5 Gin-Based “Tiki” Drinks

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5 Gin-Based “Tiki” Drinks

For our previous list of whiskey-based tiki drinks, click here. Also: It’s Gin Month at Paste! Check out a new wave of gin tastings and reviews here.

If you were asking a cocktail fan to define what makes for a “tiki drink,” then rum would surely be one of the first words mentioned. This is no coincidence—the very idea of “tiki” as we think of it today is perhaps better defined as Polynesian Pop, and the ethos of Polynesian Pop was a romanticized version of the supposed adventure and “danger” inherent in the South Seas, combined with the tropical, rum-based drinks of the Caribbean. Put them together, and you have the tiki drink—cocktails defined by their long lists of exotic sounding juices, syrups, cordials and liqueurs … and yes, rum.

From the very beginning, though, it’s not as if other forms of spirits have been prohibited from appearing in classic tiki drinks. In fact, rum has always been bedfellows with several other spirits such as brandy and whiskey, both of which are present in a fair number of recipes in the golden era of tiki cocktails. But of all the adjacent spirits that have long been welcome in the tiki world, gin is perhaps the most popular and enduring. “Gin tiki,” in fact, is well enough established to almost be its own tiki subgenre at this point, with a handful of classic cocktails that one can expect to find in many bars and restaurants focused on tropical/exotic drinks.

The use of gin in tiki drinks can range from a tiny contribution–as in the mere half oz of gin included in Trader Vic’s legendarily mind-numbing Fog Cutter cocktail–to making up half, or all, of the alcohol in a drink. Below, we’ve assembled several of these cocktails, focusing on the ones where gin is a primary spirit.


1. Saturn

Probably the most famous modern “gin tiki” cocktail, the Saturn was a contest-winning cocktail created in 1967 by California bartender J. “Popo” Galsini, but it vanished from public memory until rediscovered by tiki author and historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, and then published in his 2010 book Beachbum Berry Remixed. It has impressively exploded in popularity in the years since, to the point that I was once served one of these drinks a few years ago in a non-tiki seafood restaurant in Scotland. Suffice to say, it was clearly an immediately accepted part of the canon.

Truly one of the biggest success stories of gin as a tiki spirit, the Saturn vaguely has the feel of a passion fruit-infused mai tai, although this is sort of a trap, as we tend to describe just about anything with almond orgeat having mai tai characteristics. Regardless, the drink is bright, fruity, friendly and accented with deeper spice and nutty notes that give it some soul. It can be made simply shaken and served on the rocks, or fully blended as a frozen drink. I’ve even had it served up, on a stem glass as well.

— 1.25 oz gin
— .5 oz lemon juice
— .5 oz passion fruit syrup
— .25 oz falernum
— .25 oz orgeat

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail tin with plenty of crushed ice. Shake vigorously, then strain into a rocks glass with more crushed ice. An old fashioned glass full of crushed ice should handle this volume just fine.


2. Singapore Sling

The Singapore Sling is a pretty mythical cocktail at this point, inscrutable and ever-changing in terms of the published recipes you’ll run across. It’s not part of the traditional tiki arcana in the sense that it wasn’t a Donn Beach-type creation, but it’s always been welcome in tiki circles for its South Pacific theming, and the fact that it was originally created in Singapore at some point early in the 20th century.

The traditional Singapore Sling is absolutely a “gin drink,” but a rather complex one that contains many other flavors competing for the drinker’s attention, from the herbal bittersweet notes of Benedictine, to the tart cherry of Heering. However, this is also one of those drinks that has been bastardized relentlessly in recent decades, owing to its complex list of ingredients. As a result, you’ll often see the Singapore Sling on the menu in lower-quality bars, with ingredients such as the cherry heering and Benedictine totally absent, and a sickly red hue provided by copious amounts of grenadine instead. Suffice to say, if you’re getting a Singapore Sling, you want the real thing, which you’ll find below.

— .75 oz gin
— .25 oz Benedictine
— .25 oz Grand Marnier or orange curacao
— .25 oz Heering cherry liqueur
— 1 oz pineapple juice
— .5 oz lime juice
— 1 dash Angostura bitters
— Club soda to top

Add all ingredients except for the club soda to a cocktail shaker tin with crushed ice. Shake vigorously, then pour into a highball glass over lots of crushed ice. Top up with club soda, and stir gently to incorporate. Garnish with cherry, and with optional orange slice.


3. Humuhumunukunukuapua’a

The most difficult thing about this drink is simply trying to order it by name at the bar–the rest is pretty simple. That mouthful of a name is actually the Hawaiian sobriquet of the rectangular triggerfish, the lovely state fish of Hawaii. It was only natural that it also become the title of a drink.

The resulting cocktail has some things in common with the Saturn, but it goes a bit stronger on the orgeat and gin, while swapping the more tart passionfruit for the velvety sweetness of pineapple juice. The bitters associated with the drink have traditionally been “Creole bitters,” which usually means Peychaud’s, but you could substitute in practically anything you felt like here to tailor the drink to your own taste.

— 2 oz gin
— .75 oz lemon juice
— .75 oz pineapple juice
— .5 oz orgeat
— 2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters/Aromatic bitters/Tiki bitters

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail mixing tin with plenty of crushed ice. Shake vigorously and then strain into a double old fashioned or Collins glass with plenty of crushed ice.


4. Suffering Bastard

The Suffering Bastard is another one of those drinks, like the Singapore Sling, that isn’t quite traditional “tiki,” but has been something like a tiki ally over the decades, always welcome in the same spaces. This one was allegedly invented in Cairo, Egypt of all places, as a hangover cure for WWII soldiers in 1942, as the ginger beer had a settling effect on the stomach. Current versions of this cocktail often employ a split-base of gin and bourbon, though the original version would have been brandy or cognac, and this seems more in the spirit of the original drink.

Oddly, though, the Suffering Bastard is one of the few times when an existing drink was essentially “bastardized” by the tiki world, as another version of the drink became common the 1960s. That secondary Suffering Bastard was instead a rum drink, with orgeat and curacao, but it has seemingly since faded away, leaving us with versions that are closer to the gin-containing original. We think the original is still superior here, so give the one below a try.

— 1 oz London dry gin
— 1 oz brandy
— .5 oz lime juice
— 2 dashes Angostura bitters
— Ginger beer, to top

Add all ingredients except for the ginger beer into a cocktail tin with crushed ice. Shake vigorously, and then strain into a Collins glass over crushed ice. Top up with ginger beer, to taste. Garnish with a fresh mint sprig.


5. Rangoon Gimlet

Is it more charming or annoying that so many cocktail names imply not only one type of cocktail, but several different, competing variations that each claim to be the correct version? We’ll go with “charming,” in reference to something like the Rangoon Gimlet. Try to look this cocktail up online, and you’ll run into two primary versions that are very different.

Both versions are obviously twists on the traditional gin gimlet, made with little more than gin, sweetened lime juice (lime cordial) and ice. The first barely changes the gimlet format at all, simply adding the additional spice notes of bitters, which are almost always welcome in classic tiki cocktails, although many versions are completely blended into a slush. The other version, on the other hand, involves muddling lots of basil (and sometimes cucumber), resulting in a vividly green-hued version of the gimlet, which is served up in coupe glass. Most of these recipes also seem to call for simple syrup specifically, rather than sweetened lime juice. I’ll provide both versions below.

Rangoon Gimlet (Original)

— 1.5 oz London dry gin
— 1 oz lime juice
— 1 oz simple syrup
— 1 dash Angostura bitters
— 8 oz crushed ice

Add all ingredients to a blender jar, and blend until smooth. Pour into a glass, and add additional dash of Angostura on top. Garnish with a cherry, and serve with a straw.

Rangoon Gimlet (Basil)

— 2 oz gin
— 1 oz lime juice
— 1 oz simple syrup
— 6-8 fresh, sweet basil leaves
— Cucumber

Muddle the basil and cucumber well, at the bottom of a cocktail tin. Add crushed ice, and all other ingredients. Shake vigorously. Double strain to remove all basil and cucumber, into a coupe glass. Garnish with basil/lime wedge.


Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.

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