Sometime in mid to late February, I get sick of snow, and I start making daiquiris. Mai Tais. Drinks with little umbrellas in them.
Some people think that tiki drinks (“faux tropicals”) are summer drinks. Not me. I made my first daiquiri last month, then a Hai Karate, then a ginger-liqueur variation on the Carioca Hawaiian Cocktail last night. I have pomegranate molasses and orange flower water, and a glass bottle with a pour spout to hold the grenadine I’ll make once I get the pomegranate juice. Or it might end up being a bottle of cinnamon sugar syrup, if I decide to go a little more Don the Beachcomber and a little less Trader Vic.
This time next week, I’ll probably have an order in for Small Hands Orgeat Syrup (it ain’t worth making on your own, and the commercial stuff I can get in that fancy Italian grocery store is crap, and I have all the other ingredients you need for a proper Mai Tai). I already picked up a package of tiny umbrellas, and I’ve been eyeing my rum collection and considering my next purchase. I have a bottle of cachaca, some Martinique aged rum, a bottle of 7 year Angostura rum, but not much in the way of the real staples. I’m still missing the Virgin Islands light and amber that do the majority of the heavy lifting in my tiki bar, and I’m painfully low on the dark Jamaican rum that carries the rest.
I gave away almost all my tiki stuff when I moved to New York last summer, figured I’d get back into classic cocktails. Which I did, for a while-- notwithstanding a brief tiki itch brought on by discovering St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram at the shop down the street.
The tiki thing always comes back, though. I fell in love with plastic swords and drink umbrellas in the Tonga room in 1994, and I’ll never fall out again.
Some of that is just practical. I like sour drinks in general, I like rum. Rum is cheap, compared to whiskey, and there’s nothing in tiki that’s as perishable as vermouth and as hard to find in small quantities. I like the colors, I like the history, I like putting together a drink that takes eight or so different colored bottles to mix together. Makes me feel like a wizard.
Mostly, though, I like drinks that admit that they’re sort of stupid. Drinks that are kind of tacky, where it makes sense that you're giggling uncontrollably after a few of them. I don't mean that I drink tiki drinks ironically. I like them because they’re good: I love them because they’re sort of stupid.