Tropical Standard: Cocktail Techniques & Reinvented Recipes

2023’s most interesting cocktail book comes from Garret Richard (Sunken Harbor Club) and Ben Schaffer (The Dead Rabbit Drinks Manual). “Tropical drinks” are sometimes looked down upon by cocktail snobs and even tiki purists as being “lesser”, but the book describes how these juice-heavy cocktails can be elevated using modern techniques.

While each cocktail gets a photo, this is not a coffee table book full of pretty pictures. Instead, this will appeal to those looking to understand the methods of making great cocktails and also to learn how longstanding recipes can be improved. There are reimagined recipes for the Blue Hawaii, Ray’s Mistake, and many others.

The Mai Tai from Tropical Standard

Richard’s acclaimed Mai Tai recipe is included, without any need for significant reimagining. The authors state “It does not suffer from any defect in its conception”, yet acknowledges that today’s Mai Tai can’t exactly replicate one from 1944. The recipe is fairly complex, using two orange liqueurs, three rums, and a few drops of Salt Solution to heighten the flavors. The spent lime shell goes inside the cocktail, not on top. Check the book for the recipe but suffice to say that the Mai Tai is quite fantastic.

“New versions of this pivotal cocktail are constantly advanced and debated by bartenders world-wide. It is nigh on impossible to improve on a drink as iconic as the Mai Tai, but with its collection of small adjustments, rediscovered techniques, and precise flavor pairings, the Mai Tai you are about to make will banish all others from your heart.”

Other preparation techniques include ice and dilution, acid adjusting citrus, and even sugar adjusting. These are presented in an open way, not in one that talks down to the reader – which this lazy home bartender appreciates. There are many opportunities to reconsider long-held personal tendencies and to consider new approaches.

Tropical Standard is available today at fine booksellers everywhere.

Book of the Year: Modern Caribbean Rum

The year’s best spirits book has arrived! Modern Caribbean Rum is an in-depth look at the production, business, and myriad rum distilleries based in the Caribbean region. The book from WonkPress comes from Cocktail Wonk/Rum Wonk Matt Pietrek and Carrie Smith, authors of the essential 2019 cocktail book Minimalist Tiki (which as a book is only “minimal” compared to this new gigantic new tome).

This book is huuuuuge. Over 800 pages and weighs more than some actual coffee tables. But you’ll be so impressed by the historical details and current status of some of our favorite rum distilleries. There are easy to read tables and pages and pages of informational but gorgeous photos.

This is really an incredible achievement for understanding and appreciating rum, our favorite distilled spirit (and should be yours!).

Modern Caribbean Rum is available from and ain’t cheap until you consider the shipping costs and the value provided by such an extensive resource. And best of all, the money goes to the authors who are self-publishing and doesn’t line the pockets of corporations or billionaires.

Classic Cocktails Done Well by Faith Hingey

There’s no doubt that Faith Hingey‘s Instagram account @barfaith introduced me to a number of cocktail concepts and recipes when I started to deep dive into cocktails, but her posts the last couple years have been less frequent. Well, it turns out Faith has been working on a book. Classic Cocktails Done Well: Tried-and-True Recipes for the Home Bartender is out now with a modestly priced hardcover format, as well as an eBook version.

I really appreciate the layout of the book into spirits-focused sections, starting with Gin and then Whiskey, Brandy, Rum, and Other Spirits. Faith includes recipe adjustments and other tips for many of the recipes, so this is more than just a list of recipes and photos. There’s also an excellent index in the back, breaking down the cocktails into use cases by occasion (brunch, date night). And a crisp section up front with commentary about spirits and other ingredients, equipment, and techniques. Where other cocktails books can be quite prescriptive about equipment such as shakers, you’ll find no judgment here. The focus is on the home bartender.

The commentary and suggestions are truly helpful, and include key tips and helpful reminders about these classic cocktails. The selection of classic cocktails seems to be pretty good in my estimation, though I don’t consider myself an expert. Pictured is the Junior cocktail with Rye, Lime, Benedictine, and Bitters. Boozy but delicious.

But, there is an elephant in the room that we’d be remiss in addressing here at UMT HQ. This is a book of classic cocktails and for the rum section it is hard to argue that the Mai Tai doesn’t belong along with the Daiquiri and Mojito as an all-time favorite. But the Mai Tai isn’t included in the book because of the exclusion of cocktails with “specialty ingredients that may be less accessible or versatile for regular use across a wide variety of drinks,” meaning orgeat I presume.

I think the criteria is reasonable and orgeat is most certainly not an everyday kitchen ingredient. That said, I find it hard to believe the average home cocktail hobbyist would find orgeat harder to find than some included liqueurs and spirts such as Benedictine and Yellow Chartreuse. But, we do acknowledge that orgeat isn’t really in any other (non-tropical) classic aside from the Japanese Cocktail. Maybe we can hope for a sequel focusing on tropical cocktails, a category that I know Faith is particularly fond of.

If you’re looking for a stocking stuffer for the next budding home bartender, Classic Cocktails Done Well is made to order and perfectly balanced.

Book Review: Cuban Cocktails

I ordered Cuban Cocktails and while there are some nice things about it, there are some significant flaws. This 2016 book comes from the team behind the Death & Co. and the NYC Cuban bar Cienfuegos that closed a couple years ago. The book starts with a history of Cuba and cocktails from the country, including rum that is the key ingredient. Written in 2015 when the Obama administration eased travel restrictions, the book is a sad reminder of the subsequent travel restrictions that remain in place to do this day.

The book takes a chronological approach to the presentation of the recipes, starting the early punch recipes and then moving forward in time to daiquiris, tiki, and present day. While a number of historical recipes are included, there are also modern approaches to these style of cocktails.

The problem is that while many recipes name-check specific brands, none of those named brands are Cuban rum. Nor are there any suggestions for what kind of rums a US consumer should procure for these recipes. After pages of specific references to Appleton, Smith & Cross, Flor de Cana, and El Dorado the Daiquiri chapter only references “white rum” or “light rum.” This seems to be very curious omission, since Cuban rums aren’t available in the United States. And I doubt these craft cocktail bartenders are using the standard bearer for white rum, Bacardi Superior. The whole point of learning from professional bartenders is to learn what kind of ingredients they use so that the home bartender can elevate their game. There isn’t really any coverage of Cuban brands either, apart from photos that show the Havana Club logo on glassware and bottles.

Drinks of Hawaii 1st and 2nd Editions

Why two copies? For very important reasons we’ll get to.

I’ve been doing some research on the evolution of the Hawaiian Mai Tai. Contrary to popular belief, the Mai Tai did not land on the shores of O’ahu and have pineapple juice added immediately. In fact, it took into the 1960s before pineapple juice was commonly seen in published recipes. But the Mai Tai that became the “top tourist tantalizer” (as described in Honolulu newspapers) was not quite the 1944 recipe either. It more clearly resembled the recipe we covered on as the 1956 Mai Tai, made with light rum as well as Jamaican rum.

When did the pineapple juice get added? We started to see this in published recipes starting in the early 1960s. The Royal Hawaiian Hotel, where the Trader Vic introduced the Mai Tai to Hawai’i, seemed to not switch over to this style until quite late – the early 1970s.

We thank Jeff “Beachbum” Berry for the reference, the recipe book Drinks of Hawaii by Paul B. Dick, originally published in 1971. Except that the 1971 edition features two Mai Tai recipes and neither is from the Royal Hawaiian. 

The first Mai Tai is the “authentic unadulterated copy of the original recipe” which is:
1 oz Light Puerto Rican Rum
1 oz Dark Jamaican Rum
½ oz Orange Curacao
½ oz Orgeat
½ oz Simple Syrup
Juice of ½ Lemon and ¼ Lime

The second recipe in the 1971 edition comes from the iconic Ilikai Hotel: The Ili Tai
1 oz “Appleton Punch” Jamaican Rum
1 oz Dark Puerto Rican Rum
¾ oz Orange Curacao
¾ oz Orgeat
1 oz Sweet & Sour
2 oz Pineapple Juice
¼ Lime

Appleton Punch rum was the successor to the Dagger line and was a dark Jamaican rum at 43% ABV.


Second Edition is the Holy Grail of the Modern Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai Recipe

The elusive Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai didn’t appear in the first edition of the recipe book Drinks of Hawaii, so we sought out the 2nd edition published a year later in 1972.

As with the first edition, there are two Mai Tai recipes starting with the “authentic unadulterated copy of the original recipe” shown above.

The second recipe in the 1972 edition features the Mai Tai at the Surf Room at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. This is the recipe that Beachbum Berry included in several of his books and the Total Tiki App and the first documented use of pineapple juice in the Mai Tai at the Royal Hawaiian that I could find.

Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai (1972)
1 oz Light Rum
1 oz Dark Rum
1 oz Demerara 86 Rum
¼ oz Orange Curacao
Dash* Orgeat
Dash* Rock Candy
Juice of ½ Lime
¼ oz Lemon Juice
Equal Parts Pineapple Juice and Orange Juice

* Dash in this context is equivalent to ¼ oz.

How much Pineapple Juice and Orange Juice? It doesn’t say (Beachbum Berry suggested 1 oz each). This is a very different Mai Tai with darker and more flavorful rums, to balance all the added juices. This style of Mai Tai isn’t my favorite, but they’re certainly popular on the islands.

Drinks of Hawaii is an interesting book. There are some classic Don the Beachcomber recipes including the Pearl Diver and Navy Grog, but also 70s favorites like the Harvey Wallbanger and Margarita. Era-specific cartoons are by Honolulu political cartoonist Harry Lyons.

Look for my article on the evolution of the  Hawaiian Mai Tai in the next issue of Exotica Moderne (and contemporaneously at in May.

Emotional Drake Meme by Chad Austin

This fab new book is from famed bartender Chad Austin. The tone is clearly not for everyone, but if you love great cocktails this is a key resource.

  • Purchase the book
  • Each copy comes signed by the author and includes unique content and a unique recipe

The cocktail is a Mai Tai variant called Emotional Drake Meme. High proof Jamaican rum, Demerara rum, banana liqueur, Orgeat, lime, Ango. Delicious!!

Book Review: Easy Tiki by Chloe Frechette

While this book doesn’t break any new ground, it’s a quite accessible resource for people getting started. The book covers in light detail the history of tiki, basics of rum, and then presents fairly straightforward and simple recipes. No strange or unusual ingredients, like you sometimes find in these recipe books. It’s kind of like if 2019’s Minimalistic Tiki and Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails books got together and had a baby.

Too often when things are simplified in these books it ends up creating inaccuracies or the topics are so simplified as to be not understandable. Thankfully, Easy Tiki avoids these problems very well.

There are some good recipes here, including the Mai Sha Roa Na (from False Idol) and a very intriguing Breakfast Mai Tai. There is the Quarantine Order, Staycation, Carrot Colada, and a bunch of other interesting recipes.

The book is available now from your favorite booksellers. I bought my in Apple Books and the presentation in the app is pretty good. There are some very nice photographs too.

While this won’t replace the deep coverage you find the Smuggler’s Cove, Sippin’ Safari, or Minimalist Tiki books, Easy Tiki is a good resource and potentially helpful option for tiki newbies.