The Story Behind The Missionary’s Downfall
More than just an evocative name, the Missionary’s Downfall is a souped-up Daiquiri that features a head-turning blend of pineapple, rum, mint, peach brandy, honey syrup, and lime. It pours a vibrant green with a smoothie-like texture, bursts with tropical notes, and is balanced by a frosty, alpine undertone. Although the Missionary’s Downfall is a certified Don the Beachcomber original, it’s not nearly as lethal as Donn Beach’s other classics like the Zombie or the Test Pilot, making it a solid, sessionable, daytime-ready cocktail.
Beach invented the Missionary’s Downfall in the late 1930s at his Don the Beachcomber restaurant and bar in Hollywood, Calif. There’s some conflicting reports as to exactly when he created it, but bartender and author Jeff Beachbum Berry points to 1937 in his book “Beachbum Berry Remixed.” The origins of the cocktail’s name are a bit shaky as well. One source claims it is a reference to European missionaries in Africa and Asia who were either detained or expelled in the midst of rising tensions during World War II, though this theory doesn’t line up with the drink’s purported 1937 creation. When Beach opened his first bars in Hawaii in the ‘50s, fresh mint wasn’t available on the island, so he commissioned a buddy in L.A. to smuggle mint seeds into Hawaii by hiding them in his headband — or so the story goes, according to bartender Daniele Dalla Pola of Miami’s Esotico and The Kaona Room. Regardless of folklore, the Missionary’s Downfall has appeared on countless tiki bar menus ever since, from L.A.’s Tiki Ti, established in 1961, to Chicago’s Three Dots and a Dash, established in 2013.
The cocktail’s recipe loosely follows the tried-and-true, sing-song instructions for making rum punch: one of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, four of weak. To keep the “strong” elements in check, we recommend steering clear of funky, ester-heavy white rums like rhum agricole. Go for something more neutral instead, and don’t stress about using a really expensive, high-quality product, as the booze takes something of a back seat in this drink. For the peach brandy, avoid subbing peach schnapps, as it’ll run the risk of making the cocktail overly sweet. Due to the many textures at play in this drink, some bartenders use a stick blender to gauge the weight of the mixture as it blends, but a conventional blender will do the trick. When garnishing, if the mint sprig stays in the middle of the cocktail without falling to one side, you’re on the right track.