Zombies, MaiTai’s, and even yesteryear local favorites from Bali Hai’ including the Fog Cutter, Typhoon, and Tiki Bowl are all a part of the nostalgic Tiki Movement. Just browse on E-Bay at any given time and you’ll see Tiki collectors bidding on famous drink mugs and more, celebrating a special style reflective to a dizzying rum infused carefree paradise. Most delectable spirited Tiki concoctions revel in a variety of light and dark rums, something New Orleans has always coveted. Tiki drinks have always challenged even the best mixologist at heart creatively by mixing flavorful fruity rum cocktails boasting tropical names and teasing the cocktail connoisseur.
Locally, our famous Polynesian claim to fame faded out with The Zephyr rollercoaster on Lake Pontchartrain, but with those great memories and fondness of potent rum drinks, Pelican Publishing has recaptured Bali Hai in their latest release, “Lost Restaurants of New Orleans,” allowing some of us yats to recapture the spirited memories with potent recipes. John Besh’s American Sector Restaurant in the WWII Museum has pushed the cocktail revival forward introducing this generation to modern versions of classic Tiki drinks along with some cocktail classics like the Pink Squirrel and Grasshopper.
Modern day Tiki cocktail expert Jeff Berry, AKA Beachbum Berry, has a series of books that reproduce the history, recipes and cocktail lore of the Tiki Drink Movement. Recently at Tales of the Cocktail, Beachbum Berry had the opportunity to talk about the Tiki Drink Movement and its relationship with New Orleans.
Beachbum Berry defines the retro Tiki movement as a happy side-effect of the mainstream cocktail renaissance. He said that tropical drinks are finally getting respect, and that the original Tiki recipes by Don The Beachcomber and Trader Vic were 70 years ahead of their time.
“They were creating culinary, farm-toglass, craft cocktails before these terms existed—and contemporary mixologists are not only finally catching up, but recognizing kindred spirits in Don and Vic,” exclaimed Berry.
“The modern Tiki drink doesn’t differ that much from the historical model, because the historical model was so far ahead of its time that today’s bartenders are only now catching up to it. But when they DO catch up, they perform above and beyond what the old masters did. When I asked today’s bartenders for their take on a new Tiki drink for my latest book, “Beachbum Berry Remixed,” they submitted recipes that call for home-made sage liqueur, prickly pear puree, chocolate-infused rum, caramelized honey cream, sumac-infused pisco, banana flambe mix, orgeat foam ...not even Don The Beachcomber got this into it!” Beachbum Berry believes that a classic Tiki drink is like a symphony, a polyphonic composition balancing up to 14 different ingredients. He thinks that the genuine complexity is attracting today’s mixologists and their customers to the genre -- for the bartenders it’s a way to stretch themselves, to flex their muscles; for the drinkers it’s a richer, more satisfying flavor spectrum to enjoy. At home, Berry admits he’s a huge fan of Don The Beachcomber’s Navy Grog, which uses lime, grapefruit, honey, soda, and three different rums blended together.
Now one may ponder how New Orleans fits into Tiki history, especially since we’re known for running rum through our ports.
“New Orleans was the birthplace of Don The Beachcomber (born Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt), who single-handedly created the Tiki bar and the Tiki drink,” said Berry.
“So you could say that without NOLA, there’d be no Tiki picture!” For locals wanting to create their own Tiki bar at home and preserve some of our local history, Beachbum Berry suggested some essentials to set it up.
“Fresh limes and lemons, sweeteners such as orgeat, passion fruit, and simple syrup (equal parts sugar and hot water; stir till sugar dissolves, cool it, and bottle it), and of course, you need rum—lots of rum! You can make most of the great tropical drinks if you stock five rums: a dry white, a medium-bodied gold, a dark Jamaican punch rum, a Martinique rhum agricole, and a smoky demerara rum from Guyana. With those five rums, you can make all kinds of great drinks,” said Berry.
As far as the future of the in New Orleans, it looks bright, sunny, and very rum infused.
“Yes, Mrs. Bum and I will be New Orleanians by this time next year,” said Berry when asked about moving to The Big Easy. “We love the people, the bars, the restaurants, and the vibe. We’re counting the days!” When asked what Beachbum Berry’s favorite Tiki drink is, he simply grinned widely and said “The one you just bought me!”