Four Classic Cocktails of the Caribbean
Even if an island getaway isn’t on your calendar, you can still sip cocktails created at sun-soaked bars and resorts. In fact, many of the cocktails we know and love originated on tropical islands. Take an armchair tour of some of the Caribbean’s beautiful beaches—cocktail in hand, of course—and learn the stories behind some of your favorite drinks.
Courtesy Caribe Hilton, San Juan, Puerto Rico
The piña colada was created at San Juan’s Caribe Hilton. There’s some debate about who created it, but the honor generally goes to Ramón “Monchito” Marrero Perez, one of the Caribe Hilton’s early local bartenders. As the story goes, Perez experimented for three months in 1954 before he created a drink that he said captured the sunny, tropical flavors of Puerto Rico in a glass.
Another bartender at the hotel, Ricardo Garcia, is credited for adding strained pineapple juice and naming the drink. (Literally translated from Spanish, piña colada means “strained pineapple.”) Garcia was also the first person to serve the drink in a hollowed-out coconut.
- 2 ounces white rum, preferably Puerto Rican
- 1 ounce coconut cream
- 1 ounce heavy cream
- 6 ounces fresh pineapple juice
- Fresh pineapple wedge and maraschino cherry, for garnish
In a blender, combine all ingredients, except garnishes, with ½ cup crushed ice. Blend for about 15 seconds, or until smooth. Serve in a 12-ounce glass. Garnish with pineapple and cherry.
The piña colada drink was created in 1954, but we can’t forget the 1979 Rupert Holmes song “Escape (The Piña Colada Song),” which again popularized the drink. Although Holmes admitted he had never tried a piña colada before he wrote the song—the original line was “If you like Humphrey Bogart”—the lyric stuck. It was so popular that the record company added the parenthetical subtitle later because people were calling radio stations requesting “The Piña Colada song.”
This serene island, the largest in the Cayman Islands chain, is home to the boozy milkshake known as the Mudslide. The drink was created at the Rum Point Club’s Wreck Bar sometime during the 1970s, all because the bartender didn’t have fresh cream on hand.
Guests came to the bar and asked the bartender for a White Russian made with vodka, Kahlua and cream, says Carol Boulton, the food and beverage and events manager for the Rum Point Club. The bartender substituted Bailey’s Irish Cream, tossed it in the blender and created the Mudslide.
Boulton disputes claims that early versions included ice cream. “No fillers,” she says with a scoff, deflecting comments that the drink doesn’t taste like there’s any alcohol in it. “We always giggle when people say that,” she says. “They get up, and down they go! Good thing the sand is soft.”
Courtesy The Wreck Bar at the Rum Point Club, Grand Cayman
- 1½ ounces Absolut vodka
- 1½ ounces Kahlua coffee liqueur, plus extra for the straw
- 1½ ounces Bailey’s Irish Cream
- Brandied cherry, for garnish
- Grated cinnamon, for garnish
Combine all ingredients except garnishes and 1 cup ice in a blender. Blend to a slushy consistency. Pour into a Collins glass or other tall glass. Dip a straw into the Kahlua bottle to fill it with coffee liqueur, then place a finger over the top of the straw to transfer the filled straw to the glass. Place the straw in the drink. Garnish with a cherry and grated cinnamon.
Not all Caribbean cocktails are complicated. The Dark & Stormy may be the simplest: a highball made with dark rum, topped up with ginger beer and perhaps a squeeze of lime to finish. But rum maker Gosling’s holds a trademark on the drink, which stipulates that if it’s not made with Gosling’s Black Seal, it’s not a Dark & Stormy. Gosling’s has brought legal action against bars that list the drink made with other rums, but we won’t tell if you make the switch at home.
This drink is a bit of an outlier. It showcases gin, and it hails from Panama, which is part of the Caribbean region, but not one of the islands. Still, it’s delicious and a perfect example of what a Caribbean cocktail can be.
This pretty pink sipper makes an appearance in The Gentleman’s Companion: Around the World With Jigger, Beaker and Flask (Derrydale Press, 1939), written by globetrotting mixologist Charles H. Baker. The drink originated at the Strangers Club in Colón, once a popular watering hole for weary travelers who sought passage through the Panama Canal Zone.
“We always have found welcome there during the [12 or so times] we have been in the ‘Zone’ going west to east, or vice versa,” wrote Baker, where this vibrantly hued drink provided “a colorful, eye-filling experience.”
Adapted from Beachbum Berry’s Potions of the Caribbean (Cocktail Kingdom, 2013) by Jeff Berry
- 3 ounces dry gin
- 1½ ounces lime juice
- 1 ounce heavy cream
- 3 teaspoons raspberry syrup
- 1 tablespoon egg white
- 3 dashes orange flower water
- 1 ounce club soda (more if desired)
- 1 tropical flower, like bougainvillea, for garnish
In a cocktail shaker, combine gin, lime, cream, raspberry syrup and egg white with plenty of crushed ice. Shake well, and pour unstrained into a tall glass, leaving some room at the top. Add orange flower water, top with soda and stir. Garnish, and serve with a straw.
Are the drinks at tiki bars Caribbean? Sometimes. They tend to be a mashup of influences from the South Seas, Hawaii, the Caribbean and beyond.
In the Caribbean, punch began as something enjoyed by the plantation owners, or “planters,” hence the name. Variations pop up all over the islands, but Planter’s Punch became linked strongly to Jamaica in the 1920s. Myers’s Rum started to sell a Planter’s Punch Rum formulated for the drink. Planter’s Punch served at the upscale Myrtle Bank Hotel in Kingston, and Titchfield Hotel in Port Antonio also popularized it.
Follow the classic sing-song punch template: one of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, four of weak (the latter is often tea, fruit juice or even dilution from ice, as below). Some folks also add “a touch of spice to make it nice.” The recipe below is inspired by Jamaica’s classic.
Courtesy Smuggler’s Cove, San Francisco
- 3 ounces aged Jamaica rum, like Appleton Estate Signature Blend
- 1 ounce lime juice
- ¾ ounce SC Demerara syrup (recipe below)
- ¼ ounce St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- Mint sprig, for garnish
Combine all ingredients except garnish in a blender with 12 ounces of crushed ice and 4–6 regular ice cubes. Pulse 3–5 seconds, then pour into a Collins or highball glass (strain out the large chunks of ice, but allow some ice to fall into the glass). Garnish with mint sprig.
- 1 cup Demerara sugar
- 3 cups granulated sugar
In a saucepan over high heat, bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add Demerara sugar, and stir vigorously with a whisk until the sugar dissolves, about 1 minute. Add the granulated sugar and stir vigorously until dissolved, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and let cool. Store in a lidded bottle or other sealed container in the refrigerator. The syrup will keep for several weeks.
Through history, some of the names for rum have included rumbullion, grog, kill-devil, demon water, pirate’s drink and Nelson’s blood.
- 1The Puerto Rican Piña Colada
- 2The Grand Cayman Mudslide
- 3Panama’s Bird of Paradise Fizz
- 4The Jamaican Planter’s Punch