Why Tiki Month?


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.

Pot.
Kettle.

Yeah, exactly.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.


Feel the power of Critical Mass!

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.


RELATED POST

  1. Joe

    27 February

    For me, it’s almost a mirror image. December is what I call (as of about 30 sec. ago, until now I dodn’t CALL it anything) classic cocktail month. I don the vest and, for a brief and shining moment almost come close to possibly considering crazy facial hair, and instead apply sleeve garters.

    After all the syrups, pulps, fruits, the 362 different rums in one drink, the swizzling, the ice crusher-ing, the blender, the mixer, etc. it’s a joy to just take a slim, elegant pitcher and make a Manhattan, or break out the Asprey’s shaker for Sidecars. Or delve into the whole speakeasy trip.

    So I feel ya…but I still won’t pour anything in a coupe glass though.

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  2. Nathan

    27 February

    Huh…and I just assumed it was because all the best citrus was in season…

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  3. Jordan

    28 February

    Building up the rum stock is probably the hardest part. Once you’re set on that front, the other pieces are a lot easier to pull together. Most of the syrups will last for months if you keep ’em cold (homemade orgeat excepted). But Nathan is right that winter is when the really good citrus shows up in grocery stores (white grapefruit, especially).

    Here’s to many more Tiki Months to come!

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  4. Doug

    28 February

    Joe,

    I had much the same attitude about coupes until my wife bought me a case of them for Christmas. Now I love the things. They tend to be smaller, and more importantly, you can fill them twice as full as a standard cocktail glass, and they will still spill less.

    Nathan and Jordan,

    It is true that there is good fruit right now, pineapples have been especially good lately, as have the limes. (The lemons all look awful though)
    Interestingly, other than checking my Smitty levels, I don’t usually need to do much liquor-wise to prepare for Tiki Month. I use a lot of Rum in all sorts of other drinks, so my stocks tend to be set there.

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  5. Joe

    28 February

    My distates for coupes is deep, abiding, manifest, sincere and entire. Everytime I see Robt. Hess pouring a cocktail into one, I die a little. The more 1890s-looking, the greater my agonies.

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  6. Jordan

    28 February

    Sadly I’ll also have to make Joe unhappy. Coupes all the way. But then I do live in the city where people are living the dream of the 1890s, so maybe it’s appropriate.

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  7. Doug

    28 February

    Jordan,

    Yeah, the whole hipster vibe of the coupe is one of the reasons I shied away from them for so long. But coupes are in fact highly practical and useful, so I guess the reality is that they have nothing whatsoever to do with hipsters….

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  8. Joe

    28 February

    MAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAYBE, possibly, perhaps I might be talked into a grudging tolerance of a very plain design coupe. Not likely, but not wildly outside the realm of the possible. (The drink’d have to be SPECTACULAR, for starters.)

    But those frou-frou Belle Epoque numbers with gilt rims and/or lacy etching like this one?
    http://www.drinkhacker.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/11/chocolate-brownie.jpg

    Nuh uh.

    Of course, I also recognize many people have similar opinions of ceramic tiki mugs (for the most part, I do too, heretic that I am) or colored glassware or whatever.

    This all said, an exposition as to why the coupe is more practical and useful than a cocktail glass of the same volume would be welcome.

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  9. Doug

    29 February

    Well, I have my first post-Tiki Month story idea!

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  10. Nick

    29 February

    Impressive work and blogging for February, Doug! I also like to dabble with Tiki as the spring arrives, as I feel it helps get over the doldrums as we look forward to warm weather. Since this year spring seems to be coming earlier, I have been making some Tiki drinks this February as well. One question: does pureeing a pineappple in a blender or food processor and straining it work well for making pineapple juice? So far, not having a juicer I have just used the little cans.

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  11. Doug

    29 February

    Nick,

    Good ripe pineapple has blended OK for me in my BlendTec, the few times I’ve used that in lieu of juice in blender drinks. But there is a lot of pulp.
    I have a centrifuge power juicer that I use mostly for pineapple year round, and that’s the way I go now.
    Honestly, good can juice, freshly opened isn’t half bad, you just get spoiled once you get a way to make the fresh stuff.

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  12. SquirrelFarts

    29 February

    I guessed I missed the hipster appropriation of coupe glasses, since I don’t mind them at all. I will concede that generally I prefer simplicity over intricate facets and cuts, but find nothing wrong with an occasional coupe, especially for smaller proportioned classic recipes.

    I think it’s easier to simply ignore whatever fad of the week hipsters think they’ve invented, and keep going with my own styles. I’ll even drink a PBR, un-ironically.

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  13. DJ HawaiianShirt

    29 February

    My ire about your disassembly of my tiki arguments are subdued only by the amount of publicity you’ve given me and how right you are. Tiki’s a pain in the ass when done sparingly, and its troubles are greatly softened when done for a month straight.

    However, I might postulate that tiki is best done sparingly. To say nothing of flavor fatigue, the PeguFamily might wonder why the PeguDad is down in his basement wearing his silly hat drinking alone for the 23rd day in a row (because he HAS to, for maximum drink-making ease) when I feel that tiki drinks are at their most powerful when perhaps made on a whim with ingredients nabbed from the grocery store after a long day at work, or even better, whipped out and made to impress visiting friends, especially those who haven’t experienced REAL tiki. Escapism might be most potent when it’s needed the most, eh?

    Anyway, I’m really proud of my “I hate tiki” list (I tease because I love) and I ESPECIALLY reserve the right to complain about tiki all I want.

    Thanks for another great tiki month, Doug.

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  14. Doug

    29 February

    DJ HawaiianShirt,

    I was wondering when you’d show up to defend yourself!

    I’ll actually agree with you that Tiki is best done ‘sparingly’. A bolt of Suffering Bastard from the blue is awesome….
    (wait for it)
    Or at least I’d agree with that if it weren’t for a bunch of really salient points brought up by this weird guy on the internet… YOU.
    (OK, here it comes)
    It’s like my buddies on the left of the political spectrum who say things like, “Puppies and bacon and birth-control make people happy, so if we make sure everyone gets those for free, everyone will be happy and the world will be a better place.” Great. But it won’t work, because then dog food would cost so much we’d have to feed all our free bacon to our free pooch, and then be spending so much time going walkies that we would be too busy to get laid. Try to force the world to be a better place, and you screw everyone.
    (Sigh, there you go. One Irrefutable Argument™—Internet Style)
    Seriously, you simply can’t have much fun with Tiki on the spur of the moment because to do so you need to accept one of two (to me) unacceptable things: Either restrict yourself to a very small subset of drinks, or accept that you’ll have a lot of expensive, time-consuming ingredients going bad all the time.

    And my family doesn’t worry about my drinking downstairs alone. My wife waits in fear of me coming upstairs with the next weird drink for her to try. She wishes I’d stay down there. And my kids love it because they’ve discovered that Passionfruit syrup and most anything makes for great kiddie cocktails!

    Seriously, thanks for hanging out with me this month!

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  15. Joe

    29 February

    In the name of all that is holy, do NOT, I beg you all, use pineapple juice from a can. Even the stuff from the cartons is a bazillion times better. I don’t realistically expect everyone to juice pineapples fresh, but not cans. I’d rather drink out of a frilly, gilded 2nd coupe.

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  16. As a side note, could someone tell me why someone would possibly have a strong negative opinion of a coupe glass? It’s just a shape.

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