During a recent talk here in Portland at the Great American Distiller’s Festival, I shared a few stories and told of the time when Stephen Crane’s Luau coming into town began the “Big Showdown” of the Exotic restaurant chains. Stephen Crane’s Luau had been a big hit in Beverly Hills, and when he joined forces with the Sheraton to help them compete against Hilton and Trader Vic’s Outrigger chain, he found himself opening restaurants in Montreal, Chicago, and here in Portland.
With this chain, known as Kon-Tiki Ports, Stephen brought all his best bartenders and their recipes to help open each location. One of the drinks developed and served at the Luau was their own version of the famed Scorpion Bowl from Trader Vic’s. One of the first known communal tropical drinks, Vic had been slinging this “thing” since at least the early 1940s, having written about it in his Book of Food and Drink. Stephen Crane’s version takes a few liberties, changing Lemon to Lime and omitting one of the ingredients from Vic’s version, an ounce of white wine.
A single-serving Scorpion these days is a bit… okay, a lot like a lightly tamed FogCutter, with a bigger dollop of Orgeat and omitting the Sherry Float. This version from the Luau, circa 1958 is… well, one of the best. It was served at the recent Tiki Night at Teardrop Lounge, and I see little reason not to serve it again at the next one! The Volcano effect wasn’t on the original recipe but… hey, if Stephen Crane can embellish his restaurant with $1,240 door handles, I think I can embellish the drinks with a splash of 151.
- 1oz Lime juice
- 2oz Orange juice
- 2oz Gold Puerto Rican rum
- 2oz Gin
- 1oz Brandy
- 3/4oz Simple syrup
- 1oz Orgeat
- 8oz Crushed ice
Donate everything to a blender. Spin up like the devil for 3 seconds. Pour, unstrained, into a wisely sized bowl. Drink by yourself or with friends.
They told me the camera was on standby!
But seriously folks, as part of the “make great cocktails done right” sort of outreach I’ve got going here, I decided to take on the task of Tiki when asked to do some video for the Oregon Bartender’s Guild. This is one of a series of two so far, with more on the way.
In this video, I put together a Mai Tai, using a blend of Appleton Extra and Rhum Barbancourt. It was a damned tasty blend, and that I got to share it with some friends afterwards made it even better. The edits leave out a bit of info, but I don’t blame anyone, I sure can blather. And for those pickers of nits out there, yes, the I misstated the Orgeat measurement, the lime shell wasn’t shown going into the shaker and yes, the mint garnish (necessary for a proper Mai Tai) was left out of the recipe at the end. Please forgive me, I offer only my knowledge, my love, and my stash of rum.
The Orgeat, if you were wondering, is from a test batch for… well, I’ll be discussing that later. The mug comes from Portland’s own Thatch, and the shirt… is just awesome!
2 ounces 17-year-old J. Wray Nephew Jamaican rum*
1/2 ounce French Garnier Orgeat
1/2 ounce Holland DeKuyper Orange Curacao
1/4 ounce Rock Candy Syrup
juice from one fresh lime
Hand shake and garnish with half of the lime shell inside the drink and float a sprig of fresh mint at the edge of the glass.
* – no longer available. Try a blend of Aged Jamaican Rum with an Amber Martinique for some depth and funk.
While reviewing an upcoming rhum, some embellishment on the bottle suggested its excellence in a classic Planter’s Punch, and provides a recipe:
- 1/3 Rhum
- 1/3 Orange Juice
- 1/3 Pineapple Juice
- dash of Grenadine
This got me to thinking a bit about Planter’s Punch.
The name itself is evocative, recalling the history of the five ingredient punch, as well as the planter… who was the proverbial Planter who would drink this potion on sweltering days spent under the sun. It’s a simple drink we all seem to know of, and maybe have heard a recipe or two. This seems to be a drink without origin, not attributed to any person in particular. In the late 19th century, the drink starts to appear in a few London periodicals, typically in reference to Jamaica or some parts of South America.
The earliest reference I could find comes from an 1878 edition of Fun, a satirical magazine published in London.
The next few references I found in my library have fairly similar concepts, albeit different names. In Modern American Drinks (1895), it is referred to as “Jamaican Rum Punch“, and by the time the Savoy Cocktail Book (1930) rolls around, it’s become the Planter’s Cocktail #2. Planter’s Cocktail #1 is a variation skipping the sugar and adding orange juice. Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide (1948) gives 4 variations, changing up the lemon to mostly lime, and with 3 of the recipes calling for grenadine. As we can see, the recipe starts morphing and evolving through the decades.
When looking to consider how drinks are being made nowadays, I like to reference the “Big Book of Dumb Drinks” (aka – The Bartender’s Black Book ), which starts off with something similar to the original recipe, but veers into the realm of today by, after mixing the other ingredients, pouring in Orange Juice and Pineapple Juice. I am starting to see where adding Orange juice started, but have yet to find the origin of the Pineapple Juice.
Well, apparently the label makers for this rhum that so got me to thinking are of the modern school of this classic concoction, albeit keeping the proportions still very simple, a classy maneuver if ever there was one. I took a few sips and found their version, while quite sweet, rather refreshing, and certainly evocative of a more tropical clime than here in Portland, OR.
Do you have a favorite Planter’s Punch recipe? Have you tried a few? Found an early reference that asks for pineapple juice? Let me know in the comments!
For those of you looking for a few gifts for the Tikiphile in your life (even if it’s just yourself), Trader Vic’s Online Store is now offering $10.00 off Orders $50.00 or more (excluding shipping). Just enter promo code “MaiTai” at checkout.
I’m not too hip on the drink mixes anymore, but the spices and condiment offerings are always great. What I really like (and have around a dozen of) are the Trader Vic Mai Tai Glasses. They’re 15 oz. biggies, and you’ll see them all over my site here. Sadly, two have already made their way with Trader Vic, but the survivors live on to hold my Mai Tais, Aku Akus, and Navy Grogs.
And of course, if you’re looking for a gift for your favorite internet Tiki Aficianado (*A-hem*), a set of Tiki Cufflinks or a Rum Barrel or two could get you free admission for life to the Galley, all the Nui Nuis you can suck down.
Trader Vics Emeryville, it’s not quite where it all started, but this is certainly the epicenter of the Trader Vic’s Tiki empire.
Seated at the bar or dining in the restaurant, the emphasis is on scintillating suppers and delightful drinks. Walking in between large Tiki statues, the diner is immediately greeted with a picture of Trader Vic himself, as well as a Mosaic portrait of the Trader. The decor is festooned with true classics of PolyPop decor, a signed sea turtle shell from World War II, fish traps and glass floats. The real prizes on the wall though are the original Leetegs, paintings from the premier tropical velvet painter, Ed Leeteg of Tahiti.
The drinks are all quite lovely, and virtually unchanged (well, a formula here and there) since the initial opening. If you want a real treat though, be sure to ask for a San Francisco Style Mai Tai. That’ll get you a Mai Tai made fresh, with no mix, though a little extra on the tip might be in order for the extra busy bartender. A true Mai Tai at a Trader vic’s is a thing of beauty, and worth the trip.
If you’re looking to recreate the feel of Trader vic’s Emeryville, well, don’t bet on it, unless you happen to have the Oakland bay conveniently handy. But you can get a glimpse of the drinks and food in Trader Vic’s Tiki Party!, a book authored with the support and coordination of the Trader Vic’s staff.
If you do get down there, a fun thing to do is scavenger hunt for a few items scattered here and there. Some of the trasures include the pot belly stove from Hinky Dink’s (what Trader Vics was prior to the great South Seas movement), the chair Queen Elizabeth II sat in during her visit (her first to a commercial restaurant!), and a few bottles of some very, very old booze that Vic used to play around with.
So next time you’re looking for another notch off of your book of tiki travels, be sure to think of Trader Vic’s Emeryville.