need to make the most common classic Tiki recipes. It’s basically about deconstructing Tiki drinks into understandable blocks, which you then know how to assemble into many different recipes.

It answers the question: What’s the minimal set of things you need to get going making great drinks?

From there, the book shows you how you might expand your Tiki ingredients and equipment wisely in order to make more advanced recipes.

When we worked with the 23 bartenders and bars featured in the book, we asked for recipes that a reasonably stocked bar (home or commercial) would have a reasonable chance of having on hand.

What we strived to avoid was calling for crazy ingredients that nobody would realistically purchase or make. Think “Barrel-aged banana foam” or “Butterfly pea-flower pine nut orgeat”.

Thus, while you may not have Batavia Arrack, you stand a reasonable chance of being able to make it or purchase it, should you desire.

It’s not about how few ingredients you need. It’s about calling for ingredients that you have a decent chance of obtaining.

So, to sum it up, Minimalist Tiki can’t provide you with a wide array of two ingredient drinks. Nor, can it promise you that there won’t be any recipes with twelve ingredients that takes a bit longer than normal to make.

However, we are pretty confident you won’t gnash your teeth over nearly impossible to make recipes that require a rotary evaporator, or with ingredients like avocado orgeat, smoked Foie Eau de vie, or alligator fat washed Fernet Branca brittle. As one review put it:

What Matt has accomplished with Minimalist Tiki cannot be overstated. Tiki – often shrouded in mystery and magic – is exposed at a level that anyone can understand. With his explanation of improvisation and drink creation, he also gives you room to grow. Minimalist Tiki is a book you can take off the shelf and use right away. More than that, it is a book you’ll continue to pick up for years to come. I can’t wait to see what else Matt has up his sleeves.

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