The Art of the Tiki Cocktail, or the best tropical drink for warm weather!

The tiki cocktail became popular in the 30s and reached its peak in the 40s and 50s thanks to the efforts Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gannt who you might know as Donn Beach.  Gannt founded his famous bar Don the Beachcomber on Hollywood Boulevard in LA during the depression in the early 30s.  The bar had a bright, south pacific vibe and the entire atmosphere was focused on relaxing and sitting back with a great tasting cocktail.  As Gannt so eloquently put it, “If you can’t get to paradise, I’ll bring it to you.”  At the time rum was the least expensive spirit and the extravagant fruity tiki cocktails which Gnatt created showcased the spirit in a new light.  Rum became fun, sweet, and delicious.  These tiki cocktails were something that everyone needed to have!

So what is a tiki cocktail?

To understand what makes a tiki cocktail so special, it is easiest to break it down into five key elements.

  1. Rum.  Almost all tiki cocktails use rum as the base spirit, and many combine different styles of rum together to create a whole new taste.  The basic styles of rum are white, dark, spiced, navy, and overproof and when you also consider the differences between distilleries and the regions in which rum is produced, there are almost no end to the combinations that can be achieved.
  2. Fruit.  As one would expect from any tropical drink, fruit is crucial to taste and appearance of tiki cocktails.  While some tiki cocktails feature only a single fruit, many combine them to make the flavors even more complex and interesting.  Common fruits used in tiki cocktails are pineapple, guava, passion fruit, orange, lime, lemon, and coconut.  Fruits are used in juice form to add flavor to the cocktail as well as sliced or whole as garnishes to make the drink appear that much more tropical.  Since fruits play a crucial role in lending flavor to the drink, they can also cover-up some of the strong taste of the alcohols used in the drink, making them excellent sippers.
  3. Spice.  Though not present in every tiki cocktail, most will add a touch of spice to the mix.  Spices like nutmeg, vanilla, and allspice are all common in tiki cocktails and help elevate the flavor to another level.  Spice can also be present in the form of spiced rums which are also often featured in tiki cocktails.
  4. Layers of Flavor.  This may seem obvious from the first three key elements, but tiki cocktails are never short on flavor.  Or ingredients.  Tiki cocktails will often include four or more ingredients which combine to create a wave effect, washing your mouth in layer after layer of flavor as you sip the cocktail.  This depth makes tiki cocktails an amazing experience and will lead you to keep trying new cocktails and combinations to see what other flavors you can uncover.
  5. Variation.  Much like the martini family of drinks, at the heart of the tiki cocktails is variation.  Tiki cocktails are a great example of trial and error, and just cause a drink has the same name doesn’t mean it actually contains the the same ingredients.  For any given tiki cocktail there are bound to be half a dozen or more recipes that each lend a slightly different flavor to the name.  Instead of getting worried that you aren’t making the right one, or that some of them are wrong, just remember the whole tiki vibe.  Make the cocktail, sit back, and relax.  The other variations can wait.  Sip on the cocktail and enjoy the waves of flavor that wash over you.

More tiki cocktails will be coming soon and will be linked here as they are written.  Look forward to new classics of tiki-dom every week on Monday!


How to Make the PainkillerThe Painkiller

A refreshing and restorative blend of navy rum, cream of coconut and the juices of pineapple and orange garnished with a punch of nutmeg.  Perfect for any time, any weather, any where.

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Posted in Cheap Cocktails, Culture, Dollar Drinks, Rum, Tiki Monday

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Nick McAfee
Nick McAfee is a student of Princeton University and is passionate about mixology. As a student with a low monthly income, he has developed ways to create simple cocktails with complex flavors from inexpensive ingredients. Learn more about Nick and Broke & Thirsty.
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