There is only one Beachbum Berry. He is the modern day’s preeminent sage on Tiki history and drink lore. And he appears to be a bit of a natural cult-leader, as most who hear him speak feel compelled to start buying Hawaiian shirts and rum in large quantities, and develop ninja-level knife skills with tropical fruit. Fortunately he employs his powers in bars, rather than in the jungles of Guyana or Washington. (UPDATE: He also uses his powers to send readers here! Welcome Idlers of March to the joint.)
He has written several books over his career that have apparently prevented him from starving to death, and my book purchase for this year’s Tiki Month was one of them, Beachbum Berry’s Grog Log. The Grog Log is a pretty little spiral-bound book that does each of its several jobs well. It begins with a tightly written history of American tropicalia, the forces that created it, and some of the personalities that shaped it. It discusses the market and cultural forces that finally killed Tiki as a commercial fad. Finally, Berry muses on how Tiki can re-emerge as more of a personal, DIY art form. The book was written in 1998, and I would say that all is proceeding as he has foreseen.
The second section is the obligatory, how-to-set-up-your-bar section of virtually any drinks book. The Bum saves this part from perfunctitude with the single best set of descriptions of rum types I have read to date. If all you need is a clear explanation of what the hell drink recipes are talking about when they specify “light Puerto Rican rum”, versus, “Rhum Barbancourt”, versus “gold Jamaican rum”, the Grog Log is worth it for that alone. I’m not saying the rest of the dissertation on measures, methods, and other ingredients aren’t well-done, but the rum section is just so darned… essential for Tiki drink making.
The meat of the book is the recipes. Unearthing and confirming these was not an easy task, and showed a lot of skill and knowledge beyond mixology. Sure, you can look around today and see all sorts of quality Tiki recipes from the old days. You can see them because most of them were unearthed by Beachbum Berry. Any complete bar library ought to have at least one of the Bum’s books. In the Grog Log, he serves up 84 of these historical artifacts.
Each drink is served up, one to a page, with a generous helping of vintage or original drawings or occasional cartoons. Along with an exacting recipe, there are specific mixing instructions and some good historical information on the origin of the drink. (Usually. As with all archaeology, some information is lost forever.)
An especially fun element of the book is the pictographic key at the top of each page. It starts with a picture of a little drunk guy, and you can tell from the extent of his disrepair how strong the drink is going to be. Next is an icon representing what the drink should be served in. Lots of drink books use icons like this, but how many use icons of flaming skull mugs? Lastly, there is an icon for preparation vessel, so you can screen for, or screen out, styles that you just aren’t feeling right now, blender drinks for instance.
At $9.95, the Grog Log is a super investment for the budding Tiki-phile, or even just the Ti-curious. If you’re a book snob and don’t like spiral-bound volumes, you can wait just a short while and buy Beach Bum Berry Remixed, which apparently compiles the recipes from the Grog Log, as well as the Bum’s other early work, Intoxica!, into a new volume. I haven’t seen it, so I can’t say whether it will keep the raw, vintage feel of the Grog Log, and whether it will retain such cool features as flaming skull mug icons. I do mention it here however, becuase it gives me an excuse to end this post with the trailer for the upcoming book.
When did they start putting out trailers for books?!?