Potions of the Caribbean

This is the first post from Blair Reynolds, a Portland-based tiki fiend and proprietor of Reynoles Galley. He documents these obsessions at Trader Tiki.

Tales of the Cocktail is only a two months away, even a bit less at this point. At this time, thoughts of drunkenly gallivanting about, discussing the business of the boozeness, and many handshakes and business card exchanges swirl about in my head. Between the lectures and the briefings, the tastings and the dealing, where can a guy just relax and get a drink?

Good thing someone thought to talk to a bum about this. A Beachbum, in fact, who, along with a few other panelists, will be providing a trip through the tropics on Saturday, July 19th, with their presentation “Potions of the Caribbean: Lost Cocktails from America’s Post War Playground“. Here, the crowd will be whisked away from the muggy Louisiana summer to a cool Caribbean isle (or at least a room with decent air conditioning), with tropical libations all around.

Along with featured presenter Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, the four panelists are all widely traveled personae with their own take on tropical libations and the Caribbean scene. These prestigious paragons of paneling are Wayne Curtis, author of the essential book And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails; Martin Cate, owner of the celebrated Forbidden Island Tiki bar by the San Francisco Bay; Brother Cleve, the Boston-based mixologist who kick-started the 1990s “Cocktail Nation” movement with his band Combustible Edison; and Steven Remsberg, owner of the world’s largest private rum collection. They’ll be backed up by some real firepower behind the TOC bar as well, since our sample drinks will be mixed by three of the Blogosphere’s premiere Tiki drink experts: Rick Stutz of Kaiser Penguin, Blair Reynolds, aka Trader Tiki, and Craig Hermann of Tiki Drinks & Indigo Firmaments.

The welcoming drink, as in the days when a bowl of punch was expected when dropping by a neighbor’s, will be the 17th-century Meeting House Punch. Contrary to popular belief, during the great age of piracy the buccaneers’ drink of choice was not a bottle of rum, but a bowl of rum punch. Punches were all the rage even among cut-throats like John Rackham. After all, what goes better with plunder than sugar and a few slices of lime?

The presentation will begin in the Caribbean after WWII, when Jamaica, Cuba and Puerto Rico all developed their tourist industries to compete with Hawaii as the “other” exotic vacation paradise. They built lavish resorts, where they served inventive tropical cocktails inspired by the Tiki drinks served in America’s wildly popular Polynesian-themed bars. The bum and the other presenters will be talking about the people behind this era … a story which actually starts hundreds of years before, when the first visitors to the area also brought their own drink recipes with them.

Since the Spanish “discovered” the Caribbean, invading hordes have continually tried to turn it into something else. For the Conquistadors, the Caribbean was “New Spain”; for the Edwardian English, Jamaica was “The New Riviera”; for 1940s Americans, Havana was “The Las Vegas Of The Caribbean”; and for the multinational resort developers of the 1960s, the Caribbean was “Hawaii In The Atlantic.” And whatever the incarnation, there were always new drinks served.

La FloridaJeff “Beachbum” Berry will start the seminar off by tracing Caribbean drink history up to Cuba’s transformation into America’s playground during Prohibition, when famous bartenders like Constantine Ribailagua invented drinks like the La Florida Cocktail (the next drink sample). The bum will also take a look at Sloppy Joe Abeal, who created exotic cocktails for thirsty American celebrities like Ernest Hemingway.

Martin Cate will then take the floor to detail the native spirits, spices and fruits that are unique to the Caribbean, which Don The Beachcomber encountered on his travels to the region in the 1920s — and brought to Hollywood, using them as his inspiration for the first “Tiki Drinks.”

Trader Vic's Rum PotAs the third sample is served, a Trader Vic concoction called the Rum Pot, Wayne will reveal how the Tiki cycle went full circle with the story of Trader Vic in the Caribbean: Like Don The Beachcomber, Vic learned how to make tropical drinks by travelling to Cuba. When his restaurant expanded into a chain, he opened a lavish Trader Vic’s in Havana — just in time for Castro’s revolutionaries to storm it.

In the next round, Brother Cleve will delve deeper into the post-WWII “Hawaii In The Atlantic” tourist pitch that led to Caribbean resorts creating their own Tiki-style Drinks, such as the oeuvre of St. Croix’s Weston Huggins and Puerto Rico’s Joe Scialom.

Jasper's JamaicanThe final drink sampled will be a Jasper’s Jamaican cocktail, served while Stephen Remsberg recounts the aftermath of “Atlantic Hawaii”: When the Tiki craze fizzled in the 1970s, Caribbean bartenders went back to their own kind of indigenous cocktails. Stephen, who sampled these bartenders’ wares back in the 1970s, will demo how to properly make a Jasper’s Jamaican, a drink developed by the most legendary of these bartenders, Jasper LeFranc.

Potions of the Caribbean: Lost Cocktails from America’s Post-War Playground takes place Saturday, July 19, at 10:30-12:00 at the Hotel Monteleone. Tickets for the session are available on the Tales of the Cocktail website. Hope to see you there!

(note – special thanks to the bum for providing such great information!)

Comments (2 Responses)

  1. [...] July 19: 10:30-12:00p – ‘Potions of the Caribbean‘5 4:30-6:00p – ‘Making Your Own Ingredients‘ 6:00p-?? – Tiki Block Party and What [...]

  2. [...] Jamaican, a fantastic little concoction I first tried when prepping for Beachbum Berry’s Potions of the Caribbean seminar at last year’s Tales of the Cocktail. Jasper’s Jamaican • ½ oz Lime Juice • [...]

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