When you vacation in Hawaii, you surely will be urged to try one of those colorful, fruit-slice-filled, tiny-umbrella-embellished concoctions served up at every restaurant, lounge and visitor gathering on every island.
There’s probably nowhere in the world where a tropical drink is more appropriate than in Hawaii. The exotic colors and flavors that typify tropical drinks were inspired by the palette of colors in the Hawaii sky and landscape.
The cocktails reflect the laid back, island-style living that has helped to make Hawaii one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. There are countless exotic drink recipes around the globe with whimsical names like the “Mad Hatter,” “Bubblicious” and “Platinum Passion.” Their origins are a matter of conjecture, folklore or legend. There is some certainty, however, about the origin of some of the earliest tropical drinks – the ones that endure in paradise.
Tiki bars became popular in the 1930s, and it was in those watering holes where the first such beverages were first concocted. Amid the palms, tapa cloth, tiki heads and torches of places like The Palms and the Seven Seas in Los Angeles, bartenders were constantly experimenting to come up with new recipes. Many of those recipes were invented by Ray Buhen at Don the Beachcomber’s. Legend has it that when Ray realized that he wasn’t getting the credit he deserved, he opened up his own tiki bar, the Tiki-ti. Many new drink recipes are merely variations on the theme invented back in the 1930’s. But true tropical drinks do have some things in common, despite the fact that they are similarly perse in color and potency. Most true tropical drinks are made from rum. There’s a utilitarian reason for that. Rum was the cheapest liquor available at the end of Prohibition when the tropical drink craze took off. Prior to that, most popular cocktails were made with whiskey or gin. As a rule, tropical drinks demand spirits that mix well. They need to allow the taste of the mix to come through without being overpowered by the h3 taste of liquor. (Vodka and gin mix fairly well and are included in many recipes as well.) And ice is a key ingredient, serving to dull the taste buds so more liquor can be added to “pack a punch.” Combinations of natural fruit chunks, juices, liqueurs and sometimes sugar are mixed and matched to give us the variety of drinks available today.
The king of all tropical drinks has to be the Mai Tai. Consisting of rum and Triple Sec or Orange Curacao with lime, almond syrup and grenadine, the Mai Tai is the quintessential tropical drink. The recipe has been adjusted over the years, but most variations are still close to the original. Also mixed with a rum base are the Blue Hawaii (rum and pineapple juice), the Pina Colada (rum, cream of coconut and pineapple juice), and the Scorpion (rum, orange, grapefruit and pineapple juice).
Fancied up with pineapple or orange slices (or both), maraschino cherries, decorative straws and those tiny umbrellas, tropical drinks are tasty, refreshing and festive. But beware. They can be dangerous because they taste harmless compared to gin, vodka, bourbon or scotch simply mixed with soda, water or just ice. It’s not hard to overindulge.
So go ahead. Enjoy your choice of the genre (and you will) as you vacation on our islands. But be careful your day doesn’t end before you want it to.