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 UltimateMaiTai.com 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 UltimateMaiTai.com) 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.