In the past few years, I’ve done quite a bit of research on tiki drinks. There’s been a lot of trial and error, including some cocktails that depart from the traditional summer flavors so associated with tiki drinks. A few of my recipes have even made it into national competitions and restaurant menus. Here is one that has seen the most success – the Drowning Sorrows.
Today, one of the defining characteristics of tiki cocktails is that they use multiple base spirits to form one singular flavor that no one component can achieve on its own – but that hasn’t always been the case. Ernest Gantt, known as Donn Beach, is credited with inventing tiki drinks in southern California in the mid-1930s, right around the repeal of Prohibition. Gantt had an extreme interest in Polynesian culture and rum after traveling the world as a young man. He combined rum with South Pacific flavors, and tiki drinks were born. Gin found its way into the fad in the 1940s via Victor Bergeron, known as Trader Vic, who blended multiple spirits into tiki drinks instead of only using rum. One of Bergeron’s most recognized drinks is the Samoan Fog Cutter – a blend of gin, rum, brandy, several fresh juices and spiced syrup.
When developing the Drowning Sorrows, I chose a London Dry gin with a light dryness and prominent citrus notes, and scotch to provide a malty, creamy mouthfeel with a hint of smoke. Coffee might seem like an oddball ingredient in a tiki drink, but it plays well with both scotch and gin. Although orgeat syrup, which is made with almonds, did not appear in tiki drinks until the 1940s, it’s been prevalent since. The overall flavor of Drowning Sorrows falls right in line with those of classic tikis: an extremely flavorful mix of spice, citrus and bold, boozy flavor – and yet one perfectly suited to a chilly fall or winter evening.
Matt Seiter is co-founder of the United States Bartenders’ Guild’s St. Louis chapter, a member of the national board for the USBG’s MA program, author of The Dive Bar of Cocktails Bars, bartender at BC’s Kitchen and a bar and restaurant consultant.
Serves | 1 |
Spiced Coffee (Yields 8 ounces)
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 2 pods star anise
- 2 whole cloves
- 8 oz fresh hot coffee
- 1½ oz gin (Beefeater or other London Dry)
- 1 oz single malt scotch
- 1 oz spiced coffee (recipe above)
- ½ oz fresh grapefruit juice
- ½ oz fresh lime juice
- ½ oz orgeat syrup
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- crushed ice
- sprig fresh mint
| Preparation – Spiced Coffee | Crack cinnamon stick into a Mason jar and muddle. Add remaining spices. Pour hot coffee over mixture and allow to cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Spiced coffee will keep for 3 days. | Preparation – Cocktail | Combine all ingredients except mint in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a tiki mug or Collins glass filled with crushed ice. Add more crushed ice as needed. Garnish with mint sprig.