It’s been hot on the grounds of the Slakethirst estate — conditions which turn the palate towards that old devil rum. Adam Thornton recently suggested Planter’s Punch, and while I happened to have neither pineapple juice nor a copy of DeGroff (required to make one a la Thornton), there are other ways and means, and it seemed a very good idea, as it’s been a while.
3 oz. dark rum
3/4 oz. grenadine
juice of a small lime
juice of 1/2 lemon
3 dashes Fee’s Aromatic bitters
Stir with crushed ice and strain into a collins glass 2/3 full of same
The recipe above is Vic Bergeron’s, from his 1947 Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide. It has been slightly modified for convenience (more grenadine, no bar sugar) and personal preference (no bitters in Vic’s), but I don’t think it loses much in translation. Mix it right and you’ll know it, because you will have been transported. Portland lost its Trader Vic’s years ago, but Vic’s Planter’s Punch recipe brings it back in all its dimly-lit, scorpion bowl slurping splendor. This isn’t mere literary license, either: I really did experience something on the order of a multisensory flashback. It’s a damn fine drink!
A wide variety of juices and ratios may appear under this name — and perhaps validly so … I’ll pick up some pineapple to see what Thornton’s on about — but there’s something very special about this one. Maybe it’s the menehunes.
1 cup ice
3/4 cup fresh pineapple
4 oz. Chaokoh coconut milk
1 1/2 oz. dark rum
1 1/2 oz. light rum
1 egg white
2 tsp. bar sugar
8 dashes Angostura bitters
2 pinches cinnamon
2 pinches ground clove
Blend to within an inch of its life. Serves two.
Done. This is about as close as I’m going to come to the Piña Colada I’ve been seeking, and frankly, I’m growing tired of them now. This one is good, though — it strikes the right balance, has the right texture and a much-needed complexity compared to yer standard recipe. The egg… well, it might’ve been too much, depending on how one likes things, but it’s fine by me. I want to add some lime, but there’s no way in hell that’s going to pass as a piña colada. I’ll be throwing in guava next, taking this purportedly Puerto Rican drink through the Panama Canal and deep into the Polynesian Pacific. No, this recipe remains true to its name, with a flavor profile solidly-rooted in the Caribbean. Sailing into temetum incognitum is for another day.
Gleanings? I’ve come to the conclusion that my problems with the Colada have had less to do with proportions than with a consistency of ingredients — the Chaokoh coconut milk is far creamier than the Thai Kitchen, and is probably less creamy than the canonical (yet much processed) Coco López. Short of testing the specific gravity of every can of coconut milk, or making one’s own to an exacting recipe, there’s just going to be inconsistency. There’s probably a fair degree of variation in flavor between one fresh pineapple and the next, too, and at about $12 each I’m not going to be stocking them like I do citrus. I can certainly see why food scientists would feel that there was more than passing utility in a Piña Colada premix, even if it is an abominable transgression against food.
It’s been an instructive experience, I’m glad to say, getting outside of my usual mixing grounds. More of the volume and flavor of a Piña Colada rely on mutable, non-alcoholic ingredients than any other drink I’ve ever made. It’s made me mindful that in addition to their many other merits, traditional cocktails have a certain pure reproducibility about them — a few types of liquor, a bit of fruit and a dash or two of bitters affords one a fairly controlled working environment. Add 1/4 oz. here, subtract a few drops there, substitute or supplant with another liquor that seems right… that’s more my field. I’ll make Piña Coladas again someday — maybe even tomorrow, since there’s an awful lot of pineapple still in the fridge — but I don’t imagine they’ll ever become a standard. With the exception of my Ramos Gin Fizz variant (which I ought to document someday), I’m a largely a 3 – 4 oz. cocktailian myself. The longer concoctions are (rightly) the provenance of Trader Vic, Don the Beachcomber, and their Tiki-worshipping spiritual brethren.
Last week, it struck me that while I rail against the Piña Colada, I had never made one myself. I’d been casting about for something good to do with pineapple juice and had allowed my preconceptions of the Piña Colada to rule it out — to rule out what must be the most widely-enjoyed pineapple-based drink on earth. A gross oversight. After all, shouldn’t one of the guiding principles of domestic mixology be that a thoughtfully-crafted potable, mixed purely for pleasure, will reveal complexities and dimensions which none but the most fastidious professional can match? I say yea, it should be so.
In consequence of this, it must be assumed that the Piña Colada is not necessarily a foully chemical concoction, but is merely a drink suffering from long, cruel abuse at the hands of the service industry. There must be an Ur Piña Colada which contains within its frothy matrix the flavor sensation that captured a generation’s palates and went on to inspire so many imitators.
So, I mixed-up the CocktailDB’s Piña Colada recipe. It’s the simplest there is, and may be the original, though unfortunately they don’t cite sources. Verdict: Blah. Flat, uninteresting and bland. If this was the drink that started it all, I’m surprised at its survival. However, it was a far cry from the others I’ve had, whose origins were likely in a bottle of pre-mix. Pineapple and Coconut did seem to be a worthwhile pairing, and so I tinkered. Continue reading I have found a truly wonderful proof…
(2½-Gallon Mixture for 40 People)
Bruise the skins of 6 Lemons in 1 lb. of Bar sugar and put the Sugar in a Punch bowl and add:
1 box Strawberries.
2 Lemons, sliced.
6 Oranges, sliced.
1 Pineapple, cut into small pieces.
1 quart Brandy.
1 quart Sherry Wine.
1 quart Madeira Wine.
Stir well; empty into another bowl in which a block of Clear Ice has been placed and add:
4 quarts of Champagne.
2 quarts Carbonated Water.
Serve into Punch glasses so that each person will have some of the Fruit.
Fill large Bar glass ⅔ full Shaved Ice.
4 dashes Lime or Lemon Juice.
1 teaspoonful Pineapple Syrup.
½ teaspoonful green Chartreuse.
1 jigger Sloe Gin.
Stir; strain into Claret glass; ornament with Fruit and serve.