Tag - tiki

The How-To of Tiki (and Other Cocktail) Syrups
TIki Drink: Tiki Tylenol
Basement Bar Design—Tiki Decor: Fireplace
Tiki Music: The Ukulele

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

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 Drink: Tiki Tylenol

TikiTylenol Full
This cocktail comes by way of Board of Tiki Idols member, Doctor Bamboo. His name for it in its original form is the Pololu. You can find it in Beach Bum Berry’s Remixed, since the good Doctor never seems to have blogged it. I changed its name to Tiki Tylenol, because I make some tiny changes in the recipe, and because if Tylenol is a painkiller without asprin, and this is a Painkiller without rum…. Also, like regular Tylenol, too many can result in liver damage.


Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with lots of ice and shake very well to fully emulsify the coconut creme. Strain into a largish cocktail glass and sprinkle surface with powdered cinnamon.

This is a particularly delicious, though non-standard Tiki drink. Gin and Cognac work better together than most people think, and at three ounces, pack quite a punch. My main change is to replace the original St. Germaine with the far more potent Thatcher, and adding a little apricot in place of the pear tones in the St. Germain. This change works well, I think.
It also lead to an interesting discussion two nights ago. I put the Tylenol on the menu for a bunch of bartenders. An hour and a half in, I observed loudly that I hadn’t served a single one of these drinks all night. They all looked at me, and one said simply, “It has St. Germain.” I replied that no, it had elderflower, not St. Germain, and what did he have against bartender’s ketchup? “Nothing,” was the reply. “You put a drink with it on your menu and you’ll sell hell out of it to one group of customers, but the others won’t touch it for anything.”

Basement Bar Design—Tiki Decor: Fireplace

Tiki Fireplace
This lovely artifact is old, I know. In internet terms, this post on something built and publicized in 2005 is practically anthropology. But man, is it cool.

This Tiki fireplace is the magnum opus of Tikiphile and Tiki Central member Biff Butler. He started by building the basic box out of sheets of pink insulating sheathing which he carved into the rough outline. He then built up the detail with fireplace cement. The eyes are made of surfboard resin and backlit. A smoke machine rests on a fireproof shelf over the mouth. You can read his discussion of the process at Tiki Central, and see a set of 48 photos of it’s construction on his own website.
The guy is a serious Tiki designer. Check out his bedroom here, in that old-fashioned Quicktime 3D format (Can’t Embed.) And you can see the rest of his Tiki bar living room in this video:

Tiki Music: The Ukulele



A little background music while you read this post.

I’ve been on a little bit of a ukulele music kick lately. I was kicking around the web back in January, looking for material for the Tiki culture portion of Tiki Month and ran across an nice article in The Atlantic entitled The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of the Ukulele. It is an excellent little history of the ukulele in American pop culture, and well worth a read. The word “Tiki” doesn’t actually appear in the article, and mentioning that is a good way to note that while they are often connected, the ukulele is not at all exclusively a Tiki music instrument (especially of late). I’ll just focus on the fact that the arc of the ukulele’s popularity closely matches that of Tiki culture in general, and for much the same reasons.

In broad strokes, the ukulele (in its Hawaiian-perfected form) first came to mainstream attention in the early 20th Century, before the invention of Tiki. With its exotic origins and ease of play, the ukulele was a fun and easy way to transport yourself through imagination to exotic lands, just like the Tiki culture which followed and adopted the uke. By the 1950’s, the instrument was huge, reaching a peak of popularity, with nearly one and three-quarter million ukulele players in the US alone. If your image of the ukulele is of ridiculous nerd Tiny Tim, “tiptoeing through the tulips”, remember that Elvis’s ukulele soundtrack from Blue Hawaii was number one for five months.

Elvis played the ukulele. Your argument is invalid.

But with the 60’s, the culture started to move on. The Beatles, with their big, sexy, throbbing guitars made the little ukulele seem childish. Also, I imagine that the burgeoning of the recorded music industry hurt the ukulele too. One of its chief draws is how easy it is to learn and to play this little guy. As technology made it less and less important for people to be able to make their own music, instruments whose leading draw was their ease of play lost a lot of their market edge. Besides, if you liked a piece of ukulele music, there was the mortal risk that your Dad might whip his out and try to play it!

OF course, if your step-dad is The Rock, that douchebag Steve who wants to mock you for his playing the ukulele will probably think better of it….
(Journey 2 the Mysterious Island)

Among the frustrations I’ve experienced recently is the discovery that The Rock—The Freakin’ Rock!—has a better voice than I do….

Eventually, like other aspects of Tiki culture, the ukulele was virtually forgotten by pop culture. This paved the way for its revival, as its cultural baggage lost its potency. The things that made it popular to begin with remain true, of course. It is easy to play. It is versatile. It is just intrinsically fun. Again, just like other elements of Tiki culture, the ukulele’s revival comes in a form more integrated with mainstream culture. The web is rife with ukulele covers of distinctly non-tropical music. And the thing is, they work. Sometime when you are definitely not at work, listen to this semi-perfect cover of Cee Lo Green’s most famous hit. (No really, it is not the radio version!)

Of course, as Tiki culture in its purer forms makes its boutique, and hopefully sustainable comeback, the ukulele is still a staple for musicians such as Don Tiki.

Search around for ukulele music. You’ll like it. And if you have the least musical inclination, whether you want a first instrument or you are a musician who’d be interested in an easy extra to pick up, consider a ukulele. You can get a Starter Ukulele, with extra strings, case, and introductory instruction book from Amazon for $32.50. And that’s a Prime Eligible price. I bought one shortly before posting this.

And yes, I am aware I just reduced the chance that anyone who reads this will risk visiting my home in the future….

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