Welcome to Easy Tiki
Fresh on the heels of repeal, a man by the name of Donn Beach (aka Don the Beachcomber) introduced a style of drinking so flamboyant and conspicuous that it was unimaginable to a Hollywood public accustomed to the secrecy of the speakeasy. All the devices that had acted in service of discreetness during the thirteen-year “noble experiment” were flipped on their heads. Coffee cups concealing their true contents were traded for hollowed-out pineapples containing a staggering blend of rums, tropical flavors, and spices and crowned with orchids, mint, and mango leaves; the hidden entrance was replaced with a carved bamboo-andrattan gate announcing the threshold of another world. Inside, driftwood décor, tropical plants, and the manufactured sound of rainfall signaled an exotic escape from the Depression-era reality on the other side of the entryway. It was the beginning of a movement that would come to be known as tiki.
A cursory glance at the offerings of homewares retailers and fashion labels both high and low, as well as, of course, new bars opening across the country, makes glaringly apparent one fact: we’re in the midst of the second golden age of tiki. Not since its midcentury heyday has tiki’s faux-island atmosphere made such a broad sweep across the country. And with tropical-themed bars opening at a rate that’s hard to keep up with, tiki’s momentum shows no signs of slowing.
Indeed, it’s difficult to deny the appeal of the genre’s aesthetic. At times when headlines seem to offer nothing but an onslaught of disheartening information, the purposefully escapist nature of the tiki bar—no TVs, no windows—is an apt antidote. But for a category whose appeal hinges on the impression of “the easy life,” tiki drinks are among the hardest to make, often calling for upward of ten ingredients and a host of specialized techniques and tools, not to mention elaborate, over-the-top garnishes. The Zombie, for example, calls for between nine and eleven ingredients (depending on whether you make the 1934 version or the 1956 version), while the QB Cooler calls for ten, and the Kikuya Lapu for twelve.
Of course, it takes more than a laundry list of ingredients or tropical flavors to label a drink “tiki.” Decidedly untropical cocktails can climb toward ten ingredients without qualifying, while the Mai Tai, perhaps tiki’s most iconic output, clocks in at a mere five. The transportive power of its simple construction hints at a more abstract set of criteria required to earn the “tiki” label, beyond the “more is more” approach that characterizes much of the category. Chief among them is the ability for a cocktail to conjure another world through its composition, presentation, and name. Missionary’s Downfall and Cobra’s Fang, for example, are far more evocative than pineapple sour and tropical rum punch.
As you’ll see throughout this book, it’s possible to expand the tiki template with drinks designed to match the ease of the tiki lifestyle—without losing its quintessential character. In fact, Donn Beach, the founding father of tiki itself, set a precedent for such a practice with simplified versions of his Zombie and Planter’s Punch designed for home bartenders. But today, the advent of new ingredients and techniques, from fat-washing to acid-adjusting citrus, has only further complicated the genre. Within these pages, however, is a new set of simplified drinks designed for the revival age, which aim to bring tiki back within the home bartender’s reach.How to Use This Book
So much of tiki’s identity hinges on the appearance of extravagance. The very foundation of the genre is, after all, the willful complication of a simple punch recipe. But difficulty is by no means a prerequisite, and the aim of this book is to offer an approach to making tiki cocktails that feels accessible but not dumbed down.
“There’s no definition in the dictionary that says tiki has to be complicated,” says Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, tiki author, historian, and bar owner. “There are so many arbitrary things that people say define tiki: it has to have crushed ice in it, and it has to have twelve ingredients. . . . Does it really?”
When Berry opened Latitude 29 in 2014 in New Orleans’s French Quarter, it opened his eyes to the importance of simplification. Prior to owning his own bar, his objective had largely been to rescue extinct recipes and re-create them in their truest historic form even if it meant dipping into an $80 bottle of rum for a drink that took half an hour to build. Now there are other considerations to keep in mind. “There are three layers,” he explains. “The first layer is always ‘How do I make the best possible drink?’ The next layer is ‘in the least amount of time.’ And the third layer is ‘for the least amount of money’—because you’ve got to stay in business.”
To this end, Berry takes the famous Don the Beachcomber ethos “What one rum can’t do, three rums can” and flips it on its head, seeking out exceptional bottles of rum that can do the work of three. To maximize returns on the least amount of effort, the same considerations went into sourcing the recipes for Easy Tiki.
Across the sixty cocktail recipes within these pages—twenty classic and forty modern—ingredients clock in at six or fewer. What’s more, house-made syrups are kept to a minimum and are standardized across the board (so there’s no need to make one version of cinnamon syrup for one recipe and another version for the next), and most require little to no cooking. For the recipes that reinterpret classics that originally comprised more than six ingredients, I worked with top bartenders to capture the drinks’ essence in a home-bartender-friendly manner.
Of course, information on the best rums to use in each drink, how to build a home tiki bar, and tips for styling each cocktail with appropriately tropical flair can be found in the following pages, too, alongside the ever-important skill of batching for a crowd. And for those newly acquainted with tiki or simply looking for a refresher on how the style came to be, there’s a chapter dedicated to precisely that, followed by a snapshot of where the category stands today and the best places to tiki from coast to coast, including historic bastions of the style and modern trailblazers.
Copyright © 2020 by Chloe Frechette. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.