I only recenty started reading about ‘Tiki’. Like most, I expect, I assumed it was just a loose concept of Polynesian styled grass roofed outdoor bars and lairy looking cocktails with big straws and paper umbrellas. Well, it’s mostly that … but there’s a real, culture movement behind it too.
Apparently started by a guy called Ernest Raymond Beaumont-Gantt who conveniently changed his name to Don Beach. And Don set up a Polynesian themed bar and restaurant in Hollywood in 1934, named ‘Don the Beachcomber’. That was followed shortly after by Victor Bergeron, known to many as ‘Trader Vic’ who eventually created a worldwide chain of restaurants.
By 1939 the style had become a thing and the theme dominated California’s World’s Fair that year. And several totemic books on the subject and associated cuisine, cocktails and art have shaped the movement since then. Despite all that the culture fell out of favour in the late 70s. Too many pina coladas and rum punches typified the concept back then of mixed drinks with naff styling and random contents.
The huge revival of the cocktail genre in recent years has led to a similar revisiting of the tiki culture. And now, with so much more interest in the fine detail of drinks and cuisine, and the ready availability of a wide range of ingredients, there’s been a new level of complexity and authenticity applied to the tired genre.
All of which led me to reading about the ridiculous range of rums available and how they combine to make authentic tiki flavours. Of course I knew there was more to rum than the range of colours, from white to dark through golden. But the range and variety is fairly remarkable. And a good tiki cocktail, done properly, often contains 3 different rums, carefully chosen to layer the flavours.
So, I’ve started to increase my stock. Currently at 18 bottles and having recently taken over from whiskey as the most prevelant spirit in the cocktail shack. And I’ve managed to land a range of tiki mugs! Ceramic drinking vessels, shaped like bamboo branches or Polynesian carvings.
We managed to test a few a week or so ago but it’s early days. And a family holiday touring Florida, and importantly stopping in Key West for a few nights, will allow for some exploration of the culture in one of its famous centres. I’ll be taking pictures and notes and updating later in the Summer.
In the meantime, here’s the current rum selection for reference (minus 2 more I found later!).