On this episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” hosts Joanna Sciarrino and Zach Geballe discuss the recent popularity of the Piña Colada. The two discuss the classic cocktail in both its frozen and on-the-rocks forms, and debate why they believe the drink is taking off today.

For this Friday’s tasting, your hosts try some Piña Coladas for themselves. Tune in for more.

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Joanna Sciarrino: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters, I’m Joanna Sciarrino.

Zach Geballe: And in Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.

J: And this is the “VinePair Podcast,” Friday edition. It’s the Friday before Labor Day, folks, the unofficial end of the summer.

Z: Aww.

J: I’m so sorry to say this: Adam’s favorite season is coming to an end.

Z: And he’s not even here to mourn it.

J: I know. Yeah, come on. I feel like if you’re going to stand by it, you should be here till the bitter end and really suffer through the humidity, you know? Anyway.

Z: Is Labor Day a thing you’re excited about? Do you have holiday weekend plans, or is it just like another weekend?

J: Ordinarily, it’s just another weekend for me and I’m excited for it because obviously it’s a day or two off, which is nice. But I’m a big fall person, myself. I’m a Scorpio. I love the fall, so the end of summer is not really tearful for me because it means the fall’s coming. But in years past, or maybe for the past five years or so, the Friday of Labor Day weekend, Evan, my brother, and sister-in-law are all in a fantasy football league.

Z: Oh, yes. That’s right.

J: And this is when they do their draft. So instead of participating because I do not care, I join, and we usually go to some restaurant where we can sit for a long period of time and they can be on their computers drafting, and I can eat seafood towers and drink drinks.

Z: That actually sounds lovely.

J: Yeah. So I don’t know where we’re going this year, but I’m looking forward to it.

Z: Yeah.

J: Not for football reasons. What about you, Zach? Do you like Labor Day?

Z: I’ve got to say, I appreciate the sentiment of Labor Day itself.

J: Sure.

Z: I think when you’re a kid, when you’re in school, it’s such a visceral thing where it’s on the one hand the end of summer is very hard. On the other hand, I think for most of my scholastic career, I was pretty looking forward to going back to school. There’s that early September hype kind of thing when, whether you’re young, you’re like, “Oh, look, I have new folders,” or something or new clothes and those are all just kind of fine.

J: Yes. Back-to-school shopping, that was the best.

Z: Yeah, you haven’t seen your friends in a while, in some cases, etc. As an adult, I think it’s like, “Oh, yeah. Okay. It’s another weekend.” And the grim truth of having children, especially young children who are not going back to school yet — although my son will be going back the day after so that’s a big thing to look forward to — it’s just another day. It’s just another day where it’s actually worse because since he doesn’t have school on Monday, it’s just another day where I have to wake up and deal with both children for longer.

J: Oh.

Z: Not that I don’t love them. I do. But we’re going through the period of time when Saul is out of school, he has a short summer break with his pre-K program, and so it’s rough having both kids home. Anyhow, no problem there, but it is definitely transitional. And as someone who, I don’t know exactly what my favorite season is, but I do like early fall. It’s a nice one. One of the best sub-seasons, if you will.

J: I feel like those are the best experiences I’ve had in Seattle as well.

Z: Early fall? Yeah, we do have very nice weather.

J: Yeah. So to celebrate or prepare for Labor Day, we thought we’d talk about something, I don’t know, fun, celebratory, Piña Coladas. And we’re talking about them today because here in New York, and I think in other parts of the country as well, the Piña Colada has made its way onto fancy cocktail menus. And I think that’s so interesting because, how? How and why?

Z: Do you remember the first Piña Colada you ever had, Joanna?

J: Oh, yeah. Definitely. Well, virgin? I feel like the first time—

Z: No, the actual cocktail.

J: Actual? Well, I think it was probably in St. Martin with my family on a vacation at the beach bar. That’s the vibe of the Piña Colada, the frozen Piña Colada. Do you remember yours?

Z: Well, so this is a really interesting thing to talk about in this episode, which is, I think, this divergence between the frozen version of the cocktail and the, quote unquote, classic version of the cocktail. I drank a lot of frozen Piña Coladas in New York City in college. There was a place called BBQ, which used to be on, I think it was on… Oh gosh, okay. Here. So it would’ve been on maybe Green Street and 6th or something like that. It was very close to the NYU campus. And they had very, very large, very, very sweet Piña Coladas, and other frozen drinks too, but the Piña Colada was my go-to, and I drank a lot of those. And they probably didn’t do much for my health, but they were delicious. And I think there’s that world in which the Piña Colada exists as this frozen, tropical, sweet drink that’s fun to drink but very unserious in a lot of ways. And then one of my other actual, very instructive Piña Colada experiences was many years later at a bar here in Seattle that was focusing on… They had decided over the course of the summer that they were going to do… It wasn’t really like a pop-up bar, but I think maybe it was every month or maybe it was every two weeks, I don’t remember the exact intervals, like, “We’re going to really focus on one of these summery, tropical drinks, but we’re going to make it the best we can.” Not necessarily crazy premium rum or whatever, but just like, “We’re going to juice pineapples,” which is a thankless task, I believe.

J: Oh, yeah.

Z: “We’re going to get the best coconut milk or cream we can, or maybe we’re getting fresh coconuts.” I don’t remember. Maybe they were doing that and blending that as well. Probably they were, in thinking about it and, “We’re going to make them the way they’re meant to be made.” And that was really eye-opening because I was like, “Oh sh*t, when you actually put together fresh pineapple juice and fresh coconut milk and rum, it might as well be a completely different drink from the frozen Piña Colada.” Which it is, but it’s so striking to me. It was at that time. And so it’s not a thing that I have very often anymore, but I want to get into your ideas because I have a few about why in the world it’s trendy right now.

J: So I think it’s trendy right now in the same way, or because of the reason we’re seeing other things from the past come back in this ironic way. Our nostalgia for those things, but this whole ’90s fashion that we’re seeing again and the drinks of that era as well coming back onto menus and being rediscovered by a new generation and they’re claiming it as their own. And I think that’s why it’s kind of silly to see a Piña Colada on a menu because I think so many people have this idea of that first Piña Colada that you and I had, the frozen Piña Colada, not one on the rocks, and I think that’s, again, like a Dirty Shirley thing, too. It’s funny and interesting to order that drink while you’re out, and I think that’s why we’re seeing it. What I think is interesting, though, is that bartenders are putting it on their menus and taking it seriously.

Z: But I think it’s for the reason that I was getting at, which is that when taken seriously, it’s actually a really compelling drink. I don’t know if it’s out of date, exactly. It doesn’t conform to certain elements of what we think of as modern drinks sensibility. I mean for one, it’s definitely a rich cocktail. You have coconut milk or cream or whatever in there, you have pineapple juice, which isn’t rich, but certainly can be sweet. But on the other hand, I think one thing that we’ve seen a lot in drinks, in cocktail culture over the last, I don’t know, decade, is a lot of interesting emphasis on, and thinking about, the texture of drinks and how important that is. And that’s why technique matters, it’s why ingredients matter, it’s why you’ve seen things like fat-washing and all that become popularized. And it’s because a cocktail with an inviting texture is going to connect with guests in a way that a less appealing cocktail, just purely from that textural standpoint, won’t. And a well-made Piña Colada has, I think, a really beautiful rich but velvety texture. It’s indulgent, but it doesn’t feel cloying in the way that sometimes cocktails made with heavy cream can, I guess. There’s something about the coconut that is fresher and lighter in feel.

J: Well, yeah. Especially if you’re using unsweetened coconut cream. I think if you’re using Coco Lopez, that’s a different story. But yeah, I think it’s this idea of redefining the Piña Colada for modern drinkers. So, you have a Piña Colada there.

Z: Well, I have one more thought I want to get into before we taste. I’m sorry. Really quick.

J: Well, I’m going to drink this.

Z: Okay. Yeah. You don’t wait on me. I think the last thing I would say is that there’s also a piece of this that makes sense to me as a part of something that we have been talking about. We’ve touched on a couple times in recent episodes, which is, I do also think there’s a kind of drinker — maybe younger, but not necessarily exclusively — who sees it’s not just nostalgia, there’s a kind of irreverent and almost, I hate this term, I’m not sure if I can think of a better one, there’s a love of indulgence in something that feels over-the-top unhealthy in the way that a Piña Colada can have that air to it, depending on how it’s made.

J: Yeah. I agree with you.

Z: And I think that, too, it’s not just nostalgia because we’re seeing nostalgia for a lot of things and some of them cover a lot of different categories, but there’s this kind of drink — whether it’s, to some extent, the Espresso Martini fits into this. You see people bringing things like Mudslides and Grasshoppers and drinks that are very rich, very sweet, decidedly caloric, but there’s a kind of like, “F*ck it. I’m out. I want to have this thing,” and its preposterousness is part of the appeal.

J: Yeah. I mean, I think that’s only happening, though, because they’re on menus now.

Z: For sure.

J: It’s probably very unlikely that someone will go to a bar and call for a Piña Colada or a Grasshopper or something like that. Maybe an Espresso Martini would’ve happened before they were everywhere, but I think now that they’re on menus, there’s this freedom to order them because they are very enjoyable, like you said, indulgent drinks. But if a bartender’s putting them on the menu then they want me to order them, and I don’t feel bad about it.

Z: Well, and you know that they’re set up to make it, that’s another thing.

J: Exactly.

Z: I guess it’s like if you walk into your average bar, even an average cocktail bar, and you ask for a Piña Colada, I mean, who knows what? Again, you can make an acceptable version of this drink with canned pineapple juice and whatever coconut product they have lying around, but it does need the right ingredients, and it needs to be on a menu so that those ingredients are made freshly for it to really sing. And so yeah, I agree. Definitely it being on menus drives people to order it and I think it only really works in that world where it is being ordered often enough to be made correctly, if that makes sense.

J: Agree.

Z: All right. Let’s drink. So tell me what’s in yours.

J: So I have 2 ounces of rum. The rum in question is Angostura 1919, which is what I found on the bar cart. I have 2 ounces of pineapple juice, just plain, straight pineapple juice. I did not juice it myself, but it’s not Dole, either.

Z: Okay.

J: Dole’s fine. And I have 2 ounces of unsweetened coconut cream shaken over ice and then poured into a rocks glass over some crushed ice.

Z: Nice. That is essentially what I have. So I used the Ten to One White Rum.

J: Nice.

Z: And I used some higher-quality, but definitely store-bought, pineapple juice. And also some just very straightforward coconut cream. I did two shakes. I did a dry shake so shook the ingredients together, just because I think when—

J: The cream’s a little chunky. Yeah.

Z: Yeah. When working with coconut cream, what I don’t want it to do is get too cold right away and start sticking to the ice cubes in a way that f*cks with the texture. So I just gave it a quick shake with just the liquid ingredients and then added my ice, shook, and strained into a rocks glass over crushed ice. And, like you did, 2:2:2, which is the official recipe on vinepair.com, if you were curious, and I think makes a great drink. The cool thing about a Piña Colada, too, is of course you can add things to it, riff on it, it’s very forgiving. I often, when I’ve made them in the past, will actually add a little bit of bitters to it. I think that’s a nice little play with it, or of course there’s lots of different ways you can go with it, but the classic is good, too, and I’m going to now actually have some, instead of just talking about it.

J: Yeah. I don’t think I’ve had a Piña Colada like this.

Z: Oh, really?

J: I’ve only had a frozen Piña Colada in the past.

Z: So what do you think?

J: I like it a lot. I think it could be a nice up drink as well, maybe.

Z: You might need a big glass, or I guess you’d have to go 1:1:1, but then it’s very nice, very limited…

J: Short drink.

Z: Well, it’s like you’re only getting an ounce of spirit. That’s the thing about a drink like this too, it’s like—

J: That’s true.

Z: It’s large volume-wise, but two-thirds of the drink is juice or coconut cream.

J: That’s low-ABV then.

Z: It is, which is maybe another reason why it’s been appealing. I don’t know.

J: Yeah. I wish I had Tim here, but I think recently, he had a mini Piña Colada somewhere and I thought that was really interesting, too, because I was talking to Tim and Katie about this, maybe that’s all you want of a Piña Colada. Just a little sip.

Z: Like a half-size. Yeah, maybe so. The other thing that’s fun about this is it’s a drink where I think you could look at, because of the relative malleability of rum in cocktails and the fact that we can think of so many things that go beautifully with coconut in cuisine. I think you could probably make a spicy Piña Colada without much trouble. I think you could probably make a lemongrass Piña Colada. I mean, you would need to get the lemongrass in there some way other than putting lemon grass in. That’s a bad idea for your drink. Maybe you could use a lemongrass straw. I don’t know. That might be kind of fun. But there’s a lot of, obviously other fruits can get added in. I’ve seen mango. I think you could do strawberry or something like that would probably work well. But again, the classic formulation is just, I think, surprisingly delicious. And the thing that is true about it too when you make it with quality ingredients is it’s actually not that sweet. Pineapple juice is sweet, but it’s also extremely acidic. And coconut cream by itself honestly has more of almost a bitterness to it that I think balances the drink in an interesting way.

J: Yeah. I don’t find this overly sweet at all, and it was really easy to make, actually, certainly when you’re not taking out a blender and all of that.

Z: Not that that’s also a bad idea. I might be doing that later. Who knows?

J: True. I was wondering if you were going to do a blended one.

Z: It is a holiday weekend; I might have to bust out the blender for that.

J: Yeah. I feel like I need to order more of these Piña Coladas, do a little more research on this, but I think it’s a really fun drink and we should keep drinking them.

Z: I’m right here with you.

J: Well, Zach, have a wonderful holiday weekend. And a wonderful Labor Day weekend to all of our listeners as well, and we will be back next week so I’ll talk to you then.

Z: Sounds great.

Thanks so much for listening to the “VinePair Podcast,” the flagship podcast of the VinePair Podcast Network. If you love listening to this show, or even if you don’t, but I really hope that you do, as much as we really do love making it, then please drop us a review or a rating wherever it is that you get your podcast, whether that be iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, anywhere. If you are listening to this on a device right now, through an app, however you got this audio, please drop a review. It really helps everyone else discover the show.

And now for some totally awesome credits. So the VinePair Podcast is recorded in our New York City headquarters, and in Seattle, Wash., in Zach Geballe’s basement. It is recorded by Zach, mastered and produced by Zach. He loves all the credit. Keep giving it to him. Drop his name in the reviews. He’s going to love hearing how much you love him. It is also recorded in New York City by our tastings director, Keith Beavers, who is the managing director of the entire VinePair Podcast Network.

Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.