Inspired by a fascination for Pacific Island cultures, Tiki cocktails were a cultural staple of the mid-twentieth century. Featuring tropical flavors and often served in vessels that evoke island life, Tiki cocktails have been a highlight of many a summertime party for decades.
Also known as rhum rhapsodies, exotic cocktails, or Polynesian drinks, these beverages broke away from the classic cocktail formulas to offer drinkers something more colorful, more fun, and with their often lavish garnishes of flowers and fruit, more beautiful. The word “tiki” refers to carved statues resembling humans found throughout Polynesia, hence the signature Tiki glasses that many people think of when they think of these drinks!
At their base, Tiki drinks are rum-based punches and some of them have become well-known staples on cocktail menus around the world. The Mai Tai, Pina Colada, and Painkiller are all familiar favorites that began as Tiki drinks that have gone on to become ubiquitous.
Making a Tiki cocktail at home goes far beyond tossing some booze and juice in a funny glass. There is an art to composing a proper Tiki cocktail, starting with the right ingredients to ensure a layered, deep flavor that produces the perfect sip every time.
While the components of a Tiki cocktail are specific, don’t let that deter you from learning about becoming a Tiki mixologist. By adding a few staples to your refrigerator and liquor cabinet, you, too, can compose delicious Tiki cocktails that will impress your friends and family and make you the life of the party.
A Few Things to Keep in Mind
Before jumping into what you will need in order to compose a resectable Tiki cocktail, try to keep a few things in mind:
- Opt for the highest quality products that will fit comfortably into your budget. While you don’t want to break the bank, it is good to keep in mind that the majority of the basic ingredients needed to make your Tiki cocktails will be used in small amounts, so they will last for quite some time.
- While using fresh ingredients is always the best option when it comes to juices, sometimes that is not practical. Going with an option that is not fresh but is 100% natural is nothing to be ashamed of.
- Don’t overwhelm yourself when getting started. There are countless different Tiki cocktails, and they call for a myriad of different ingredients. The best thing to do when starting your quest to become a Tiki mixologist is to learn how to make a few simple drinks, and as you become more of an aficionado, add to your repertoire.
The Foundation: Rum
While not the only base used for Tiki cocktails, the most common, in one form or another, is rum. Since rum is made from sugar cane, it’s no wonder that it has become synonymous with tropical cocktails as many islands produce this crop in large quantities.
While there are literally hundreds of different rum options available, giving you many options for what kind of base your drink will begin with, there are three basic kinds.
To properly stock your Tiki bar, it is important to know the basic types of rum:
- White Rum - This type of rum is the base for many popular Tiki cocktails. For optimum smoothness and depth of flavor, an aged white rum is suggested.
- Gold or Dark Rum - To avoid rums that derive their colors and flavors artificially, it is best to go with one that has been aged inside oak barrels for several years. This will ensure that you have a rum that is providing a deep, complex flavor that will add to the richness of your cocktail.
- Spiced Rum - This is rum that has been aged with blends of spices, fruits, and herbs. Typical flavors may be cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, all spice and citrus flavors.
- Overproofed Rum and Rhum Agricole - These options for your Tiki bar are not necessary to get started, but once you move on to making more advanced cocktails, they are a good place to start.
While white or darker rums are made from molasses or sugar cane juice, giving the spirits a sweeter flavor, rhum agricole is made from pressed sugarcane, giving it an earthier, grassier taste that will add to the depth of flavor of your Tiki cocktail.
The Sweet Stuff: Simple Syrup
One important feature of Tiki cocktails is that they are sweet! Simple syrup is essential to add to the sweetness of your Tiki cocktails.
You can purchase your simple syrup, or even make it! The ingredients are something that everyone has in their pantry. Simply mix equal parts sugar and water in a pan, simmering over medium heat and stirring until sugar has dissolved. Allow it to cool, then store it in the fridge in a glass jar.
You can even infuse your simple syrup with flavors like vanilla, cardamom, or anything else you like to add extra flavor!
The Fruity Flavors: Fruit Juice
While Tiki purists will attempt to shame you into only using fresh juice, it is more than acceptable to use store-bought juices provided they are 100% juice and not mixed with extra sweeteners or additives.
Much like the different types of rums available, there is an almost endless variety of fruit juices that can be called upon to make creative Tiki cocktails.
Some of the basic juices to have on hand to stock your Tiki bar include lots of tropical flavors including pineapple, lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, and coconut. Don’t hesitate to experiment and try out different kinds and combinations of flavors you like!
If you want to take your Tiki cocktail to the level, use fresh squeezed juices and keep some fresh fruit to garnish your drinks and give it some personal flair.
While the aforementioned items will have you well on your way to composing a respectable Tiki cocktail, there are a few other things you can add to your Tiki bar staples to help ramp up your Tiki game.
- Orgeat - Made from almonds, this will add a nutty flavor to your cocktails.
- Falernum - Much like orgeat, falernum is made from almonds, offering a nuttiness to your creations. However, falernum is often mixed with other spices, giving your Tiki cocktails a much-sought-after depth of flavor.
- Bitters - Giving its promised bitter flavor, bitters will help to cut the often overwhelming sweetness of your Tiki cocktail.
Tiki Cocktails: A trip to the beach in a glass
While it might seem daunting to begin your journey into Tiki cocktail mixology, it is not nearly as difficult as you might think if you break their components down into the basics.
Making the Tiki essentials a staple in your home bar and sticking to purchasing the finest ingredients that your budget can buy are good stepping stones to composing Tiki cocktails.
Now that you know the basics of Tiki cocktails, you can begin to make your own drinks that will transport you to a tropical paradise with every sip. Cheers to your own tropical paradise in a glass!