Forget the rum float, I like to shake the heck out of my mai tais and drink immediately.
Tiki drinks such as the Singapore sling,


Tiki Drinks Are Finding a Home in Seattle

Forget the rum float, I like to shake the heck out of my mai tais and drink immediately.
Tiki drinks such as the Singapore sling, zombie and mai tai may have had their heyday in the 1940s and 50s, but thanks to the renewed interested in classic, finely crafted cocktails, tiki drinks are finding their way onto drink menus around Seattle. Veronika Groth, bartender of the newly opened Chino's on Capitol Hill says, "I think it's the next wave, it's taken off in many other cities are doing, plus we can pretend we are in a warmer climate."

On my recent flight to Hawaii, Alaska Air served passengers complimentary mai tais shortly before arrival. Those pre-packaged, pre-mixed, overly sweet mai tais exemplified why tiki drinks generally have a bad name. Over the years, original tiki drink recipes have been bastardized and short cuts have been taken. Today however, it's possible to find recipes for homemade ingredients like falernum and orgeat, plus bars like Chino's committed to making fresh, well-balanced tiki drinks.

The tiki craze started in the U.S. in t1934, when the tiki-themed restaurant and bar Don the Beachcomber opened in Hollywood. The concept was wildly popular in a post-depression, post-prohibition country that couldn't afford global travel. Others, including Victor Bergeron at Trader Vic's in Oakland, California soon copied the Polynesian-themed restaurant idea. Once Hawaii gained statehood in 1959, and Elvis starred in a string of Hawaiian-based movies, Polynesian culture was deeply ingrained in the hearts and minds of Americans.

Victor Bergeron willingly copped to the fact that he ripped off the Don the Beachcomber restaurant concept. Some would say he even improved on it. Of the mai tai however, Bergeron firmly defended his invention of the famous drink, eventually winning that claim in court. In his book on tiki drinks, Beachbum Berry Remixed, Jeff "Beachbum" Berry recounts Bergeron's story:

"I was behind my bar one day in 1944 talking with my bartender, and I told him that I was going to make the finest rum drink in the world. Just then, Ham and Carrie Guild, some old friends from Tahiti, came in. Carrie tasted it, raised her glass, and said "Mai tai - roa ae," which means 'Out of this world - the best!" That's the name of the drink, I said, and we named it Mai Tai."

The mai tai is considered to be the quintessential tiki cocktail. But as is the case of many drinks served at Don the Beachcomber, Trader Vic's and other tiki restaurants of the era, many recipes were either not written down, or lost. In Berry's book, many recipes have been unearthed--the zombie, fog cutter and painkiller among them.

The recipes for mai tais in Beachbum Berry Remixed include both the Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic's versions. Fresh squeezed lime and rum are about the only things the two versions of the drink have in common. Vic's version includes orgeat--a sweetened almond syrup and orange curacao, while the Don the Beachcomber version includes Cointreau, pernod, angostura bitters, and falernum--a syrup made from lime zest, ginger, cloves, and rum.

Groth concedes that many bars are unable to dedicate themselves to a quality tiki program, because they don't have all the ingredients on hand. At Chino's, she is making her own falernum, pomegranate syrup, orgeat, and more, plus squeezing fresh citrus for the eight tiki drinks currently on the menu. There will always be a Trader Vic's mai tai and the Don the Beachcomber offered, so you can sample them for yourself and judge which you prefer.

I spent last week relaxing on a warm beach in Hawaii, doing plenty of tiki drink research. I too found that it's pretty tough to commit to creating quality tiki drinks without keeping hundreds of dollars worth of ingredients on hand. Rum and fresh juice are easy enough to find, as are orange curacao and Cointreau. I brought angostura and a small bottle of pernod from home, along with orgeat I made using this recipe from Imbibe magazine and falernum I made using this recipe from Paul Clarke.

My little travel bar served me pretty well during my "research." I still have lots of falernum left from my beach vacation, since I made about 16 ounces before the trip and only used ¼ ounce per drink. I have discovered though that falernum tastes almost as good in a piping hot mug of spiced cider as it does in a tiki drink.

I was able to make my way through a few drinks in Berry's book, but have to admit I settled on two. The first was a Berry original, the Coconaut: Combine 8 ounces of coconut cream, 2 ounces fresh squeezed lime juice and 7 ounces dark rum in a blender. Add ice to the top and blend until frothy and smooth. Serves two for breakfast.

For something a little more complex however, I concluded that the Trader Vic mai tai is the one for me. It's fruity enough to be refreshing, but balanced enough to satisfy someone that craves a more complex drink. The recipe below is a mix of a couple of different variations of the Trader Vic Mai Tai. I like to shake the dark rum into the drink, although many recipes float dark rum on the top.

Mai Tai (Trader Vic)

1oz gold rum

1oz dark rum

½ oz orange curacao

¼ oz orgeat

¼ oz simple syrup

½ oz fresh lime juice

Combine all ingredients in a shaker and fill with crushed ice. Shake well and pour unstrained into an old-fashioned glass. Garnish with a spent lime shell into the drink. For a great demonstration on how to make the drink, check out this instructional video with Robert Hess on the Small Screen Network.

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