This post is inspired by a December piece at Critiki News entitled Early Modern Tiki: What the Tiki Re-emergence Looked Like. It is a great look at what Tiki bars looked like around America back when Tiki was just returning from the Shadow of Death in the late 20th Century. Go read it. It’s fabulous. But it’s not what this post is about.
I want to talk about what the cocktail blogging world was like back when I dove into the first Tiki Month in February 2009, and what there was about the early Tiki blogs of the day, that made me feel I had to do it. 2009 was the heyday of the early generation of cocktail bloggers. Independent blogging in general was at its height on the internet, and the cocktail renaissance was fully in gear in real life. It was a time when a blogger like me, who started this blog as half dare/half Quixotic quest to make the Pegu Cocktail a household name, could have studied and learned enough to consider himself at least some form of authority on spirits and cocktails. (I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now….) I was trying everything I could find to do with drinks. The exploration and experimentation was glorious—glorious enough to overlook how many gawdawful failed experiments I was consuming (and throwing out) in the name of discovery. But there was one area of drinks I avoided. One area that looked fascinating from afar, but scary in detail. And there were a few, brave, fascinating people out there blogging the hell out of those drinks, and making me feel like a coward: The Tiki Bloggers.
These folks were producing some amazing things that I had never seen the like of in real life. This was still that early modern Tiki re-emergence period, and I had never seen a real life Tiki bar in my life. These drinks had crazy barware, amazing garnishes, rums I’d never heard of, and fruits and other ingredients that were completely outside my palette. I wanted this experience for as long as I’d been reading and writing in the Cocktailosphere. but I never, ever tried a one.
Because these drinks had crazy barware, amazing garnishes, rums I’d never heard of, and fruits and other ingredients that were completely outside my palette. I could not imagine undertaking the inventory management of fresh, exotic produce, perishable house-made syrups, and booze not available in my state. Finally, I could hold out no more, and committed myself to drinking nothing but Tiki for a month straight, as a one-time event. This made the management manageable. But just manageable. What made me upend my life that that? It was those Tiki bloggers.
There were five in particular whom I read religiously, and who inspired me to take the plunge. I named them… my Board of Tiki Idols.
They were critical in giving me valuable advice, encouragement, and subject matter in experiencing Tiki and in writing about it. But more important was the simple inspiration they provided. Let’s look at what the Tiki neighborhood of the Cocktailosphere looked like, back before the “cool kids” rediscovered Tiki.
Colonel Tiki’s Drinks
Craig Hermann had one of the best looking blogs early on, though it looks pretty cramped now by modern, giant monitor standards. He spent a lot more effort than most on the ingredients you had to create for Tiki (and other) drinks. It was both inspiring and intimidating.
Craig also never skimped on the kind of cool, cluttered, crazy-looking drink photos that attracted me so, like this one illustrates an original recipe of his, the Rongo Bowl. I think I will try one this month.
I always considered Craig Mrusek to be the unofficial illustrator of the Cocktailosphere. His whimsical illustrations captured the gloriously unserious nature of Tiki that attracted me so, like this confection he drew for his piece on ice cones.
I first read about my all-time favorite Tiki Drink, the Jet Pilot, on Doctor Bamboo’s blog. I blogged this one myself as one of my first ever Tiki Month pieces. Craig did an awesome illustration, for an awesome drink, and as always with great writing.
Back in the day, Blair blogged under the nom de internet of Trader Tiki. His old blog has disappeared now, probably due to the aggressive trademark defense by Trader Vic’s that no force can elude…
Rick is my garnish hero to this day. Although he was never a Tiki blogger per se, his incredible creativity with constructing garnishes was way ahead of its time. You see lots of cool, whimsical garnish work today, especially in Tiki drinks, but Risk was way ahead of his time. One of my biggest regrets is that the resolution of his pictures was always so small. There are a lot of fabulous drinks to choose from to illustrate the incredible work KP was doing back then, but I’ve knocked it down to two. If you like them, go browse for a bunch more.
Harvest Punch. I’m not sure Rick thought of this as a Tiki drink. Probably not. but to me it is one of the few drinks that use apple and still work on a Tiki menu.
Long Island Iced Tea Variant. Again, not strictly a Tiki drink, but it comes from a round up post of the kind of shared, communal drinks creativity that we were all engaging in online back in the day. This was the environment that made me take the plunge. (If you click only one link on this post, click this one. There are four completely different, amazing garnishes there that Rick created for other people’s drinks. Mostly off the cuff.)
A Mountain of Crushed Ice
That can I say? I saved the best for last. Back in 2009, Tiare’s A Mountain of Crushed Ice was the epicenter of Tiki blogging. If you ask me, it still is. She was my source for the majority of recipes I made during the first Tiki Month, as she has always had great respect for and fascination with the old stuff, the Trader Vic and Donn Beach originals. My Tiki flavor palette is Tiare’s. I’m not sure if that is just coincidence, or because so many of the first such drinks I made were the ones she was illustrating and explaining so well. I’ve eaten with Tiare a couple of times, and since our taste in food is so different, I suspect it is the latter. And I thank her.
Demerara Painkiller. One of several classic variants in the post listed. Again, the bandwidth was more precious back in the day, so the pictures were small. But Tiare’s garnishes were always big.
Fig Julep. The most important thing Tirae primed me for before my first Tiki Month was mint. Big, glorious bunches of mint to garnish drinks with. In 2009, none of my local grocery stores carried decent mint, so I would drive across town to the back side of the airport to buy fresh mint form the produce wholesalers each week. It was fun, but illustrated why Tiki was a once a year thing for me.
Flaming Polynesian Paralyzis. I have to stick one more here at the end, because fire. Also, because that is a cool mug. I have amassed quite the mug collection myself, over the years, but Tiare still makes me jealous. Also, Tiare has always been one of the biggest supporters of Tiki Month, and the post linked here is one of those instances.
I love Tiki. I can’t imagine not doing Tiki Month anymore, even though it was supposed to be a one-time experiment to scratch the itch these great bloggers instilled in me. My local friends would certainly be upset if I left Tiki behind. Tiki on the web is a different beast now, but it’s fun to look back on these glorious days gone by. These guys were Indiana Jones, digging up and examining a drink genre that had gone rotten then somnolent two decades before. And they were a part of its rejuvenation.