Tiki Cocktails – The Ultimate Party Starter

There is nothing more emblematic of summertime than tiki cocktails. This light and festive class of drinks serves as the perfect accompaniment to warm summer days spent lounging by the poolside, followed by starlit nights surrounded by food, friends, and fun while you sip a tropical cocktail

Unsure of what a tiki cocktail actually entails, and how it fits into the grand scheme of delicious alcoholic beverages? Come with us as we explore the origins of the tiki cocktail, its surging popularity, and the elements that define the tiki movement.  

What are Tiki Cocktails?

Consider the phrase tiki cocktails, and you’ll inevitably conjure up an image of beachfront bars, woven huts by the seaside, girls in grass skirts, paper umbrellas, and a host of other accouterments redolent of the Pacific Islands. If this is what you think of when you hear the word tiki, then you’re on the right track. 

Tiki cocktails are more than just tropical-adjacent concoctions decorated with paper umbrellas, however. While it’s impossible to dismiss the Pacific Islander influence—specifically that of Maori mythology—tiki cocktails are surprisingly complex and have a wide range of variations. There are, however, elements that are common to all tiki-style drinks. Those elements include:

  • Rum
  • Fresh juice
  • Liqueurs and bitters to add complexity
  • Garnish

While you can technically get creative and inject a little scotch, whisky, or gin into the equation, rum serves as the basis for almost any tiki-inspired drink: it’s the category’s cornerstone. Obviously, the better the quality of the rum, the better the tiki cocktail is. But remember, the drink’s true hallmark is its surprising level of complexity. A wide range of rum—or even multiple types of rum in the same drink—help make the tiki cocktails what they are. 

Don’t forget to add 100% fresh fruit juice as well as various liqueurs and bitters to create a multifaceted taste that will take you on a journey across the South Pacific.

Related: The Perfect Pairing: Espresso Martinis and Desserts

The tiki cocktail isn’t just about flavor. It’s also about presentation. It’s essential to tie the drink together with fruit and herb garnishes, as well as the signature paper umbrella that we all associate with the movement.

Where Did Tiki Cocktails Originate?

Now that we have a clear picture of a tiki cocktail’s ingredients, let’s take a look at where the drink originated.

While tiki cocktails are experiencing something of a modern renaissance, the roots go deeper than you might expect. The idea behind tiki culture originated circa 1931 in Los Angeles, California. Tiki was a Maori word meaning “First man,” much like the biblical Adam. It was quickly repurposed, however, by traveler, adventurer, and possible smuggler Ernest Gantt, better known by his nickname (and later, his legal name) Donn Beach.

After having spent many years abroad, Beach returned to the Hollywood area of Los Angeles bearing a treasure trove of cultural oddities from both the Pacific Islands and the Caribbean. He initially rented out his collection of art and knickknacks as props during Hollywood’s silver-screen era, and then used the money he made from this to finance his first bar, called “Don the Beachcomber.” 

Donn Beach may have formed the tiki movement’s general aesthetic, but it was a man by the name of Victor Bergeron, a bar owner from Oakland, who would transform it into the food and drink craze that dominated the late 40s and early 50s. Donn Beach had the inspiration for the drinks themselves, but it was Bergeron who integrated the style and garnish we now associate with the tiki movement. 

In fact, Bergeron took the tiki aesthetic and fused it with a hybrid South Pacific cuisine, transforming tiki into a household phenomenon. It was a food and drink trend that would last well into the 1960s, eventually dwindling in popularity as the cultural and political tides of the era shifted.

Tiki Cocktails: the Ultimate Party Starter 

The golden age of the tiki bar—and tiki cocktail—lasted for more than 25 years. At the movement’s height there were over 1,000 tiki bars in the United States. And although tiki culture seemed to lose steam in the 60s and all but disappear in the 70s, there’s been a recent resurgence. Sometime around 2015, the original party starter regained its title as the ultimate way to kick off a celebration. 

No one is quite sure what’s fueling tiki’s comeback, but at its heart, this renaissance is based on the drinks themselves. Tiki-themed bars featuring high-quality beverages have been popping up from coast to coast for the last eight years as the focus has turned toward meticulously crafted cocktails. 

Another key driver is the advent of ready-to-drink canned cocktails, including tiki-inspired offerings like the mai tai, which have drastically improved the public’s access to tiki culture. The best products on the market today offer outstanding quality, with only the finest blend of liquors and real fruit juices. 

Quality is one thing, but tiki cocktails have a reputation that is also synonymous with parties and celebrations. What exactly is it about these rum-based drinks that makes them the ultimate party starter? 

Tiki cocktails have a unique taste

Tiki cocktails aren’t just for summer sippers; they feature a surprising amount of complexity. You start with rum, or in the case of some bespoke cocktails, two or more types of rum from different regions. 

Add in freshly squeezed juice for its sweetness (and tartness), then take it up a notch using liqueurs and bitters, to taste. Finally, an injection of rich and aromatic spice creates a complex, multifaceted delicacy with both complementary and contrasting flavor notes, and gives you that one-of-a-kind tiki taste.   

Tiki cocktails are all about presentation

No discussion about tiki cocktails is complete without bringing up their theatrical flair. Tiki-themed drinks are all about embracing a mix of kitsch style and authentic island decor, with an emphasis on over-the-top presentation. 

When it comes to tiki cocktails, leave the highballs, rocks, and snifters on the shelf; these drinks go perfectly in oversized coconut mugs, complete with a bouquet of sliced fruit and a paper umbrella. There’s just something undeniably fun about tiki cocktails. It’s a festive feeling that’s absolutely contagious. 

Tiki cocktails are surprisingly versatile

If you’re trying to organize your own party or an intimate gathering, the tiki cocktail is a fun and festive way to kick off the proceedings. It’s also a surprisingly adaptable class of drinks whose versatility is far-reaching.  There’s no better way to put rum to good (and far-reaching) use than by using it in a tiki-themed cocktail such as a mai tai.

Tiki cocktails are also versatile due to their status as a conversation starter, i.e. party starter. By their very nature, they generate a level of interest outside the norm, with their taste and presentation screaming celebration in a way that average mixed drinks just can’t. 

Tiki cocktails foster the perfect sense of escapism

There was a reason that tiki bars flourished in the years between the Depression and the Second World War. They conjure a romanticized image of warm, pristine beaches on some faraway island. They engender a sense of exploration and adventure unmatched by traditional drinks. 

Related: The Social Perks of Ready-To-Drink Cocktails 

The concept that we’re talking about is pure escapism. It’s the feeling of being transported somewhere else in both mind and spirit by virtue of a novel or exciting experience. 

Because tiki culture blends together influences from the South Pacific, Polynesia, and the Caribbean, being presented with a tiki cocktail is like a one-way ticket to the beach of your dreams. When tiki was first introduced, it was a way to leave behind a rapidly deteriorating economy and political climate. In its modern iteration, it’s about discovering a sense of exploration and mystique wherever you may be. 

The Best Tiki Cocktails in the Comfort of Your Own Home

Tiki is about far more than just drinks. It is an entire culture. Fortunately, you don’t have to have access to a tiki bar to get the full experience, thanks to the emergence of high-quality, ready-to-drink canned cocktails. With a wide array of options on the market such as the relaxing and tropical mai tai and the refreshing and uplifting daiquiri, you can enjoy tiki cocktails whenever and wherever you feel like it. 

To get the full tiki effect, make sure to look for RTD products that use a mix of superior quality rums rather than malt liquor, as well as 100% real juice as a central part of their recipe. Looking for the best product possible, delivered straight to your doorstep? Want to get the party started the right way? Visit Post Meridiem today to order your own pack of tiki-inspired cocktails or view the full range of our products in preparation for summer fun!