🎶If You Like Piña Coladas and Getting Caught in the Rain🎶
Rupert Holmes' Escape (Piña Colada Song) may be a bit tongue in cheek, but then, so is the cocktail. Imagine yourself in a tropical paradise, sunning yourself on a sandy beach, which drink are you sipping? It is most likely the Piña Colada, the only cocktail that’s both zesty and creamy at the same time. The ingredients for a Piña Colada were not combined to make a serious drink. Instead, the original concoction was all about escapism.
The Caribbean Sea Cocktail
There are several mentions of the classic mixture of coconut, rum and pineapple in Caribbean culture. For example, the earliest known story states that Puerto Rican pirate Roberto Cofresí gave his crew a beverage containing coconut, pineapple and white rum to cheer them up after a long voyage. But Cofresí died in 1825 and with him his recipe.
Get on a Plane to Puerto Rico
Transport yourself forward a century to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where bartender Ramón "Monchito" Marrero shook up the first Piña Colada at the Caribe Hilton in 1954. The Caribe Hilton was the first luxury hotel to open on the island and is situated on a 17-acre peninsular to the coastal north of San Juan. It was Conrad Hilton's first international location and he hired a swath of high-profile entertainers to perform there in the evenings. It was the kind of joint you hit to let your hair down.
Fresh and Local Produce
Marrero wanted to show the American tourists that came to his hotel how good Puerto Rican produce was, whilst also getting them out of work mode and into the holiday chill zone. Coconut and pineapple were both major Puerto Rican exports at the time. But he had a problem. You see, the acidity of pineapple juice curdles when mixed with straight coconut water, so a simple blend didn't suit the American pallet.
It’s About Texture as well as Taste
Then Marrero discovered Coco López stocked in local supermarkets. Invented by Ramón López Irizarry, an agricultural professor for the University of Puerto Rico, it's made of coconut cream with sugar to sweeten, xanthan gum as a stabiliser and citric acid as a flavouring and preserving agent. So by adding this local coconut cream and blending the ingredients with ice, he created a drink that showcased his two chosen flavours with a delightful, creamy texture.
The island had relied on rum industries since the 16th century. As a result, white rums like Bacardi and Don Q were in high demand on and off the island — as chronicled in Hunter S Thompson's Rum Diaries — and the light flavour was a no brainer fit for his concoction. His rum, pineapple and coconut blend ended up being so popular that Marrero would continue to personally serve his new cocktail throughout his time as a bartender at the hotel. He had to hire several 'barboys' to help with his prep-heavy, fresh pineapples.
Commemorating the Colada
Fast-forward to 1978, and the Piña Colada was made the official drink of Puerto Rico. Not only did it receive this recognition, but in 2004 the Caribe Hilton was given a proclamation signed by Puerto Rico's Governor, Sila María Calderón, to honour the drink’s 50th anniversary, cementing its prestigious status. Over the years, its popularity has certainly not decreased. The Piña Colada is still a prominent feature on menus everywhere and remains popular at hotels and bars abroad.
The Modern Twists on a Classic
The Piña Colada has become such an iconic drink that cocktail bars all over the world make their own twist on this classic recipe. Author, and Tiki cocktail legend Georgi Radev has a drink called the Tropicalada on his menu at Laki Kane, London. He told us this is a best seller, and the recipe is already on it’s third incarnation.
He says that some ingredients have improved since the classic recipe. For example, he uses Coco Re’al to replace the Coco López as it tastes closer to a natural coconut flavour. He also suggests working towards sustainability — a huge focus at Laki Kane — by using sustainable spirits and discarded fruit peels as flavouring agents. For example, they use discarded banana peels to infuse rum, then use that to add a nuanced quality to the blend.
“Don Q, Discarded Banana Rum and Aluna Coconut are some of the most sustainable spirits. The mug we use is made out of the left over from the porcelain and cream manufacturer.” Georgi Radev, Laki Kane
You want to make sure the rum you use suits your Colada too. Traditionally a white rum is used to make the cocktail, but with the global market boom, there is more choice than ever. Malibu seems like an obvious go-to, but it will tip the sweetness of the cocktail. On the other hand, using dark or aged rum can work fantastically. Aged rums reflect the benefits of their time spent in the barrel, enriching the flavour and enhancing its taste. The notes from these rums, often vanilla and a deep caramel, complement the cocktail's sweetness and contrast the flavours perfectly. Some may even choose to layer a combination of light and dark rums to add to the taste and aroma of the drink.
“Although the Pina Colada originally was made with Don Q from Puerto Rico and requires light aged rum as an original drink. The flavours of coconut cream and pineapple actually stand out to heavier rums too and I actual like it with punchy even overproof rums. You can use any rum you want and will be delicious. Is just going to taste different.”— Georgi Radev, Laki Kane
Make Your Own Piña Colada
The ingredients play an essential part in the making of this cocktail. Like Marrero, distinguish the best ingredients you can get your hands on to get the best out of your Piña Colada. Pineapple juice from a can or box can be used for ease, but if you want an authentic tropical experience, using fresh pineapple will give you the best results. Pressing the fresh juice before you begin will get rid of a lot of woody pulp. Coco Lopez and Coco Re’al are available from speciality supermarkets in the UK or online retailers. Using this ingredient will make sure your texture, as well as your taste, is spot on.
Get your deck chairs out, put your sunglasses on and let the Piña Colada melt away your troubles, as it is the ultimate cocktail to shake up t