Food & Drink

How To Stock A Tiki Bar

With Mai TaisPina Coladas and Jungle Birds blossoming at bars across the country, the tiki train shows no sign of slowing down. But given the daunting complexity and rafts of ingredients in tiki cocktails, many aspiring bartenders worry the drinks aren’t practical to make at home. Fortunately for all of us, this common misconception is easily remedied.

The truth is that tiki cocktails are only as involved as the bartender wants to make them. In fact, for most of their existence, tiki cocktails have been associated with trash ingredients and dive bar Chinese restaurants. We’re not saying you stoop that low, but if you’re not looking to get super fancy, most classic tiki cocktails are within reach.

So start small. Then you can kick up your game over time with more rums, more equipment, and more mugs and garnishes. Here’s what you need for a basic tiki setup to start making the tropical elixirs of your dreams.

ESSENTIAL SYRUPS:

These can be bought online or made at home. The homemade version is always more satisfying, but we’re not above a shortcut that gets us down to drinking a little faster.
  • Orgeat—Almond syrup used in a Mai Tai and a Fog Cutter.
  • Passion Fruit Syrup—More sour than sweet, this is what makes the Hurricane howl.
  • Cinnamon Syrup—If there’s a secret tiki sauce, this is it. You might not be able to pick it out in a drink if you don’t know it’s there, but it makes everything better.

ESSENTIAL BITTERS:

Use these to add a third dimension to a drink’s flavor profile and bring down tiki’s achilles heel: sweetness. If cocktails are french fries, bitters are the ketchup.
  • Angostura Bitters—A requirement for any bar, tiki or otherwise. ($10
  • Bittermens ‘Elemakule Tiki Bitters—Similar to allspice dram, but more bitter. Also great for a Rum Manhattan. ($20
  • Bittercube Trinity Bitters—A mixture of three of the company’s bitters: Bolivar bitters (which has cinnamon, jasmine and chamomile), orange bitters, and cherry bark and vanilla bitters. This is your secret weapon when making a Zombie. ($22

LIQUEURS AND CORDIALS:

Get to know these five modifiers. With them you can make almost every Beachcomber, Trader Vic or Beachbum staple. If you want to save a little cash, you can even make your own falernum.
  • Velvet Falernum—An almond base makes this similar to orgeat (if orgeat were made from booze). Subtle citrus notes jump out when paired with fresh lime or pineapple. When you buy falernum, make sure to buy the liqueur and not a syrup (we find the syrup makes it too easy to unbalance a drink with sweetness). If you opt out of making your own, we recommend John D Taylor’s. ($17)
  • Dry Curaçao—You can’t make a Mai Tai without it. Combier Liqueur D’Orange is the driest option on the market currently, though we also recommend Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao. ($28
  • Allspice Dram—Great to have behind any bar, this liqueur makes two of the best cocktails most haven’t heard of: the Ancient Mariner and the Lion’s Tail. We recommend St. Elizabeth’s, which is delicious and won’t break the bank. ($28)
  • Amaro—These bitter, herbal liqueurs (traditionally from France and Italy) are essential for tiki drinks. Without Campari, there would be no Jungle Bird. Our newest favorite to hit the market is Amaro di Angostura. This amaro takes everything that’s great about Angostura bitters and puts it into something you can drink on the rocks. Once you make a Dark and Stormy with a float of this, you’ll never have it any other way. ($30
  • Absinthe—Many tiki drinks wouldn’t have the same depth or kick in pants if it wasn’t for a good, high-proof absinthe. For us, that’s Pernod Absinthe Superieure. Despite its high price tag, a bottle tends to last a long time. ($70)