Category - Recipes

1
The How-To of Tiki (and Other Cocktail) Syrups
2
Tiki Drinks in Craft Bars—Example: Mytoi Gardens
3
Tiki Drink: Tropical Morn
4
MxMo: XCIII Blue—The Surf Savai’i Sour

The How-To of Tiki (and Other Cocktail) Syrups

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If you are new to good cocktails in general, or simply trying to get a handle on this whole Tiki sub-genre, chances are you look at a lot of recipes in books or online that stop you cold. It says it right there, “1/2 ounce Passion Fruit Syrup” or “1/4 ounce Rich Vanilla Syrup”. And you move right along to the next recipe. Why? Because you are not very certain what a passion fruit even looks like, and you are extremely certain that you’ve never seen any on the shelf next to the Log Cabin and Aunt Jemima at the megamart. And while you are relatively sure what vanilla syrup probably is, you don’t have any of it either, and since you are not rich, why the Hell would your (non-existent) vanilla syrup be? And you just close your browser tab and go mix yourself another Dry Martini, proud at least that your vermouth is fresh.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Sure, syrups seem quite complicated and time-consuming to the guy who hasn’t gotten into them. And they can be resource- and refrigerator space-intensive. One of the main reasons I started doing Tiki Months was to concentrate all my expected failures into one big Binge of Science™ and keep my wife’s ire temporally localized over all the chillbox space I’d be using. It turns out though, that cocktail syrups are for the most part quite easy. There are only a couple of methods you need for all cocktail syrups I’ve run into, and keeping a few minor things in mind makes all of them simple, moderately fool-proof, and even easy on cleanup.

Simple Syrup:

Simple is just that. It is nothing more than plain refined sugar, dissolved in water, in a range of concentrations, by various methods. It is a very basic concept, covered widely on the web, but I’ll do a quick run-down since there are plenty of folks who’ve never made any, and because most of the things I’ll say about it apply to all syrups. First, don’t buy it. Seriously. Simple is easy and cheap to make and store. Once the sugar is completely in solution, it will not settle out. Keep it cold, and it will last for a good while. Add a splash of vodka (or better, Golden Grain), and it will last for a very long time indeed.

The ratio between your sugar and your water (by volume) will dictate how you use it. A one-to-one ratio is is what is properly called “simple syrup”. If you go to 2:1 sugar to water, you get what recipes will usually call “rich simple syrup”. In Tiki drinks you will often see something called “rock candy syrup”. Rock candy syrup is just a simple solution where you have dissolved as much sugar into the water as it will accept. The ratio will often approach 3:1. Personally, I tend to just make a single batch of simple at a 1.5:1 ratio, and use it for rich and simple alike. It saves space and time, and will work just fine in 95% of recipes calling for either simple or rich. For those where it doesn’t, simply increasing or decreasing the amount called for by a third will fix it and never have any of the adverse consequences you might find with many other ingredients.

The two main ways to get the aforementioned complete dissolve are with a stovetop or a good blender. Each have their advantages.
To use a blender, simply add the sugar and water and run it on high. Check periodically to see if all the sugar has disappeared. You are done. This method is fast, and you can fix the problem if you run out of simple during service or a party without a trip to the kitchen. But I have never managed to get a reasonable concentration for rock candy syrup with a blender. Your syrup comes out cool from the blender, having never gotten hot. This does not matter with simple, but it will matter with other syrups later.
For simple on the stovetop, just pour the sugar into a small pot, and pour hot water over the top. Turn on the burner to high and stand there until it boils. Don’t walk away. Watch that pot.

But a watched pot never boils!

Be patient. Crush some Candy. Listen to a podcast. Post a picture of your not-yet-boiling syrup to Instagram. Whatever. Indulge your inner hipster for a couple of minutes. Let the water come to a complete rolling boil. The moment you judge it has, remove the pot from the burner. The bubbles will disappear, and you can look to see if all the sugar has dissolved. Chances are it has. If you see any on the bottom, put it back on the burner for about another ten seconds of boil, then remove again. You are done. It is important to note that you should not, at any time, stir a simple syrup! You don’t need to, and it will splash syrup on the hot sides of the pot. It will instantly caramelize there, and you will be working the steel wool to get it off. The heat and agitation from just reaching a full boil will be all you need for concentrations up to 2:1.

The science here is that you do not want to evaporate too much water. If you do, it will throw off the ratio. It also will allow the sugars to get above 212 degree Fahrenheit. At that point, they will begin to caramelize. This changes their textures and their flavors, which you do not want in a simple. For rock candy syrup, you will need to suck it up and use a wooden spoon (and the steel wool later). Put in a 3:1 mix. Stir gently while bringing to a boil, and let it boil for less than 20-30 seconds while still stirring. Remove from the heat. Any sugar still undissolved is not going to at this point, and is likely a negligible amount anyway. When you pour off your syrup, leave the dregs with the undissolved granules in the pot, so they wont start forming real rock candy in your bottle.

Spice Syrups:

This class of ingredient is cool as it has a lot of uses beyond just Tiki drinks. Two examples are cinnamon- and vanilla-infused simple syrups, but you can follow this method with virtually any spice you want to use. You have to use a pot for these, as the blender will not work. Simply set up a pot of 1:1 sugar and water. Drop in one or two sticks of cinnamon, or pods of vanilla. Than follow the method above of just letting the pot come to a boil. Remove from the heat and leave the spice in the pot for five to ten minutes. I suggest stirring the syrup (after it is off the stove) and tasting it occasionally until you get the flavor you want. Remove and discard the spices before you bottle your syrup. This works with most any dried spice. Just be sure they haven’t been sitting on the shelf too long, or they will have lost most of the oils that you are trying to extract.

Spice syrups don’t last quite as long as simple, only because the flavors start to fade after a week or three. Drinks made with these guys are delicious, so it really shouldn’t be a problem.

Herbal Syrups:
You don’t see many of these called for in Tiki drinks, but if you want to infuse your simple with soft herbs instead of hard spices, the process is the same, only put in your herbs right after you come off the boil. and don’t leave them to steep too long or they will cook.

Fruit Syrups:
These are the big Tiki syrups. I break them down into two sub-groups: Juice syrups and pulp syrups.

Homemade Grenadine is the King of juice syrups. Grenadine’s reputation has been utterly ruined by a billions gallons of the high-fructose corn syrup and red dye mixture of the commercial beverage industry. That stuff is only useful for making Shirley Temples, and your kids won’t even accept it in those once you make them one or two Shirleys with real grenadine. At its core, grenadine is noting but a 1:1 simple syrup, with pure pomegranate juice in place of water. You can make it with your blender (“cold-process”), or on the stove (“hot-process”). Unlike simple syrup, the method will make a huge difference in the flavor. Which you like will be up to you. If you have multiple children, they will split evenly and passionately about which one you absolutely have to make, and you will end up keeping both on hand. If you make yours via the hot process, I recommend letting the syrup boil for about 20-30 seconds or more to further cook the pomegranate and make the flavor more, um, hot-processy.

As with all juice syrups, remember to start with the best, pure juice you can lay your hands on. I do not go to the effort to juice pomegranates myself, because I do not have that kind of sinful past life to make up for. But not all bottled 100% pomegranate juices are created equal. I recommend Pom Wonderful. It is a huge, consistent brand that is available almost everywhere. And it has a much deeper, richer, pinot noir-like color than most brands. This will give you a more colorful final syrup. Don’t forget that grenadine has important things to contribute to the appearance of drinks, as well as the flavor.

I’m going to use Passion Fruit Syrup as my example for pulp syrups, as it is pervasive in Tiki drinks. There are many excellent commercial products out there, such as B.G. Reynolds. And if your choice is between processing whole fresh passion fruits to make syrup yourself, or buying commercial syrup, I’d say buy. But for most people, especially in cities, there is an excellent middle ground than makes making your own easy and inexpensive. Simply purchase frozen fruit pulp, such as the Goya brand product in the picture atop this post. You may need to visit your local Mexican specialty grocery to find it, but it is cheap, and comes in a wide variety of fruits. I’ve never even heard of many of them. As a bonus for your visit, your Mexican grocer will likely offer fresh limes at the best price in town.

My passion fruit syrup recipe is approximately 1:1:1 by weight: water, sugar, and passion fruit pulp. I suggest you start with this, and increase the amount of sugar, depending on your brand of pulp and your personal tastes. I put the sugar, water, and half the passion fruit in a pot and bring to a boil without stirring. As soon as it reaches a boil, I take it off and allow to cool for a minute or so. I then stir in the remaining passion fruit until it has all melted and combined in the syrup. When you add the fruit is important. Heat makes definite changes in the flavor of passion fruit, deepening and mellowing it. Whether this is a bad thing or not is pretty much a matter of personal taste. I split the baby because I think it gives a more complex result. If you really like the unadulterated flavor of passion fruit, you can even make your syrup in the blender. (If you do, dissolve the sugar and water first, before adding the pulp.)

I’ll close with a note that is both a disclaimer and a helpful tip. I make most of my syrups on the less sweet side, especially the passion fruit. There are several reasons for this. My taste in the resulting cocktail runs a bit to the tart side to begin with. More importantly, if your flavored syrup is not sweet enough, it is bog easy to make it sweeter by simply adding a little plain simple syrup. This will not change any of the balance of other flavors in the cocktail, or its texture, or appearance. It will just add the sweetness it might need. Conversely, it is very hard to reduce the sweetness from an overly sweet syrup. If you reduce the amount of syrup used, the amount of fruit or spice will also be reduced, which will throw off the balance of the drink. Over time and several batches, you will get your syrups to the sweetness that works for how you want to serve drinks. But start from the tart side and you won’t find yourself pouring out a lot of failed tries.

Tiki Drinks in Craft Bars—Example: Mytoi Gardens

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Over the years of doing Tiki Month, I’ve tended to focus most of my drinking evaluation on the older Tiki drinks, mostly those from the 30’s and 40’s. There’s a couple of reasons for that. First, I’m an historian at heart. I like old stuff. It is why I love Beachbum Berry so much. His ability to uncover so much about this interesting little slice of American culture is amazing. Mmore importantly, the Tiki drinks from the decades of the Tiki era tend to be sweet, boring, and insipid, in keeping with American tastes in drinking at that time. (There are exceptions, but this is a pretty good rule of thumb.)

I was asked Wednesday night by a visiting Cincinnati bartender who is just getting into Tiki exploration why the delicious Mai Tai I’d just served her had devolved in modern days to the sweet, fruity mess most everyone thinks of now. The reason is those changing tastes of American drinking. To an experienced cocktail palate, one used to multiple spirits and the profound ways that sometimes just a change in ratios can alter flavors, a Vic Bergeron Mai Tai is a fantastic drinking adventure. The strong, discordant yet somehow perfectly harmonious flavors demand the attention of the serious drinker.

Well, they demand the attention of the casual Vodka and Soda or Cosmopolitan drinker, too…. but not in the same way. To them, the reaction is more like, “Whoa! What the Hell? This is tasty, I guess, but really… what the Hell?” The food world equivalent would be just wanting a quick, good hamburger, but being asked instead to sit down for a four-course meal featuring Osso Buco. In the 70’s, as you needed to medicate yourself to tamp down the knowledge that your President was named Nixon or Carter, you were stressed enough at being thought square for drinking cocktails at all, instead of doing lines of coke like all the cool people. You did not need or want to be challenged by your damn drink. In today’s world, where even self-medication isn’t enough, people are moving back to food and drink that they want to pay attention to. And thus, the older style of thought- and palate-provoking tropical drinks are rising once again.

So recently I’ve been looking more and more at truly modern Tiki drinks, those invented during the current revival of the genre. A lot have been inventions of A Mountain of Crushed Ice or Rated-R Cocktails, two of the best full-time Tiki blogs out there. You should visit and subscribe to both. Go on. I’ll wait.

More encouragingly to the likes of me is that there are also a lot of excellent modern Tiki-style drinks being concocted in non-Tiki bars today as well. In olden days, when Don and Vic rode their triceratopses to work every day, really good Tiki drinks were restricted to specialty bars. The overhead of fresh juices and exotic syrups was too much for normal pubs. But in today’s Craft environment, arrays of juices and syrups (and cocktails with lots of ingredients in small amounts) are par for the course. There is no reason that Tiki drinks should not nestle in among the other marvelous offerings in any top flight bar.
Mytoi-Gardens-PeguBlog
To illustrate my point, here’s a delicious concoction by the hardest working blogger in the cocktail business, Fred Yarm of Cocktail Virgin Slut and the current Guardian of Mixology Monday™. (Scheduled for release as a major motion picture by Marvel in 2023.) For his sins, Fred works a bit at the Russell House Tavern in Boston. His Tiki drink, the Mytoi Gardens sits proudly on the Russell’s extensive Craft menu, among Algonquins and modern bitter bombs like something called a Sottobosco. Here’s my take on it. Read Fred’s post for his slightly more price-friendly version.

MYTOI GARDENS

  • 1 1/2 El Dorado 12
  • 1 fresh pineapple juice
  • 3/4 fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 Allspice dram
  • 1/4 simple syrup
  • 5 drops vanilla extract
  • 1 dash Angostura Bitters

Combine in a shaker with ice and chill thoroughly. Strain into a transparent vessel (not a Tiki mug!) filled with crushed ice. Float 3 dashes more of Angostura on top and garnish with pineapple in one or more forms.

As I told Fred as soon as I tried my first shot at the Mytoi Gardens, this is one big-time, old school Tiki drink. Sweet though it may be, the undeniably exotic notes of the vanilla and the allspice, along with the redolent… demeraraness… of the El Dorado combine to provide that uniquely Tiki experience: a slightly disorienting, slightly transporting melange of flavors that provides a unique escape hatch all its own.

Tiki Drink: Tropical Morn

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Tropical Morn comes from a drink called simply the Coffee-Pineapple Daiquiri by Tiare of A Mountain of Crushed Ice, and modified to fit my available ingredients and my wife’s tastes. Tiare dashed this little ditty off as part of her review of St. Aubin rums, which I (of course) can’t get here, in this case their coffee-flavored rum. But since I have managed to acquire a bottle of Brinely Gold’s Shipwreck Coffee, which is the only such rum currently available in the US, I thought this would be a good starting spot for experimenting.

Taking her recipe and simply substituting the Shipwreck and my very strong demerara syrup resulted in a drink with a great profile, but one that was a bit too sweet for my tastes. I personally don’t like coffee, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that this is not a coffee bomb. In fact, it is not immediately obvious it is a coffee drink at all. The java and the pineapple sorta merge together to result in the elusively undefinable flavors of a good Tiki drink, in this case a sort of soft, novel spice. It is similar in character but not flavor to vanilla.

But the sweetness detracted from the concoction, so I backed off the quarter ounce of syrup still further, and punched up the lime just a bit to make the citrus element a little more identifiable. Then I gave it a name, since Tiare neglected to do so. The result is a difficult balancing act to make, but a worthwhile drink that is distinct from the crowd while still undeniably Tiki.

TROPICAL MORN

  • 2 oz. Shipwreck Coffee Rum
  • 1 oz. fresh pressed pineapple juice, unstrained
  • 3.4 oz. fresh lime juice
  • splash of 2:1 demerara syrup

Combine ingredients and shake with small ice. Pour unstrained in a small Tiki mug or lowball glass. Top with fresh ice. Garnish with a pineapple leaf construct.

(This post was edited after publication because it had the wrong frigging picture!)

MxMo: XCIII Blue—The Surf Savai’i Sour

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Surf Savai'i Sour
mxmologoI’ve been terribly remiss in participating in Mixology Monday of late, but this month the stars aligned so perfectly that here I am. The particular items in sync here are the impending arrival of Tiki Month here at the Pegu Blog (and assorted other corners of the World Wide Web and Twitterverse), and the theme chosen by this month’s MxMo host, Andrea of Ginhound.

That theme is Blue. Tiki is of course the natural home of blue drinks. The stunning azure of blue curaçao is immediately evocative of the waters of South Pacific beaches, and I project a lot of Tiki-style drinks in this month’s round-up. (Caveat: I have made incorrect predictions in the past.)

Regardless, I have posted before about blue drinks, of varying degrees of quality, many were old recipes with an original or two thrown in. The drink I’m submitting today, the Surf Savai’i Sour is not, in fact, blue at all! The blue is in the special effects. And those special effects have gone through some significant evolution as I’ve worked on this drink.

Tonga 1
Just another crappy day in Tiki Inspirationville….
Savai’i Beach, Tonga Source

I wanted to do a surf-themed drink. The flavor profile came together quickly, but my chosen ingredients result in a drink so brown that simply trying to blue it up results in a look that more evokes the muddy ocean waters of the beautifully bleak Atlantic beach of my own youth. I’m using egg whites to get a good crema intended to evoke mighty ocean spray, so I moved to adding the blue as a liquid garnish enmeshed in the foam.

My first idea was a rocks drink, using a big chunk of ice, and giving it a name something like Diamondhead. I shook the drink, poured it over the ice, then drizzled some blue curaçao over it to work down through the foam in turbulent tendrils like mighty surf breaking on volcanic sands. In theory.

Don’t laugh. I know. I’m in the future, too.
Surf-Savai'i-Rocks
Sad, isn’t it?
If I can’t even get the effect to last long enough to move it from bar to light box and get a picture. That’s pretty lame to give to a guest. And it wasn’t nearly as cool looking as I had hoped anyway.

When the going gets tough, the tough try something else. I changed over to the up drink you see atop the post. I’ve seen countless bartenders do the kind of effect I used to draw the cresting wave, usually with Angostura Bitters in a Pisco Sour or the like. I’ve avoided trying it because it looks like one of those things that’s harder than it looks.

That makes exactly zero sense, Doug….

Quiet while I’m making excuses.

It is in fact dead easy. I put some blue curaçao in a dropper bottle and dropped out a connect the dots layout of the wave. Then you take a coffee straw and sweep evenly through the dots in the direction you want. For the wave, start at either end and go to the crest. The only really important thing to do is make sure your cream or foam is thick and rich enough to support your drops to begin with.

Here’s the recipe:

SURF SAVAI’I SOUR

  • 3 parts El Dorado 3 demerara rum
  • 1 part fresh lime juice
  • 1 part fresh pineapple juice
  • 1.5 parts St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram
  • 1 scant part B. G. Reynolds’ Orgeat
  • Combine ingredients in a shaker, along with the spring removed form a cheap hawthorne strainer. Shake extensively. I usually shake it until the pressure built enough to about pop the seal, then release the pressure and repeat three times. Add ice and shake just enough to chill. Strain into a coupe glass. Wait for the foam to rise and stabilize, and many of the larger, visible bubbles to pop. Garnish with blue curaçao, droppered into a wave shape and stroked smooth with a coffee straw.

I’m pretty happy with the final flavor of the drink. It is intentionally a fusion of the Trader Vic and Donn Beach schools. It has Vic’s unctuous sweet and sour face, but the exotic spicy undertow of the allspice adds a distinctly Donish touch. Be careful with the allspice, though. The sweet spot of just enough is a very narrow band, nestled between great expanses of insipidity and “Wow! That’s a lovely glass of allspice liqueur you’ve served me!”

Cheers, all! Now go read the rest of the Mixology Monday offerings!

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