Polynesian-style cocktails using fresh-squeezed juice and high-end liquor are perfect for summer.
Photo by Scott Goodwin
The Paddle Inn takes its tiki drinks very seriously. A thrill of excitement traveled through the entire staff, from co-owner Beau Sturm on down when a barkeep returned from a vacation in Barbados with a treasure scrawled on a crumpled cocktail napkin, hard-won from a Caribbean bar pouring the tasty concoction from old plastic gallon jugs. Shortly thereafter, the refreshing cocktail, called Nolan’s Rum Punch, debuted on the drink list at the tiny hot spot.
“I love tiki drinks,” says Sturm, who owns the Newburyport restaurant with partners Suzi Maitland and Josh Childs. “It’s the last frontier of the cocktail renaissance.”
With fabulous glassware, lavish garnishes, and a perpetual summer vibe, what’s not to like? Especially since tiki’s newfound popularity is being driven by a dedication to fresh ingredients. After a heyday in the 1950s, when bars like the legendary Trader Vic’s mined the country’s post-World War II love of all things South Pacific by making drinks from fresh juices blended with rum and adorning them with tropical flowers and paper umbrellas, cheaper ingredients and bottled juices pushed the drinks out of favor. Since then, they’ve been kept alive only at a handful of bars.
“Tiki drinks were thought of as cheesy,” Sturm says. “Now, if there isn’t a tiki bar in your town, certainly there is a section on a drink menu devoted to tiki.”
The Drunken Monkey at The Paddle Inn (recipe below)
Sturm is no latecomer to the tiki craze; he’s been chasing these tropical concoctions for more than a decade, and recalls with great affection a short-lived bar on the Lower East Side of Manhattan called Painkiller that was one of the first to celebrate the tiki’s glory days.
“People, especially me, were blown away by how good a real mai tai could be,” Sturm recalls, noting that balance is the biggest key to a classic tiki drink. “There is sweetness, but it is balanced by bitters and/or sourness, and you should be able to taste the alcohol,” Sturm says. That makes each individual component critical—cheapen the drink with bottled mixers and artificial sweeteners at your own peril.
“I can’t emphasize enough the importance of quality ingredients— fresh juice and great rum.”
In fact, there are four different styles of rum—Sturm suggests having a white rum, an aged one, a dark one, and rhum agricole—a funky, complex product made from fresh-pressed sugar cane juice. Many tiki drinks call for more than one kind of rum, blending for a balance of flavors.
While everyone knows about rum and juice, there is another ingredient that is critical to the tiki style: an almond syrup called orgeat.
“It is like ketchup,” Sturm says. “It goes with everything and brings it together. That, rum, and lime juice, and you are on your way.” Sturm prefers Giffard brand orgeat, but anything made with real almonds and no artificial ingredients will do. Stock some Angostura bitters as well and you have the basics for a variety of drinks.
There is one more tiki secret Sturm discovered years ago: A dash of Pernod or absinthe gives a cock-tail with brightness.
While Sturm is willing to share some of his secrets, the exact blend of rums in the Drunken Monkey, a signature cocktail at the restaurant since it opened this past winter, is not one of them. A breath of sunshine year-round, and a perfect example of balance, the drink offers a slight sweetness balanced by fine rums and a hint of lime. Trying to nail down the blend is a fun summer project for the home mixologist—or just order one at The Paddle Inn.
Makes one drink
From Beau Sturm, The Paddle Inn
The exact mixture of the three rums that goes into the Paddle Inn blend is a secret, but owner Beau Sturm says it is equal parts aged rum, rhum agricole, and dark rum. Not up for experimenting? He has found that a high-quality aged rum is also delicious.
> 2 oz. Paddle Inn Three-Rum Blend
> 2 oz. Monkey Mix*
> 3/4 oz. lime juice
Combine, shake, and serve on the rocks in a glass tiki mug, and garnish with an orange slice and a sprig of mint.
*Monkey Mix is a blend of equal parts orange curacao, orgeat, and Velvet Falernum (a rumbased liquor with lime, almond, and clove).
The Paddle Inn
27 State St., Newburyport