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A Tiki Drink for the Ages

As those that have read this rag for any period of time already know, The Ace is a lover of the Tiki cocktail.  And as a resident of Oakland, that means that The Ace loves to hang out at Forbidden Island in Alameda.  Oh sure, The Ace will occasionally darken Trader Vic's door in Emeryville (just for nostalgia's sake) or that of Kona Club on Piedmont Ave. (in theory at least I could crawl home from the joint).  But there's no beating Forbidden Island for legit Tiki drinks made the way they were intended to be - served in an awesome retro oasis complete with wall-to-wall Tiki kitsch.  

Years ago The Ace was perched at the bar on the Island when I found myself face to face with a drink that had been a winner in a customer recipe contest.  Rich with the warm spice of grapefruit and cinnamon, this cocktail still retained a strong, reassuring kick in the butt from its rhum spirit. This was one amazing drink.  

As luck would have it, the creator of this fine drink was a fellow cocktail blogger, so I was able to add this fine cocktail to The Ace Saloon's stable of Tiki drinks.  A special thanks to Craig Hermann of for creating his Gantt's Caipirissima cocktail and for graciously sharing the recipe on his fine site.  You can click here to see Craig's original post about this cocktail.  

It is really fascinating how well cinnamon and grapefruit work together in this and in many other cocktails. This combination is a remnant of one of the true legends of the Tiki genre - Donn Beach.  Donn (born Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt) is most famous for his showmanship and his chain of Don the Beachcomber bars/restaurants - but he was a genuine cocktail innovator as well.  He created countless code-named mixes which were used in many of his bar's cocktail recipes.  These pre-made mixes doubled as mixology time-savers and also as a way of masking the cocktail ingredients from patrons as well as bartenders (which were prone to be hired away by competitors) in the cutthroat world of Tiki in the 1950s.   

One of the most famous of these mixes was simply named "Don's Mix."  It was comprised of 2 parts grapefruit juice to 1 part cinnamon-infused sugar syrup.  This simple, unlikely combination of flavors make give this drink its outstanding qualities and make it a true crowd-pleaser for any setting.   

Gantt's Caipirissima

2 oz. Rhum Agricole* 
1 oz. cinnamon simple syrup (see below)
1/4 white grapefruit** - cut into 3 to 4 pieces

Muddle the grapefruit and the cinnamon simple syrup in the bottom of a double old-fashioned glass.  Add crushed ice up to 3/4 of the height of the glass, then pour the rhum over the ice.  Stir to mix the drink and serve with a cinnamon stick garnish.  

* Clement VSOP is optimal, but I have used La Favorite Rhum Vieux with success.  In a pinch (and when hosting larger parties) I have even substituted Rhum Barbancourt 8 in the place of the Agricole Rhum.  This is clearly more than a little sacreligious, but this makes for a great "well" version of this cocktail when you are serving 50-75 of these drinks per night, and it is still a huge crowd pleaser even in its well variety.

** White grapefruit is clearly preferred over the ruby red variety in this drink.  Here in California that limits this drink to a wintertime cocktail - when the famed Oro Blanco becomes seasonally available.  Trust me - it's worth the wait... 

Cinnamon Simple Syrup

2 parts granulated cane juice (sugar)
1 part water
3 cinnamon sticks, crushed

Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan.  Add the sugar and stir to combine.  Add the crushed cinnamon sticks to the syrup and lower heat, allowing the syrup to simmer for 2-3 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow the mixture to cool for around 2 hours.  Once cool, strain to remove the cinnamon and pour into a squeeze bottle for storage.  Syrup will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator.


Grapefruit Cocktail Extraordinaire: The Plantation

My current favorite bar is Comstock Saloon in San Francisco.  It's really an amazing place in the North Brach area of town.  You simply won't find a more professional set of barkeepers anywhere - led by the two chief mixologists, Jeff Hollinger and Jonny Raglin.  Back in the day, both of these guys came from Absinthe on Hayes Street in San Francisco, and a couple years ago Jeff co-wrote a brilliant book called Art of the Bar which shows off his considerable talents behind the bar.  

Ooh - check out that green cocktail!The Art of the Bar has been in my Library for some time now, but recently I found myself digging through the tome looking for a grapefruit cocktail for Mrs. The Ace.  My wife, a well-documented grapefruit cocktail lover, was looking for something new to help her pass another rainy Bay Area winter evening.  Lo and behold, I found this thing of beauty that includes not only grapefruit but also is a fresh basil cocktail.  

This drink has a lovely, fresh taste to go with its brilliant green coloring. The basil and sugar make a nice, light pesto of sorts that go nicely with the citrus flavors of grapefruit and lime. And if you float some club soda on top you get a great little summertime cooler for your trouble. It's almost enough to make anyone forget that it's still cold and rainy outside. In just a few short weeks this drink will be much more useful as a harbinger of Spring.  

Plantation Cocktail
Adapted from Art of the Bar (2006) by Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz

4-6 leaves fresh basil
1/2 tsp sugar
1 oz. Plymouth Gin
1/2 oz. Cointreau (or Combier)
1/2 oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 oz. fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice
Club soda (optional) 

Combine the basil and sugar in a mixing glass and muddle until the basil is liquified into something that looks like pesto.  Fill the mixing glass with ice. Add the gin, orange curacao and juices to the glass and shake well for 10-20 seconds until well-chilled. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a chilled tall collins glass filled with ice. Top with a float of club soda for a summer cooler (optional). Garnish with a slice of grapefruit. 


Super Bowl Drinks - Round 2

So as I wrote about here, The Ace is giving you some Super Bowl-themed cocktail recipe ideass that you might want to try at your big game party this coming weekend. Given that Green Bay and Pittsburgh are both beer towns, this can be a little tough. My last post focused on Pousse Cafes for the two teams - which are basically colorful shooters for the event. Not exactly the most impressive drinks from a mixology perspective, however. This post attempts to give you some more interesting and tasty options for your soiree. Here goes...

Packer Paloma
Adapted from Boozehound (2010) by Jason Wilson 

3 oz. fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice
2 oz. blanco (silver) tequila
1/2 oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice
1/2 to 3/4 oz. agave nectar (to taste)

Fill a cocktail shaker 1/2 full of ice. Add the grapefruit and lime juices, tequila and agave nectar to the shaker. Shake well and pour directly into a tall collins glass. Garnish with a slice of lime and a slice of grapefruit.

George Baker was a Packer fanThis an alliterative take on the classic Paloma cocktail - which is kind of a grapefruit margarita.  Grapefruit is a very good mixer with tequila, and this drink is very bright and refreshing. In fact, the Paloma is much more common in Mexico than is the veritable Margarita. It is also comprised of ingredients that you can squeeze and prepare in advance - allowing you to prepare this drink quickly at your party. 

I like to use white grapefruit in this drink (in fact I used fresh local oro blancos) - and I think the 3/4 oz. of agave nectar just offsets the bitter qualities of the white grapefruit. If you use ruby grapefruits then stick closer to the 1/2 oz. I also sometimes like to mix a little Cointreau or Combier into this drink.  

Oh yeah - and drinks on the house to patrons singing Una Paloma Blanca

Corn n' Steel
Adapted from recipe on back of John D. Taylor's Velvet Falernum bottle

2 oz. Cruzan Blackstrap rum
1/2 oz. velvet falernum
Dash of Fee Brothers' aromatic bitters (recommended for its heavy cinnamon flavor)
1/2 lime
pineapple for garnish 

Combine the rum, falernum, bitters and the juice from the lime in a shaker with lots of ice and shake for at least 20 seconds to chill. Pour (including the ice) into a highball glass and garnish with a slice of pineapple on the rim of the glass.

Polamalu's secret to shiny hair... Velvet Falernum!This drink is really just a regular ol' Corn n' Oil - with pineapple garnish for flavor and to adapt the coloring in honor of the Steelers. The Corn n' Oil is also a great little drink, one that has enough sweet to make almost anyone happy.

And best of all the pineapple adds a some extra tropical flavor to help you stay warm on a chilly Super Bowl day.  


Mean Joe Greene's Pina Colada

1 1/2 oz. dark rum
2 oz. Coco Lopez
2 oz. pineapple juice

Pour all ingredients into a blender with lots of ice and blend until smooth. Pour into a glass and serve. Garnish with a cherry soaked in the tears of a Packer fan.  

Okay, okay - so this is just a Pina Colada. But it has black rum and yellow pineapple in it - and it may be the best money drink of all time. So serve it at your party - for cryin' out loud!

The Black & Gold Flip
From Scofflaw's Den website - from Mixology Monday LIV

2 ounces Kraken spiced rum
1 ounce Strega
1 whole egg
Put the ingredients in a glass without ice. Shake for 60-90 seconds to emulsify the egg. Add ice and shake again to thoroughly chill the drink. Strain into a chilled glass, top with some fresh grated nutmeg.

An interesting take on the classic flip recipe - SeanMike uses Kraken (which is very dark to the point of being black) and Strega (which is brilliant yellow) to make this drink. Of course, the black and gold are lost in the process of shaking the flip - but nevertheless this drink was a hit at MxMo a few weeks' back. The drink itself was all right - I have never been a fan of Kraken, but honestly the Strega actually kinda works with it. The biggest barrier for most people will be the spectre of the whole egg. But maybe you can trick people into watching the game while you make this drink for them. 

So there you have it - four cocktails that you can serve to people that you LIKE at a Super Bowl party this weekend. Best of luck, and may the Steelers cover the 2.5!!!


You're in the Navy (Grog) Now

Mrs. The Ace just got back from a long weekend in Florida. Before she left, she was looking forward to:

  1. Getting out of the house for a few days; and
  2. Checking out this tiki bar in Ft. Lauderdale called the Mai-Kai.  

Unfortunately for me - the only part that ended being as good as advertised was the part about getting away from me.  Turns out the Mai-Kai has focused their energies away from that silly rum stuff (they only carried 10 rums on their menu - most were Bacardi) in favor of the Polynesian Islander Revue and a heart-healthy menu. What would Donn Beach say about that?

Just goes to show that good tiki bars have gotten very hard to find.  Oh sure, here in the SF Bay Area there are still a number of excellent ones (Forbidden Island in Alameda is my drop-dead fave, but there's also Smuggler's Cove in San Francisco, The Kona Club in Oakland and the newly redone Trader Vic's in Emeryville) to choose from. But it's getting harder and harder to find a good spot for a tiki drink out there...

So in light of my wife's failed attempt to replace The Ace with some tiki joint in South Florida, I thought that I'd break out my tiki recipes a little early this Spring. Call it self-preservation.

It's worth re-stating that any conversation about tiki history and/or mixology begins and ends with Jeff "Beachbum" Berry. Jeff's great books on all things tiki have been treasured titles for me since my first Mai Tai years ago. And his blog ain't bad either.

Let's jump right in with my favorite tiki drink - a potion called a Navy Grog. My apologies to Mr. Berry - I cannot find the link in to this recipe, but I am sure his site was the source for this recipe at some point along the way.

Navy Grog
Adapted from Jeff "Beachbum" Berry's blog

1 oz. Dark Jamaican rum (I used Coruba Dark - but if you're fancy use Appleton Estate Extra)
1 oz. Jamaican rum (I used Smith & Cross, but Appleton V/X is most widely used here)
1 oz. Demarara rum (use Lemon Hart 151 if you can find it - but I cannot so I used El Dorado 5) 
1/2 oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice
1/2 oz. fresh-squeezed white grapefruit juice
3/4 oz. honey mix*
1/4 oz. pimento (allspice) dram (I use St. Elizabeth's)
dash orange curacao (Cointreau or Combier)

* Honey mix is a 1:1 mix of honey and boiling water, stirred enough to melt and dissolve the honey.

Take a large handful (or two) of ice from the freezer and crush it using a device like this. Pour the crushed ice into your cocktail shaker - enough to fil the glass at least 2/3 full. Add the rest of the ingredients to the shaker and shake for at least 10-15 seconds, enough to make the metail half of your shaker frosty cold. Uncover your shaker and pour the drink (ice and all) into a tall highball glass and serve.

A word to the wise - this drink is not for the intrepid tiki drinker. The allspice dram packs a flavor wallop - one that not everyone out there will enjoy. But if you're one of the lucky ones that can handle the taste of allspice dram, then the world of tiki drinks is yours. Aside from the allspice dram wrinkle, this is a classic tiki drink all the way. It has plenty of delicious rum, some fruit juice, a strong flavor package and a little sweetness. 10 out of 10 in my book - I hope that you like it too. 

Like much of rum culture, there is a great backstory to the term 'grog' that dates back to British colonialism and the British Navy. Read this Wikipedia post, and then thank your chosen higher power that you weren't in the actual British Navy drinking the original Navy Grog.


For Grapefruit Lovers Only

A year or two ago Mrs. The Ace came back from Beretta restaurant in San Francisco raving about the cocktail she had with her dinner than evening.  A well-documented lover of grapefruit flavors in her cocktail, she was downright titillated by this combination of grapefruit and pineapple.  I counted my lucky stars that she hadn't run off with the bartender right then and there, and decided that I had best heed her request to figure out how to make this drink for her at home.    

Beretta's cocktail menu names the drink the Il Gitano, and it lists the ingredients as amaro, lime, pineapple gomme, grapefruit, bitters.  After a few iterations, I adapted the proportions as follows.  

Le Pamplemousse D'Amour
Adapted from Beretta Restaurant's Il Gitano cocktail

1 oz. Amaro
1 oz. fresh-squeezed white grapefruit juice (i recommend oro blanco when in season)
1/4 to 1/2 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice (I usually split the middle at 1/3 oz)
3/4oz. Small Hand Foods pineapple gum syrup
2 dashes Peychaud's bitters 

Place an up glass in the freezer to chill - or place ice and water in the glass - and set aside for 2-3 minutes.  Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake for 10 seconds.  Strain the chilled drink into the glass using a fine strainer.  Grate a fine zest of the lime rind onto the thin head of foam that should be floating on top of the drink and serve.  


If you can find it, Amaro Nonino is simply amazing in this cocktail (here's a link to K and L Wine Merchants' site to find it).  It adds a light citrus touch that plays perfectly with the juices in the drink.  I have also made it with Ramazotti - which I really appreciate for its classic amaro bitterness.  You get a slightly different but nevertheless excellent cocktail with either one.  

This drink is a classic crowd pleaser.  It also makes a very nice aperitif - it has a blend of citrus juices with a little sweetness from the pineapple gomme syrup.  Amaro is a nice low-proof spirit that is often served straight up as an aperitif. 

And yes, this story has a happy ending... Mrs. The Ace hasn't left with that (or any other) bartender just yet.  In fact, she even claims that the adapted version is better than the original!  Having since tried the Il Gitano for myself, I would say that this stacks up right next to Beretta's very fine cocktail.