Don the Beachcomber (1937)
File under “semi-obscure-but-completely-delicious.”
When Don the Beachcomber moved into an expanded location across the street from their original spot in Hollywood, they also expanded the drinks menu. The “Pupule” was one they added to the lineup – another dimensionalized riff on the Planter’s Punch, this time mixing orange and lime for the sour element, and merging sweet and spicy with flavors of allspice, vanilla, and cinnamon. I imagine Donn’s customers had a good number of juvenile laughs at the name (Poo Poo? Purple? Pustule?) before he changed it to “Nui Nui” around 1941 (much better, it means “Big-Big” or “Extra-Large” in Maori).
In spite of the boastful name, booze-wise this drink is no big deal. Same amount of rum as a little Daiquiri – but they still enforced a three-per-customer limit on this one. Most likely to appeal to the macho types who felt their masculinity threatened by all the orchids and whatnot. “Are you man enough to handle three of these?” and so on.
A note on orange juice – lemon and lime juice is always fresh in these recipes, but it’s easy to assume that pasteurized orange juice from concentrate, the breakfast staple, is the same thing as fresh-squeezed. Short answer: it ain’t. You gotta squeeze an orange, sorry. But before you do, prepare the garnish, a long orange peel – like a whole orange peeled all the way around and around with a Y-peeler. Feel free to use whatever size peel you like and decorate as you prefer: the original hung the peel out of the drink and down the side of the mug or glass; I like coiling it up like a crown and loading with more ice.
You’ll need three syrups or liqueurs for this: pimento dram, cinnamon syrup, and vanilla syrup – see recipes here if you’re up for the effort (and the necessary time) 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, Straws (optional)
Ice: Cracked ice
Glassware: Tiki mug or Collins glass
Spirits: Amber rum (recommended: Cruzan Aged Dark – or Havana Club Añejo Especial if you can get it)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Pimento Dram, Vanilla Syrup, Cinnamon syrup
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice, Orange juice, Angostura bitters, Orange peel
In an electric blender, add:
2 1/2 oz amber rum
3/4 oz lime juice
3/4 oz orange juice
3/4 oz cinnamon syrup
1 tsp vanilla syrup
1 tsp pimento dram
1 dash Angostura bitters
3/4 cup 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 Collins glass. Garnish with a long orange peel. Optionally, serve with two straws.
Making your own syrups at home yields some amazing, fresh flavors for your cocktails. Plus, you get to tell the story of how you made it yourself when someone asks what’s in that mystery bottle you’re pouring into their drink!
Simple Syrup really is simple. Over medium-low heat, mix one cup of white sugar with one cup of water, stirring until sugar is dissolved. For Rich Simple Syrup, use one cup of sugar to a half-cup of water. You might find the richness of turbinado or demerara sugar works better for certain drinks, where plain white sugar provides brightness and snap – experiment and see what you like. Keep refrigerated. Will last about two months.
Real pomegranate grenadine is miles above the common artificial kind and can be made easily at home. If pomegranates are in season (typically December through January), and you don’t mind a mess and a pain in the ass, you’ll get best results by using fresh. Cut pomegranates in half and break apart sections by hand, separating the juice-filled arils from their bitter white membrane. Place the arils in a small saucepan with a bit of water and simmer, covered, over medium-low heat until the arils burst and release their juice. You may need to crush some reluctant ones with the back of a spoon to get them to pop – you should get 1/4 to 1/2 cup of juice per pomegranate. Strain the juice and discard the arils. Mix one cup of fresh pomegranate juice (or 100% unsweetened pomegranate juice like POM brand in the off-season or when feeling lazy) with one cup of white sugar. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. When it’s cool, add one and a half teaspoons of orange flower water – easily found at Middle Eastern markets or online. Adding an ounce of 100-proof vodka will keep it from spoiling too fast. Keep refrigerated. Will last about three months.
In a heavyweight Ziploc, smash up 2 1/2 cups whole, raw almonds – just enough to break them into large chunks, not totally crushed into powder. A mallet, rolling pin, or even a muddler works well. Arrange in a single layer on an ungreased baking sheet (use parchment paper if you like) and toast in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. When finished toasting, in a saucepan, combine the crushed, toasted almonds with 2 cups of sugar and 1 1/2 cups of water. Bring to a simmer, then cook 10 minutes, stirring. Remove from the heat and let cool, then pour into an airtight container and let the mixture steep, unrefrigerated, for 24 hours. Strain the mixture through a cheesecloth-lined strainer into a jar or bottle (it’ll take a while to slowly drip out), then add 12 drops of orange flower water, 12 drops of rose water, and 1 oz of overproof vodka to help reduce spoilage. Shake to blend. Keep refrigerated. Will last about three months.
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. Will last about six months. (recipe adapted from Kaiser Penguin.)
Lightly toast 1/4 cup whole dried allspice berries just until fragrant then crush to break up, but not completely turn to powder. In an airtight container, combine the allspice with 1 1/8 cups 151 demerara rum (Lemon Hart). Let steep 10 days in a cool, dark place.
After 10 days, strain the infused rum through cheesecloth, then a coffee filter, to remove allspice. In a saucepan over medium-low heat, combine 1 1/2 cups water with 2 1/2 cups brown sugar. Stir to blend until sugar is completely dissolved. Let brown sugar syrup cool, then add the infused rum. Funnel into an airtight glass bottle or jar and let sit 30 days in the refrigerator. This will level out the heat of the allspice. Keep refrigerated. Will last about six months.
In a saucepan over medium heat, lightly toast 3 cinnamon sticks, crushed lightly to expose more surface area to the heat. Crush again, but don’t pulverize. Add 1 1/2 cups sugar and 1 1/2 cups water, then simmer 10 minutes, stirring to dissolve sugar. Cool & let steep two hours, then double-strain through a couple layers of dampened cheesecloth into an airtight container. Keep refrigerated. Will last about two months.
Honey Syrup keeps honey from freezing and seizing when mixed in cocktails. Just mix 3/4 cup honey with 1/4 cup hot water over low heat and stir to combine. Keep refrigerated. Will last about three months.
Split 2 vanilla beans lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Over medium-low heat, mix 1 cup white sugar with 1 cup water, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add vanilla seeds and bean pods, whisking to distribute evenly. Simmer on low heat for 10 minutes. Cool, then pour into an airtight glass container and let steep, refrigerated, overnight. Strain through a couple layers of dampened cheesecloth to remove fine particles and store in an airtight container. Keep refrigerated. Will last about two months.
Trader Vic’s, 1950s
The persistant rivalry between California tiki chains Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic’s often resulted in confusion for the customer. Both had a Mai Tai on their menu, both claimed to have invented it – and their versions were very different flavor-wise. On top of that, their Mai Tai recipes changed as the years went by, often resulting in a less-interesting drink.
A similar case with the Navy Grog – competing recipes, confusing origins, lessening quality over time. And it bears almost no relation to the “grog” consumed by British sailors, a mix of rum and water. Frank Sinatra considered the Navy Grog his favorite drink at the Palm Springs Don the Beachcomber back in the day – but this is the version the rival Trader Vic’s was serving in the ’50s. I’ve tasted both and this one’s the champ. Knockout champ, if you’re not careful!
There’s an unusual-sounding ingredient here – “Pimento Dram.” No, that’s not the red blobby things from inside an olive. Down in the West Indies, they call the Allspice tree “Pimento.” This traditional Carribean liqueur is simply allspice-infused demerara rum mixed with a brown sugar syrup. Easy and fun to make at home, so long as you can stand waiting a few weeks for it to come together.
Hardware: Shaker, jigger
Ice: Ice cubes, crushed ice
Glassware: Double rocks glass
Spirits: Light rum (recommended: Havana Club 3, Caña Brava, Cruzan), Gold rum (recommended: Appleton, Mount Gay), 151 demerara rum (recommended: Lemon Hart)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Pimento Dram (recommended: St Elizabeth Allspice Dram or make your own – recipe below)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice, Grapefruit juice (white, if you can get it), Lime twist, Grapefruit twist
In a shaker about half-full with ice cubes, add:
1 oz light rum
1 oz gold rum
1 oz 151 demerara rum
3/4 oz lime juice
3/4 oz pimento dram
1/2 oz grapefruit juice
Shake well to blend and chill, then strain into a double rocks glass filled with crushed ice (an ice cone with a straw running through it was the style at Trader Vic’s, but can be impractical for home use).
Garnish with a lime twist and grapefruit twist.
Light toast 1/4 cup whole dried allspice berries, then crush to break up, but not pulverize. In an airtight container, combine the crushed toasted allspice berries with 1 1/8 cups 151 demerara rum (Lemon Hart). Let steep 10 days in a cool, dark place.
After 10 days, strain the infused rum through cheesecloth, then a coffee filter, to remove allspice. In a saucepan over medium-low heat, combine 1 1/2 cups water with 2 1/2 cups brown sugar. Stir to blend until sugar is completely dissolved. Let brown sugar syrup cool, then add the infused rum. Funnel into an airtight glass bottle or jar and let sit 30 days in the refrigerator. This will level out the heat of the allspice. Keep refrigerated.