My symposium for people who work in the bar industry, “Tiki: A Story for Bartenders,” is not a how-to of tropical drinkmaking. On the contrary, I let folks know up-front that we’ll be tackling everything else, because there are already great resources out there for making tiki drinks; I’m there to introduce them to the much wider picture beyond what goes in the glass at a tiki bar. All the same, I wrap up the talk by giving bartenders a list of books by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry for digging deeper into tiki drinks. Without fail, the bartenders whip out their pens to eagerly scribble down every title. It also usually triggers a discussion about the context of these books… The ‘Bum was not compiling these recipes for an audience of craft bartenders—that audience did not exist yet. You couldn’t go buy allspice dram or passion fruit syrup at your nearest high-end cocktail supply store. His books were written for home hobbyists, making the best of what products they could find or make themselves.
So quickly things have changed! We have Jeff Berry to thank for that—and thank profusely. He moved heaven and earth to save these recipes from the dustbin of history. Years, YEARS, decades even, he has spent finding these recipes. A few were still in print, more had been printed in the ’50s and ’60s and could now only be found in a cookbook or magazine in a dusty old antique mall, but many of these recipes were saved through careful and conscientious relationship building. These recipes had survived in the small pocket notebooks of the original bartenders who made these drinks in Polynesian restaurants during the 1950s and 1960s. Those notebooks, being a passport to perpetual employment, were carefully guarded, even by the descendants who inherited them. Even once The ‘Bum had those notebooks in-hand, the recipes were often written in code that had to be deciphered. It took a lot of patience, and a lot of good, old-fashioned effort, to save these recipes.
A Herculean effort. For all of The ‘Bum’s talk about being a lazy bum, it’s all just a show. Know this. Jeff Berry worked hard on this project-of-a-lifetime.
But recipes cannot be copyrighted, and it is legally possible for the recipes to be republished by another author. If you see a compilation of these classic drink recipes and it doesn’t have the name of the man who made their survival possible all over it… well, the most graceful way I can say it is that you should not support that kind of societal behavior.
Now, let’s talk about what he has produced for us with all this hard work:
Beachbum Berry’s Grog Log (1998)
This was The ‘Bum’s first book of historic tropical drink recipes, and it had humble beginnings. The very first edition was essentially a photocopied ‘zine, sold in random comic book and record stores. It soon found a more sturdy form in the hands of a comic book publisher, SLG Publishing, but is no longer in print. If you find either version, grab it, but at this point its value is as a collectible. If you want the recipes, you want Beachbum Berry Remixed (see below).
Like The Grog Log, Intoxica! was printed by SLG Publishing and is no longer in print. It was very much like The Grog Log, with Beachbum Berry sharing recipes he had found since that book was completed.
Taboo Table sought to do for the food what The Grog Log and Intoxica! did for the drinks, and it also does include a few drink recipes. Published by SLG Publishing, this one is still available.
THIS is the book you’re looking for. Don’t worry about tracking down those earlier books, just buy Remixed instead. As time went by, Jeff continued to learn more about these recipes, and also was doing a better job of decoding them. This book includes the recipes from The Grog Log and Intoxica!, only much better: there are important corrections, and additional vintage and modern recipes. There are beautiful full-color pictures of the drinks and bits of beautiful vintage Polynesian restaurant imagery, and there’s much more discussion about the history. By the time Remixed came out in 2009, things were already changing in the area of ingredients and product availability, and there are improved pointers for stocking your bar with the good stuff.
Jeff is a fantastic storyteller, and in doing all this digging, he uncovered much more than recipes. Sippin’ Safari is the first time the focus is on the people and the history, though there are of course still recipes, too. This book is a wonderful must-have that tells the stories of the people and places that gave birth to these drinks we love.
Turns out that all these previous books, books which any of us would strain to attempt to produce, were just Jeff finding his sea legs. Potions of the Caribbean is where he shows off how he has mastered his craft of mixing history, recipes and storytelling. Tiki plays a role here, but the focus is on the drinks of the Caribbean—tiki drinks eventually evolved out of these drinks, but the Caribbean’s drinks have a fascinating (and much deeper) history all their own.
This is how I most often use Jeff’s recipes, via the Total Tiki app. Created with developer Martin Doudoroff, it includes most of the recipes from his various books, and is available for iPhone and iPad.
The natural conclusion of all this: Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29. The ‘Bum got a real job, and now has his own restaurant in New Orleans. Of course, it is outstanding and winning accolades left and right. He also has a line of bar tools and glassware, making it easier than ever to recreate the experience of these amazing drinks.
A word of caution to bartenders, about tiki drinks:
If you are making these drinks for Instagram, if you are knocking yourself out doing the most outrageous garnish you can think of, if you are deciding that you’re going to invent the next great tiki drink, if you think “tiki as fuck” makes you sound really edgy… you’re missing the point. Tiki bars were and are all about the escape provided by environment, and the drinks are just one component. It can be easy to lose sight of the importance of giving your guest that fully transporting experience, that escape, when you’re too focused on the glass in front of you. In tiki bars, the garnish is not what’s on top of the glass, the garnish is the whole room… it’s in the way you feel a bit lost and yet find your shoulders relaxing when you cross the threshhold into this different world. It’s the decor, it’s the music, it’s the lighting, it’s the hospitality, it’s the complete removal from the world you know. Don’t let these drinks be saved only to serve them without their proper garnish. The future of these drinks is in your hands now, please don’t blow it. We’re counting on you.
Your Essential Tiki Drink Recipes Shopping List: