We Asked 10 Bartenders: What’s the Best Tiki Cocktail?


2 minute Read

We Asked 10 Bartenders: What’s the Best Tiki Cocktail?

As temperatures heat up, the time is right for lighter, fruitier cocktails. And if you really want to do it right, you’ll go all in with tiki drinks. These tropical cocktails reappeared in the 1990s and are still going strong today, with bartenders from Seattle to St. Augustine embracing this style.

We asked 10 of our favorite bartenders to tell us their favorite tiki cocktails. It’s always summer somewhere.

“My favorite tiki drink is a Jungle Bird. It has the balance of sweet and bitter, and one can taste all the layers if it is made correctly.” — Clayton Mannix, Beverage Director at The McKittrick Hotel – Gallow Green/Sleep No More, New York, N.Y.

“The Painkiller has aged rum, pineapple juice, coconut cream, and orange juice. Oddly enough I think it’s the one drink besides a Mimosa where orange juice makes sense. It’s a bright and refreshing cocktail that has cream in it. It’s a dichotomy of a cocktail that somehow owns its balanced taste.” — Juyoung Kang, Lead Bartender, The Dorsey at The Venetian, Las Vegas, Nev.

“My favorite tiki cocktail is the classic Zombie. Created by Don the Beachcomber in 1934, it looks rather plain but has an enormously complex range of flavors. When he created it, he was committed to shrouding his recipe in secrecy, which led to many counterfeit Zombies on cocktail menus everywhere. However, thanks to the tireless efforts of tiki revivalist Jeff ‘Beachbum’ Berry, who ultimately unearthed the original recipe, the last mysterious ingredient, ‘Spices #4,’ was cinnamon syrup.” — Jeremy Williams, Lead Mixologist, Lumber Baron Bar, Grand Rapids, Mich.

“The Singapore Sling. I fell in love with this drink last time I was at Smugglers Cove in San Francisco. It’s a classic with gin as the base and roots from South Asia.” — Marko Milunovic, Head Bartender, 312 Chicago, Chicago, Ill.

“The Mai Tai – a drink that requires the labor of love! It took our bartender several weeks to get it just right. It’s a trying cocktail and we always try to incorporate new and local ingredients to make it better.” — Jeanette Wallgren, Beverage Manager, AC Hotel Miami Aventura, Miami, Fla.

“I would really love to love the Piña Colada. Sometimes I do. But, sadly, mostly I stay clear. The combination of fresh pineapple with natural coconut and then tied together with rum can be sublime — but this drink also has one of the highest rates of absolute bastardization. A few of the ways I’ve seen a bartender ruin this classic tiki drink is to blend it with ice, add too much syrup, substitute fresh pineapple with canned pineapple, add artificial coconut, use coconut-flavored rum liqueur instead of rum, or over-dilute it by shaking with crushed ice.” — Joseph Boroski, Bartender, The 18th Room, New York, N.Y.

“My favorite tiki cocktail is the Saturn Cocktail created by J. ‘Popo’ Galsini in 1967. I love it because it’s not your average, rum-based cocktail — it’s a gin-based cocktail, with all the layers and complexity of rum cocktails. It has clove-laced falernum, a nutty orgeat, and fresh fruit juices that help round it out. When made with fresh-pressed juices and house-made orgeat, it’s an incredibly rich but refreshing drink.” — Lisa Nguyen, Beverage Director, Bar 1908 at Pythian Market, New Orleans, La.

“A split-base Daiquiri, using aged demerara rum and rhum agricole. The agricole rhum keeps the drink from having a sweet edge and brings a bit of grassiness to the cocktail.” — Nate Redner, Bartender, Booth One, Chicago, Ill.

“Miami Vice is my favorite tiki drink. It just tastes like vacation to me.” — John Bush, Partner, Three Kings Restaurant Group, New York, N.Y.

“A Jet Pilot. The flavor profile is right up my alley. And it was the first time I was ever introduced to the utterly mind-blowing combination of grapefruit and cinnamon. I would have one billion of those things if it didn’t mean I’d be dead in an hour.” — Patrick Halloran, Bar Manager, Henrietta Red, Nashville, Tenn.

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