Los Angeles over the past few years has become laden with some of the best craft cocktail bars in the country (deal with it New York). But where will you find me come Happy Hour on a Tuesday? Probably bar-side at the Tonga Hut out in the Valley. A darkly lit Tiki Bar nestled in-between a model train shop and a store front bridal “boutique”, this place sees my face almost weekly. Why? Currently I am trying to complete the Grog Log along with fellow drink/food blogger Nathan Hazard so that after completing the imbibing of all 90-something drinks on the list (within one year), a plaque with my name will be placed on the wall of this darkly lit Valley bar. But still, why bother you ask? I love having goals. But really, it’s a great way to become VERY familiar with Tiki drinks and all the ways the flavors come into play. This bar does a lot of in-house mixes and syrups and the woman running the beverage program, Marie, takes it all to heart and is adamant about making Tiki drinks taste the way they were meant to taste from way back in the heyday of Tiki days. I appreciate it. If you’ve trolled around my blog long enough now, you would see that I share the same sentiments when it comes to cocktails. Even tiki cocktails can be craft.
So why am I writing about this? Besides needing something to write about for an intro, I was over at the Tonga Hut the other night completing my list and tasted the Cruzana cocktail. Its ingredients were modest: grapefruit, maraschino syrup, rum. It was not very sweet, and had a lovely bitter quality to it that I enjoy in cocktails, which got me thinking… how could I expand on this? Twist it into something my non-Tiki drinking friends would like to have? Take the rum out and make a syrup!
And so I did just that.
Let’s ignore the beige walls and countertop in the photo. This was perfected over the 4th Holiday at my in-laws, who love beige. Let’s just focus on how tasty and refreshing this drink is when temps are soaring over 90 lately.
The first ingredient I sought to improve upon was the cherry syrup, or rather, the dredges from the kool-aid colored cherries. Cherries are in season right now, why not make a super-tasty syrup from them? It barely takes any effort other than pitting them. But that’s what a cherry pitter is for. Bam, done in two minutes.
Fresh Cherry Syrup
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 cup pitted cherries
1/2 oz. freshly squeezed lime juice
1 oz. freshly squeezed meyer lemon juice
1/2 oz. grenadine (home made is best!)
Combine first three ingredients in a saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat, cover and let sit for two hours. Strain solids from liquids and add next three ingredients to mix. Stir to combine. If not using immediately, add 1/2 ounce of vodka to mix, or leave out vodka if using within 2 weeks.
The syrup produces a fresh cherry flavor with light syrup. It’s more juicy than syrupy. The citrus and grenadine balances the syrup out from being too subtle in flavor. They act almost like bitters in that it rounds it out to a fuller flavor. And on a side note, I could totally pour this all over some pancakes. Just FYI.
And then there was the drink.
2 oz. St. George Botanivore Gin
2 oz. freshly squeezed white grapefruit juice
3/4 oz. home made cherry syrup (recipe above)
2 drops of Miracle Mile Chocolate Chile Bitters
3 Luxardo cherries for garnish
Combine all ingredients in a shaker 2/3 filled with ice, shake and pour unstrained into a Collins glass. Garnish with Luxardo Cherries.
Like I said, I took the rum out, and the flavor profile completely changed. That sweetness and spice from the rum took a backseat in the cherry syrup, and a more botanical, herbaceous flavor moved to the front. The bitters tone down the sweet just enough. Citrus flavors are complimented by the bright, herbaceous gin. I specifically used this gin from St. George spirits to create a more interesting layer with the fruits and in the end, a refreshing summer drink that moves away from the realm of Tiki.
This past weekend I was asked “what makes a drink tiki?”, and admittedly, I was stumped to have a concrete answer. Is it a drink with rum? Well, no. There are drinks in the Grog Log with vodka, whiskey and gin. Is it the tropical flavors? Again, not necessarily. And at that point I realized I couldn’t give a concrete answer. Maybe it’s all in the garnish, the presentation…the state of mind! Regardless, here, by switching out the gold rum with a gin, and having some softer fruit flavors, the cocktail no longer is a tropical drink and more in line with just something for summer. Thoughts are always welcome on this subject….