Tag Archives: history

The History of the Tiki Cocktail

The Rise, Fall and Rise of…

tiki lounge


The origin of that great tiki cocktail, the Mai Tai, is murky water at best. To fully understand the where, when, who, why and how of the matter you have to go all the way back to the 1930’s!

As it stands the where and when of the original Mai Tai is pretty much set in stone; it’s the ‘who’ that’s the biggest query…

So let’s state for a fact: The Mai Tai was created in California back in the early 1900’s and was created by one of two cocktail legends: Victor ‘Trader Vic’ Bergeron or Ernest ‘Don the Beachcomber’ Gantt.

I won’t regale you with their two highly intriguing stories, at least no more than to say that Trader Vic’s story is the more plausible (and also sounds more naturally true). That said, if you want to read Vic’s or Don’s Mai Tai origin stories then click here

Arguably the most important factor in deciding who got the plaudits for the creation of the Mai Tai is that there are Trader Vic restaurants/bars across the world, and yet the same cannot be said for don the beachcomber establishments…

Although not taken directly from a trader vic restaurant this tiki inspired menu looks pretty darn amazing doesn't it?
Although not taken directly from a trader vic restaurant this tiki inspired menu looks pretty darn amazing doesn’t it?

That result for them both has led to Trader Vic’s being the go to establishment for truly authentic tiki themed bars/restaurants and, by way of necessity; they also stock one of the wealthiest collection of tiki cocktails (Click here for a link to the cocktail menu of Trader Vic’s London branch)…

So why are tiki cocktails a thing? Well when they first came about they accompanied some fantastic food recipes that were Polynesian inspired and boasted some bold and wonderful flavours. Now both Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic translated the flavour combinations of their food into their drinks. This led to some stunning, and some strong, tiki cocktails entering the world of mixology and becoming synonymous with both American and tropical culture since…

A brief history in a timely fashion (yes this will be quick)

The tiki cocktail started with the opening of the very first ‘tiki’ restaurant back in 1934. Regardless of who invented the Mai Tai, it is clear to see that Don Beach was the first person to start mixing fresh syrups, juices and rum. This practice is what makes cocktail a true tiki cocktail and was carried out by both Vic and beach throughout the renaissance of the tiki cocktail, leading to some of the great cocktails we now see plastered across almost every menu in every bar we ever go to!

Of course huge events like the world wars and American prohibition all had extremely potent effects on the course of the tiki cocktail, whether they precede the tiki era or simply occurred during their height. Inevitably the novelty of tiki cocktails and their almost teleportation-like effects wore off and they fell out of fashion during the 1960’s – mainly due to the Vietnam war and an increased sensitivity to indigenous peoples and; the former taking away the ideals of living out your days on a beach paradise pretty much nailed the coffin of the tiki culture firmly shut.

Fear Not! Like a phoenix from the ashes the tiki cocktail is back in full force (hurrah). The best thing about reboots is the ability to do something right. Mostly.

Tiki cocktails are certainly on a rise, and this is probably buoyed on by the astonishing firework of a rise that rum is currently experiencing. Although, as I have mentioned briefly in my earlier posts tiki cocktails of the present day are experimenting with other spirits…

This current trend of craft cocktails taking on the tiki cocktails and introducing new and exciting directions, shows how far the cocktails of the tiki theme have come since their rather humble beginnings…

So from their creation stemming from the blood of the first Mai Tai, tiki cocktails evolved to include some rather stunning concoctions. Granted there are some that may not give you the best of evenings but if we’re honest with ourselves, drinking absinthe in copious amounts is never a decent decision…

Here's what you can expect if you order a tiki cocktail from a bar that prides itself on serving great cocktails...
Here’s what you can expect if you order a tiki cocktail from a bar that prides itself on serving great cocktails…

Look out for some of the best recipes from across the internet, from Classic Mai Tai’s to odd little Tequila-drenched Pina coladas, there is bound to be one cocktail for all tastes…

As a final note: This week will signal the end of my Tiki-Themed month and over the following couple of months I’ll be looking at something a little different. Keep an eye out near the end of the week for some (possibly) exciting news!

The Legend of the Cuba Libre…

cuba cab

The Cuba Libre the epitome of a classic cocktail – it is 114 years old after all! Better yet, it has not only stood the test of time, but today it remains one of the most ordered cocktails across the world.

But for a drink some only know as ‘Rum & Coke’ to have lasted so long would’ve required some rather important factors;

  • A colourful history
  • Simplicity
  • Fantastic taste
  • The use of a world class Mixer

Now simplicity doesn’t always work, and let’s be honest, a colourful history could be good or bad. But mix the good kind of colourful history with simplicity and then blend in the great taste of a classic American mixer then you have formed the perfect storm, in cocktail terms at least.

I’ll be honest here; The Cuba Libre’s success is in no small part down to its drinkability and the fact it’s mixed with arguably the most famous mixer in the world, Coca Cola, is no mistake.

As you can probably already tell, the Cuba Libre is my favourite cocktail. Whilst you’ll rarely see me order one when out and about, as they are so easy to make, at home they’re pretty much all I drink.

Give me a well-made Cuba Libre and I’ll be a happy man.

So let’s look at the facts:

The History of the Cuba Libre…

cuba libre 4

The history of the Cuba Libre cocktail is well documented as being around the turn of the 20th century – when cuba won it’s freedom after the American-Spanish war of 1898. It’s said that after the war ended, around August 1900, Captain Russell (of the US Military) ordered Bacardi Rum with Coke and a slice of lime. The name of the drink was coined when he toasted the phrase “Por Cuba Libre” – For a free Cuba. This phrase was of great political significance at the time, especially as it was used by both American and Cuban citizens alike. Whilst Bacardi Rum is no longer ‘Cuban’ rum (they vacated the Island back when the American Prohibition hit hard) they are still considered the Rum of choice when ordering a Cuba Libre or, as it is better known; “A Bacardi & Coke please”…

Simplicity & the taste of America…

Coca Cola is unequivocally American. Any American will tell you that Coca Cola is as much a part of the USA’s history as the Wild West and JFK, with some of the older memorabilia selling for $100’s with some more specific items fetching far higher prices! The fact that it’s so simple to create; combined with the classic taste of America and the history surrounding the cocktails’ creation means it’s not that surprising it has, arguably, become one of the most famous cocktails of all time.

An Advocate for slow sipping…

The Cuba Libre can be a pleasure when well-made and should always be enjoyed sip by sip; especially, if like me, you like to use it to help taste the finest of rums. I find that Cola helps bring out some of the better flavours of golden/dark rums and this for me not only means I get to enjoy a rum without the burning feeling of the alcohol, but also allows me to spend more time enjoying it. The use of Cola takes a drink that would be over far too soon and lengthens it to perfection.

So whilst this cocktail is certainly a classic, especially when Bacardi is used, it also allows people like me to enjoy the rum they love for longer, by allowing us to sip it slowly over a greater amount of time.

And finally; the two Cuba Libre’s that matter:

The Original (1900) Cuban Recipe…

Recipe:

1 measure Bacardi Gold Rum

3 measures Coca-Cola (bottled*)

2 lime wedges

Method:

  • Build over ice and drop in the Lime wedges for garnish.
  • For an added lime kick, squeeze the juice out of the lime and into the drink before putting the wedges in. Remember to stir before serving…

This recipe is as close to the original as today will allow, with the problem being that Bacardi vacated Cuba shortly after the USA took over. They relocated production to Puerto Rico & Mexico and have rightly had the title of ‘Cuban Rum’ removed from their current products. However if you want a taste of a current day ‘Cuban’ Cuba Libre then check out my favourite recipe:

‘True Cuban’ Cuba Libre:

cuba libre 1

Recipe:

1 measure Havana Club Especial (Gold) Rum

3 measures Coca-Cola (glass bottle*)

2 wedges lime

Method:

  • Squeeze one of the lime wedges into your ice-filled glass.
  • Then pour in the rum.
  • Top up with the Coca-Cola and then stir.
  • Drop in the 2nd lime wedge, put your feet up and sip away.

*It’s no secret that bottle Coca-Cola tastes better than Canned and this is not a coincidence. Using glass bottled cola is the best way to enjoy it in my opinion, and it is definitely the better of the 3 types for the ultimate Cuba Libre. However any Coca-Cola will do just fine.

Atholl Brose – An Earl, a Well and a Fine Drink

So, as promised, here is the first of my ongoing posts from SlowStruck. This one is the first post I wrote for them and can also be found in it’s original form here: Atholl Brose

drunk knights

One of my favourite things about mixing cocktails is that there are always stories involved – where they originate, how they have evolved or even who famously drank them. I truly believe that by savouring the history and/or legends around our drinks, we enrich the actual experience of mixing, tasting and sharing with friends.

So, please humour me… let’s imagine we’ve set some chairs around a pub table. Let’s pour our drinks, toast to each other’s health and take some time together. Don’t despair! At the end of my tale, I have a recipe for you.

Whilst it is not my favourite spirit – I prefer good old rum – it is interesting to share that whisky is by far one of the most varied spirits out there. Unlike the intentional tastelessness of Vodka, whisky made in one part of Scotland can and usually will – taste completely different from whisky made in another part of Scotland.

This diversity in such a small amount of space is what gives this spirit category greatness.
We are going to discount the Americanised whiskies for this post – yes I know it hurts, but it’s all about the flavours Scottish whisky brings this time round.

I can this question burning in your mind: what exactly is Atholl Brose?
Well to answer this we have to visit a little tale first told to me by the Monkey Shoulder global ambassador Grant Neave, and legend of the cocktail, Gaz Regan (yes the one and only).

Whisky & Oats: The traditional Scottish Drink. Who'd have thought it?
Whisky & Oats: The traditional Scottish Drink. Who’d have thought it?

It’s around 1475, and the Earl of Atholl wants a Scottish castle all for himself. The problem is that the current owner of the castle is putting up a bit of a fight. Now the Earl knows the opposing army has the local water well (a big strategic point in the fight). Rather than sending his men to certain death in the battle that would most certainly occur, he sends in a small team of his best men to ‘spike’ the water In the well. Armed with the greatest poison known to man they set of to the little village. The poison of course refers to the alcohol; a rather medieval form the whisky would’ve taken back then.
So armed with the rather rough-whisky, oats, cream and honey, they set off to the little village whilst the opposing forces were asleep. Into the well they mixed the whisky, honey, cream and oats. The trick, no doubt, was to cover the taste of the whisky and when the opposing army woke up and tried the water they soon found there was something different afoot.

So what did the men do when they realised their water source was contaminated? They realised it tasted fine and shared it around with the men who had yet to realise. This obviously led to them becoming rather inebriated.

Of course the opposing earl did not know what was taking place and sent them into battle half cut. The battle was short, swift (and rather hilarious no doubt) as a direct result of the Earl of Atholl’s forward thinking.
This is the first record of this cocktail being used and is popularly considered one of the first whisky cocktails. Of course, these days, the recipes for this drink vary from source to source but generally the combination of the cream, honey, oats and whisky remains.
At last year’s London Cocktail, I attended a historical whisky tour hosted by Grant Neave and Gaz Regan. The event was essentially a time line of whisky cocktails starting with the Atholl Brose, and is where I obtained this guideline to the recipe:
“The Atholl Brose is a combination of water, Scottish oats, whisky & honey. By combining these ingredients and possibly adding some forest fruits (strawberries, cherries etc.) or even some liqueurs like Drambuie or Disaronno, this really can be turned into something a little special” – Grant Neave, Global Brand Ambassador for Monkey Shoulder Whisky.
Granted, the original recipe is more a meal than a drink; but refined in the following recipe, it resembles more of a cocktail than it ever has. This is a prime example of refinement over time. Cocktails have been around in popular culture since the 1920’s and whilst some have the same recipes they did back then, most have experienced changes and tweaks.

Atholl Brose recipe (taken from: http://londoneats.wordpress.com)
Serves 8
Step 1: The Oat Milk
• 1 cup oats (rolled, pinhead…your choice!)
• 2 cups lukewarm water
Mix the oats and the water. Leave to sit for at least 30 minutes (longer doesn’t hurt). Put into a blender and then pass through a muslin cloth. As you get to the end of the, now-strained, mixture you should be left with just a sludgy-oaty mess, squeeze this to get as much liquid from the mixture as possible.
Step 2: Making the Atholl Brose
• 7 parts oat milk
• 7 parts whisky
• 5 parts good single cream
• 1 part honey
Mix the honey with the ‘oat milk’. Put everything into a cocktail shaker or large jar. Shake until mixed. Taste the Brose, and then if required, adjust to taste (more honey, more cream, more whisky…). And finally the most important step of all: Serve chilled or over ice.
It has been great to spend this happy hour with you…I’ll see you soon at our favourite table.

Picture of Whisky & Oats from WikiHow.