We are now reaching the end of summer, but there’s still time for the beach, pool, and (for those of us with no shame) even yard sprinklers. For the grown ups, it’s a season for what I call “boat drinks”—fruity concoctions filled with rum and other exotic liqueurs—that make you feel relaxed, like you are floating away. Boat drinks—aka tiki drinks—are fantastic for parties because they are playful, but they can be dangerous, especially when the weather is hot. Their sweetness quenches thirst, but also disguises the liquor inside. Too much tiki may equal a headache the next day, if you’re not careful. Jesse Goldstein guides you through all things tiki here. We invite you to try a few, or have a party to test them all out. Still, unless you have an extra day of vacation to recuperate, try not to drift too far away from shore. From Jesse:

I used to think of tiki drinks only as sweet, brightly colored cocktails with paper umbrellas. You know, the kind you would find on cruise ships and poolside bars at resorts? Over the past few years, I’ve learned a lot about what really makes a tiki drink, the crazy history that brought them to life, and how to create my own. As a result, I’ve realized how wrong I was to oversimplify or brush off tiki drinks as unrefined.

To tell the story of tiki drinks, you have to start the tale all the way back in the days of Prohibition, when there was a constitutional ban on selling, producing, importing, and transporting alcoholic beverages. Prior to Prohibition, rum was not that popular here in states—where people more often reached for gin, whiskey and bourbon. And though Prohibition closed the domestic distilleries making most of those spirits, that ban did not apply to our neighboring countries, whose distilleries increased their production to keep up with this new demand. Those Americans who chose to keep drinking had to obtain spirits that were produced illegally and smuggled in from other countries. “Rum runners” introduced the country to a wave of delicious rums from the Caribbean, and the taste for rum was established.

But you need more than just rum to create a tiki drink. You need the mix of Polynesian kitsch and fresh flavor combinations. For that, we have to thank a man named Raymond Beaumont Gantt, more commonly known under the pseudonym Don Beach. He was quite the world traveler and lover of tropical culture. He settled in California with suitcases full of souvenirs from his travels to the islands and a dream of opening a restaurant that brought together creative rum drinks and foods loosely based on Polynesian, Hawaiian, and Cantonese cuisines. This dream became a reality in 1934 when he opened “Don the Beachcomber” in Hollywood, California. The concept was a success and soon others followed his lead, opening new tiki concepts like Trader Vic’s.

As soldiers returned home from WWII, they longed for the flavors of the South Pacific. The entire nation soon developed a romanticized obsession with the tropics, thanks in part to films and music of the day. Trader Vic’s and others opened locations around the country to fill that demand, each trying to outdo the next with elaborate Polynesian structures, décor, and even fake lightning and rainstorms. The competition between these bars was so fierce that unique, top-secret recipes were often written in code to avoid poaching from competitors. Some of these historic recipes are highlighted in Beachbum Berry’s Potions of the Caribbean, where mysterious sounding ingredients like “Don’s Spices #4” actually refers to cinnamon simple syrup.

But by the mid 1960s, Americans were stunned by the horrors of Vietnam and no longer romanticized wartime images; the idea of pretending to spend your evenings in far away beaches no longer held the mystique it once did. Tiki culture slowly fell out of favor and most tiki bars closed their doors.

Thankfully there’s a resurgence in tiki demand, due in part to the inventive success of bars like Three Dots and a Dash in Chicago and Tiki-Ti in Los Angeles. People are rediscovering the lively world of tiki drinks and seeking them out wherever they go. Of course, traveling to Chicago just to go to a bar doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for most of us, so we’re left to make these cocktails at home. Those of us with the desire to DIY must ask the question “what makes a drink a tiki drink?” A tiki drink is best represented through multiple layers of flavors achieved in three basic categories of ingredients: booze, fruit, and spice.

Though admittedly not all tiki drinks are made with rum, many are. And many of those drinks are not only made with rum, but multiple types of rum. There are recipes that call for two, three, and sometimes even four different rums. Others might use a combination of gin and rum or cognac and liqueurs. The use of more than one spirit helps establish the foundation of flavor in most tiki drinks. It also means that they are often quite potent.

The second essential tiki element is fruit. Tiki drinks are best when made with fresh fruit juices. Obviously many of these are tropical in nature like citrus, pineapple, passion fruit, guava, coconut, and mango. As with the spirits, many recipes require multiple juices for a single cocktail, helping to mask that dangerous potency from all the booze.

But I think the true key to tiki drinks comes in the form the third element, which we’ll call spice. Be it ginger, cinnamon syrup, freshly-grated nutmeg, a dash of bitters, or even a couple drops of almond extract, unique spice combinations were part of how individual tiki bars could differentiate their cocktails from competitors. This addition of spice is an instantly recognizable element in many tiki drinks today.


Tiki at Home

If you’re looking to create your own tiki drinks, you should start by collecting a few different types of rums. Of course not every tiki drink is made with rum, but if you have good rums you can make a variety of delicious cocktails. Purchase high quality versions of white, dark, spiced, and even flavored rums. Look for rums from Jamaica, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Trinidad, Barbados, and the Virgin Islands. Next, you might want to invest in some of the more unique ingredients like falernum, pimento dram, and orgeat. Falernum is available as both a spirit and a non-alcoholic syrup and is flavored with almond, ginger, nutmeg, and lime. Pimento dram is an allspice liqueur that adds a distinctive flavor to classic tiki drinks like the Voodoo Grog. Orgeat is an almond-flavored syrup that you can buy online, if not at your local liquor store. It’s worth the purchase, as there are literally dozens of classic tiki drinks that call for this ingredient.

Next, you’ll want to do a little prep in the way of syrups. Three of my favorites are a demerara simple syrup made with equal parts demerara sugar and water, a cinnamon syrup, and a passion fruit syrup. I’ve been able to find frozen passion fruit puree in Latin markets and add it to a simple syrup. To make cinnamon syrup, boil a cup of water with a few broken cinnamon sticks. Add a cup of sugar, stir until dissolved and let it sit overnight before straining.

Finally, go get some fresh fruit and juice it. Oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit are a great place to start. Fresh pineapple juice requires an electric juicer, so it’s entirely forgivable if you choose to purchase it instead.

When making tiki drinks, I prefer to use crushed ice, as it has more surface area to help cool and dilute the boozy recipes. If you have a Sonic Drive-In near you, they’ll usually sell you a bag of their ice (really!)—it’s perfect for tiki drinks.

Now, on to the cocktails! I offer a few classics, alongside several of my own invention, created to inspire you to get behind the (tiki) bar and play!


Mai Tai
1 oz dark Jamaican rum
1 oz light Puerto Rican rum
1 oz fresh lime juice
½ oz Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao (or homemade curaçao)
¼ oz orgeat syrup
½ oz demerara syrup (equal parts demerara sugar and water)
Fresh mint and lime wheel for garnish

Combine all ingredients and shake with crushed ice. Pour entire contents into glass and top with more ice, if needed. Garnish with a sprig of mint and lime wheel.

1 oz gold rum
1 oz dark Jamaican rum
1 oz overproof rum
¾ oz fresh lime juice
½ oz white grapefruit juice
½ oz falernum
¼ oz cinnamon syrup
1 barspoon grenadine
Dash Angostura bitters
Fresh mint for garnish

Combine all ingredients and shake with crushed ice. Pour entire contents into glass and top with more ice if needed. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.

La Playa Royale
2 oz silver tequila
1 oz white rum
1 ½ oz fresh orange juice
1 oz fresh lime juice
1 oz cinnamon syrup
½ oz orgeat
Cinnamon stick and strip of orange zest for garnish

Combine all ingredients and shake with crushed ice. Wrap the strip of orange peel inside the glass, pour entire contents into glass and top with more ice, if needed. Garnish with cinnamon stick.


Sailor Bait
1 oz apricot brandy
1 oz dry gin
1 oz gold rum
1 oz fresh lime juice
1 oz mango nectar
½ oz orgeat
2 dashes angostura bitters
Wedge of lime
Lemon wheel and cherry for garnish

Combine all ingredients and shake with crushed ice. Pour entire contents into glass and top with more ice, if needed. Squeeze the wedge of lime into the drink and garnish with lemon wheel and cherry.

Coral Reef
2 oz gold rum
1 oz white rum
1 oz melon liqueur
¼ oz pimento dram
¾ oz fresh lime juice
1 oz fresh orange juice
Orange slice and orchid for garnish

Combine all ingredients and shake with crushed ice. Pour entire contents into glass and top with more ice if needed. Garnish with slice of orange and an orchid blossom if you have one on hand.

Tidal Pool
1 oz Mount Gay Barbados rum
1 oz white rum
1 oz blue curaçao
2 oz unsweetened pineapple juice
½ oz falernum
Freshly grated nutmeg
Pineapple wedge and cherry for garnish

Combine all ingredients except nutmeg and garnish and shake with crushed ice. Pour entire contents into glass and top with more ice, if needed. Grate nutmeg on top and garnish with pineapple wedge and cherry.

Passion Poison
1 oz white rum
1 oz gold rum
2 oz passion fruit syrup
1 oz fresh lime juice
¼ oz crème de cassis
1 oz black spiced rum
Lime wedge and cherry for garnish

Combine all ingredients except black spiced rum and shake with crushed ice. Pour entire contents into glass and top with more ice if needed. Float black spiced rum on top and garnish with lime wedge and cherry.

1 comment on “TIKI DRINKS

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  1. Newcosmo

    Very serious recipes with interesting historic backgrounds
    Jesse Goldstein ouvre le panorama et fait oeuvre de transmission.
    Thank you !