"Tiki" is an escapist sub-culture that came about in the western United States during the 20th Century, as early as the 1930s. It was largely a caricature of Polynesian culture of the South Pacific, which was an exotic and relaxing idea meant to be an escape from the average working stiff's day-to-day doldrums. This mostly manifested itself in restaurants, ones which were meant to resemble large thatched huts, with beautiful flowers adorning every room, torches on the walls, and masks and carvings everywhere you look. These restaurants served exotic takes on American and Asian cuisine, but what they eventually would be known for is their alcoholic beverages. Tiki drinks are often complicated concoctions of rum, fruit juices, and exotic syrups.
Keep in mind that this "tiki" culture is an American phenomenon. For example, while the flavors of a tiki drink seek to transport your mind to the South Pacific, the ingredients in the drinks are from this side of the planet: the Caribbean. Do you think native Samoans drink Mai Tais and Aku Aku Lapus? No, they are more often drunk by bewildered professionals with loosened collars (like myself). But don't let that take away from your enjoyment! You just need a little imagination and an escapist mindset, and you too can enjoy tiki just as it always has been.
Since the golden age of tiki, many restaurants and bartenders have bastardized the idea of the tiki drink by making cheap knock-offs with crappy and often overly-sweet ingredients. If you're interested in what a real tiki drink can be, I encourage you to explore the drink guides written by tiki historian Beachbum Berry. A good tiki drink can be as complex and interesting as any of the best cocktails you've ever had.
Doug over at the Pegu Blog has spearheaded a tradition to celebrate tiki each February and is calling it Tiki Month. What better time to celebrate tropical drinks than in the dead of winter (in the northern hemisphere)? While I don't want to spend a whole month talking about tiki or tikifying my site's banner (even more), I would like to join in the festivities this year. Last year I abstained and opted instead to showcase Doug's epic post about Hawaiian shirts.
As I've said before on this blog, tiki drinks were my gateway into mixology, and let me tell you: it was a baptism by fire. Tiki drinks are notorious for being inaccessible:
1) Their construction is labor intensive; most of them require you to freshly squeeze at least one kind of citrus
2) They often require more than one type of rum, and since rum characters vary widely by where they're produced, you need at least a dozen or two varieties in order to capably adhere to recipes; it gets expensive
3) They require specialized equipment if you want to be efficient and/or proper, such as juicers, ice crushers, (real) swizzle sticks, and blenders
4) They often require rare (or even extinct) ingredients, such as orgeat, falernum, passionfruit syrup, cinnamon syrup, allspice dram, Cuban rum, and dark 151-proof demerara rum
5) They're complicated; a five-ingredient tiki drink is considered simple, and they sometimes have over a dozen ingredients
6) Because of all of these above, their construction is time consuming; between juicing the fruit, gathering all the bottles, measuring each ingredient, and then using specialized equipment, plenty of drinks take between 5 and 10 minutes to make, and some of them take even longer
7) Most tiki fans from which you might get help or advice will insist on using only the proper techniques, and that even the obscurest ingredient cannot be substituted
An online haven for tiki drink fans and snobs is the Tiki Central Forums. There, you can read and participate in discussion of tiki drinks and ingredients with casual fans, bloggers, and bartenders.
Years ago, Tiki Central held an original tiki drink contest. The runners up are worth mentioning, but the winner was a drink called the Reverb Crash (one of the coolest drink names you'll ever find) submitted by a community member named "kick_the_reverb" (real name is Ran).
The first post ever made on Tiki Central's Tiki Drinks & Food sub-forum was by Martin Cate himself, who I talked about on my spiced rum post, and it was to remind everyone of the Reverb Crash. Check the thread out, as it provides some interesting discussion about the drink.
The Reverb Crash is just a young whippersnapper compared to some of the older tiki recipes, and is even on the simpler side, but the Crash is of the same caliber as the classics. It's been a go-to for years in my recipe collection, and once you try it, you might see why.
The recipe calls for grapefruit juice, and Ran suggests using the fresh stuff in the refrigerated juice section of your grocery store. I myself have made this drink with grapefruit juice from a can, from a refrigerated bottle, and fresh squeezed from the fruit. All of them are good, but provide a slightly different character each time.
This recipe also uses orgeat syrup(pronounced "oar-zha[t]"), which is essentially an almond syrup that is sometimes flavored with additional things like orange flower water. I have yet to make my own successfully (perhaps that will be a future post), but there are several online venues which will sell it to you, and even more online venues that will give you recipes to make your own, should you dare. Unlike some, I'm not afraid to give you substitutes for ingredients: in a pinch, you can use amaretto liqueur instead of orgeat, or even normal simple syrup with a dash or two of the almond extract used for baking. These aren't great (or even good) substitutes, but I'd rather you try to approximate the drink than not make it at all.
The recipe uses a sprig of mint as a garnish. Like many garnishes, this one is not only aesthetic. Before inserting the (clean) mint sprig into the final drink, lightly rap it against the counter/cutting board/etc. so that the mint's essential oils will be agitated and made volatile. When drinking, be sure to use a short straw (or no straw) so that your nose must approach the mint garnish to take a sip. The mint's aroma will act as an olfactory addition to the Reverb Crash's flavor. Seriously.
Finally, this recipe calls for passionfruit syrup. I've used the stuff before on the blog, but this time I'll provide a very simple recipe on how to make it. Passionfruit syrup is simply syrup that is flavored by passionfruit. It is a very common ingredient in vintage tiki drinks. Much like the orgeat, it can be found for purchase on the internet. The nature of the syrup's strength of flavor varies widely by recipe, and my recipe might be the strongest, but also the easiest to make. All you need is passionfruit juice and sugar. Passionfruit juice can probably be found at your local Whole Foods or gourmet supermarket. And, as I've advocated before, don't forget about your local ethnic stores. Today I will be using Goya brand passionfruit juice from individual drinking cans. Unfortunately, there's no substitute for passionfruit syrup in the Reverb Crash.
white granulated sugar
Pour any amount of passionfruit juice into a saucepan or pot. On low heat, reduce the juice's volume by half. (Tip from Alton Brown: record the level of liquid using a rubber band wound tightly against a wooden spoon's handle at rest at the bottom of the pot. It is then easily discernible when the liquid's volume is reduced to a desired level.) Carefully measure your passionfruit reduction, and dissolve into it an equal amount of sugar by volume. Bottle and refrigerate the resulting syrup, with some vodka if you like, which tends to extend its shelf life.
Let's get on to the damn drink. Unfortunately, the sweetness in every one of this drink's ingredients can vary, so you may need to adjust the ingredient amounts to find what you think is your own perfect balance. As for rums, Ran calls for a Cuban or Virgin Island light rum (think dry and flavorful, like the Cruzan Estate Light that I love) and Myers dark rum (aside from Myers, Coruba will work, and maybe even Gosling's Black Seal, Smith & Cross, or Appleton Estate Extra). This drink has a lot of sugar in it... definitely try to make it a once-in-a-while indulgence. It's worth every bit of trouble to make it, I assure you.
1 oz light rum
1 oz dark rum
4 oz grapefruit juice
1.5 oz passionfruit syrup
.75 oz lime juice
.75 tbs orgeat syrup
Shake with crushed ice* and pour into a large glass. Fill the rest of the glass with crushed ice. Garnish with a mint sprig.
*cubed ice can be used in a pinch.