I want to start to round up Tiki Month 2012 with an answer to a question I hope many of you have been asking all month, “Why Tiki Month?” Why am I posting as such a furious rate, changing my basic drinking habits, and otherwise driving my dear, suffering wife to distraction with this Polynesian potpourri?
The first year I did it was to see what would happen. Many of my most favorite bloggers, Trader Tiki, Tiare, Dr. Bamboo, Colonel Tiki, and Kaiser Penguin were Tiki bloggers of one sort or another. I had tried virtually none of their stuff because I didn’t view myself as a Tiki guy, and it all looked so hard. So I wanted an excuse to give a bunch of things a whirl.
Plus, he was looking for a blog stunt as a desperate plea for attention!
It was supposed to be a one-off experiment, just to see what it was all about and as an antidote to a Winter designed to make Al Gore feel (more) embarrassed about his life…. And I had fun. And the next year, as Winter set in once more… I couldn’t help myself.
Tiki Month 2010 was a bit more organized, both in my bar and here on the blog. I was discovering that getting your Tiki on is an acquired skill, one that gets better with practice. As I realized this, I decided that having some decent Tiki skills beyond just a good Mai Tai is an essential thing for any self-respecting cocktailian. I knew Tiki Month was a Thing then.
2011 was a breeze. I whipped through things, with lots of the basics already covered. I could delve into the auxiliary stuff, the cultural and artistic sides of Tikidom without it overwhelming me. and the drinks got easier. In response to Tiki Month last year, DJ Hawaiian Shirt wrote this insightful critique of Tiki and it’s shortcomings:
1) Their construction is labor intensive; most of them require you to freshly squeeze at least one kind of citrus
2) They often require more than one type of rum, and since rum characters vary widely by where they’re produced, you need at least a dozen or two varieties in order to capably adhere to recipes; it gets expensive
3) They require specialized equipment if you want to be efficient and/or proper, such as juicers, ice crushers, (real) swizzle sticks, and blenders
4) They often require rare (or even extinct) ingredients, such as orgeat, falernum, passionfruit syrup, cinnamon syrup, allspice dram, Cuban rum, and dark 151-proof demerara rum
5) They’re complicated; a five-ingredient tiki drink is considered simple, and they sometimes have over a dozen ingredients
6) Because of all of these above, their construction is time consuming; between juicing the fruit, gathering all the bottles, measuring each ingredient, and then using specialized equipment, plenty of drinks take between 5 and 10 minutes to make, and some of them take even longer
7) Most tiki fans from which you might get help or advice will insist on using only the proper techniques, and that even the obscurest ingredient cannot be substituted
As Tiki Month 2012 kicked off, DJ whined about not having a genuine swizzle stick to make a 151 Swizzle. The smart-ass who’s masquerading as “The Tiki Gods” in my comments insisted that he use only a real swizzle…. or a virgin. (The Tiki Gods seem really into virgins) DJ responded by resurrecting the above post.
I meant to link it earlier at first, but it got me to thinking, and I left off commenting on it here until it was getting to wrap up time.
The answer to DJ’s criticisms of Tiki is the answer to why I keep doing Tiki Month. Tiki requires commitment to be any fun for anything other than a meticulously planned special event. It requires commitment to gather the knowledge to make it fun, and the skills to pull it off well. But just doing things for a long time doesn’t really make Tiki work either.
If you examine most folks who do Tiki well, it’s all they do, drinks-wise. At first, I kind of thought this was because they were, well, weird.
But that is not it. Let’s address a few of DJ’s complaints above, which I think encapsulate what most classic cocktail types think about Tiki.
- Boo Hoo. I juice limes for almost everything. Or I use RealLime after peeking behind the curtain to make sure CocktailNerd won’t jump out and start bitching at me again. I ignore this one.
- I got 12 types of gin in my bar regularly. It is no skin off my nose to have many bottles of rum, a spirit with far greater variety in style than gin. For most booze nerds, this is also the case. Still nothing blocking Tiki.
- Yup. You do need some funky stuff for Tiki that may not be too useful for non-Tiki stuff. But who doesn’t need a good blender anyway?
- Rare ingredients are again part and parcel of the modern booze nerd’s oeuvre. But we are starting to get to the heart of the matter here.
- This also is on point. Not only do Tiki drinks have lots of ingredients, but those ingredients are not necessarily the same ones as even a first order cocktailian will have on hand as part of his regular inventory.
- Bingo. This is real heart of it all. There is a butt-load of perishable ingredients or preparations to make Tiki drinks—make them well at any rate.
- I think this seems like a bigger issue than it is. Tiki guys have all these specialized things on hand, so of course they assume you should use them. Fact is, there are lots of ways to finesse the more esoteric methods or ingredients.
If you think that you have to do things the pain in the ass geek on the subject commands you… Have you met the Internet? A week on the web and you should realize that common sense is a needed companion when looking for answers hereabouts.
What all this comes down to is: For Tiki to be fun, it needs to achieve Critical Mass. You need several specialty syrups to execute some of the best drinks, and more to maintain any kind of variety from one round to the next. The produce you use may or may not be more than what you uses in regular drinks mixing, but it will be different produce for your normal needs. Dressing up yourself and your bar, and loading your iPod properly for the Tiki experience takes time and a change in routine. Bringing yourself up to speed for Tiki takes time. Do it only 28 times a year means spooling yourself up 28 times. It’s a mess. But do it 28 days in a row, and you spool up once.
In late January, I place an order with Okolemaluna for certain syrups I don’t want to make myself. I go online and order a few bottles of hooch that I can’t get in Ohio, but that I know I will want. I pick up a new shirt or two, and order any other new Tiki elements I want to have show up as the month progresses to enrich the experience. I make a few modifications to my bar’s ready rack of equipment, make up the fresh ingredients I need, and keep them in stock. I alter my produce buys. I then alter it further when my daughter discovers the joy of fresh pineapple juice and keeps drinking me dry….
And when it is cocktail time, for the entire month of February, I just toss on my shirt, don my fez, and go downstairs. A new drink, or repeat performer, is now really no more time-consuming than a regular cocktail. All because I have achieved Tiki Critical Mass. It’s a bit of work up front, but that pays off all month. And voila, Tiki is easy!
And at the end of the month, I box everything up, pour out any leftovers, and go on an Old-Fashioned binge. My guests and I have enjoyed a month of awesomeness and variety, I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve made something cool accessible to me.
And he’s gotten a whole month’s worth of material for his blog stunt that begs for the attention he still desperately craves!
Yeah. That too.
If you crave Tiki, but like me do not want to make the metamorphosis into a Tiki Idol, here’s the secret: Pick out a couple of weeks in a row, or even a month, and take a vacation to the South Seas. Immerse yourself and your friends. Have a fun time, and one that will be surprisingly easy and convenient. Then put it all away and go back to Sazeracs and Martinis, until the next time the mood calls you. As for when would be a good time to achieve your own Tiki Critical Mass, may I suggest next February?
We’ll be here!
Yes, we will.