Measure & Stir

I make drinks

10. Tiki

This is part of a series on Mixology Basics.

Tiki is a deep subject, though it is not, to be honest, my area of expertise. There are whole blogs dedicated to the genre, and I will not claim to do it justice. Still, as this is meant to be an overview, I cannot omit it entirely.

What is tiki? Tiki is a feeling you get, deep in your heart. It’s warm sunshine, lazy beaches, tropical fruits, exotic spices, and enough rum to drown a rhinoceros.


It sounds like Martin Denny (no really, click that link and listen to it while you read this part) and its hallmarks are plastic palm trees, paper umbrellas, and a Polynesian adventure aesthetic.

The most iconic Tiki drink is the Mai Tai, which is the only one I’m going to give you. Tiki recipes are contentious, and there are at least three major recipes that go around. Tiki was started by a couple guys back in the thirties named Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic, and the main past time of Tiki enthusiasts seems to be arguing about the historical recipes of various Tiki icons. For my thoughts on that, see below, under The Secret Ingredient is Narrative.

Anyway, I’m an engineer, and I don’t much care for cocktail history. A Mai Tai, as I see it, is a drink that satisfies the following requirements:

  • Contains some proportion of rum, lime juice, orange liqueur, orgeat, and possibly rock candy syrup. Nothing else.
  • Garnished with mint, additional garnishes are allowed.
  • Served over cracked ice.

Beyond that, I don’t have strong preferences. Some Mai Tais call for floats of rum, some for an additional garnish of a spent half lime hull, and others for such heresies as pineapple juice, grenadine, or passion fruit syrup. Those are all Tiki ingredients, but they do not a Mai Tai make.

Mai Tai
1.5 oz of a traditional process rum, such as J. Wray and Nephew
.5 oz of a dark rum, such as Appleton 12
.75 oz of lime juice
.5 oz orange liqueur
.25 oz orgeat syrup
Shake and then strain into a glass full of cracked ice. Garnish with mint sprigs.

OK, I was fibbing. I’m going to give you one more, sort of. To me, Tiki is a lot like Brown, Bitter and Stirred, in that most of the drinks in the subgenre converge on an archetypal form. As with BBS, a good tiki drink is like a good curry; many ingredients and flavors combine to form something muddy and yet distinctively itself.

It’s not uncommon to see a tiki drink with eight to ten ingredients. You can make something that tastes like a tiki drink by 1) owning a bunch of tiki ingredients and 2) combining them in a way that balances sweetness, acidity, and booze. At it’s core, a tiki drink is a sour, usually a huge one. Here is a (non-exhaustive) list of tiki ingredients:

  • Rum: dark, light, spiced, traditional, old, young, etc.
  • More rum.
  • Lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, pineapple, and guava juice
  • Coconut cream
  • Strawberry purée
  • Passionfruit syrup, vanilla syrup, orgeat (almond) syrup, cinnamon syrup
  • Allspice dram
  • Falernum
  • Orange liqueur

Beyond this, many tiki drinks will incorporate a single stand-out flavor, such as coffee liqueur, or mezcal. In the same way that you might have a mango curry, you might have a mezcal tiki drink. Here’s a rough cut:

Generic Tiki Thing
1 oz light rum
1 oz dark rum
1 oz of your favorite rum
1 oz of orange or pineapple juice
1.5 oz of lemon or lime juice
1 oz of spiced syrup (cinnamon, vanilla, clove, cardamom,  etc. or a combination)
1 oz of a strongly flavored liqueur or juice of your choosing
Shake it up and pour it over crushed ice. Garnish it with as many fragrant and outrageous things as possible.

This probably serves two people comfortably.