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A slap dash guide to making great Tiki drinks

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Denzel Heath behind a Tiki barSo you are thinking of opening a tiki bar, hey? Or maybe you are wanting to add a little tropical spice to your existing menu. Perhaps you want to be the next Daniele Dalla Pola or Jeff Beachbum Berry? Well good for you – as the Tiki train is back and showing no signs of stopping!!

Let’s start right at the beginning – what is Tiki? Tiki is defined as something that is imitative of objects or customs associated with the tropical islands of the South Pacific. “a tiki bar”. In Maori(New Zealand) culture ‘a Tiki’ refers to a large wooden or small greenstone image of a human figure. And with referral to watering holes, Tiki refers to a bar that encompasses tropical escapism through its execution and ethos, not limited to but inclusive of design & décor, cuisine and drinks.

For a brief summary of the history of the Tiki drinks movement(as this is fundamental for you to completely understand what a Tiki bar is), please see the end of this article.

 What do you need to make great Tiki Drinks?

Key equipment:

1. Tiki Mugs

Defined, Tiki mugs are ceramic drinking vessels that originally depicted Polynesian, Micronesian, Melanesian or Hawaiian designs/artworks, but nowadays visualizes just about anything that looks and makes one feel tropical! Everything from the Kraken to a pineapple. Long story short – you can’t have a Tiki bar, without Tiki mugs!

The history and origin of Tiki mugs is – like most things LIQUOR – shrouded in mystery! It is said to have gained popularity thanks to Don the Beachcomber’s chain of restaurants which started in the 1940’s in Hollywood. The Tiki mug craze however only really hit in the 60’s and saw every Tom, Dick and Harry that could make use of a ceramic mold, preparing tiki designs.

2. Milkshake/spindle drink mixer, Hand-held and freestanding blenders

Most people when thinking of tiki cocktails, almost immediately think of a creamy, blended Pina Colada served inside an hollowed out pineapple or an empty coconut shell!!

Contrary to popular belief, the Pina Colada is not actually a Tiki cocktail… While the history of this blended cocktail is a little bit vague, one thing is certain and that is that has its origins in Puerto Rico and was born somewhere in between 1820(a drink using rum, pineapple juice and coconut said to be served to crewmen to boost moral by Puerto Rican pirate Roberto Corfresi – sounds a little bit like the story of Sir Francis Drake and the daiquiri, right?) and 1960’s (Ramón “Monchito” Marrero and Don Ramón López-Irizarry both lay claim to the drinks origins).

Regardless of the origin of this specific drink, the spindle mixer and the blender play a pivotal role in the operation of a proper Tiki bar. But does one need both – we believe so! You see it is all about the texture/mouthfeel of different drinks. Drinks like the Zombie are classically not meant to have a frozen texture (as the result of making it using a blender with ice) and simply stirring the rum dowsed recipe often does not chill and dilute the drink sufficiently. And adversely the milkshake/spindle mixer often does has not the ability to whip up/add volume/light almost ‘fluffy’ texture to drinks like the classic Painkiller which blenders do so well!

Top tip: substitute your standard mounted blender for a hand blender to be able to better interact with consumers(and make a little less noise!!)

Key ingredients:

1. RUM!! And lots of it!Tiki cocktail

Tiki is all about rum, so you will need to have a well-balanced Rum list! What does a well-balanced rum list entail? Well, you will need rums from the major regions, major production styles, different stages of sugarcane refinement, multiple flavour profiles and ages.

Be sure to list rums with a variety of flavours and ages from the:

Spanish-speaking Islands of the Caribbean: Traditionally produce light rums with fairly clean taste. Eg. Cuba & Puerto Rico.

English-speaking Islands of the Caribbean: Known for darker rums with a fuller taste that retain a greater amount of the underlying molasses flavour. Eg. Jamaica & Demerara region of South America.

And lastly the French-speaking Islands of the Caribbean: Agricultural rums (rhum agricole), produced exclusively from sugarcane juice in order to retain a greater amount original flavour of  sugarcane. Eg. Martinique & Guadeloupe

Apart from rum, every Tiki bar should have or be able to make inhouse the following ingredients:

Pimento Dram – Pimento aka all spice seed a small spicy and flouversome seed that encompasses the flavour of the Caribean. The dram is easily produced, either through macerating(which could take up to 12 days to release the required potency) or through blending all the ingredients together and then straining the liqueur after. All you need is overproof rum, all spice seed, cinnamon bark and demerara sugar.

Aromatic & Pimento Bitters – Aromatic (and Pimento flavoured) bitters is an important ingredient for allot of tiki cocktail. Brands like Angsotura are popularly called for in many classic tiki cocktails and pimento bitters are easily produce through blending all spice seed and Angostura and then straining out the solids using a cheese cloth.

Orange Curacao – Orange curacao is a sweet orange liqueur produced from bitter oranges originating from the island of Curacao, a Dutch Caribbean island. Dutch traders were notorious for preserving fresh ingredients through the addition of distilled spirits and sugars. It is not to be confused with Triple Sec, which is a ‘similar’ but dryer ingredient of French origin.

Falernum – This classic Tiki fortified syrup can easily be made as follows: Take the skin of 9 limes just skin cut off pith, 20 cloves, julian ginger handful, almond paste‎ 150gram, 200ml overproof rum and macerate for 24hrs. Then strain the liquids and add 2:1 simple demerara syrup‎ (3 times maceration volume) and almond extract if needed.

Orgeat – Orgeat is a key marzipan flavoured syrup use in classic tiki cocktails like the Mai Tai. It is prepared by blending water steeped and peeled almonds to produce almond milk after which sugar and orange blossom water is added to taste.

Fresh Fruit/Herbs – Fresh fruits/herbs are the foundation of all tiki drinks. A tiki bar should produce on a daily basis fresh lemon, lime, grapefruit, pineapple and passionfruit juices. All of the above mentioned juices can in turn be used to create a number of different syrups. Like passionfruit syrup(passionfruit, sugar); Don’s Mix (grapefruit juice, cinnamon, sugar).

Honey Syrup – Honey syrup easily made by mixing equal parts(dependent on whom you ask of course) of your choice of honey and simple syrup. In order to add honey flavour into a cocktail, often one has to produce a honey syrup, due to the fact that most cocktails contain ice as part of the mixing process and thus the honey goes hard when touch the rest of the cold ingredients.


History of the Tiki story:


(Summarized from

Started 80 years ago, with Don the Beachcomber in Hollywood

Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt, who later legally changed his name to Donn Beach

Gantt spent time in Caribbean & South Pacific

Collection of South Pacific artefacts that he loaned out to movie productions for props

Making drinks from rum, flavoured syrups, and fresh fruit juices, and then pairing them with foods based on Cantonese, Hawaiian & Polynesian cuisines

Victor Bergeron opened Trader Vic’s restaurant a couple of years later, in Oakland, California, after visiting Gantt’s place

Trader Vic had tuberculosis in the knee and as result had his leg was amputated when he was 6

Don the Beachcomber’s restaurant was popular with Hollywood celebrities in the late 1930s & 1940s

Donn was copied by many restaurateurs, not only Victor Bergeron

Tiki gained popularity in 1950s, as US servicemen returning from South Pacific brought back from war

Post-war US economy was booming & families had budget to travel to tropical destinations—or at least feel that exotic vacations were within reach

Americans developed romanticized obsession with tropics & tiki bars offered easy solution

At start of World War II, Don the Beachcomber went to Europe to run rest-and-recreation centers for US servicemen

While away, his wife expanded to 16 locations

Later divorced & his ex-wife retained control of the company name in the US

Beach took the concept to Hawaii in the 1940s where remained until died in 1989

Bergeron spent war years franchising Trader Vic’s name, starting with a Seattle franchise in 1940

Eventually, the Trader Vic’s line grew to 25 tiki bars around the world

At his death in 1984, the Trader Vic’s empire was a multimillion-dollar business

Tiki began to fall away in the 1960s & ’70s

Revival in tiki cocktails as craft-cocktail scene began to emerge in 80’s

Almost single handedly thanks to Jeff “Beachbum” Berry author & tiki fan

Written several books on tiki: Potions of the Caribbean, Sippin’ Safari, Beachbum Berry remixed, Beachbum Berry’s Taboo Table & more…

In 2015 opened Latitude 29 in New Orleans

Popular tiki bars all over the world: from Nu Lounge by Daniele Dalla Pola in Bologna, Italy to Smugglers Cove by Martin Cate in San Francisco

To get started on your Tiki collections, take a look at our awesome Tiki Family Mugs[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

A slap dash guide to making great Tiki drinks
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A slap dash guide to making great Tiki drinks
What do you need to make great Tiki Drinks? Read more about the bar tools and techniques required to make the best Tiki cocktails.


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