June 23rd, 2007

How to stock a tiki bar

Tiki Bar

I saw Brother Cleve at Devlin’s in Brighton recently (he was playing with his band, Dragonfly) and mentioned casually that I was getting curious about tiki drinks. Like, what do you have to have on hand to mix them up at home? A couple days later, I got an email from Cleve with a long list of rums, juices and other ingredients, plus opinionated commentary on the do’s and don’ts of stocking your own tiki bar. It’s valuable advice, and I just had to share it. Warning: with what it’ll cost to buy all the ingredients below, you might as well shop around for a liquor license and open a bar.

How to Stock a Tiki Bar — by Brother Cleve
Well, you may hate me for this — cuz it’s not cheap to do your initial setup — but here’s a standard list of what you’d need to be able to flip open a Trader Vic’s guide and make a Polynesian drink. A lot of the mixers are available at Martignetti’s on Soldiers Field Rd., including Fee Brothers Falernum and also an alcoholic Falernum as well. Orgeat is best bought at an Italian shop like Capone’s, which has the real deal made without corn syrup (just like Mexican Coca Cola!). Good sources of odd rums include Wine & Cheese Cask, Downtown Wine & Spirits, Martignetti’s, Beacon Hill Wine, Atlas in Medford.

grenadine (not Rose’s; pomegranate syrup from Middle Eastern groceries can work)
passion fruit syrup (difficult to find; available via mail-order from Trader Vic’s)
rock candy syrup (see above)
orange curaçao (Bols is best, followed by Marie Brizzard)
simple syrup
Angostura bitters

Meyer’s dark (jamaica)
Meyer’s white – plantation style (jamaica)
Meyer’s Legend
Lemon Hart Demerara 84 proof (Guyana. There is a Jamaican lemon hart but very difficult to find)
Lemon Hart Demerara 151 proof
Rogue white rum (Oregon)
Clement rhum agricole (Martinique)
Cruzan 2 yr. old (St. Croix)
Mt. Gay Eclipse gold (Barbados)
Brugal gold (Dominican Republic)
Barbancourt, 3 or 5 star (Haiti)
Wray & Nephew Overproof (Jamaica)
Trader Vic’s brand white and gold
Pusser’s Navy rum (B.V.I.)

orange juice
pineapple juice
passion fruit juice
lime juice
grapefruit juice
coconut cream

When buying juices, go for the single variety rather than the blends. Goya brands are always a good bet. Beware many of the “tropical blends” such as V8 brand, as they contain carrot juice as well, which tends to curdle with rum.

Try to find orgeat without corn syrup. (Unfortunately, Fee Bros. brand has corn syrup in it.)

Some Polynesian cocktails also call for gin, brandy or scotch.

I find Bacardi pretty bland, but some of the other Puerto Rican rums are … well, they’re bland too, but they’re less than mainstream bland (such as Ron Rico). If you stumble across Ron de Barrilito, buy it.

Rums from the French West Indies are “agricole” or “agricultural” rum, made from sugar cane juice as opposed to molasses like all other rums. Tough to find here, although Clement and J.M are slowly appearing. A very different taste. Not essential for tiki drinks, but good to have on hand, and they do blend nicely with fruit juice.

Cane sugar syrup is good to have as well; not that easy to find here, but you can make it from brown sugar and water.

That’d make a good start!

(Um, thanks, Cleve. I think.)

Permalink | Filed under Cocktails, Drinking supplies, Rum |

9 Responses to “How to stock a tiki bar”

  1. angus w

    here is something I had written about Modern Tiki…

    Many ‘original’ recipes have been lost or use impossible to source ingredients. When Tiki culture was exploding many owners moved to unmarked bottles and secret pre-mixes to discourage poaching of their bartenders by rivals. Thankfully Tiki flourishes on the internet and inspires in depth research. But a modern Tiki program tends to include some of:

    • A large range of rums from different Islands as opposed to different Brands. Original Tiki drinks went for Islands such as Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Barbados, Cuba, St. Croix, Demerera etc. As long as these places feature on the back bar you should be pretty safe.

    • An eclectic selection of drinking vessels and cocktail furniture. Thus ceramic and not glass where possible, hollowed out fruits and sharing bowls essential. The more ridiculous and tropical the garnish the better: lets pay homage to Harry Yee who dared to garnish with (progressively) Vanda Orchid, Parasol and wooden backscratcher…

    • Strong drinks, based around multi-island rums and aged rums. Many of the Classic Tiki drinks tasted roughly similar with almond syrup and lime dominating. Modern Tiki bars have the luxury of exotic purees and a much wider range of flavours to play with… expect kiwi, passionfruit, guava and mango as standards. . They aren’t shy tho about putting up to 150ml of alcohol in a single drink or using 23 year old rums with glowering impunity.

    • Many original Tiki drinks were blended but many modern bartenders seem fearful or disdainful of the Blender, preferring the sounds of their own shaker. Blended drinks allow large amounts of alcohol to be consumed quickly as well as providing a useful canvas to garnish. Latte style swirls with purees seem most creative modern styles.

    • Drinks with ridiculous names such as Vicious Virgin, Shark Attack, Zombie, Suffering Bastard or more modern inventions such Hurricane Jaspar, Velvet Voodoo or Fire & Ice. They should evoke a mixture of Fear and Humour in equal parts.

    • A vast range of exotic flavours, often made using home made syrups and infusions and also secret Grogs and Potions. Falernum (a ginger/lime/clove syrup) is back in bars and fashion.

    • At least one Carved Tiki, large enough to be noticed from anywhere in the room. Increasingly it is the Tiki décor that gets considered and the rest of the ambience is forgotten. Both newly opened Sneaky Tiki in San Fran and the Tonga Rooms in Bergen Norway look the part but the Tiki stops at the bar alas.

  2. Stephen

    ron de barrilitto is the greatest rum i’ve ever had…. delicate yet with sexy roasted coffee flavors. clement is agriculteral and therefore all about smoke…. their XO is like a singlemalt scotch. you can get cane sugar syrup easily at tropico on washington ave in roxbury or you can use lyle’s golden syrup from wholefoods. clements creole shrub is the only curacoa worth using…

    to me cigar and smoke are important elements to carribean drinks…. benedictine is liquid cigar concentrate….contrast it with fruit. sexy as hell without the dry cleaning bills or stained teeth.

  3. Br. Cleve

    I forgot to mention Ron de Matusalem (Dominican) — the platino is an excellent white spirit. Naturally, if you’re someplace where Havana Club is available, the 3 year old is excellent, although HC in general is not as good since Heublein bought it about a half dozen years ago.

    I agree about Ron de Barrilitto. I picked it up at the San Juan duty free and was blown away. Martignettis in Brighton has both the 2 and 3 star varieties.

    I love the agricole rhums…..Clement is amazing, but also keep an eye out for Neisson, La Favorite and J.M, both of which are newly available in the US. You still can only find most of these rhums on the French islands, book a flight and pick up St. James, J Bally, Bielle, Rhum Bologne, La Mauny, Busco, and Pyrat. Mix 2 ounces with a fresh squeezed lime, some sugar and ice for a Ti Punch (short for Petite Punch), either blanc or vieux (white or aged). C’est formidable!

  4. Stephen

    you can get st. james at liquor land in roxbury…. if you want to taste it i think the green street has it also…. the royal amber is like dirt and earth…. (in a good way)

    i’ve had a half full bottle of pyrat XO for like 3 years now…. (not a fan)

    to make the Ti Punch i’ve alwasy put in cane sugar syrup which i guess in the carribbean you select as carefully as your rum…. then i cut off the side of a lime… so you get a small degree of juice but have lots of peel surface area to get mainly lime oil…. supposedly most avid drinkers use only a couple rocks…. the drink probably comes from the Drakito (Draquito??) for admiral drake the pirate. aguardiente…. (any fire water will do….) cane juice and lime juice…. figure out your own proportions…. for the roughneck cacos scheming while toiling in the sugar cane fields….

    its an old man drink…. but my favorite way to test out rums. a glass full of terrior….this by the way is something i only drink before noon….

  5. ljclark

    Wow, guys. I’ve got serious experimentation to do. Thanks for all the input.

  6. Scottes

    For the most part I agree with all of the suggestions in the article. However, I strongly believe that one should buy ingredients as one needs them. Pick a couple/few drinks and buy those ingredients. Make them for a while, then pick another couple/few drinks which use some of those ingredients, but need a couple new ones. Buy those new ingredients, and make those new drinks.

    Continue on in this manner, and you will learn your drinks and your ingredients very well, and you will not break your wallet all at once. So with that in mind, I would certainly leave out some of the more obscure rums until you know you need them, and a few of the lesser-used ingredients (though most are cheap enough to stock up).

    There are many side liqueurs which can be relatively expensive, like Orange Curacao (don’t buy the cheap stuff!) and Apricot Liqeuer and others. Don’t buy these until you have enough rums to make them worthwhile.

    Personally, one can do some amazing things with 7 rums. Off the top of my head, I’d buy these – in the order I needed them.
    Cruzan White (sub for Puerto Rican light)
    Appleton White (Jamaican)
    Brugal Gold (sub for Puerto Rican gold)
    Mount Gay Eclipse (Barbados gold)
    Appleton V/X (Jamaican gold)
    Lemon Hart Demerara
    Coruba Dark (Use unless a recipe specifically calls for Myer’s)

    Also get ahold of Beachbum Berry’s books, Grog Log, Intoxica, and Sippin’ Safari. Excellent, accurate recipes for all sorts of Tiki drinks.

  7. Br. Cleve

    re : Ti Punch — I’d only use Cane Sugar syrup in a Ti Punch vieux, as it blends better with the aged rhum than with a blanc. You’re right about the varieites, it seems every rhum producer makes their own sugar syrup. Curiously though, almost every bar/restaurant makes the drink with sugar (at least the places I’ve been to, and I’m in the FWI for a few months every year, for the last 6 yrs). I prefer them with simple or cane syrup, personally. And, like their mainland cousins and Europeans in general, the French have difficulty with the concept of ice. Usually during the winter months I’ll have it rockless or with 1 or 2 small cubes. But during the summer, I’ll add more. It was in the 90’s when I was there a couple of weeks ago, and room temperature Ti Punch was not making it for me.

    Speaking of ice, many years ago Combustible Edison played a “tiki party” in Germany, where the bartender had about a half dozen ice cubes, total, that he was using to shake up the Mai Tai’s for the crowd. I told him he needed more ice, but the mere thought sent him into a tizzy. The 6 cubes he had seemed to have been imported from somewhere (Iceland?), and no more were available in the entire German republic. Somehow, the Spaniards, with their many fab tiki bars (really), have plenty of ice. But then again, they never outlawed absinthe, either.

    Angus is right about the blender. Heed his advice.

  8. erik_flannestad

    Wow, with all these learned folks commenting, I feel a bit out of my league!

    I just wanted to point out that American Brown Sugar has much too strong a molasses flavor for cocktail use. It is actually made by adding Molasses to granulated white sugar. Save it for pies and cookies.

    If you want to use a darker sugar, pick something like Demerara, Turbinado, Sugar in the Raw, or Washed Raw Sugar. You’ll get much closer to the flavor of Cane Syrup.

    If you really want a strong raw sugar flavor, instead of brown sugar, try making a sugar syrup with Piloncillo from a Latin market. Good stuff!

  9. marty

    For passion fruit syrup and papaya nectar, check out Super 88. They also have limes 10 for a dollar!

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