Excitement is lingering under a bunch of fruit. Did you know that fruit and Tiki are two words that go perfectly together like bread and butter, body and soul, Adam and Eve. I discovered a new enthusiasm for the word “tiki” quite recently after playing around with the rum I keep at the back of my cocktail cabinet (for making plum pudding) and left over coconut milk in the fridge. Now Tiki is front and centre in my vocabulary and on my drinks card.
Poking around in my memories I recall an ugly faced Tiki charm. Digging deeper I remember bits of stories about Tiki being a Polynesian demigod much like the way Christian’s view Adam. I pry loose another fact that Māori mythology refers to Tiki as the first man. Then use google to fill in the rest. The Hei Tiki charm that appears if you google the word Tiki represents the human form of one’s ancestors is traditionally passed from parent to child or used for protection and good luck. I remember having a jade green Tiki necklace but don’t recall ever wearing it. I guess I didn’t need to wear an angry face around my neck for luck. Back in the 1970’s there were plenty of good vibrations.
My formative years as a teenager were strongly influenced by Californian beach culture and American TV. I adored the Beach Boys, flared denim jeans and halter tops. Memories of TV show Gilligan’s Island come flooding back as B& W images of soft slap stick comedy. I remember being in awe of Ginger’s glamour and how “down to earth” Maryanne could do anything with a treasure chest of ingredients scooped up from the bottom of the South Pacific. Being shipwrecked in the Pacific meant sipping on a tropical cocktail which didn’t seem that bad. Although there is nothing quite like scary Tiki totem pole head hunters and exploding volcanoes, Gilligan’s island was destined to be the benchmark for exotic cocktails in my future.
Working as a “checkout chick “at Coles Supermarket back in the days where every register had two people, one to check through the items and handle the money and the other to pack the groceries carefully into paper bags. These were halcyon days where I felt free to sing my favourite songs from America and Hotel California albums out loud. I wore my hair long my dresses short and had an addiction to concentrated blackcurrant juice and coconuts. Back to Gilligan’s Island. I was inspired to recreate simple coconut mocktails to appease my addiction. This was before coconut water was a thing you could buy in cartons. To be honest, I liked the crunch snacking on the hard coconut flesh but hated wasting the clear liquid. Yep, some things never change! Little did I realise that I had inadvertently stepped into Tiki territory but I wouldn’t drink my first proper Tiki cocktail for another 40 years.
A Tiki drink is a category of cocktails is way out there on its own. They are made with rum and are usually colourful, fruity, and lavishly garnished. Tiki cocktails are flavoured with – Angostura bitters, Falernum, a spice liquor, grenadine fruit and sugar. These are the basic must have ingredients. Fruit is usually selected from pineapple oranges limes and passion fruit. Personally, I cannot imagine mixing my Tiki cocktail without having Chocola, Indigo, Hibiscus and Lime syrups in my arsenal.
Set Sail for Tiki Land
The original Tiki bars flourished between 1950-1980 and then fell out of vogue. Recently revived by a new generation of fans. We all love a bit of nostalgia so let’s pretend we are in an exotic Tiki themed bar that serves rum-based Tiki classics such as the Mai Tai and Zombie cocktails. Tiki décor is tropical and taste buds have set sail for some nautical naughtiness.
To set the scene at home we need some music. I immediately think Crosby Stills & Nash song Southern Cross. For fun find some Aloha Attire to put on. Now this is feeling like fun because I love getting into costume. Wrap a sarong around your head and shoulders to feel glamourous like a Hollywood actress. Next hit the You Tube song, sing, make a Mai Tai cocktail and feel happy. Just goes to show that sense of freedom can be created at home with a bottle of rum and a little know how.
“Got out of town on a boat goin’ to Southern Islands
Sailing a reach before a followin’ sea
She was makin’ for the trades on the outside
And the downhill run to Papeete
Off the wind on this heading lie the Marquesas
We got eighty feet of the waterline nicely making way
In a noisy bar in Avalon I tried to call you
But on a midnight watch I realized why twice you ran away”
Classic Tiki Cocktails
The quintessential Tiki cocktail is the Mai Tai which was concocted at the original Trader Vic’s in 1944. From this humble beginning these well-known and famous Tiki cocktails have had their day in the sun:
Here in Melbourne Tiki began as a small community of like-minded experimenters looking to create something akin to vacation in a glass or mug. It’s since become a lifestyle, a wormhole down which one can fall a long, long way to escape. Some cocktail bars do over the top full kitsch cocktails but at its core Tiki drinks are just layered elements pulled from 20th century recipes concocted at some of the most stylish drinking establishments around the world. I want to stress that Tiki is not just for fancy bars or restaurants but can also be enjoyed at home in backyard barbeques and pool parties.
Try Tiki Cocktails at Home
Making a Tiki cocktail for the first time can feel daunting with the sheer number of ingredients listed in many recipes. A hallmark of Tiki cocktail is that they are a specialty drink, some with secret recipes to prevent imitation from competing bars or from customers trying to recreate a drink at home. Let’s simplify the process of Tiki cocktails by identifying common ingredients. You will need a rum (light, dark or spiced) which are typically mixed together with an orange liqueur (Triple sec, Grand Marnier or Cointreau), fruit juice (orange grapefruit or pineapple) and a sweet spiced syrup (falernum or oregat). Man any are bright in colour, including blue (from curacao) and green (Midori or crème de menthe). Cocktails can look very complicated and dramatic with the use of dry ice, ice shells or fire but we recommend you leave that to the experts.
Fast Tiki Cocktails
Below are two fast cocktail recipes to get you started on your journey to Tiki paradise
Recipe# 1: A pared back version of a Zombie cocktail
1 oz (30 ml) Dark (Jamaican) rum
¾ oz (20 ml) Smokey (Demerara) rum
1 oz (20 ml) fresh Lime juice
¾ oz (20 ml) Indigo simple syrup
Dash Angostura Bitters
In a chilled Collins glass, combine the dark rum, lime juice and spicy indigo simple syrup. Fill the glass with crushed ice and spin a swizzle stick or bar spoon between your hands to mix the drink, then add more crushed ice. Top with both bitters and garnish with the mint sprig. Feel free to be heavy handed with the mint.
Garish Garnish Anyone?
But it doesn’t end here. Beyond lime wedge and mint you can add paper cocktail umbrellas, fancy swizzle sticks, live flowers and other crazy garnishes to create your Tiki cocktail folly. Let’s not forget the glassware where Tiki mugs are fit for purpose. Tiki mugs can be ceramic or glass drink vessels traditionally shaped as Tiki’s, Easter Island statues (moai), shrunken heads, totems and skulls. For more tropical drinks actual fruit is used, such as hollowed-out pineapple or drilled out coconuts, with long straws that are used to serve customers. The best way to figure out if you are going to love Tiki cocktails is to experiment. Making your own Tiki drinks isn’t too tough either. Start by following some existing recipes below for practice, and then move on to adjusting and crafting your own.
Recipe # 2: Hibiscus Crush is a wonderfully girly cocktail with features of a Pina Colada
1 oz (30ml) white rum
1 oz (30ml) Hibiscus simple syrup
2 oz (60 ml) Pineapple juice
1 oz (30 ml) coconut cream
Put crushed ice in a cocktail shaker. Pour rum, hibiscus syrup pineapple juice. Add coconut cream and shake up to 60 seconds until thoroughly mixed and frothy. Pour into a chilled coupe glass and decorate simply with a pineapple wedge. Initially I made this cocktail with my favourite spirit Gin instead of white rum. It was its own kind of delicious so don’t be afraid to experiment.
Although I am not a devote of elaborate cocktail decorations this Tiki cocktail can stand proud with pineapple leaves and hibiscus flowers to give it a Polynesian flair. Serve this baby in a tumbler. Hipa Hipa!
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