Brazil (1750s, give or take)
When it’s too hot to spend more than a minute making a drink, the Caipirinha comes to the rescue (say it “kai-peer-EENyuh”). It’s the national drink of Brazil, made with cachaça (“kah-SHAH-sah”), a sugar-cane spirit much like the rhum agricole they make on Martinique and the other islands of the French West Indies. Where most rums are made from molasses, cachaça and rhum agricole are made directly from pressed fresh sugar cane, so you get all kinds of interesting vegetal, earthy flavors and aromas that aren’t there in rum.
The Portuguese word “caipirinha” means “hillbilly,” and from that you can guess the nature of this drink: a little rough, a little rustic. But so simple and delicious – for those who’ve never tried one, I say it’s halfway between a Margarita and a Daiquiri and they’re sold. Once you’ve made it the original way with lime, anything goes for the muddled fruit: pineapple, guava, tangerine, strawberry, passion fruit, kiwi, grape, mango… in fact, these fruit-laden versions have become more popular in Brazil than the original lime-only version, which is coming to be thought of as “Grandpa’s drink.” But to hell with that, Grandpa knows a thing or two.
Cachaça is Brazil’s national spirit: there are over 5,000 brands available down there. You may have a harder time than the Brazilians do tracking it down if you don’t live near a well-stocked shop… which is why God created Hi-Time. Have some shipped out in time for the next heat wave!
Hardware: Jigger, Muddler, Barspoon
Ice: Cracked ice
Glassware: Rocks glass
Spirits: Cachaça (recommended: Leblon, Sagatiba, Novo Fogo)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Simple syrup
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime chunks
In a rocks glass, add:
Half a lime, cored and cut into four chunks
1/2 oz simple syrup
Muddle well to express all lime juice and rind oils, then add cracked ice to fill to the rim and:
2 oz cachaça
Swizzle with the barspoon to blend and chill.
Don the Beachcomber (1934)
Southern California’s longest-running contribution to the world’s cocktail culture is the deliciously goofball world of tiki. The brainchild of world traveler and bootlegger Ernest Raymond Beaumont-Gantt (who later legally changed his name to Donn Beach), tiki was a melange of the authentic and the completely fabricated. South Seas cultural artifacts mixed with Carribean rum mixed with Chinese cooking, this faux-tropical getaway world captured the imagination of Hollywood in the 1930s and took off from there like hot lava. Tiki dominated cocktail culture in the ’50s and ’60s, then faded as late-’60s culture labeled it “square,” something their parents enjoyed.
Don the Beachcomber’s original 1934 Zombie was created (in all likelihood) as a collaboration with his four Filipino bartenders, who worked hidden away in the back kitchen, out of sight of the front-room bar (to keep the mystery and protect his secrets). One of those bartenders, Ray Buhen, went on to open Tiki Ti in Hollywood in 1961; the place is still there today, run by his son and grandson. In an interview, Ray called out Donn Beach’s authorship claim: “He’d say anything. He said he invented the Zombie, but he didn’t. Or hardly any of his drinks.” Donn’s recipes were jotted down in notebooks passed from one bartender to the other, transcribed in code in case they fell into enemy hands. You’d just have to know what “Don’s Mix” or “Markeza” or “Golden Stack” was to make the drink correctly. He changed the recipe several times over the years; not sure why, because this version’s the best. Potent and dangerously delicious, Don the Beachcomber enforced a strict two-per-customer rule on this drink. Breaking this rule has risks: in 1936, Howard Hughes struck and killed a pedestrian while driving home drunk after one too many Zombies at Don the Beachcomber’s.
The Zombie, with its ten-ingredient list, is a perfect example of a drink that is best (and maybe safest) made at home. Try to get one of these at a busy bar and you’re more likely to get a “pick something else” response. And if you do get a Zombie, it probably won’t be this one. This original 1934 recipe was finally decoded in 2005 by Beachbum Berry after years of research and experimentation.
You’ll need three syrups for this: grenadine, cinnamon syrup, and Falernum – a spiced rum syrup from Barbados (recipes for cinnamon syrup and falernum below, grenadine recipe is linked). Always best to make them yourself at home… but a great alternative is BG Reynolds‘ fantastic line of tiki syrups from Portland, Oregon.
If you’re going through all the fun to make this fantastic drink, why not serve it in a vintage tiki mug? Great finds can be had at thrift stores occasionally, or check online at Etsy‘s vintage shops.
Hardware: Electric blender, Jigger, Medicine dropper, Straws (optional)
Ice: Cracked ice
Glassware: Tiki mug or double Old Fashioned glass
Spirits: Gold rum (recommended: Appleton, Mount Gay, Cruzan), Dark rum (recommended: Coruba, Myers’s), 151 demerara rum (recommended: Lemon Hart)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Falernum, Cinnamon syrup, Grenadine, Pernod or Herbsaint
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice, Grapefruit juice (white, if you can get it), Angostura bitters, Fresh spearmint
In an electric blender, add:
1 1/2 oz gold rum
1 1/2 oz dark rum
1 oz 151 demerara rum
3/4 oz lime juice
1/2 oz grapefruit juice
1/2 oz Falernum
1/4 oz cinnamon syrup
1/4 oz grenadine
6 drops Pernod or Herbsaint
1 dash Angostura bitters
6 oz cracked ice
Flash blend five seconds to quickly mix – meaning just turn the blender on, then off again. Pour unstrained into a tiki mug or Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with a mint sprig that’s been lightly slapped against the rim of the tiki mug or glass to release its aromatic oils. Optionally, serve with two straws cut to size.
In a saucepan over medium heat, lightly toast 3 cinnamon sticks, crushed lightly. Add 2 cups sugar and 2 cups water, then simmer 10 minutes, stirring to dissolve sugar. Cool & steep 20 minutes, then double-strain into an airtight container to remove particles. Keep refrigerated.
In a saucepan over medium heat, lightly toast 50 cloves, 1 tablespoon whole allspice berries, and 1 whole nutmeg (crushed, not ground). Combine in an airtight container and add 8 oz 151 demerara rum, the peeled zest from 8 limes (being careful to not include any of the bitter white pith), and 1/2 cup grated fresh ginger. Infuse for 24 hours, then double-strain the infused rum to remove ingredients and small particles. Make a rich simple syrup of 2 cups sugar and 1 cup water and let cool. In an airtight container, combine the infused rum, the rich simple syrup, and 10 drops almond extract. Stir to combine. Let rest two weeks, refrigerated, for the ginger to mellow. Keep refrigerated. (recipe adapted from Kaiser Penguin.)
The Odeon, New York City, 1988
Vodka has become a monster, and this drink is responsible.
Toby Cecchini, bartender at The Odeon, took an existing recipe that had been bouncing around (a Kamikaze with cranberry) and did it properly by focusing on balance. The irony is, nearly no one makes a Cosmopolitan according to this original recipe anymore – they’ll add way too much sweetness, skip the fresh lime juice, and overload it with cranberry. This drink (along with the Lemon Drop) begat the unfortunate ’90s trend of Appletini, Chocotini, Whatevertini – which, in turn, begat the current shame of whipped cream vodka, Froot Loops vodka, PB&J vodka, and God knows what’s coming next. Now: there is a legitimate, historical tradition of infusing vodka with all kinds of natural things: fruit, herbs, roots, spices – but what comes out of a chemical laboratory and sells by the truckload these days is a scourge upon the land, to put it bluntly.
The shame of vodka drinks is this: vodka is ephemeral and delicate. Its micro-subtle aromas and flavors can get lost when chilled and mixed in a drink (probably why it’s preferred by those who don’t like the taste of alcohol). If by chance you’ve never tried a good vodka (like Absolut, Tito’s, or Karlsson’s Gold) neat, straight out of the bottle, at room temperature – I encourage you to do so. You may be surprised at the character of what the US government mandates must be “odorless, colorless, and tasteless.”
Having said all that, odds are you’ll be called on someday to make a Cosmopolitan for a guest. So if you must, why not do it well?
Hardware: Shaker, Jigger
Ice: Ice cubes
Glassware: Cocktail glass
Spirits: Vodka (recommended: Absolut Citron)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Triple sec (recommended: Cointreau)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice, Cranberry juice, Lemon twist
Chill a cocktail glass in the freezer at least ten minutes.
In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:
2 oz vodka
1 oz lime juice
1 oz triple sec
1/4 oz cranberry juice
Shake well to blend and chill, then strain into the chilled glass. Pinch a lemon twist over the drink to express oils onto its surface, then rub the twist around the glass rim to coat. Garnish with the twist laid across the surface of the drink.