This past weekend, the Fort Lauderdale-based Hukilau — considered one of the world's largest and most authentic celebrations of tiki culture, cocktails, art, and music — kicked off its annual festivities. It was bigger and better than ever thanks to an expanded schedule of events and educational symposiums.
That meant lots of rum too — specifically in seemingly endless tiki cocktails, many of which were sampled during the inaugural High Tide. The party, which took place Friday, June 9, offered eight pop-up bars sponsored by some of the nation's most famous tiki establishments.
Though the 16th-annual Hukilau has come and gone, that doesn't mean you can't get a great tiki drink. With more people appreciating Polynesian pop culture than ever before, here are techniques practiced at six tiki-themed bars across the nation where bartenders are taking the art of tiki to new levels.
1. Introducing cryo-muddling
Cryotherapy can help injured football players manage pain and reduce inflammation, and exposing fresh herbs to freezing temps at the bar before muddling can help preserve fresh flavors and prevent browning. That's what the boys at Pittsburg's Hidden Harbor are doing. Head bartender Max Stein is shaking up some modern interpretations of various old-world tiki libations that burst with flavor thanks to his application of molecular gastronomy techniques. His use of liquid nitrogen to flash-freeze herbs allows Pennsylvanians to feel like they're sipping poolside in the Pacific.
2. Elevating house-made ingredients
No self-respecting craft cocktail bar doesn't make some in-house ingredients, be they fresh citrus juices or infused syrups. But when it comes to tiki, nearly every ingredient in many of the most popular drink recipes offers an opportunity to make something innovative from scratch. At Chicago's Three Dots and a Dash, head bartender Corey Starr and his fellow mixologists are doing some of the dopest fresh stuff, making everything from falernum (a sweet syrup used in Caribbean and tropical drinks that contains hints of almond, ginger, cloves and/or allspice, lime, and sometimes vanilla) to cream of coconut in-house. At the Hukilau, they presented a classic Painkiller, elevated with all of those in-house creations and a final shower of to-order grated nutmeg.
3. Offering a new experience
Patrons of Pagan Idol in San Francisco go there not only for a drink but also to escape reality. That's what bar manager William Prestwood and beverage director Daniel "Doc" Clarks want guests to do every time they enter the pair's tiki-hut-themed bar. Customers are greeted with eye-catching decor such as a tropical fish tank and an erupting volcano. And to keep it truly West Coast-style, the bar is even going one step further with a grassroots green movement by eliminating wasteful garnishes and straws and composting unusable herbs, allowing both bartenders and imbibers to feel good about their liquid indulgence by helping to reduce the bar's carbon footprint.
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4. Making tiki approachable
Florida's Flask & Cannon was the first to bring the tiki trend to Jacksonville Beach. The quaint bar is just steps from the ocean strand, located between the city's fishing pier and historic Casa Marina Hotel. The goal now, says owner and beverage director Kurt Rogers, is to make tiki approachable to the masses. That translates to a friendly, knowledgable staff that prepares balanced cocktails offering layers of flavor. At the Hukilau, the Flask & Cannon bartenders shared their popular Oh My Grog, a drink prepared with St. Lucia Chairman's reserve, Clement Premier Canne Martinique, and Plantation original and dark rums shaken with fresh grapefruit and lime juices and a splash of Doc's spiced syrup.
5. Creating new classics
At S.O.S. Tiki Bar in Atlanta, bar manager Josh Martin is helping to bring the tiki movement to the heart of the South. During the Hukilau, his Prince Buster cocktail combines Gosling's and El Dorado 12-year aged rum with a few types of spirits not often seen mixed in tiki libations: Leblon cachaça and Bénédictine herbal liqueur with house-made guava shrub, lime juice, and orange juice. How's that for shaking things up?