You don’t have to be a rum lover to love a Piña Colada. With more in common with a coconut milkshake than Rum Punch, the classic cocktail was created in 1954 at the Caribe Hilton by bartender Ramón "Monchito" Marrero Pérez. While few people know the history of the Piña Colada or the original recipe for the drink, the cocktail has spawned a million and one iterations across the globe since its creation—some good, some OK, some great (it’s hard to find a truly bad Piña Colada). To help you make a great one every time, we tapped Kenneth McCoy, the head bartender and chief creative officer of Ward III and The Rum House in New York City. Here, McCoy reveals his tips for making the best Piña Colada every time.
Use Dark Rum, Not White
While the original Piña Colada recipe from the Caribe Hilton calls for either a Puerto Rican white rum or a gold rum at the base, using a dark rum gives the drink more depth and character. “It gives a bite to it,” says McCoy. Darker rums typically have more tannins than white rums, which helps dry out the cocktail, making it balanced and even more crushable.
You Don’t Have to Use Fresh Pineapple Juice
While we usually argue until we’re blue in the face about how important it is to use fresh juices in cocktails, using canned pineapple juice in a Piña Colada is the exception. If you’ve ever juiced pineapples you know how difficult it is. First, you have to find a perfectly ripe pineapple, which requires X-ray vision. Then, you have to have a super-powerful juicer. Finally, you have to strain it to remove the pulp and fibers. “Canned pineapple works, but it’s going to make the drink sweeter,” says McCoy. “If you’re going to use canned pineapple, make sure to use a bar spoon of fresh lime to cut that sweetness.”
Coco Lopez Is Essential
No coconut cream makes a Piña Colada quite like Coco Lopez. It doesn’t matter if another product is made from 100-percent organic coconuts—the only coconut cream for you is the one with the adorable, neon-hued parrot mascot on the label. “I know there are other coconut creams out there, but I’ve never used one,” says McCoy. “[Coco Lopez] is invaluable to the drink.”
The Secret Ingredient Is Heavy Cream
According to Beachbum Berry’s Potions of the Caribbean, the original recipe for the Piña Colada called for a measure of double cream. Essentially heavy cream, the ingredient is often disregarded or altogether forgotten. “It thickens [the drink] up even more,” says McCoy. “Heavy cream makes it smoother and more like a milkshake.” After experimenting with making a Piña Colada with cream (we used half an ounce), we noticed it got rid of that granular, sandy texture from the blended ice.
Don’t Be Afraid to Add More Booze
Depending on where you’ve ordered a Piña Colada, you may have noticed bartenders slipping in an extra shot of alcohol on top of the cocktail. We’ve seen everything from amaretto to more rum (an overproof demerara rum works best), to Branca Menta. “I do a float on top of sweet vermouth—typically Cocchi Torino,” says McCoy. “It’s got a touch of sweetness, a light bitterness, and this nuttiness. It is visually striking, and it plays up the baking spice notes of the dark rum.”
Skip the Maraschino Cherry
While it’s more common to see a Piña Colada garnished with a vivaciously red Maraschino cherry, the candied fruit doesn’t add much in the way of flavor to the cocktail. Instead, opt for a wedge of fresh pineapple (especially if you’re using canned pineapple juice in the drink) and a higher quality brandied cherry like Luxardo. “It’s like dessert,” says McCoy.