I’ve heard a few people say recently that they think the tiki craze is over, and I think I know what they mean. Tiki was heralded as the ‘next big thing’ much as tequila was before that, and while it has grown in popularity, and become more mainstream it has never really exploded in the way that was predicted. That’s not entirely surprising as it’s a niche style of drinking, but to say it’s dead seems a bit of an exaggeration to me.
Tiki, as I’ve written before, is a style of drinks inspired by Polynesia and tropical island culture and is predominantly based around rum, with plenty of exotic fruits, juices, syrups and liqueurs thrown in for good measure. It was originally popularised in the 1940s America when these enticing flavours from far-flung shores were a welcome bit of escapism after the gloom of WWII.
A few years ago there was a definite resurgence of interest in this style of drinking, with Tiki bars and nightclubs popping up on a regular basis. Of course many were quick to jump on the bandwagon to exclaim that Tiki would be the next big thing. Even if that promised explosion has somewhat failed to deliver, Tiki has still managed to establish a firm place within our global drinking culture. In almost every major city you will find at least one or two bars dedicated to tiki drinks, and on many cocktail menus you’ll find not only the classic Mai Tai or Zombie, but other modern tiki inspired cocktails. So to say that tiki is dead, to me at least, seems too strong a statement. Perhaps it would be fairer to say that tiki has found its place within modern cocktail culture, and has indeed added to it. Tiki isn’t dead, it’s alive and well, but in a limited way, and for that reason I say tiki is here to stay.
So with that in mind, I’m pleased to be able to introduce you to two rums, made for (and inspired by), tiki drinks: the rather blatantly named Tiki Lovers rums. Sadly they’re not yet available in the UK, although I’m assured that it’s only a matter of time before they find distribution here. These two products were developed by the guys behind The Bitter Truth range of products, and are specifically designed to fit this niche within cocktail culture. They’ve been created to work perfectly in island inspired cocktails, even their labels are light hearted and fun, but don’t be fooled by this as the liquid very much hold its own.
One glance at the label tells you that this rum was designed for tiki drinks; it is unashamedly tiki branded and the liquid delivers exactly what the label promises. The backbone of this rum is Jamaican, aged in small barrels for between three and five years before being blended with rums from Trinidad and then charcoal filtered to remove all colour. The final touch is crisp, young rum from a column still that adds a touch of youth, bringing in vegetal notes that remind me of rhum agricole.
On the nose this white rum has a sweetness of ripe stone fruit; peach and nectarine linger after the initial grassy notes have faded. There’s also a delicate floral aroma on the finish, which gives it a crisp, light impression.
At 42% abv the Tiki Lovers White Rum isn’t shy, but it’s well balanced and doesn’t burn at all. There’s a crisp sweetness upfront, before the richer creamy backbone of the aged Jamaican rum cuts through and coats your tongue, leaving just a hint of tropical fruit on the finish. Overall it’s a very clean, light rum, but with enough character to stand up to tiki drinks laced with citrus and tropical flavours.
To stay true to this well balanced and characterful white rum, I immediately wanted to create a drink that would be crisp and fresh, but with enough depth and spice to intrigue the drinker, so reaching for a citrus press I set to work.
50ml Tiki Lovers White Rum
20ml pink grapefruit juice
10ml lime juice
1 dash Bitter Truth Pimento Dram
Shake all ingredients with plenty of cubed ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass, before finishing off with a twist of grapefruit peel. This delicious twist on a Hemingway Daiquiri has a touch of tropical spice that shines through on the finish.
This rum is not for the faint of heart, as it wields a hefty 57% abv, but don’t let that put you off. Much like the white rum, this is well balanced with plenty of character and the kick of alcohol is surprisingly restrained all things considered. Often in tiki drinks dark rum is used sparingly to lace the drink with rich caramel notes, and indeed this product would serve that purpose well. Also in the tiki tradition of setting drinks on fire, the high abv works in its favour. So here we have a rich, dark rum full of flavour and practically daring you to ignite it. In other words a rum made for all things tiki!
Tiki Lovers Dark Rum is made using a blend of Jamaican pot still rum and rum from Barbados, which are aged between two and three years. Once these are mature, fresh column still rums from Guyana and Trinidad are added to complete the blend. This process creates complex and lively rum, rich with notes of vanilla and spice, but not cloying or overly sweet.
On the nose you immediately know it’s an overproof spirit, but once you get beyond the alcohol fumes you find rich burnt sugar notes and intense dried fruit notes. I pick up plum, date and dried fig with a kick of cinnamon and peppercorns lingering at the end.
Tasting it neat you experience a moment of heat on the tongue from this high proof spirit, but it fades quickly revealing a surprisingly fresh sweetness before the dried fruit flavours open up. Creamy butterscotch laced with cinnamon, clove and vanilla comes through next, before slowly giving way to a classic dark rum finish tinged with burnt sugar and leather. This rum calls out to be thrown into a cocktail, and a twist on the classic Dark and Stormy was hard for me to resist.
50ml Tiki Lovers Dark Rum
15ml lime juice
10ml green Chartreuse
10ml cacao blanc
Ginger beer top
Shake all the ingredients other than the ginger beer, with plenty of cubed ice, and strain into a highball glass filled with cubed ice, add ginger beer and a few dashes of Angostura bitters to finish it off.
These rums deliver exactly what it says on the label: they are tiki rums through and through, and deserve a place in any bar that might fancy making the occasional tiki style drink. Tiki’s not dead, it’s not even retired, it’s simply a style of drinks that adds to the fabric of our cocktail culture.