Tiki Secrets Revealed

Forecasting a mega-trend before it hits is like knowing next week’s stock quotes, an open invitation to financial success. Intel on what lies in wait around the corner would certainly make business less precarious. In the on-premise segment, one trend that’s now firmly entrenched on both coasts and headed inland is Tiki drinks.

They’re joyful concoctions, colorful and brimming with tropical appeal. Tiki drinks include such stalwart classics as the Zombie, Mai Tai, Blue Hawaiian, Hurricane, Scorpion, Planter’s Punch and the Vicious Virgin. Wildly popular in the 1930s and 1940s, Tiki drinks were featured at Polynesian restaurants and South Pacific-themed bars. After World War II, they slowly faded into obscurity, losing ground to cocktail lounges and trendy eateries.

Fortunately, these tall kitschy treats have returned to popularity. Part of their allure must be chalked up to nostalgia and an exotic/escapism quality, which they possess in spades. Tiki specialties are also season-proof. The Zombie, for example, is an equally appropriate drink for ringing in the New Year and toasting the arrival of monsoons.

That these drinks are predicated on rum will serve only to fan their popularity. Classically structured Tiki recipes often call for a wide assortment of rum types, underscoring their island upbringings and inseparable connection with the sea. As Tiki-icon Don The Beachcomber often professed, “What one rum can’t do, three can.”

Not only are they delicious, Tiki drinks needn’t be priced through the roof to yield big profits. They’re an unpretentious slice of 20th-century mixology loaded with recession-busting possibilities.

Tiki Tips

If you’re looking for tips on how to start making some Tiki Madness of your own, the following items distinguish these drinks from the masses.

Rum, Glorious Rum — Its engaging personality makes rum ideally cast as the heart and soul of Tiki. Whereas vodka looks to assimilate and go unnoticed in cocktails, rum always makes a lasting impression. Part of its immense popularity also lies in its diversity. They’re produced in scores of exotic places around the globe in a broad range of styles — from clear, dry and light-bodied to dark, full-bodied and full-flavored.

Tiki recipes often feature a balance of both light and dark rums. Heavy rums are typically distilled in pot, or alembic, stills. Heavy is an unfortunate label; it gives the impression that they are dense and chewy. In fact, heavy rums are aromatic and loaded with flavoring agents (congeners). Light rums are usually distilled in column or continuous stills. Their light bodies and crisp, clean palates make them highly mixable.

The recent proliferation of quality flavored rums have thrown open the creative floodgates and a boon to drink making. Having the option of dashing some mango, pineapple, banana or any one of the many flavored light rums has greatly expanded the mixologist’s repertoire.

Juice Foundation — Tiki drinks are invariably tall and erected on a sturdy foundation of fruit juice. Traditionally, these recipes call for a balanced blend of citrus juice — lemon, lime, orange and, to a lesser extent, grapefruit — and exotic, tropically sourced fruit juice, such as pineapple, mango, papaya and guava. Balance of flavor is a critical component in these drinks, which is why many classic recipes are inordinately complex with exacting measurements.

Modifier Magic — Another reason why Tiki recipes tend to be long and involved is their reliance on using interesting and often exotic ingredients as modifiers. Even when used in exceedingly small doses, products such as orange flower water, rose water, orgeat, falernum, coconut milk, fresh mint and a broad assortment of bitters, play an integral role in achieving the desired result. Tiki drinks also often are sweetened with simple syrup, which may be referred to as rock candy syrup, gomme syrup or more generically as bar syrup. They’re all the same animal.

Presentation — The choice of glassware is an important marketing consideration. Conventional wisdom contends that the better a drink looks and the better people look drinking it, the better the drink will sell.

Serving a Mai Tai, Zombie or Hurricane in a plain, nondescript glass is like displaying a magnificent painting in a cardboard frame. These tall attractive drinks are invariably served with ice and deserve to be presented in tall, equally attractive glasses. The glass you choose should be have minimum capacity of 14 ounces, although those with 16-ounce capacities offer more latitude when it comes to garnishing and adding a few creative twists.

There exists a large array of classic glasses from which to choose — everything from Tiki gods and hula girls to coconut shells, Menehune and winged dragons.

Tip to the Pros — One cautionary note, Tiki drinks are notoriously potent and often falling within the “one per customer” category. Reducing their alcohol content makes good sense as society now takes a dimmer view of serving overly potent libations than it did back in the day.