The Mysterious Big Mamou

00:00 July 13, 2012
By: David Vicari
[Where Y'At Staff/Provided Photo]
Signs that my drinking companion is a zombie: claims to be 73 years old (her skin is dewy and smooth); claims to have been drinking for the past 12 hours (she's lucid, and her voice is vigorous).

I'm skimming the American Sector cocktail menu when her drink comes, in a scowling ceramic tiki mug. "I liked this many years ago," she says.

I ask the bartender for the same. The Big Mamou is tangy and juicy and dry on the finish; not overly sweet. A splash of soda gives it a welcome crispness.

When I finally think to ask the zombie woman about its provenance, she's slipped away.

In fact, no one can tell me where or when the Big Mamou was first poured. If I confirm it's a tiki drink, that would date it to at least the 1930s (when Elmer Gantt opened a South Pacific-themed bar in California). But I have my doubts about the Big Mamou.

"Tiki drinks are basically Caribbean drinks [built] around rum, lime and sugar, but with extra dimensions" like multiple rums, tropical citrus and exotic sweeteners (think falernum, orgeat), tiki expert and drinks historian Jeff "Beachbum" Berry tells me.

Following that rule, the Big Mamou seems more Antigua than Tahiti: it contains only one rum (and it's not 151-proof). It only has one fruit juice (mango purée) and no offbeat sweeteners (unless you count torn mint).

After some digging, I discover a Cajun song recorded by Link Davis in 1952 (the singer begs his cheri to move back "a Grand Mamou", in Evangeline Parish). Could this have inspired the cocktail?

A check with Chef John Besh's team also reveals that he and Jeffrey Gulotta (Restaurant August's GM) adapted the Big Mamou after finding it on a 1940s/early 1950s menu from the Roosevelt's Blue Room. The cocktail was on menus across New Orleans during tiki's golden years, Besh tells me.

I'll never know exactly when the zombie woman lifted her first Big Mamou, lush-bodied, mango-yellow and dancing with mint.

But its mystery, lushness and birthdate place this cocktail squarely in the tiki tradition, if only as a gateway.

Reach me on Facebook or on Twitter @AnneBerryWrites.

The American Sector at the World War II Museum, 945 Magazine Street, 528.1940

Read Wayne Curtis' "And a Bottle of Rum" for a fantastic story of how Gantt, and American servicemen coming back from the South Pacific, intersected to accelerate the tiki phenomenon.

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