It took me 68 days of living in isolation and the latest project assignment from my colleagues before I realized that drinking before noon is a good way to burn off some COVID hours. And now that it’s gloriously sunny by 10 a.m., the best breakfast drink for these times is a nice cheery tiki cocktail. A refreshing break from my usual dry martini, which really shouldn’t be served until 5:30—somewhere.
The Post’s senior reporter Kelly Puente is a seriously dedicated tikiologist. She’s been to tiki bars all over the world and owns an impressive array of tikiana, with a specialty in tiki mugs and highball glassware. When it came to Kelly’s turn to force me to take up a new project, she chose for me to learn how to make a couple of tiki cocktails: the classic mai tai, and the just-slightly-less-classic fog cutter, both inventions (she tells me, professorially) of the legendary South Pacific mixologist Victor Bergeron, who you know as Trader Vic.
The assignment necessitated Kelly coming over to the Barn on Friday morning to order me around and make some tiki drinks for her and my daughter Hannah—and I maybe wet my whistle a time or two during the lessons just for quality control.
First, you’re gonna need some alcohol, most of which I happened to have laying around.
There are, essentially, two kinds of mai tais: The wrong kind, with a fruity mixture of orange and pineapple juice and perhaps grenadine, with a couple kinds of rum.
And there’s the right kind, with less fruit than an Iowa steakhouse. Maybe a slight garnish of orange or lime. The Trader Vic recipe calls for not even that, but, rather, a sprig of mint. I’m not a mint fan, so an orange garnish was one of the few audibles I called during the construction of a fruitless mai tai.
First, Vic demands an ounce and a half of Jamaican rum. I have Jamaican rum. I have all kinds of rum, even Australian rum (shout out to Brophy Dale, who dragged it up from the antipodes), but on this beautiful California morning, I chose Calivore blond rum, a great California rum that was a gift from my niece Katie and her husband (my nephew-in-law?) Justin Hectus. Then some de rigeur ingredients like orgeat (almond) syrup (1/2 oz.), orange liqueur (I used 1/2 oz Cointreau), the juice of one lime (OK, maybe a little fruit), and 1/4 oz. of simple syrup (I go with agave nectar).
Shake it up in a shaker and pour it over ice, then toss a float of Meyers’s dark rum on top and garnish with whatever. You like mint? Use mint, then.
Isn’t this more fun than painting by numbers or yoga? And for once, I’ve got the hang of the lesson and didn’t botch it up like I did with almost everything else I’ve tried to learn during these self-improvement exercises.
Let’s move on to the fog cutter before we take a long afternoon nap ‘neath the shade of the banana trees.
The formula for a fog cutter, another tiki standard and the recipe Kelly had me follow under her watchful eye, is from Martin Cate, owner of Forbidden Island Tiki Bar in Alameda. Why use his recipe? His California license plate is FGCUTTR. He doesn’t seem like a guy who would joke around with his cocktails.
The ingredients sound awful, mixing gin, sherry, brandy, rum, orange juice and almond syrup. It sounds more like a skid row Long Island Iced Tea than a refreshing South Pacific cocktail, but I was pleased enough with the result to go ahead and drink it like a hero.
In a shaker with ice, toss in 1.5 oz. white rum (again, I went with my beloved Calivore), 1/2 oz. gin (that’s so little it doesn’t much matter what kind you use. On a budget, us James Bond’s go-to, Gordon’s), 1/2 oz. brandy (I hate brandy, but played along), 2 oz. fresh orange juice, a shot of fresh lemon juice, 1/2 oz. almond syrup, and for some horrible reason, 1/2 ounce of Amontillado sherry. Look, I’m not going to go out and buy a jug of Amontillado sherry, which I’ll end up throwing away after using 1/2 oz. I used some no-name brand from my tertiary liquor cabinet, at the risk of incurring Martin Cate’s wrath. Garnish with a sprig of mint, for which, again, I substituted a lime wedge.
And I’ll repeat. It was good. Way better and more refreshing than its makings would suggest.
As mandated projects go, making tiki drinks is easily the new top of my list, though to be honest, I’m a fast learner when the classes are held in the Barn.
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