Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means that, at no extra cost to you, we will be compensated when a purchase is made. We only recommend products that we use ourselves.
The mere mention of a Tiki drink invokes a certain image in your head that can be quite difficult to specify. At the time most tiki drinks were being invented, the word was not used. Instead, categorising them was much more nuanced since they were referred to as 'tropical', or 'exotic' drinks. Punch wrote a great article correctly stating that by giving an overarching name to these drinks, we need to be able to define it.
Traditional Tiki Bars often have a theme heavily inspired by Polynesian culture but modern iterations also encompass South American and Caribbean recipes and aesthetics too. Punch believes Tiki drinks are best defined by their recipes which are overwhelmingly, but not always, rum based. They will share the same basic ingredients like rum, pineapple and lime across the majority of recipes, but differ with more unique flavours like falernum, grenadine, and orgeat.
Over time they have been defined less the ingredients that go into them and more by their presentation. You can recognise them pretty easily as they're rarely served in normal glassware, but instead served with elaborate tiki style cups made of wood or ceramic, with lavish garnishes and might even be on fire! Tiki Toleca, a Tiki Bar based in New Orleans, think that these drinks are best defined by their extravagant and over-the-top appearances. This is an undeniable truth, especially when served in Tiki-themed bars, as drinks come fully loaded with multi coloured garnishes, sometimes to comical excess, making them the prodigal freakshakes of the cocktail world.
Regardless of how you want to define them, there's no denying that Tiki cocktails are among the most awesome subcategories of cocktails out there, and anyone picking up a cocktail shaker for the first time should definitely know a handful of recipes to flaunt their skills. Below are our top picks for the Tiki cocktails you should familiarise yourself with ASAP!
The name 'Mai Tai' comes from a Taihitian word meaning 'The Best'. Since Mai Tai's are predominantly made up of rum, they are a great cocktail to make if you have an incredible or complex rum at home you want to make the most out of.
The Mai Tai, which legends say was so popular that it depleted the world supply of rum in the 1940's, was invented specifically to highlight the particular flavour of 17yr old Wray & Nephew.
The drink contains a very unique ingredient called Orgeat, a sweet almond based syrup, which can be made at home following the same recipe as fruit syrups, or substituted for amaretto which has a similar flavour profile.
Despite having a big name for itself, today's version of the Rum Punch is a variation of the assorted punches mixed in the Caribbean in the 17th Century. Although individual ingredients varied, the foundation for making it was always the same. It has been immortalised in a little rhyme that is still being used in Barbados today:
“One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong and four of weak.”
As you can see, this also applies to our recipe too!
1 part sour (lime juice)
2 parts sweet (grenadine)
3 parts strong (triple sec, white rum, dark rum)
4 parts weak (pineapple juice, orange juice)
This is also one of the best cocktails to make for large groups of people at parties or gatherings. Work your magic and produce a punch bowl everyone will love you for!
Probably the most universally recognised tiki cocktail in existence, the Piña Colada is a drink stereotypically associated with holidays, private islands and general lavish living.
They are an incredible thick and creamy union of pineapple and coconut and rum - essentially what a tropical Caribbean island would taste like if it was a drink! They look fantastic and can be dressed up with fancy umbrellas, making them super photogenic.
As a result, they are routinely used as an accessory in lifestyle flaunting photos or as props to exaggerate Instagram photos, but ironically are ridiculously easy to make yourself once you know how.
The Jungle Bird is a very short but outstanding drink made with with an extraordinary fusion of dark rum, Campari and pineapple juice.
The name is specifically a reference to the birds that could be seen outside the Aviary hotel bar in which it was invented in 1978, but has transcended its origins and today refers to how the pineapple leaf garnish is presented in a way that resembles a tropical bird's tail feathers.
Jungle birds are unique among tiki cocktails as they are one of the few that that have a bitter rather than sweet undertone. This comes predominantly from the Campari, which makes it taste a bit like like the illegitimate lovechild of a Negroni and a Rum Punch.
Everyone has heard of the enigmatic Zombie cocktail. Its named so after the creator claimed that drinking it left him feeling like a zombie afterwards! If he had learned how to conquer his hangovers like we did, we may have ended up with a way less cool name for our favourite drink!
There is no official recipe for making a zombie, and every bar does it slightly differently. But sticking to it's Tiki roots, all iterations will have a blend of at least 2 rums, pineapple juice, lime juice and Grenadine.
Much like the Long Island Iced Tea, this drink gains much of its popularity from the sheer number of ingredients that go into it, attracting drinkers who are more interested in a good time, not a long time.
We already know that not all examples of Tiki cocktails will have Rum in them, as perfectly demonstrated by the Singapore Sling.
Singapore Slings have all the classic components of typical Tiki drinks but differ in that the main spirit used is Gin. Despite originating from Singapore and predating other tiki drinks by quite a significant margin, you'd be hard pressed to point it as the odd one out without already knowing these two facts.
According to the Independant the Singapore Sling was created when it was not socially acceptable for women to drink alcohol in public. Since it looked like fancy fruit juice it allowed them, and the men buying them drinks, to thwart social norms!
P.S. If you're thinking about building a home bar, you will know that presentation is everything. If, like us, you want the full Tiki cocktail experience at home but want to avoid bulky wooden or clay drinking cups that clash with a modern and minimalist aesthetic, make the recipes above using these sleek and modern Tiki inspired high-ball glasses!