Early in my Tiki education, which at that point was primarily Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari and a scattering of blog posts, I learned a mantra: Always fresh squeeze your juice! It’s not so hard with lemons, limes, and oranges, but pineapples are always a challenge. They’re cumbersome and not easily juiced with normal kitchen gadgets. Even after a budget centripetal juicer appeared, juicing pineapples was still something I sought to avoid – the juice was too frothy and the yield too low. It always felt like I was forsaking too much product in the wet, pulpy remains.
In recent years I’ve vociferously advocated for the purity and sanctity of the classic 1944 Mai Tai. This Victor (“Trader Vic”) Bergeron concoction is arguably the king of all Tiki drinks. Unfortunately, for some misguided souls, the Mai Tai is a catch-all term for whatever random collection of fruit juices, rums, and syrups are on hand behind the bar—rendering this classic one of the most abused cocktail recipes of all time. There’s no pineapple juice in a classic Mai Tai, folks!
However, it’s totally fair game to modernize a Tiki classic and name it something different. The modern Tiki world is full of innovators such as Jason Alexander, Daniel “Doc” Parks, and Justin Wojslaw, who day in and day out push Tiki’s boundaries while retaining respect for the classics. While I don’t put myself in their league, I do occasionally have a decent idea that ends up good enough to share here.
As an avid Tiki-hound home bartender, I am always seeking out the next unusual recipe twist that gets me excited. And while Tiki draws from a very broad palette, there’s really only so many combinations of citrus, syrups, spices, and rum you can concoct before you’re essentially riffing on variations of the classics. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!)
At this point in my Tiki journey, it’s much harder to come across a flavor combination I haven’t encountered before and which knock my socks off. The Banana Life, from the crew at San Francisco’s Pagan Idol, is the first drink I’ve had in a while that accomplishes this feat.
It’s no surprise to long time Cocktail Wonk readers that Tiki is a central pillar of what I do here. While most nights find me laboring over an elaborate concoction at my home bar, I never miss the chance to sit at the bar of a full-blown Tiki master. Last night, after many tortuous months of waiting, I slipped into a seat at the soft opening of Devil’s Reef, in Tacoma, Washington.
The vast majority of cocktails in the Tropical/Tiki pantheon derive from a relatively small set of ingredients. At the end of the day, most recipes within the genre lean heavily on some combination of basics – rum, sour citrus (lemon or lime), and flavored syrups/liqueurs, e.g. orgeat or falernum. With so many imaginative bartenders constantly creating new libations, it’s a challenge to craft a compelling recipe that’s not a twist on something already invented. My Apricole Swizzle may be that rare bird.