Picture this: You're on a white sand beach listening to waves crash softly onto the shore, while gently swaying in a hammock under a palm tree. What's missing? A tiki drink, of course! Whether served with a teeny-tiny umbrella in a hollowed-out coconut, or a bendy straw in a ceramic mug shaped like an ancient Māori deity, nothing gives vacation vibes quite like these bright, tropical cocktails.
Tiki drinks are all the rage in the United States in the 21st century, and are often found at trendy restaurants, on cruise ships, and in specialty bars. They can range from traditionally frozen to on the rocks, and incorporate any number of liquors, fruit juices, simple syrups, spices, or mix-ins. While certain tiki cocktails are found on every tiki bar's menu -- including mai tais, piña coladas, and hurricanes -- there are plenty of lesser-known hidden gems (like the amusingly-named Rum Runner).
You're probably familiar with some tiki cocktails already. But since names like Missionary's Downfall don't clearly communicate the contents of the drink, it can be tough to know what you're ordering without reading the entire menu. Luckily, we've put together a guide of must-try specialty cocktails to help you out on your next tiki bar adventure. Here are 18 tiki cocktails you need to try at least once.
Read more: 23 Cocktails To Try If You Like Drinking Gin
Most people associate tiki drinks with rum. It's a fair assumption, given a good number of tiki cocktails contain white, dark, or spiced rum. But if you're not a fan of this particular spirit, fear not. There are plenty of tiki cocktails that don't use rum -- including the Saturn.
The Saturn is a gin-based frozen cocktail made with otherwise standard tiki ingredients, including fresh lemon juice, passionfruit simple syrup, orgeat, and falernum. This tiki drink gets its name from its signature garnish: a twist of lime wrapped around a cherry stuck on a toothpick, which imitates the planet Saturn and its famed rings. This bright, juicy cocktail features hints of nuts and spice (from the orgeat and falernum) melded together with gin's classic piney taste. So if you're a fan of complex flavor profiles, give the Saturn a shot.
All the best elements of tiki are brought together in a brilliant, tropical, citrusy Mai Tai cocktail. Perhaps the most ubiquitous of tiki drinks, the origin of the Mai Tai is surprisingly murky. Some claim legendary Cali bartender Trader Vic dreamed it up in the 1940s, while others attribute the drink to the infamous Donn Beach. We may never know exactly where this drink originated, but we sure are glad the recipe made it to modern day.
Sure to transport your imagination directly to the beach, the Mai Tai effortlessly blends white and dark rum with orange liqueur, nutty orgeat, and citrus juice for a quintessential island getaway cocktail. Hit a tiki bar, or shake one up at home the next time you're in desperate need of a vacation -- it's cheaper than buying a ticket to Bali, after all.
It's tough to talk tiki without bringing up Donn Beach. Raised in New Orleans, Beach (born Ernest Gantt) traveled the world before settling in Los Angeles, where he opened the fabled Don the Beachcomber bar. The Beachcomber was the birthplace of many of today's best-loved tiki drinks, including the Missionary's Downfall.
This frozen tiki classic falls somewhere between a mojito, bellini, and painkiller. It's made with rum and peach brandy (some recipes may substitute crème de pêche) to give the drink warmth, and blended with lime juice, fresh mint, pineapple, and honey syrup. The mint lends a bright, unexpected element, the pineapple infuses tropical notes, and the honey syrup brings everything together with a light sweetness. Overall, this refreshing, fascinating, one-of-a-kind drink is absolutely brimming with flavor.
You may not be able to take a trip to the tropics on a whim, but with a little imagination, some Beach Boys (just say "Alexa, play 'Kokomo'"), and a classic Bahama Mama cocktail? You can get pretty close. This little baddie is everything you want when you think tropical drinks. Featuring easy-to-recognize ingredients, the Bahama Mama is also approachable for less adventurous drinkers.
Dark rum kicks this recipe off by providing a caramel-like flavor, while coconut rum balances it out with delicate sweetness. From there, orange and pineapple juices give the tiki drink a citrusy kick, which all comes together with a dash of sugary grenadine. Garnish the drink with a maraschino cherry, and you're ready to rock -- or, rather, to kick back and relax.
Hot buttered rum has to be one of the best cold weather drinks out there. There's nothing like snuggling up in front of a fireplace with snow falling gently outside, while sipping on a warm, rich, rum-based beverage. It's a shame there's no equivalent for warmer times ... or is there? Lo and behold, there's an incredibly unique tiki cocktail that's essentially a frozen variation of hot buttered rum: the Pearl Diver.
The secret to a Pearl Diver is Donn Beach's specialty Gardenia mix. A "spiced honey-butter cordial," as San Diego-based beverage director, Anthony Schmidt, told Liquor.com in 2020, Gardenia mix is made from honey and butter blended together with stabilizers, such as allspice liqueur, cinnamon syrup, and vanilla syrup. The Gardenia mix is combined with aged and demerara rums, orange and lime juices, and Angostura bitters -- all blended together in a frozen tiki treat.
Don't let the name scare you off -- the Zombie is far from frightening. Another Donn Beach creation, some say this cocktail was magicked together to act as a hangover cure for a Don the Beachcomber patron before an important business meeting. Allegedly, when the customer next visited the bar, he reported the high alcohol content had morphed him into a zombie (which presumably meant the meeting had not gone well).
We can't say whether this story is fact or fiction ... but we can say the Zombie is not for the faint of heart. It features four types of rum -- and absinthe -- which is masked by a fruity (and delicious) combination of fruit juices, falernum, cinnamon syrup, and grenadine. Unless you have a fully stocked bar at home, you'll probably want to seek out a tiki bar for this infamous cocktail –- just make sure you have a designated driver or Uber to take you home.
Speaking of drinks that throw a number of different spirits together with potentially dangerous results, it's the Fog Cutter's' turn in the limelight. Combining rum, gin, cognac, and pisco with bright orange juice, zesty lemon juice, and nutty orgeat syrup -- to great effect -- the Fog Cutter is just as boozy as the Zombie.
Like the Zombie, the Fog Cutter calls on citrus flavors to both enhance and disguise the myriad additional liquors in the mix. And while the almond flavor of the orgeat gives the finished product a signature tiki touch, the real kicker here is the sherry float. Sherry might be an unexpected ingredient for a rum-based cocktail –- let alone one with so many other flavors going on. But the fortified wine's crisp profile somehow seals the deal.
The Navy Grog is distinct in the tiki world for a number of reasons. But the element that truly sets it apart is its garnish: A large cone of ice with a straw sticking through the top. In theory, this delivery system allows the drink to grow extra cold as one sips. Of course, this garnish is far from practical. So unless you have a specialty ice cone mold, you're better off serving the Navy Grog on the rocks.
Ice cone aside, this killer tiki cocktail is typically made with several types of rum (including white and aged) along with a spiced liqueur, grapefruit and lime juices, and sweeteners. It's bright, sweet, and a little funky -- and sure to impress even your snootiest friends at your next summertime bash.
Most people think of bright and exotic flavors when it comes to tiki drinks, given so many of these cocktails consist of rum, citrus juices, and simple syrups. But there are a number of tiki drinks that don't fit the typical profile. Enter the rum cow -- an underrated, not-your-average tiki beverage made with four easy-to-find ingredients.
The name "rum cow" should provide a hint at the two primary ingredients: Dark rum, and milk. Simple syrup sweetens the deal, and bitters give the tiki cocktail a little something extra. While dairy and rum may seem like a counterintuitive combination, the milk actually complements dark rum's honeyed, smoky-and-sweet flavor in a way that's not dissimilar to a milkshake. Once you've got those two components, just shake them together with simple syrup and bitters, and you've got yourself a rum cow.
Three Dots And A Dash
Most tiki drinks aren't quite as simple as the rum cow, so if it's complexity you're after? The Three Dots and a Dash cocktail absolutely hits the mark. While different rums can be experimented with, many recipes start with rhum agricole -- a funky, floral-tasting rum that differs greatly from other types.
From there, aged rum lends its signature profile to the mix, followed by a laundry list of unusual ingredients: lime juice, dry Curacao, falernum, honey syrup, bitters, and allspice dram. If you're at a tiki bar and want something with an unusual edge –- or just acting as a home bartender looking to diversify your bar, and ante up your mixology prowess -- a Three Dots and a Dash cocktail will absolutely do the trick.
The Singapore Sling has long appeared on tiki bar menus, and is popular enough that you can even find it outside the tiki world. Deceptively strong -- and complicated, given it looks like a basic, fruity drink from the outside -- the cocktail is crafted with gin, pineapple juice, bitters, cherry, herbal, and orange liqueurs, then topped with club soda.
Gin's trademark piney flavor is toned down by the cherry and orange liqueurs, while the herbal liqueur and bitters add a bit of funk, and pineapple juice infuses it with bright, tropical notes. Additionally, grenadine -- a common ingredient in many modern recipes -- adds both sweetness and the drink's unmistakable pink hue. Pour one up, garnish with a pineapple wedge, orange slice, and maraschino cherry, and you'll be mentally transported to the tropics in a heartbeat.
Rum, brandy, and sparkling wine are rarely found together in the same cocktail recipe. The three spirits are all highly unique in their own right, after all. But when combined with fresh-squeezed citrus juices and nutty orgeat syrup? You get a little tiki drink called the Scorpion. This high-octane cocktail was one of tiki pioneer Trader Vic's signature drinks, and interestingly, it was originally served as a punch versus a single-serve cocktail.
Trader Vic refined the drink in the 1970s and came out with two versions of the drink: The single-serve Scorpion, and the party-friendly Scorpion bowl. Whichever route you choose, the Scorpion provides a fun, flirty, and delicious tiki cocktail perfect for both entertaining guests, or a night on the couch watching chick flicks.
As many of the aforementioned drinks have demonstrated, tiki cocktails often combine complex alcohols and mixers to create beautifully balanced, dynamic drinks. In this way, the Nui Nui is a quintessential tiki drink. This sweet, tart, and spicy cocktail combines gold and Jamaican rum, allspice dram, orange and lime juices, cinnamon and vanilla syrups, and angostura bitters over crushed ice.
The Jamaican rum and allspice dram set this cocktail apart from the rest. Jamaican rum has a unique flavor calling to mind bananas, molasses, and exotic spices, while allspice dram (a liqueur made from rum and allspice berries) is highly spicy, with a trademark clove-like finish. Once all these ingredients have been combined, the Nui Nui is often garnished with more crushed ice as well as sliced fruit or an edible flower -- and maybe a little cocktail umbrella (it never hurts).
Few cocktails transport their imbibers' imaginations to a balmy tropical beach as effectively as a piña colada -- and the Painkiller happens to be the piña colada's cousin on the rocks. A classic Painkiller cocktail is made with simple ingredients: Dark rum, pineapple and orange juices, and coconut cream. Don't let the short list of ingredients fool you, though. The Painkiller is an excellent, refreshing, vibrant cocktail, and is sure to live up to its name by taking your pain away (until tomorrow morning, at least).
The Painkiller is a popular item at tiki bars, and even some regular bars and restaurants (particularly those with a Caribbean or beachy angle). It's also easy enough to shake up a pitcher of these bad boys for a pool party or book club meeting at home. Don't forget to garnish with some fresh pineapple -- and, ideally, pineapple leaves, as well -- to really nail the aesthetic.
If you like sweet, fruity drinks, you're sure to love the tropical Rum Runner cocktail. With notes of exotic fruit, decadent flavors, and tartness, this is an approachable, easy-to-drink cocktail for inexperienced drinkers -- think the type of drink you ordered the first time you went out after turning 21.
Unlike many other tiki drinks -- which often have roots in the California-based haunts of Donn Beach or Trader Vic -- the Rum Runner is said to have originated in Florida, where it remains popular to this day. Flavor-wise, it's a bit similar to a rum punch, with tropical, island-inspired notes from the banana liqueur, pineapple, and grenadine. You can make a single serving, or go rum punch-style by whipping up a batch to wow your friends at a party.
New Orleans isn't exactly known as a tiki hub, but there's one tiki cocktail that the city's claimed as its own: the Hurricane. Originally served by the legendary former speakeasy known as Pat O'Brien's in the 1940s, the restaurant's Hurricane remains one of the Crescent City's most famous cocktails. It's fruity, goes down easy, and is deceptively strong –- just take a walk down Bourbon Street to observe the effects of this infamous tiki drink.
Made with passion fruit puree, white and dark spiced rums, as well as orange and lime juices, the Hurricane cocktail combines many classic tiki elements for a drink that's both easily concocted. Whether you're whipping up a batch at home for a party, or heading to a tiki bar to kick off a night on the town, the Hurricane is a guaranteed hit.
There are a number of tiki drinks that differ from the norm by eschewing rum. But while many of these non-rum-based versions are made with clear spirits like gin or tequila, the Halekulani is an outlier, as it's made with bourbon whiskey. More than that, the ingredients hardly seem to fit the bill for a tiki drink at first glance.
Besides the bourbon, the Halekulani is made with bitters, grenadine, and lemon and orange juices. Bourbon infuses this cocktail with warm, caramelized flavors similar to a dark or aged rum, while the citrus juices add tartness and tang. Grenadine lends its usual sweetness to the mix, and bitters pull the whole thing together nicely with an unexpected funk. It might not be the most traditional tiki drink, then, but it's not to be missed.
The Test Pilot is (another) one of Donn Beach's original tiki cocktails. Made with Jamaican and white rums, orange liqueur, fresh lime juice, Angostura bitters, falernum, and pungent Pernod, the Test Pilot is an absolute classic -- and even inspired the rise of aviation-themed cocktails like the Astronaut, Space Pilot, and the similarly-named Jet Pilot.
When Donn Beach first opened shop in Southern California, the Jet Age was in full swing, so many of his cocktails paid homage to the exciting new era -- including the Jet Pilot. Of course, the name alone isn't what makes this fun, spicy, and sweet cocktail a quintessential tiki concoction (that would be its ingredients and taste). Just be sure to garnish with a maraschino cherry on a spear for both flavor and aesthetic purposes before serving.
Read the original article on Tasting Table.