Nothing says summer like a cocktail served in a coconut or a tacky tiki idol. Packed with fruit juice and eight kinds of rum, it's perfect for poolside sipping. But in the depths of late-winter, concoctions like this make for wishful drinking, escapist fantasies from the reality of the snowpocalypse. Though prevailing cocktail wisdom claims we should be nursing stern old-fashioneds in the darker months, there's no reason fun drinks should be shelved until Memorial Day.
As the grandfather of modern tiki, Donn "Don the Beachcomber" Beach, used to say, "If you can't get to paradise, I'll bring paradise to you"--no cyclical limits implied. During its Depression-era origin and through its midcentury peak, tiki was beloved for its year-round appeal, not considered a warm-weather flash in the pan. That old spirit has been re-embraced by a new troupe of tiki revivalists, and if you know where to go, it could ease you through the last frigid weeks of the season.
Photo via @MotherofPearlNY
Rule number 1 for winterizing your tiki experience: fresh ingredients only. If you're haunted by the memory of that lethal scorpion bowl from your college days, that's because it was probably laced with cheap triple sec and sour mix, a one-way ticket to hangover hell. To elevate and de-kitsch their cocktails, today's tiki bars use fresh citrus, spices, and house-made syrups like orgeat (almond syrup) and grenadine made from actual pomegranates.
At New Orleans's Latitude 29, run by Jeff "Beachbum" Berry, the modern maestro of the tiki genre, you can enjoy a more refined version of the classic Navy Grog made with fresh grapefruit and lime juice, plus honey syrup. Or, if you're actually feeling winter, you can opt for the Paniolo, a mix of fresh cranberry syrup, lime juice, bourbon, and a macadamia nut liqueur. Meanwhile, at Chicago's Three Dots and a Dash, the Dead Reckoning blends port, Armagnac, and vanilla for a positively festive flavor profile.
Both places play to the back row with their decor, all fishing nets and Polynesian idols. For a slightly more contemporary tiki experience--combined with seriously good vegan food--head to New York's Mother of Pearl, a whitewashed oasis of gauzy curtains and splashy florals. Its Sage Peter is a postmodern fusion of pumpkin, sage, and olive oil--plus some high-proof booze, of course. Deceptively strong drinks with a bright, sunshiny flavor? Tiki just may be the ultimate winter warmer.
Photo via @Latitude29Nola
TIKI'S KEY PLAYERS
Need more convincing that the cocktails belong in your year-round repertoire? These essential ingredients are at their peak in the winter months.
Pineapple: Along with that signature spiky shell, its juice provides essential body and silky texture to shaken cocktails. Pineapples in the Caribbean and Southeast Asia, our chief suppliers, are in season from December to February.
Citrus: Without tart lime, orange, and grapefruit juice, tiki drinks would be all sweetness and no light. Acidity provides a necessary counterpoint to the sugary syrups and boozy burn.
Spices: Tiki's signature spices are synonymous with winter, from the pumpkin spice combo of cinnamon and nutmeg to the Christmassy hint of the Jamaican import allspice.
Rum: A brand-new addition to the market, Plantation O.F.T.D. Overproof Rum is 20% stronger than traditional dark rum. It was designed by six of the world's leading tiki scholars, including Jeff Berry and Three Dots founder Paul McGee, especially for use in cocktails.
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