Thursday, June 14, 2012

Rum cocktails summer popularity unmatched

Upon waking up this morning, I was immediately reminded that I needed a theme for today’s installment of the Louisiana Restaurant Association’s Thirsty Thursday series. As I took a quick look through my home bars, I gravitated toward the Tiki mugs and rum, grabbed an assortment and headed to the office.

LRA VP of Communications Wendy Waren's
collection of Tiki mugs from Huki Lau
in Metairie, which was opened for 6 years in
the 1970s.
What recipe to feature became the next question. There are so many rum-based cocktails and in this heat it seemed appropriate to feature a Mai Tai—a drink with Tiki roots served in stylish, and now vintage mugs, with a refreshing blend of fruit juice, flavored syrup and of course, rum. A Rum Runner or an original daiquiri, not the frozen, sugary beverages from the drive through, would also be fabulous options. Then there’s mojitos, which can be found on nearly every bar menu these days. With muddled mint, simple syrup, lime, rum and club soda, it’s definitely a contender for our favorite summer beverage. Decisions, decisions.
So, where did the Tiki cocktail come from? Tiki cocktails date to 1934 and are credited to Don Beach, who opened a Polynesian themed restaurant in Hollywood. He’s credited as the first to create these beverages from flavored syrups, fresh fruits and rum.. There was a tropical drink craze following Prohibition, in part because rum was so cheap.

Tiki made its New Orleans debut and Ian McNulty captured its history and allure in the article Bali Ha’i Revisited, Remembering the Bali Ha’i Restaurant at Ponchartain Beach, where New Orleanians went Tiki. Owned by Pontchartrain Beach founder Harry J. Batt, Sr., grandfather of the Mad Men actor Bryan Batt, this restaurant was all the rage until it caught fire in 1986. 

In 2008, during Tales of the Cocktail, one of the special events was a Tiki Party located in an air conditioned tent in a then vacant lot on Fulton Street in New Orleans’ Warehouse District. Restaurants prepared their Polynesian cuisine for attendees to nosh on while local bartending professionals presented their Tiki cocktails. Drinks served in a coconut and garnished with orchids are fond memories of one of the unique parties I’ve had the fortune to attend during my Tales adventures.

Logo for The Luau in Beverly Hills owned by
Stephen Crane, the subject of Seminar at
Tales of the Cocktail, July 25 by Martin Cate
The Third Man: the Incredible True Story of
'Tiki Restaurateur to the Stars' Stephen Crane.'
In commemorating the Tiki theme, this year’s Tales of the Cocktail, July 25-29, will feature “The Third Man: the Incredible True Story of ‘Tiki Restaurateur to the Stars’ Stephen Crane, a Tinseltown Tale of Mai Tais, Movie Stars and Murder.”  Presenter Martin Cate, owner of Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco, will give the rare look into the amazing world of Steven Crane, who was the third man in the mix of the Tiki drink craze with founding fathers Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic.

Crane was called the “High Talking Chief Stefooma” to thousands of patrons who walked through his legendary Beverly Hills nightspot, The Luau. Crane hailed from Crawfordsville, Indiana and with his mixture of good looks, street smarts and undeniable charm, he climbed his way up the social ladder in pre-war Hollywood and before long found himself married to Tinseltown’s biggest star—Lana Turner.

In the late 1940s he opened his first restaurant and in 1953 opened The Luau on Rodeo Drive where celebrities of the day flocked to his Polynesian concept which featured innovative new cocktails, food and décor that had never been seen before.  Following in its success, Crane took his concept nationwide and opened a chain of Luau’s.

Wayne Curtis, New Orleans residential rum expert and author of And a Bottle of Rum: A history of the New World in Ten Cocktails wrote, "Rum embodies America's laissez-faire attitude. It is whatever it wants to be." With a product with that kind of aloofness, it’s no wonder we love it so much.
Had enough history? Ready for a rum cocktail—or three? Check out these three great recipes featuring this popular spirit.

Mai Tai (means Out of this World in Tahitian)

From Charles Schumann's American Bar

1 ½ oz Lime juice
Dash of Orgeat Syrup (almond flavored)
¼ oz apricot brandy
1 barspoon powdered sugar
2 oz. dark rum
¾ oz. high-proof dark rum
Lime, mint

Shake well over ice in shaker. Serve in highball glass over crushed ice, add squeezed lime wedge  and garnish with mint sprig.

Daiquiri Cocktail
From Stanley Clisby Arthur’s Famous New Orleans Drinks & How to Mix ‘em

1 tsp. grenadine syrup
Juice from 1 lime
1 jigger of rum

Shake well with ice and strain into a glass.

Food and Wine Magazine, contributed by Ryan McGrale

15 mint leaves, plus 1 mint sprig for garnish
½ oz fresh lime juice
½ oz mint syrup
2 ½ oz light rum
1 oz. chilled club soda

In a cocktail shaker, muddle the mint leaves with the lime juice and mint syrup. Add ice and rum, shake well and strain into an ice-filled highball glass. Top with club soda and garnish with the mint sprig.
Are you ready for happy hour?

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