Category: don the beachcomber
Tiki Month 2018

About the Much Maligned Paper Cocktail Umbrella

We need to talk about paper umbrellas. Few items say more about Tiki than paper umbrellas. They are cute, funny, kinda stupid, a little bit dangerous, wildly inauthentic, and more fun for most of us than we will admit—just like Tiki in general. Trader Vic's son says his dad stole the idea from Don the Beachcomber, who had in turn stolen it from food garnishes in L.A. Chinese restaurants. (Note to the uninitiated in this period of history: Everything Don did that was worthwhile, Vic stole. Everything Vic did with it that was worthwhile, Don stole right back.) In general, Don stole his drinks culture from the Caribbean and his food from China. Here he stole his drink paraphernalia from China. Of course, Vic's grandson says Trader Vic's has never served umbrella in their drinks. And Beachbum Berry, the Indiana Jones of the Tiki world and general spoil-sport, claims the umbrella was first employed twenty years later by some bartender in Hawaii with a clear genius for marketing. We may never know the truth about their origins, but I feel confident in declaring that rumors that paper cocktail umbrellas were first employed to keep the sun from melting your ice are #FakeNews. I grew up in the tropical sun. It. Would. Not. Work. One theory about cocktail umbrellas that seems awfully sound is that they grew in popularity because chicks dig them. Think I'm being sexist? Ask anyone who has ever served drinks to a group of people, professionally or in the comfort of their own home. Give one person a umbrella in their drink and almost every woman in eyesight will be jealous and demand an umbrella in their next round, even if their next round is a Dry Martini.
Just stick it in the olive, please!
Don't give in to this pressure to put umbrellas in cocktail glasses, please. The things will put an eye out. Always serve umbrella drinks with a straw. But here's the problem with these glorious, kitschy little drink ornaments... They are kinda... um... boring. Yeah. Let's be honest. They take no skill or flair to employ, and they are literally a couple of dimes a dozen to buy. When serving a large group of people, you are getting crushed, and you are low on fancy garnish, breaking out the paper umbrellas is a quick, crowd-pleasing cheat. They will get you off the hook, but these days, they won't impress any one. Unless you up your game. Here's a simple way to make your umbrella-fu stand out in the jaded minds of your guests: When serving up Dark n' Stormys, Hurricanes, or other Jim Cantori-themed cocktails, pop the umbrella inside out like a rookie weather man's. It's a simple trick, but adds some whimsey. At the other end of the ease of execution spectrum, make your cocktail umbrella from scratch. Here's one way to go about it that I tried out for a 151 Swizzle back in the day. Take a spent lime half, flip it inside out and use a toothpick to secure it to a cinnamon stick. I know I came up with this on my own, and I've never seen it in a picture older than this one. Does anyone know of someone who had done this trick before New Year's 2012? I'd love to call First, but I'm not that good. You can also make the umbrella a supporting player. Often times, you spend a good amount of time crafting some glorious, edible garnish, and it just needs a little something, be it size or whimsey. Jam a cocktail parasol in the at just the right angle and voila! Tiki Tree Viper Cocktail from Rated-R Cocktails I'll wind up with a slightly more extensive mod than the Hurricane Hack. Take a pair of scissors or, better yet, pinking shears to the paper. Cutting or tearing the tissue paper allows you to more artfully distress the umbrella. It also allows you to essentially sculpt your umbrella into a more ornate, interesting shape. More importantly, you make a basic umbrella look unlike something your guest has seem a million times. This last picture is of my rendition of a drink with a name too awesome not to share: The Humuhumunukunukuapua'a, which can be found on page 144 of Martin Cate's Tiki masterwork Smuggler's Cove. I'd post the recipe here, but I'd feel bad about giving a Tiki drink as interesting and non-standard as this one short shrift at the end of a long piece. It'll get its own on the next
Tiki Month 2016

Revisited Tiki Drink: Nui Nui

Nui Nui I have actually blogged the Nui Nui before, back in 2011. A Don the Beachcomber invention from the 30's, it is an excellent cocktail that I had lost track of. I won't forget it again, as for someone who is just getting interested in old-school Tiki recipes, it is an absolute winner. I went back to it in the wake of my last post about flash blending, cracked ice, etc. Interestingly, I'm blogging the Nui Nui because it actually undermines the point I was making in the prior post!
  • 2 oz. gold rum
  • 1/2 oz. lime juice
  • 1/2 oz. orange juice
  • 1/4 oz. cinnamon syrup
  • 1/4 oz. Don's Spices No. 2*
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 4 oz. ice
Shake all ingredients well and pour into an Old-Fashioned glass. Garnish with a citrus-heavy presentation. * Don's Spices No. 2 is equal parts vanilla syrup and allspice liqueur. We think....Don was the cagiest.
The actual instructions for the Nui Nui are the Beachcomber's favorite "flash blend for five seconds." If you do this, especially with cracked ice, the drink gets too diluted, to my taste at least. The Nui Nui is both delicious and fraught with issues, and over dilution makes those issues worse. The flavor profile of the Nui Nui is absolutely stereotypical of the core drink style of 30s and 40s Tiki. It is a delicious juice bomb with undefinable flavors. It is well-balanced and not overly strong in flavor or booze content, and that is why it is so vulnerable to over-dilution, which turns those strengths into a weakness. The second issue is that it needs not just one, but two specialty syrups, which places this drink squarely in the wheelhouse of special occasion or hardcore Tiki-phile use. For a new Tiki drinker, it is a great introduction to the core "Tiki Vibe" of what I associate with the classic catalog. Once you have tried a score or so of Don's other recipes, and a score of Trader Vic's, and some others, the Nui Nui seems a bit like eating an ice cream custard base. Sure, it's delicious, but where is the point of the exercise? I'm tempted to make a huge batch of Nui Nui, minus ice and call it Doug's Mix No. 1. I'll try adding one or two other ingredients to three ounces of mix and see if I get a good new cocktail each time. I'm betting I will. In the mean time, if you haven't given the Nui Nui a try, and the ingredients are to hand, give it a try. Just don't
Tiki Month 2014

Tiki Drink: Three Dots and a Dash

Three Dots and a Dash Three Dots and a Dash is a Don the Beachcomber classic with his signature spicy exotic melange of flavors. It manages to work in virtually every Beachcomber marker ingredient, including falernum, pimento dram, and honey mix. I've somehow missed making it for lo these many Tiki Months, and now that I have, I'm regretting the lost time. Make no mistake, it is a pain in the ass to make, with no less than eight ingredients beside the ice, and it needs flash blending to boot. To top it off, it really needs a complex garnish, as I'll discuss after the recipe.
  • 1 part fresh lime juice
  • 1 part orange juice
  • 1 part honey mix
  • 3 parts amber rum
  • 1 part Demerara rum
  • 1 dash Angostura Bitters
  • 1/2 part falernum
  • 1/2 part pimento dram (allspice liqueur)
  • 12 parts small ice
Flash blend all ingredients for about five seconds. Serve in a fun vessel, and garnish as below. Classic serving is 1/2 ounce per part per person.
The classic garnish is a long skewer with three cherries and a pineapple spear; three dots, and a dash, see? Since I currently have no pineapple in solid form, I nestled the cherries in a pod of a pineapple leaf. It is still three short things, and one long. Three dots and a dash stand for the Morse Code letter 'V'. The drink was invented during World War Two, and V for Victory was an important part of the mindset of most involved in the war effort on the Allied side.
Winston Churchill Victory Two Fingers
Winnie liked his V's too.
Source: The Independent
Winston Churchill was central to popularizing the V for Victory two-fingered gesture. Most of the time, he flashed the V with his hand turned to have the palm facing out. When he flipped it around, as shown in this picture, there is an older, severely rude meaning. Since he did it only seldom, I'm sure each time he did, he did it for added effect. Winston Churchill was exquisitely calculated in all his insults. He was a stutterer, so every "spontaneous" quip he made had to have been thought out in advance to make sure he didn't stumble on its delivery. That means he had locked and loaded this in advance, the greatest putdown in history.
Bessie Braddock (MP-Socialist): Winston, you're drunk! Churchill: Yes, Bessie me dear, and you're ugly. But in the morning, I shall be sober!
Tiki Month 2013

Tiki Drink: Don’s Special Daiquiri

Don's Special Daiquiri This is the first new Tiki drink I made in the calendar Tiki Month, so I'll blog it first, even though it is hardly the best I've tried so far. Don's Special Daiquiri is on first examination a near perfect Tiki variant on the Gospel of Rum, the classic Daiquiri cocktail. It uses multiple rums, the sugar is replaced with honey, and Tiki standard passionfruit is added to the mix. Very Tiki. Also, not very good. Here's the recipe as presented by the Bum in Remixed:
  • 1/2 oz lime juice
  • 1/2 oz honey mix
  • 1/2 oz passionfruit syrup
  • 1/2 oz light rum
  • 1 1/2 oz gold Jamaican rum
Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.
I didn't read the background, or really look at the ratios here before making it, or I'd have been expecting the near cloying sweetness we encountered at the first and subsequent sips. If you deconstruct the recipe, you end up with a strong, sour, sweet ratio of roughly 4-1-2, with fairly gentle strong, and pretty robust sweet elements. My default for Sour-type drinks is 3-1-1, which may or may not be a bit much for some of you, but I wager that this recipe's balance will feel off for most everyone. The recipe is of 1970's vintage, which could explain the severe sweetness two ways:
  1. People in the 70's had awful taste in cocktails. I doubt I will get much of a fight on this one.
  2. These proportions were actually meant to be served as a smooth-blended Icee style drink. The addition of a ton of blended ice would cut the sweetness a lot.
Could the Bum have missed something in his research? More likely, the ratios were constructed because #2 was intended, but the staff was mistakenly told it was to be served Up, and no one noticed because... #1. But underneath all that gooeyness, the flavors are trying to dance a good figure. I tried again, closer to my usual preferred balance, by changing both the honey mix and passionfruit to generous quarter ounces instead of halves. It is better. Much better. But it still has no business wearing Don the Beachcomber's name. Anyone else worked over this one, and come up with the right proportions? I'm sure they are in there to be discovered, I just have to move on. Lots to do this Tiki Month!
And hey! This post is part of Tiki Month 2013 here at the Pegu Blog! Be sure to look around for LOTS more Tiki stuff all February!
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