Tag - trader vic

1
Boing! The Pogo Stick
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Tiki Ingredient: Falernum
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Mai Tai Throwdown
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Who Were the Elders of Tiki: Trader Vic

Boing! The Pogo Stick

Trader Vic's Pogo Stick tiki cocktail
The popular perception of Tiki drinks is that they are all rum all the time. While rum is certainly the central spirit to the movement, the Ancient Tiki Masters did not hew to it exclusively. Today’s Tiki drink is a gin-based concoction originated by Trader Vic.

POGO STICK

  • 2 oz. gin
  • .75 oz. unsweetened pineapple juice
  • .75 oz. grapefruit juice
  • .25 oz. lime juice

Combine ingredients in a mixer with small or cracked ice. Blend very briefly until combined and you get a good froth. Serve in a double old-fashioned glass, adding more ice as needed. Garnish with a wheel of lime or a sprig of mint. (See below)

More sour than your average Tiki drink, the Pogo Stick is nonetheless delicious. And it is the first gin drink of any genre I’ve encountered that uses a blender.
swizzle sticks made from rock candyThe name comes from the alternate garnish option that the Trader came up with. As I said, this drink is brighter in flavor than most Tiki concoctions, but rather than just hit it with some simple syrup, he would set a rock candy swizzle stick next to it when serving. It you want it sweeter, just stir the drink with the stick. The longer you stir, the sweeter it gets. It’s a cool idea, and I hope to find time to experiment more with it later this month. For my taste, this drink is delicious as is, without the stick, but for many, I can definitely see the appeal.

Welcome to Not Martha readers! It is Tiki Month here at the Pegu Blog, so please look around while you’re here!

From: Trader Vic’s Tiki Party!

Tiki Ingredient: Falernum

As part of rounding up Tiki Month, I’d like to discuss some ingredients I’ve discovered that are integral to Tiki.
The first is Falernum.
I had honestly never heard of this stuff until the last year, and had absolutely no idea what the heck it was. I will say the name evoked some unpleasant imagery in my mind. I somehow transmuted it to a mish-mash of Faust and Infernal, or some such mental breakdown. The result was that I instinctively rejected any recipe with falernum in it for quite a while. There seems to be no definitive position on the etymology of this word, but Darcy has a good story, while NationMaster has a drier idea.
But as I started ramping up for Tiki month, it became clear that if I wanted to do a complete job on the subject, I was going to have to deal with falernum. In fact, Wikipedia has the following thing to say about it:

Famous drinks including Falernum include:

  • almost any Tiki drink

While this is yet another good example of why you should never trust Wikipedia, it does hold some grain of truth. Falernum is a very important ingredient in Tiki. It’s common, but by no means omnipresent.
I looked around and found a small bottle of falernum made by Fee’s. I bought it, but was confused. What little I had read about the stuff before shying away from the weird name led me to believe it was a liqueur, not a syrup. What is this stuff anyway?
The long and short of it is, falernum is a… a… an ingredient. It combines a number of flavors, including clove, lime, ginger, and almond into a pungent, exotic, viscous fluid. It was originally a liqueur, and many falernums are still manufactured that way. But in most modern applications, it is an accent ingredient, so the alcoholic content is less important.
It does not take much falernum in a drink to make its presence known. In most recipes with it, (that I have tried at any rate) falernum fills the same kind of function as bitters, when bitters wouldn’t be appropriate. It adds a sharp, bracing undertone to other flavors, adding interest and complexity to a drink. In several Tiki recipes, including a lot of Zombies, the falernum is what turns the drink from a nasty sweet punch, into a cocktail. I speculate that falernum’s increasing rarity may have been a contributing factor to Tiki drinks’ latter day reputation as goopy, lifeless messes.
Assuming you want your tiki drinks to not be sweet, bland messes, you’ll occasionally need falernum. It is not easy, but you can buy it. As I said already, Fee’s has a non-alcoholic version, which works quite nicely, at least to my uneducated tastes. The drinks I tried sure benefitted from its presence. Or you can get liqueur versions such as this one, at places like BevMo. It is not available in Ohio in alcoholic form, FYI.
But, as a Certified Cocktailian of the New School™, I of course wanted to know if I could make it myself. The answer, equally of course, is yes. And it is simple to do—not easy, but simple. In fact, though there seems to be no mention of falernum as a cocktail ingredient in bar books before the 1930s (birth of Tiki, anyone?), it seems to have existed long before that as one of those things, like ketchup, where everyone made their own, from their own recipe.
I kicked around the web a bit, looking for advice, before going back to where I knew I’d end up all along: Paul Clarke’s Falernum #8. This recipe seems to have become the de facto standard within the Cocktailosphere, so I went with it. I made one alteration, upon the advice of BOTI member, Rick at Kaiser Penguin, whose falernum post I am ninja-ing here. Here’s the link, where you can see a photo of his entirely unrealistically attractive falernum in progress, as well as a drink garnish that is a bit over the top, even for him. Oh, and he has a contest, too.

PAUL CLARKE’S LOVE POTION FALERNUM #8

  • 6 oz. 151 proof Rum (Use white overproof if you have it. I went with Bacardi)
  • zest of 9 medium limes, removed with a microplane grater or sharp vegetable peeler, with no traces of white pith
  • 40 whole cloves (buy fresh ones — not the cloves that have been in your spice rack since last Christmas)
  • 1.5 oz. (by weight) peeled, julienned fresh ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract (Paul calls for a quarter)
  • 14 ounces cold process 2:1 simple syrup
  • 4.5 oz. fresh, strained lime juice (This is the ingredient I omitted. See below)

Combine lime zest, cloves, ginger and rum in a sealed container and allow to marinate for at least 24 hours. Strain and squeeze through cheesecloth, discarding solids. Add almond extract and simple sugar. Shake thoroughly to combine. Add fresh lime juice when used, at a ratio of 1:4 juice to falernum, to replace the omitted juice.

falernum
Rick and others have found that Paul’s original #8 does not keep well. The juice rots, regardless of the preservative powers of 151 and 2-1 simple syrup combined. Add it back in, if needed, at mixing time.
I said this was simple, not easy. Zesting the limes so as to keep the pith to a minimum is a huge pain, in more ways than one. I recommend the microplane, with plenty of Neosporin standing by for when you are done.
The resulting alcoholic syrup is a muddy color, much greener than the Fee’s. It is very fragrant too, in a pleasant-but-not-delicious-on-its-own kind of way.
I tried it in a Jet Pilot, my favorite falernum-based tiki drink, and I felt it made for a subtle but noticeable improvement. Generally, the home-made was cleaner. The flavors were the same, perhaps a little floral, but there just were fewer uninvited hangers-on.
I’ll leave you with an early Trader Vic cocktail that really puts this stuff front and center (tip o’ the hat to Slashfood):

THE ROYAL BERMUDA YACHT CLUB COCKTAIL

  • 2 oz. dark or gold rum
  • .75 oz. fresh lime juice
  • .25 oz. Cointreau
  • .25 oz. your freshly made falernum

Shake over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with lime zest.

If you want an example of how robust falernum is, and how easily it takes over a cocktail, try this one. It isn’t really to my taste, as it is far too pungent for me. If you like strongly flavored drinks, and are making falernum, it is definitely worth a try.

Mai Tai Throwdown

maitaihut
OK, to paraphrase Bill Cosby, I told you the last two stories to tell you this one.
If there is one subject guaranteed to excite the juices and light the flaming garnishes of Tiki-philes round the world, it is this:
Who invented the Mai Tai, Trader Vic or Don the Beachcomber?
In my previous posts, outlining the lives of Don and Vic, I deliberately avoided much in the way of comparisons, saving that for here. Let’s first look at a few things about the two, aside from the Mai Tai. Don was first, period, in the tropical-polynesian feel restaurant with caribbean inspired cocktails. Vic undoubtedly knew of Don’s LA operation before he took off for New Orleans and points south to absorb the rum knowledge he wanted to built his own Tiki empire. I think that it’s telling that Vic did not try to imitate Don, and especially his drinks, directly. The Trader set out to assemble the same tool kit that Don had, then built his own design from the same starting point.
Without both of their work and inspiration, Tiki would never have been the force it was, or perhaps a force at all. And I suspect that both men knew it damn well. Both were rivals, perhaps intense rivals, but they knew they needed each other. They were fierce, even nasty and litigious on occasion, toward lesser Tiki creatures, but left each other strictly alone, as far as I can see. But I doubt they much liked each other either. Here are the definitive quotes from each man about the other (Both, not remotely coincidentally, relate to the paternity of the Mai Tai:

donThere continues to be controversy over who originally came up with the Mai Tai. It has never bothered me that Vic Bergeron took credit, and I have never held a grudge. The plain fact is, there can be no truer form of flattery than when other people claim credit for your concepts and ideas and use them for their own benefit.
-Don the Beachcomber

20060916dThat is one stunning load of horse manure, Don!

Anybody who says I didn’t create the Mai Tai is a dirty rotten stinker.
-Trader Vic

Gee Vic, who ya talking about?

Don claims to have first served his Mai Tai in 1933, an assertion that is repeated as fact by his partisans, and spoken with skepticism by Vic’s gang. No one seems to have any historical evidence of this. Not a menu, a celebrity diary entry, nothing. I suspect that if there was, it would always be front and center in the debate. Vic states he invented it in 1944. That’s a pretty big discrepancy.
We should remember that a well made Mai Tai is the best Tiki drink that ever was poured. Period. Of that, partisans on both sides emphatically agree. Or at least I think so, so that makes it fact.
In the late thirties, these men were the hippest things going in California’s two great cities, and shared a huge percentage of their clienteles. If Don had this killer libation in his bag of tricks and Vic didn’t, why is this not common knowledge, rather than uncommon controversy? Of course, we who live today in the age of the Internet and mass media are a little out of touch with how slowly and imperfectly information used to travel.
Also, while Don was brilliant and creative, perhaps beyond Vic’s powers, he lacked the Trader’s ability to institutionalize his work, and spread it sustainably beyond his own personal reach. I’ll repeat my assertion from last post that Don was Francis Drake, but Vic was Henry Ford. Don may well have served the magnificent Mai Tai for years before Vic, but failed to set it in people’s minds beyond his reach. Give Vic a superweapon like the Mai Tai, and he would cement it in the minds of folks around the world.
Also, there is the famous conversation. Syndicated columnist Jim Bishop wrote a letter to Honolulu columnist Don Chapman in 1989, in which he claims that he was part of a conversation at Trader Vic’s in San Francisco in which the Trader appears to have admitted that Don invented the Mai Tai. I am skeptical. In the 1970s, this would have been a huge story, and Bishop didn’t write about it then? Or, if we go with the idea that he waited until both men had died, it would still have been a story of some magnitude in 1989 at the very nadir of Tiki. Why would one journalist give it to another? Also, these were old frenemies, in their cups. If the conversation did take place as remembered, it is hardly conclusive. Still, it’s a powerful piece of evidence, if you trust it.
So, based on talent, personality, and historical evidence (or lack thereof), we don’t have a convincing argument either way. Let’s examine another feature of the competition between Vic and Don, and their lesser rivals: Secrecy.
If Don Beach and Vic Bergeron had been entrusted with national security, the Russians would have had to come up with The Bomb on their own. These guys (especially Don) guarded their recipes like virgin daughters. We do not have absolute certainty over what was in the original Mai Tai, whomever made it, or when the Mai Tai recipe we think of as definitive actually started being offered under the name Mai Tai. This should muddy the waters, but in fact this is the key to answering who is the father of the Mai Tai.
Here is what Don’s wife calls his original Mai Tai recipe, in Hawaii Tropical Rum Drinks & Cuisine by Don the Beachcomber:

DON THE BEACHCOMBER’S MAI TAI

  • 2 ounces of water
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice
  • 1 ounce of fresh grapefruit juice
  • 1 ounce of sugar syrup
  • 1 ounce of dark rum
  • 1-1/2 ounce of golden rum
  • 1/2 ounce of Cointreau or Triple Sec
  • 1/2 tablespoon of Falernum syrup
  • 2 dashes of Angostura bitters
  • 1 dash of Pernod

Shake all ingredients together with ice and strain into a tall highball glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with fresh fruit and serve with straw.

And here is Trader Vic’s recipe for the very first Mai Tai ever made, as found in Trader Vic’s Tiki Party! and first read by me on Rumdood’s site:

TRADER VIC’S MAI TAI

  • 2 oz Wray & Nephew 17 Year Old Rum
  • .5 oz orgeat
  • .5 oz orange curacao
  • .25 oz simple syrup
  • Juice of one lime (approx. .75 oz lime juice)

Mix all ingredients and shake with ice. Strain into a glass over crushed ice. Garnish with lime shell and a sprig of mint.

Note several differences: First, the recipes are very different; not the same cocktail at all, really. Don’s is general, Vic’s is specific, about brands and the story of its creation. Don probably didn’t even write it down when he first made it, which is why it’s so general. In short, it has the feel of just another cocktail Don invented.
Vic’s recipe comes with story of it’s creation, it’s naming, and the bottles he used. It looks like the result of a great discovery.
Combine these impressions with a central observation that most of today’s cocktailscienti will make: The Trader Vic recipe is The Recipe. Don’s Mai Tai is an OK drink. Vic’s is… Oh Wow.
Don may well have invented a Tiki drink he called a Mai Tai before Vic. I would suggest the evidence leans that way; though that evidence, like most things Don, is deliciously shady.
But I submit that it doesn’t matter. Trader Vic threw together five simple ingredients in perfect proportion, and created a drink that is the apex of the movement. In whatever order these men came up with their Mai Tais, the drinks are dramatically different beasts; homonyms, not synonyms. And the one that matters is Vic’s.

Who Were the Elders of Tiki: Trader Vic

{NOTE: This is part of a three part series of posts. The other Elder of Tiki, Don the Beachcomber, is profiled here. And my examination of which of these two really invented the Mai Tai can be read here.}
Trader Vic's SignAs we round into the home stretch of Tiki Month, I want to do some historical examination of the Elders of Tiki—the men who made the legend.
This post will concentrate on the man I personally always identified with starting Tiki, Trader Vic. His main co-conspirator/rival, Don the Beachcomber is up next, so hold your horses, Donnites. I grew up knowing of the Trader, because my parents were San Franciscans during the appropriate point in history. While the Tiki in their souls was buried deep, it did erupt from time to time, and when it did, the name Trader Vic usually triggered the eruption.
Victor Jules Bergeron was the wooden-legged restaurant entrepreneur who built a reputation and an empire of his eponymous restaurants up from a crappy little bar in the wrong neighborhood of Oakland that he opened in 1934.
Vic contracted tuberculosis before he was four, when the San Francisco Quake of 1906 drove his family to Oakland. Within two years, the tuberculosis cost him his leg. Throughout his life, the disease would slowly take other bits and pieces of him. But the kid with one leg was a walking lesson in the American Dream; his hardships, and his mother’s treatment of them, made him the force he was.

I guess she could have made me a cripple instead of a successful man. Suppose she had pampered and petted me. I wouldn’t be worth a damn.
-Trader Vic

He made money catching wild birds to buy his first wooden leg at age eighteen, and at age thirty two, he bought a run-down property in Oakland and built a one-room bar with the unfortunate name of Hinky Dinks. Victor was a one man show behind the bar and swiftly built a clientele. He soon took inspiration from Don’s Beachcomber in Los Angeles, as well as his own Caribbean cocktail pilgrimage, and transformed Hinky Dinks into a tropical-themed paradise named for it’s owner, who was sometimes (and forever after) called Trader Vic. The restaurant rapidly transformed from successful neighborhood joint into wildly popular destination eatery, fueled by the bizarre decor, Vic’s personality, and especially the fantastic rum concoctions he served up.
Trader VicVic was a huge believer in cluttering his place with wild paraphernalia. It was all there to stimulate conversation, as he felt conversation sold drinks. And he sold a lot of drinks. And he fed a lot of people some terrific food, too. In fact, in 1941, the great Herb Caen wrote the unthinkable words, The best restaurant in San Francisco is in Oakland.
Vic went from successful restauranteur to genuine celebrity. Eventually, Vic expanded across the Bay to San Francisco, then across the land and ocean, assembling an empire of Trader Vic’s that survived the implosion of the Tiki age, has regenerated once again to around twenty restaurants, and sells vast amounts of supplies, equipment, and even liquors around the world.
Vic was an empire builder. He took his great success and built on it, keeping his eye on the business that got him where he was, nurturing it, and preserving it. He died at 82, leaving his family a business that was fading largely due to the whims of world fashion, but that was robust enough to survive and thrive again to this day.
The Trader was no saint. Divorce is a sad thing, but sometimes it happens and I understand that. But people (usually men) who become famous and decide they need a new wife as part of that package take a serious ding in my book. I hope Vic’s first wife took a big chunk out of him.
But his credentials as a husband aside, he was one of the two great fathers of an entire culture: Tiki.
He was not only a great entrepreneur, he was a hugely gifted bartender and drink crafter. He invented some of the greatest of Tiki drinks, and set the standard model to which many of the other mixologists of that era hewed. A large number of drinks I’ve already written about this month in my examination of Tiki were his direct inventions. And his model has been mine in most of my experimentations.
A lot of what I’ve learned about Vic comes from a combination biography, bar guide, and cookbook that was written at the behest of his descendants and the business: Trader Vic’s Tiki Party!: Cocktails & Food to Share with Friends It’s a beautiful book, with lots of gorgeous pictures, entertaining prose, and a gigantic helping of kissing the old man’s dead ass. It’s fun, and I recommend it.
Next up, I take on the Trader’s contemporary rival, the great Don the Beachcomber.

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