I'd been looking forward to Saturday's tiki cocktail seminar ever since Briana Volk, of Portland Hunt & Alpine Club contacted me while planning the event months ago. It was part of the 2nd annual Portland Rum Riots - a celebration of craft cocktails, spirits, and bars on the anniversary of a riot during Maine's long prohibition against alcohol. One hundred and sixty years later, Maine may have some residual legal hang-ups over alcohol, but inside Hugo's on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, it was nothing but rum-soaked tropical fun.
The event was lead by Christian Gaal and Phoebe Esmon, who run a tiki bar, the Yachtsman, in Philadelphia together. Christian was the storyteller, while Phoebe whizzed up drinks and provided technical advice about syrups, drams, and other classic tiki ingredients.
We started with the Tree Frog - a blended drink with Plantation rum, allspice-galangal syrup, fresh lime juice, and banana. I don't know about you, but if I'd seen this on a menu, I might have shied away from it, because of the allspice and the banana. But it was lightly fruity and not too spicy, perhaps balanced by the fresh squeezed lime juice and the slushy blended ice (recipes to follow). This drink represents the "new wave" of tiki - not overly sweet, elevated, and still made with traditional tiki ingredients (namely, rum!).
Next up was Red Sea Rig #2, an original cocktail created for this event. It uses several local products: New England Distilling's Ingenium gin and Finest Kind green tea hibiscus concentrate. It was tart with a faint undertone of warming spices from both the Ingenium gin, which uses unique Southeast Asian botanicals, as well as the allspice dram.
At this point, the instructors took a break and let us socialize. As you'd expect, there were a lot of interesting people there - I learned about a local cocktail club (like a book club, but with wine) and made plans to have a tiki party this summer (big surprise: everyone is very enthusiastic about tiki after two rum drinks!). We also noshed on Eventide snacks, including the Holy Grail of bar snacks: the brown butter lobster roll.
After the cats' attention was herded back to the bartenders, we learned about the Doctor Funk of Tahiti, from Trader Vic's Bar Guide, published in 1947. Christian's stories during the serving of this drink included the history of absinthe and the bastardization of grenadine (really, check out how to make grenadine, you'll be shocked when you see what it's actually supposed to be made from).
Again, another ingredient that might make one wrinkle one's nose - absinthe - blended in surprisingly nicely with the dark rum, simple syrup, grenadine, and citrus juices, creating just a touch of herbal notes that left one wondering, rather than overpowering.
If you're sad you missed the Rum Riots events, there's still time! Tonight is the "closing ceremony," if you will, at Central Provisions. Happy hour starts at 5pm with rum drinks from Plantation rum.
From the Yachtsman, Philadelphia
2 oz. Plantation rum
3/4 oz. allspice-galangal syrup
3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
Blend. Serve in a red wine or daiquiri glass. Garnish with star anise pod.
Red Sea Rig #2
From the Yachtsman, Philadelphia for Portland Rum Riots
1.5 oz. Ingenium gin
3/4 oz. Kronan Swedish Punsch (liqueur made from sugar cane)
1 barspoon St. Elizabeth allspice dram
1/2 oz. lime juice
1/2 oz. Finest Kind green tea hibiscus concentrate
1/4 oz. honey syrup (2:1 honey to water)
Shake in a cocktail shaker, strain into coupe glasses, top with Cremant de Limoux bubbles. Garnish with lemon wheel.
Doctor Funk of Tahiti
From Trader Vic's Bar Guide, 1947
2.5 oz. Papa Pilar's dark rum
1/4 oz. absinthe
1/4 oz. simple syrup
1/4 oz. grenadine
1/2 oz. lemon juice
Juice of one lime
Shake with crushed ice, strain into Pilsner glass, top with a splash of soda water. Garnish with orchid or fruit.
The beautiful recipe cards were designed by Might & Main, a local design and branding firm.