It’s winter, but that’s not a reason to not enjoy tiki cocktails. When the weather is colder, spice-forward cocktails are especially appropriate.
Here are a couple of tiki drinks that I have enjoyed recently. The first one is the Winter Diamonback that was created at the El Dorado lounge in San Diego. It is based on the template of Harry Craddock’s Rattlesnake, one of my favorite cocktails that combines rye with lemon, simple syrup, egg white, and a rinse of absinthe. Changing the sweetener from simple syrup to a combination of cinnamon syrup and orgeat is the basis for the Winter Diamondback. With its cinnamon and absinthe flavor, it is unmistakably a tiki drink in the vein of Don the Beachcomber’s best creations, even though it’s rye-based. The blanket of egg white softens the flavors and helps blend everything harmoniously.
Tiki cocktails are usually thought as complicated drinks with a lot hard-to-find exotic ingredients, various syrups, and esoteric rum mixes. While this is often true, many of them have a more accessible structure. Take Trader Vic’s Mai Tai for example, his signature drink created in 1944 and composed of six ingredients: aged Jamaican and agricole rums, lime juice, simple syrup, curaçao and orgeat. At the core it’s a daiquiri variation (rum | lime juice | simple syrup), with orgeat and curaçao added as modifiers.
It’s fascinating to see how Don the Beachcomber comes up with something completely different based on a similar structure. When I think of Don the Beachcomber I immediately think of his characteristic use of spice syrups. In his Donga Punch (1937), another Daiquiri variation, he uses lime and grapefruit juice for the citrus, similar to a Hemingway Daiquiri (~1935). This time, though, the sweetening agent, which also acts as a modifier, is the highly aromatic cinnamon syrup, an ingredient that we immediately associate with tiki drinks.