Tiki Takeover: 5 Essential Tiki Cocktail Recipes You Need to Try

Now that we've learned all about the American Tiki craze of the mid-twentieth century, from its beginnings in LA's posh Hollywood scene to the backyard Tiki mania that took place in the late '50s and early '60s, it's time to drink.

Here are five recipes for you to try at your next themed cocktail party or any time you need a liquid vacation to the tropics. For a first-hand demonstration, stop by Level2, where I always have new Tiki cocktails up my sleeve and mini umbrellas in stock.


The Hemingway Daiquiri

In the beginning, in the Tiki garden of Eden that is the Caribbean, the holy trinity of Tiki cocktails was founded by combining rum, sugar and lime. Those three ingredients make up the basis of a wide array of drink spinoffs, but it all comes back to the Cuban daiquiri. This take on the original was once called "El Papa Doble" until Hemingway drank so many they renamed the drink in his honor.

  • 2 ounces white or rested rum
  • .75 ounces lime juice
  • .50 ounces ruby red grapefruit juice
  • .50 ounces maraschino liquor
  • .50 ounces simple syrup

Combine all ingredients and shake with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a lime wheel.


Mai Tai (Trader Vic's 1944 version)

Search for a Mai Tai recipe online and you'll find a wide array of conflicting recipes, most with far too much fruit juice. Fear not, this version is about as close to the original as you can get. Although the rum Vic used is long extinct, combining an aged Martinique Agricole rhum with a small batch Jamaican dark rum will give you the same flavor profile.

  • 1 ounce Jamaican dark rum (My favorite is Hamilton pot stilled Jamaican dark rum)
  • 1 ounce Rhum Agricole Vieux (Try La Favorite or Neisson)
  • .50 ounces orange curaçao
  • .50 ounces orgeat syrup*
  • .25 ounces white sugar syrup*
  • 1 ounce fresh lime juice

Combine all ingredients and shake well with plenty of crushed ice. Pour the contents into a double old fashioned glass without straining and garnish with a mint sprig.

*For the Orgeat syrup: This is an almond syrup which can be a chore to make. Small Hand Foods makes a fine product. If you don't mind high fructose corn syrup, give Trader Vic's bottle a try.

*For the white sugar syrup: Combine equal parts hot water and white cane sugar (organic if possible). Stir until dissolved and keep refrigerated. Syrup should last about 3 weeks if kept chilled.


Ponche (A George's at the Cove Original)

This spin on a traditional Tiki-style rum punch substitutes mezcal for the rum. Mezcal is an agave-based spirit from the Oaxaca province of Mexico and can be considered tequila's smokier cousin. Feel free to try this recipe with either mezcal or rum though as the cocktail works well with both.

  • 1.5 ounces mezcal blanco
  • .75 ounce falernum*
  • .75 ounce pineapple juice
  • .75 ounce orange juice
  • .50 ounce lime juice
  • .25 ounce grenadine (we make ours in-house)
  • 3-4 drops Angostura bitters

Combine all ingredients and shake with ice. Strain into a double old fashioned glass filled with ice, or pour the contents into your favorite Tiki mug! Garnish with pineapple leaves.

*For the Falernum: A traditional Tiki ingredient, Falernum is a sweet, almond-based syrup generally made with ginger, spices and rum. We make our own at George's, and in true Donn the Beachcomber fashion, we just can't bring ourselves to share the recipe as we think it's the best in town. You can try your hand at making Falernum using recipes online or you can buy Velvet falernum at your local craft spirits store. In a pinch, you could also use Orgeat syrup as a substitute, adding .25 ounces of 151 proof rum to the recipe.


Doctor Wong (Luau restaurant, Beverly Hills, 1953, as published in Sippin' Safari by Beachbum Berry, 2007)

The Doctor Wong is an adaptation of Donn the Beachcomber's "Doctor Funk," by his former mixologist Ray Buhen, for the Luau Restaurant in Beverly Hills, 1953. For the new restaurant, they riffed on the old cocktail by adding a hint of passion fruit into the grenadine and used Pernod instead of absinthe. Frankly, it's delicious.

  • 1 ounce white rum
  • .25 ounces Pernod or Herbsaint
  • .50 ounces lime juice
  • .50 ounces Tonga mix*
  • 3 ounces crushed ice

Combine all ingredients in a blender, adding ice last. Blend at a high speed for no more than 5 seconds. Pour the contents into a Pilsner glass and add more ice to fill. Garnish with mint sprig.

*For the Tonga mix: Combine four parts grenadine to one part passion fruit juice (not syrup). Stir and keep refrigerated.


San Diego Tiki Bowl

Another original by yours truly, the San Diego Tiki Bowl is designed specifically for this blog post, as we have been lacking in the pyrotechnics department.

  • 1.5 ounces Old Harbor Barrelflag navy strength rum
  • .75 ounces Hamiltons Jamaican pot stilled dark rum
  • .25 ounces Demerara 151 proof rum (lemon heart or el dorado)
  • .25 ounces Pernod
  • .75 ounces lime juice
  • .75 ounces honey mix*
  • 1.25 ounces Orange juice
  • Dash of Angostura bitters

Combine all ingredients in a blender, adding ice last. Blend at a high speed for no more than 5 seconds. Pour the contents into a tiki bowl of your choice, adding more crushed ice to fill. Float a half lime that has been pre-squeezed for juice and fill with a little 151 rum. Light with a long match or lighter and serve.



Until next time, may you have fair winds and following seas...




Stephen Kurpinsky
Georges at the cove