With soft Exotica tunes lilting in the background, tasty rum potions can send the land-locked sailor on a journey to exotic ports of call, where willing wahines sway in the warm climes of an eternal summer.”
That fairly summarizes the escapist appeal of tiki culture as described by author and aficionado Sven Kirsten in his introductory essay for Kelly “Hiphipahula” Reilly and “Trader” Tom Morgan’s Home Bar Guide to Tropical Cocktails: A Spirited Journey Through Suburbia’s Hidden Tiki Temples (Korero Press Ltd., 192 pages, $29.95). Reilly is an L.A.-based event bartender who revamped the tiki program at North Hollywood’s Tonga Hut, while Morgan hosts tiki-themed events when he’s not teaching classes on screenwriting and film. (He has a Ph.D. in 19th- and 20th-century American literature and film adaptation.)
As the title suggests, Reilly and Morgan’s book is targeted primarily at the home bartender, with whimsical illustrations, pages dedicated to photos of elaborate backyard and basement bars, and helpful instructions on setting up your bar, including a thoughtful reminder that you needn’t break the bank to do so (a helpful index titled “From Well to Top Shelf” ranks various rums according to typical price). They also offer tips on hosting, cleanliness, and growing your own ingredients (such as mint and other herbs and garnishes). The 150-plus drink recipes are grouped according to primary spirit, and because it’s simply not true that tiki cocktails are “‘sissy’ umbrella drinks that lack any alcoholic punch,” Reilly and Morgan rate each beverage for potency, using a scale of one to five shrunken heads.
Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails (Rizzoli, 271 pages, $37.95) is a pretty new book by Shannon Mustipher, beverage director at Glady’s Caribbean restaurant in Brooklyn, where the bar serves mai tais, Painkillers, and dozens of rums by the glass. Tiki displays Mustipher’s encyclopedic knowledge of rum, as well as deep and abiding love of tiki drinks; it’s a great choice for rum geeks — anyone with the desire, time, and disposable income to explore the wide world of rum and cane spirits.
The book begins with a small collection of what Mustipher refers to as “foundational recipes” — the bombo, caipirinha, canchanchara, grog, ti’ punch, and Floridita daiquiri — and while she does offer some brief background on particular drinks, she isn’t out to provide a detailed history of tiki culture. (For that you could — and should — turn to Sippin’ Safari and Potions of the Caribbean by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, and Martin and Rebecca Cate’s Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki). Mustipher is more interested in dispelling “the perception of rum as too sweet, and tiki as tacky”; she focuses on ingredients, flavors, and techniques that she details in many of the recipes and also indexes and clarifies in the book’s closing pages. In the interest of full disclosure, Mexican Mole bitters from The Bitter End — the company my husband, Bill York, and I own and run — are recommended there.
Noah Fecks’ photos eschew those sometimes-cheesy trappings of tiki culture in favor of something more sophisticated, though no less colorful. The inclusion of a playlist from Boston-based tiki expert and musician Brother Cleve is a welcome bonus. My only real beef is the small point size of the sans serif typeface, which could prove difficult to read in the low, sultry light of your basement Bali Ha’i. ◀