Tiki: the longest cocktail fashion in history

It seems that Hawaii or any of the Polynesian islands are multiplied in the bars of the world. Tiki1 cocktails are again gaining strength and an era of essential contributions to this art should not be left behind in the midst of contemporaneity.

Drinks with a strong alcoholic base, spicy, with authentic tropical flavors, served in totem glasses ―not forgetting traditional glassware― conquer the palate accompanied by an exotic setting, the call to forget the routine and give yourself over to a contagious joy, vital music to the senses.

The tiki cocktail was born in the 1930s, when Prohibition ended in the United States. It is defined as a Caribbean cocktail style inspired by Polynesian culture.

Ernest Raymond Beaumont-Gantt is considered the father of tiki cocktails. In 1934 he amazed the world with his bar Don the Beachcomber ―a nickname with which he was known since then― located in Los Angeles, to which he transferred his knowledge of Polynesian and Caribbean culture.

Thus began a boom that would last until the 1980s, considered the longest cocktail fashion in history. Tiki cocktails were expensive but very popular and bartenders kept their recipes secret.

During all those years, tiki cocktails occupied the scene in restaurants designed by the best Hollywood set designers, which is why recreating “the tiki” became art, and each site looked like a “movie set,” which contributed to its success.

So in a tiki set it’s necessary to have palm leaves, bamboo furniture, tiki masks, torches, spears, tiki totems, colored necklaces, surfing paraphernalia, among other colorful ornaments that give a touch of eccentricity typical of its origin.

Magical rhythms such as chillout, reggae and tropical jazz complete the magic.

Victor Jules Bergeron Jr, known as Trader Vic’s, is considered the other founding father of the tiki cocktail. He worked alongside Don the Beachcomber, of whom he was a disciple, and then embarked on his own path, another fruitful business. He opened his first bar in Chicago in 1945, a franchise that extended along the west coast of the United States.

The tiki fashion continued growing. After World War II, the United States had an economic boom, Hollywood was at its heyday as well as this cocktail trend.

The cocktails that most transcended, famous for their strong alcohol content, are:
-Jungle bird
-Mai Tai
-Mr. Bali H
-Navy Grog
-Doctor funk

And of course, this trend also came to Havana. It was in 1958, brought over by Trader Vic’s in alliance with the Hilton hotel chain. The Trader Vic’s Habanero is then born, the businessman’s bar number seven. In 1959 the Hilton Hotel became Habana Libre and the bar changed its name to Polinesio, as it is known today, although now its theme is more general.

But the decline of tiki cocktails began in the 1970s. Bars and recipes disappeared. Shortly after Jef “Beachbum” Berry made his appearance and was given the task of rescuing it and discovering its best kept secrets.

In several interviews given to specialized magazines, he tells how he investigated with bartenders of the time how to decode the recipes of Don and Trader Vic’s.

As a result, he published several books ―the first in 1998: Potions of the Caribbean― that have become a guide for those who still defend that style. Thanks to his work, tiki cocktails were reinserted in bars around the world. His Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29 bar is currently one of the most popular bars for tiki cocktails.

Although the classical concepts are maintained, this way of mixing has evolved. Although previously only rum was used as a base, today, in addition, tequila, whiskey or gin are used, together with tropical juices, homemade preparations such as syrup, horchata, liqueurs and bitters.

Havana Tiki

These are times for the rebirth of tiki cocktails, and Havana is again an ideal place for their thriving.

Bartenders across the country incorporate these recipes into their repertoires; but this movement is headed by the Havana Tiki team, made up of Vladimir Márquez, Ernesto Hernández and Omar Bouza, who have made great efforts to know and defend the tiki cocktail, its evolution and trends, until they are equally creators of more than one novelty.

Havana Club is again the protagonist of the Cuban cocktail scene: a great deal of the author cocktails of this team or their adaptations of the classics use Cuba’s rum as a base.

The A and B professional editions, Havana Club Añejo 3 Years, Havana Club Añejo 7 Years, Havana Club Añejo Especial, Havana Club Añejo Reserva, make up the essence of the “Cuban style” tiki cocktails, and as Vladimir Márquez commented, a new cocktail with Havana Club Selección de Maestros will soon come out.

Some cocktails use bases such as whiskey, tequila or gin, products which are also available in the Cuban market through Havana Club International S.A.

According to the specialist, other fundamental tiki ingredients have found excellent variants in the country: syrups made from fruits such as guava, tamarind, pineapple, melon, and honey is also used; sour mix with mint, sugar and lime juice. There is also no shortage of Falernum (sweet syrup) made at home with almond, lemon peel, ginger and allspice, orgeat syrup and their own allspice dream.

And the fact is that great work has the best results: Havana Tiki already has its own recipes, among which the team highlights those dedicated to the main Hawaiian gods and named in their honor: Kanaloa (God of the sea), Lono (of agriculture and fertility), Kane (God of creation) and Ku (God of war).

This group that today promotes tiki cocktails as an essential attraction for Caribbean bars has several projects. Under the auspices of the Association of Cuban Bartenders and Havana Club International S.A. they organize lectures in different provinces in the country, to multiply the tiki presence in Cuban bars.

1 Tiki is the name given in the cultures of Central Polynesia in the Pacific Ocean to large statues with human form.

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