If you were to ask a cocktail lover to define what makes a “tiki drink”, then rum would surely be one of the first words mentioned. This is no coincidence – the very idea of ”tiki” as we think of it today is perhaps best defined as Polynesian Pop, and Polynesian Pop’s ethos was a fictionalized version of the supposed adventure and “danger” inherent in the South Seas, combined with the tropical rum-based drinks of the Caribbean. Put them together and you have tiki drink, cocktails defined by their long lists of exotic-sounding juices, syrups, cordials and liqueurs… and yes, rum.
From the very beginning, however, it’s not as if other forms of spirits were banned from appearing in classic tiki drinks. Two of the legendary Trader Vic’s most famous creations, the Fog Cutter and Scorpion Bowl, highlight other spirits besides rum – the Scorpion Bowl contains brandy, while the mighty Fog Cutter calls for brandy. and Gin. Indeed, you can find a tiki drink recipe that contains almost any spirit imaginable. And that includes the most American spirit of all, whisky.
So what makes a bourbon or rye cocktail “tiki” if not for the rum? Well, these are the same things you associate with all the other classic tiki drinks – often a range of juices, with accents of syrups, liqueurs and spice drams. If you’re an American whiskey geek who’s never really had a taste of rum, even though you really should, consider these cocktails a way to dip a more familiar toe into the world of tiki. And even for seasoned tiki fans, these whiskey-based drinks are a pretty new change of pace.
Almost certainly the oldest cocktail on this list, the Halekulani is like a manual on how to adapt a rum-based tiki cocktail into one that contains whiskey instead. It’s supposed to be from the House Without a Key, the famous bar/lounge at the Halekulani Hotel in Hawaii, established sometime in the 1930s. It’s pretty much a template for other recipes on this list , in the sense that it replaces rum with bourbon, and other ingredients for those who play classically well with bourbon – lemon juice instead of lime, and the addition of pineapple, which has long been one of the best complementary flavors of bourbon.
Most Halekulani recipes call for a strong bourbon of 100 degrees or more, which gives this drink the punchy presence of a whiskey-based daiquiri, with a hint of pineapple.
— 1.5 oz of overpowering bourbon
— 0.5 oz pineapple juice
— 0.5 oz lemon juice
— 0.5 oz orange juice
— ½ teaspoon or 1 teaspoon of grenadine or pomegranate molasses
— 0.5 oz demerara syrup or brown sugar syrup
— 1 dash of Angostura or other aromatic bitters
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with plenty of ice. Shake vigorously and filter. Halekulani can be served either as an “up drink” or over a glass of cold ice. Served ‘up’ in a cocktail glass or goblet, it’s a fairly potent tropical drink, akin to a stronger whiskey-based daiquiri. Served in a highball glass over ice, it’s a bit more convivial and relaxed, like a whiskey sour with tropical influences.
While the Halekulani is quite big and punchy, with its overly hardy bourbon base, the Bronx Cheer is a slightly lighter, spicier, and more elegant take on a whiskey-based daiquiri-style drink. Rye whiskey is used here in place of bourbon, and this recipe preserves the lime juice rather than replacing it with lemon. The addition of spiced falernum syrup and raspberry syrup, however, keeps it from being too familiar as a simple “whiskey daiquiri”, as does the fact that it’s served over crushed ice. This recipe was created by Joe Robinson of the Cocktail Bar Be ready in Detroit.
— 2 ounces of rye whiskey
— 1 oz lime juice
— 0.75 oz Falernum
— .75 raspberry syrup
Add all ingredients to a mixing glass with plenty of ice. Close and shake vigorously. Strain into a glass, preferably a tall glass filled with ice pebbles or crushed ice. This will lengthen the drink, making it a refreshing cooler.
This recipe, courtesy of bourbon brand Brown-Forman’s Coopers’ Craft, seems to basically look at Halekulani’s bourbon and pineapple combination, then add bitter Campari to the mix to create a riff on the ever-popular Jungle Bird cocktail. At the same time, however, there’s also coconut milk involved, which might also make you think of a pain reliever, especially if you choose to sprinkle it with nutmeg. All in all, it looks like a fusion of the two concepts.
— 1.5 oz bourbon
— 0.5 oz simple syrup or demerara syrup
— 0.5 oz lime juice
— 2 oz pineapple juice
— Campari 0.75oz
— 1.5 oz coconut milk
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with plenty of ice. Stopper and shake vigorously. Strain into a glass filled with ice. You’ll probably want a particularly large old-fashioned double glass to hold that volume of liquid, be aware.
Pineapple and Campari meet again, but instead of stopping there with a Jungle Bird riff, this one instead draws on the whiskey-Campari connection to label this drink as a takeoff of the Boulevardier, which of course is the Whiskey-based variant of the venerable Negroni gin. You will also notice that this one is a bit less whiskey heavy and more intense in terms of Campari and Amaro presence. To this profile, he adds banana liqueur to satisfy his namesake. This recipe was created by Lucinda Sterling of New York’s Middle Branch cocktail bar.
— 1 ounce of bourbon
— 1 oz pineapple juice
— Campari 1 ounce
— 1 oz Braulio amaro
— 0.5 oz banana liqueur
— 0.5 oz orange juice
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with plenty of ice. Stopper and shake vigorously, then filter. Pour into a tall glass filled with crushed ice or pebbles.
We weren’t going to embark on this endeavor without at least a riff on mai tai, itself the most iconic of all tiki drinks – so classic, in fact, that we recently wrote a full essay on what’s going on. goes into making the perfect Mai Tai. This one obviously swaps the rum for rye whiskey, though we suspect bourbon would probably work just fine too. It retains the orgeat (almond syrup) essential to making a mai tai, but replaces the lime juice with lemon and also adds a little pineapple. We don’t usually like to mess with the classic mai tai by adding pineapple, but when you do a twist of whiskey, might as well go for it. This particular recipe was created by Nick Brown of NYC Cocktail Bar The Spaniard.
— 2 ounces of rye whiskey
— 0.75 oz pineapple juice
— 0.75 oz lemon juice
— 0.75 oz of orgeat
— 6 to 10 dashes of Angostura bitters
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with plenty of ice. Stopper and shake vigorously, then strain into a lowball glass filled with crushed ice or pebbles. Alternatively, you can leave out the Angostura before blending, then top the drink with a red burst of bitters as a crown.
Jim Vorel is a staff writer at Paste and a resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.