Raise a poco grande glass – it’s National Piña Colada Day! Today we get to celebrate the national drink of Puerto Rico (it became official in 1978), that sweet concoction of rum, cream of coconut and pineapple that can be enjoyed shaken or blended with ice. And before you ask, piña colada translates literally to “strained pineapple.”
The cocktail, which is said to truly capture the flavors of Puerto Rico, has three origin stories. The first states that a Puerto Rican pirate by the name of Roberto Cofresí (known as El Pirata Cofresí) who was active during the 19th century gave his crew a cocktail consisting of coconut, pineapple and white rum. Commanding a flotilla – the best known a six-gun sloop named Anne – Cofrecina, as he was also known, created the beverage to boost crew morale. As the story goes, when the pirate died in 1825, the recipe for the piña colada died with him.
Luckily, all was not lost. Bartender Ramón “Monchito” Marrero Pérez has laid claim to the piña colada, saying that he created the cocktail in 1954 while working at the Beachcomber Bar at the Caribe Hilton hotel in San Juan. His piña colada recipe called for the use of coco lópez, cream of coconut that was developed in 1948 by Don Ramón López-Irizarry in, you guessed it, Puerto Rico. As the Caribe Hilton – located on a peninsula just outside of San Juan – was the first luxury hotel in the area, it attracted rich and famous clientele. Those people helped to spread the word of the now illustrious cocktail. There are also claims that the piña colada wasn’t named until the Sixties.
Contesting Monchito’s claim is the third Ramón of the piña colada story, bartender Ramón Portas Mingot. According to this part of the lore, Pepe Barrachina, a restaurateur, was visiting South America and happened to meet Mingot. Mingot, a famed bartender who had worked in the best venues in Buenos Aires, was known for his recipe books. He and Pepe developed a strong friendship, Pepe brought him to work at his restaurant Barrachina and in 1963 Mingot created a drink consisting of pineapple juice, coconut cream, condensed milk and ice. He mixed the ingredients in a blender and the piña colada was born.
The best part of contested origin stories is that we all get to decide which we feel is the most accurate. We get to pick a side and debate it – in a friendly way, of course – while sipping the very cocktail we’re discussing. While debating, you can hit your friends with a few more facts. In 2000, Puerto Rico Governor Sila M. Calderón presented a proclamation to the Caribe Hilton stating that the hotel is indeed the birthplace of the piña colada. They were given another similar proclamation by Governor Alejandro García Padilla in 2014. However, to this day, Barrachina, located in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, stands by Ramón Portas Mingot’s origin story. Regardless of which claim you prefer to believe, today is the day to hoist one or two piña coladas or any of its variations, be it the amaretto colada, Chi Chi, Lava Flow, Staten Island Ferry or even a virgin piña colada (also called a piñita colada), while listening to Rupert Holmes’ “Escape (The Piña Colada Song).”
Monchito’s Original Piña Colada Recipe
Pour 3 ounces of coconut cream, 6 ounces of pineapple juice and 11⁄2 ounces of white rum into a blender or shaker with crushed ice, and blend or shake very well until smooth. Pour into chilled glass, garnish with pineapple wedge and/or a maraschino cherry.