How do you capture Puerto Rico in a glass? In 1954, bartender Ramón “Monchito” Marrero combined the island’s light rum with pineapple juice and coconut cream at the bar in San Juan’s Caribe Hilton. He took three months to perfect the piña colada (and at least one other bartender is claimed to have invented the cocktail).
Its name meaning “strained pineapple,” it became globally popular after it was immortalized in the 1979 Rupert Holmes song, “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” (you know, the one about liking piña coladas and getting caught in the rain).
Eventually, the too-sweet versions of the drink served in the 1980s fell from favour. However, it’s riding the tiki-revival wave, and craft bartenders are using fresh juices to make their own mixes from scratch.
The piña colada never fell from grace in Puerto Rico, where it was named the national cocktail in 1978.
“The drink suits the island environment, and reflects the Puerto Rico flavour,” says Pablo Torres, general manager of the Caribe Hilton, where the original piña colada is served at the beachfront Caribar. “In our hotel, this is what guests order.”
Drink: Lava Flow
Leave it to Hawaii to take the piña colada and turn it into a “volcano” that’s safe to drink. It’s called the Lava Flow, and the Hula Grill Kaanapali on Maui has elevated the drink by adding house-made strawberry puree to the drink’s light rum, fresh pineapple juice and coconut cream base. It’s blended and served layered in a hurricane glass.
Drink: Fuzzy Wawa
If a piña colada and a daiquiri produced a love child, they would name her Fuzzy Wawa. Created by bartender Robin Wynne at Miss Thing’s in Toronto, it marries house-made kaffir lime leaf syrup with Havana Club three-year-old blanco rum, fresh lime juice, a toasted coconut tincture and Nigori-style sake that’s been infused with coconut and lemongrass.
Drink: Not Into Yoga
In Palm Springs, Bootlegger Tiki bartender Chad Austin’s Not Into Yoga stretches the sweet, tart and coconutty flavours of the original piña colada into liquid Zen. Savoury and herbally complex, Austin adds allspice, green chartreuse, lime juice and two kinds of rum to this elegant and, ahem, flexible, version of a poolside party drink.
Recipe: Original Piña Colada
2 oz. white rum
1 oz. coconut cream
1 oz. heavy cream
6 oz. pineapple juice
Glass: Hurricane (12 oz.)
Garnish: Umbrella-spiked pineapple wedge and maraschino cherry.
Method: Blend ingredients with one half cup of crushed ice.
—Recipe courtesy of the Caribe Hilton, San Juan, Puerto Rico