Tiki drinks are a super fun way to get hammered, and are, coincidentally, the only type of drink that has caused me to set my pants on fire in public. (Thanks a lot, Smuggler’s Cove.) They are also, generally speaking, harder to make at home than most other cocktails; but hey, it’s Vintage Week, and if you’re to believe the vintage people of the world, everybody was literally better at everything back then.
Welcome to Retro Week, where we’ll be firing up the flux capacitor and bringing you 1950s know-how on everything from casserole-making to fallout-shelter-building to the joys of letting kids relax and play with trash.
Sticking with that theme, we’re going to pretend that making 10-ingredient drinks perfectly in your house is an attainable goal, like paying for college with a summer job. The word “tiki” can conjure up all sorts of fun things—extravagant garnishes, secret recipes, swinger parties, and a lot of polyester, just to name a few, but we’re not gonna talk about most of that. What we estamos gonna talk about is one overarching principle of tiki drink-making: “What one rum can’t do, three rums can.”
Simple cocktails, executed well, are things of beauty. It’s hard to find a better baseline for what makes anything “good” than the age-old concept of doing the most with the least. But tiki drinks are a lot more base-jump than baseline. They’re extravagant and complicated and generally ridiculous, and that’s why they’re fun.
One simple way to make a little sense out of a long ingredient list is to wrap your head around the above quote from Tiki icon Don Beach, which we’ll refer to from here on out as the “Three Rum Principle.” What the Three Rum Principle gets at is something that many modern cocktail bars play with all the time—the idea is that once you break a simple drink up into its component parts, any one of those components can then be further split into multiple ingredients that do the same thing in concert, but in a more interesting, and hopefully worthwhile way. This sort of multiplication by division can of course get over-complicated really quickly, and often results in muddled flavors hardly equal to the sum of their parts. But when executed well, this principle is one of the things that makes tiki drinks, and drinks of all stripes, complex, unique, and beguilingly fun.
Put It all Together
Once you’ve got a feel for the above tactics, you can combine them all to create a twisted Slurpee from craft cocktail hell. You’ll frustrate and fascinate curious onlookers. You’ll alienate Old Fashioned drinkers. “Why so many ingredients?” they’ll ask, and you’ll reply, like an eccentric, pink haired, bespectacled baby boomer at a craft fair, “Because I paid for college with my summer job, and I’ll cry if I want to!” Or, you know, just quietly whip this spicy little number together and sip it smugly:
- 1 ounce aged rum
- 1/2 ounce pot still rum
- 1/2 ounce barrel-aged spirit or your choice
- 3/4 ounce lime juice
- 1/4 ounce cinnamon syrup
- 1/4 ounce ginger syrup
- 1/4 ounce orgeat
Shake over ice and strain into coupe glass. Garnish with nada.
Will these recipe ideas make you a tiki person? No. Only a pair of really loud shorts will do that. But they are fun to futz with and, at the very least, the principles behind them will help complicated cocktails, tiki or otherwise, make a little more sense, whether you’re out at the bar or making them at home.