The world of tiki is just that: a world. It’s an entire subculture that borders on a cult following (but a very fun and delicious one at that).
I don’t expect to present a full understanding of tiki culture in one post. Quite frankly, there’s so much about tiki that I’m still learning, and I don’t want to trivialize something that absolutely deserves your curiosity and interest. However, this post is me saying, “Hey you, meet Tiki…Tiki, meet my friend here.”
Here to help me take on the pleasure of introducing you to tiki-at-home is my good buddy, Seth Mills. Seth knows a thing or two about good drink and nuance. He’s the director of coffee and head curator for Misto Box, a well-established coffee subscription service.
He’s also a passionate home bartender, cocktail enthusiast, and tiki-obsessive in all the right ways. He was gracious enough to let me interview him with some basic questions that’ll help you get a general frame of reference for how to get into tiki-at-home.
Right off the bat, what is the most important thing you want someone to know about how to tiki at home?
Tiki is about having fun. It’s about escaping whether it’s the dead of summer or 5º below zero. Tiki is always appropriate. It’s engaging. It’s experiential, and it was created as a way to transport you to another place. You leave whatever normal life you’re in, and you escape.
It has traditions. It has structure, and guidelines that you’ll pick up as you learn and go, but at the end of the day you’re not making tiki drinks to be judged. It’s not about being stringent and puristic, you’re blending and mixing flavors for the purpose of escaping and having fun. There’s not necessarily a right or wrong. You mix crazy. You garnish crazy. I love tiki because there’s room for everyone.
How does one get started into tiki?
First things first, I would tell someone to purchase the book, Smuggler’s Cove, by Martin and Rebecca Cate. It’s by far one of the best resources available in regards to tiki culture and cocktails, especially for the home bartender and cocktail enthusiast.
The book is very approachable. It’s not high-minded, and it breaks everything down from the history of tiki to specific recipes and ingredients used. It’s going to give them the best understanding for how to tiki at home. It’s definitely my go-to resource.
What would you advise secondly?
The next thing I would introduce someone to is the type of equipment, spirits, liqueurs, and syrups they’ll be working with the most. It’s important to have an understanding of what you’ll need in order to tiki.
It does come with a little more of an investment if you’re going to do it well, and it can be intimidating at first. However, the more you dive in the less intimidated you become.
If the initial investment seems too big, don’t feel like you need to have everything on hand to make a good Tiki drink. Don’t do it all at once because you’re going to go broke, and you’re going to burn out quick. Start small, and take baby steps because the world of tiki is about having fun. Keep a wish list.
What are some common spirits used for Tiki?
Rum is the name of the game when it comes to tiki. Rum is a very diverse and misunderstood spirit.
“One of the main reasons for the past popularity of rum has been due to the lack of knowledge about the various types to be used, its various flavors and its proper use. No one bothers to explain that there is a rum for every purpose.” – Trader Vic, Trader Vic’s Book of Food and Drink, 1946
The book, Smuggler’s Cove, does an awesome job of breaking down the different styles of rum, what’s best to have in your home bar and for what purpose. As oppose to classifying it according to color (light or dark), rum should be broken down according to how it’s produced. Without diving in too deep, here are some really good rums in different categories you should pick up.
Recommended Rums: Smith & Cross (overproof), Appleton Estate Signature Blend (Jamaican), El Dorado 3 Year, Appleton Estate Reserve Blend, Diplomatico Reserva, Doorly’s 5 Year, Angostura 5 Year, Bacardi 8 Year, Gosling’s Black Seal, Hamilton Guyana 151, Rhum J.M White 100 proof, Clément V.S.O.P., Plantation Pineapple (Stiggin’s Fancy).
There are plenty of other options, but if you’re looking to keep it super simple and don’t really care about building up a rum tiki bar I recommend you just pick up Appleton Estate Reserve Blend, and a Bacardi 8 year.
Other spirits you’ll see: Brandy, bourbon, gin, scotch, cognac, tequila
What are some common liqueurs used for Tiki?
Dry Curaçao, Cointreau, Falernum (rum, sugar and lime-based liqueur), Peach liqueur, Apricot liqueur, Galliano, Crème de cacao, Allspice liqueur, and more. The first three are essential though.
What are some common Tiki syrups?
Syrups are used to sweeten a drink and introduce different flavor profiles into the cocktail. Some common ones you’ll be using are a simple syrup, rich simple syrup, demerara syrup, maple syrup, pineapple syrup, cinnamon syrup, orgeat (almond based syrup), grenadine (pomegranate syrup), passion fruit syrup, coconut cream, and more.
Common citrus and fruit used?
Lemon, limes, oranges, pineapple, grapefruit, passion fruit, guava, berries, papaya, mango, peaches, etc.
Quick tip: you can purchase quality canned pineapple juice from Trader Joe’s or other grocery stores. It can be a little bit of a pain in the butt to chop and juice a pineapple every time you want a tiki cocktail that calls for it. Pineapple juice is the only canned juice you want to get. For citrus you always juice fresh.
What are some of the tools needed for Tiki?
Other than the basic home bartending tools I recommend you pick up a citrus peeler, citrus juicer, and a blender (splurge item).
Any final thoughts?
Tiki can seem overwhelming so bite off what you can chew. Instead of buying $200 worth of stuff, try to make a couple classics like a Mai Tai, or a Pain Killer, or even a Daiquiri. Before you know it your bar will have what it needs to sling some awesome Tiki cocktails for you and your friends.
At the end of the day, you’re not making tiki drinks to be judged about this garnish or that garnish. How you create it doesn’t make it right or wrong. As long as you’re escaping you’re doing it right.