According to Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Tiki died with disco in the 1970s, but luckily for us, and in big part thanks to Berry, it is back in a big way.
Tiki has always been shrouded in secrecy. It began in the mid 20th century at Don The Beachcomber, Los Angeles’ original home of elaborately garnished rum-based drinks that were just as much conversation pieces as they were cocktails. These exotic and tropical creations were an important part of Polynesian event dining that offered relief and entertainment for middle and upper class residents of the time. The drinks were so good that it didn’t take long for Don’s bartenders and competitors to rip off his recipes and recreate the experience at their own venues. In an effort to disguise the recipes he developed from years of traveling the Caribbean and South Pacific, Don developed a system to code the ingredients. Recipes no longer appeared as 1 oz pineapple juice, ½ oz allspice dram, but rather, 1 oz #2, ½ oz tincture 17. The system worked, and even those who got close couldn’t quite capture the magic of his original drinks.
If there’s one brand that is essential for authentic Tiki drinks, it’s Angostura, the house that has been in the business of fine spirits since 1824. Here too we find a cloak of mystery. The House Of Angostura has remained so adamant about protecting the recipe of their bitters that they have a special arrangement with the government of Trinidad & Tobago that prevents them from examining the imported ingredients. Their premium rums are also guarded recipes that feature proprietary yeasts and other undisclosed processes that give them their authentic Caribbean flavor.
While Angostura has an elaborate system of 5 people holding different keys to the recipe and private rooms and undisclosed meetings to ensure the recipe remains consistent and alive, if hidden, Don the Beachcomber had no such system in place. The combination of his passing and tiki culture being traded in for hippy culture and xenophobia meant that there were just a few scattered old bartenders who had copies of the coded recipes. With authentic tiki on the brink of extinction, Beachbum Berry spent years tracking down these old timers, and in some cases, their children, who now possessed the precious recipe books. Slowly and by laborious trial and error, he pieced together recipes and uncovered some of the original libations.
Graciously, Beachbum Berry shared his findings and plentiful recipes in his many books and app. Add this new information to the worldwide revival of craft cocktails using fresh juices and homemade syrups and we arrive at the present happy situation of tiki revival. Whereas before these umbrella-ed drinks were to be avoided at all costs, they have been reborn as drinks that pay homage to the originals. Don The Beachcomber would be proud that the cocktail worlds is saying goodbye to sugar bombs of pre-made chemical laden syrups, and that a skull mug and pineapple wedge is once again the symbol of boozy yet easy to drink tropical flavor explosion. Get yours at one of the many tiki nights on offer at bars across the country or create your own tiki revival luau with one of these original tiki recipes, courtesy of Jeff Beachbum Berry & The House Of Angostura.
Queen’s Park Hotel Super Cocktail
(Queen’s Park Hotel, Port Of Spain, Trinidad, circa 1932)
- 1½ oz Angostura 7-year old rum
- ½ oz fresh lime juice
- ½ oz Italian red vermouth
- ½ oz grenadine
- 4 dashes Angostura bitters
- Lime for garnish
Shake with ice and strain into cocktail coupe, garnish with lime wedge or peel
(Don The Beachcomber’s, circa 1937)
- ½ oz fresh lime juice
- ½ oz orange juice
- ¼ oz Don’s Spices #2*
- ¼ oz Don’s Spices #4**
- Tsp Pimento dram
- 2 oz Angostura 5 year old rum
- 1 dash Angostura Bitters
- 4 oz crushed ice
- Orange peel for garnish
- *Don’s Spices #2: equal parts pimento liqueur $ vanilla syrup
- **Don’s Spices #4: cinnamon syrup
Put everything in a blender. Blend at high speed for no more than 5 seconds. Pour into a tall glass. Add crushed ice to fill and garnish with long spiral cut orange peel.