Caribbean Cocktails Spice Up Cloverdale

By on 7 August, 2017 in Amanda Burbank, Bars, Fun with 0 Comments

A classic Kids in the Hall sketch features a man making a cocktail in a blender in the supply closet at work. Once you have entered the world of exotic and complicated drinks, it seems like they become an obsession that changes your life.

It was a single drink that turned Jeff Berry into a tiki drink historian. Beachbum Berry, as he’s now known, wasn’t in the bar business yet that day when he was at Trader Vic’s, a famous Tiki Bar in California, drinking a Navy Grog. He became so enamored with the drink that he embarked on what became a lifelong journey of research and discovery, uncovering lost recipes like the famous Zombie, publishing six tiki books and opening his own bar. Berry has since learned everything he could and then been teaching people like me facts such as: The Navy Grog, created in 1795, was the world’s second tropical drink.

For local restaurant and bar manager Jeremy Lunsford it was the Lime in the Coconut he fell in love with while on vacation in St. Croix. That drink is one of the things that sparked a lifetime obsession with tiki drinks and rum in general. There were 24 different varieties of rum explained in detail in a glossary in one of the many books Lunsford and I sorted through while looking for the perfect tiki drinks for El Rey and Leroy’s menus for their fifth annual Tiki event. Rum is the most diverse type of spirit, made in myriad locales such as Barbados, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and regulations on rum production differ from country to country. Between the restaurant and bar together they have more than 50 unique brands of rum in stock.

Such a diverse spirit unsurprisingly has inspired a vast number of “exotic cocktails” over the years since the first tiki bar, Don the Beachcomber’s, sprouted up in America immediately following the end of Prohibition offering Caribbean-influenced rum drinks and starting the nation’s longest lasting drink fad spanning more than three decades. Lunsford’s search for drinks to include in this year’s Tiki menu started with literally hundreds of recipes.

When I first arrived at Leroy to see what goes into the process of creating a new menu, it wasn’t quite what I expected. Lunsford was sitting in silence at the corner of the bar with colorful books and papers spread around him. He handed me a yellow legal pad and pen he’d brought and gave me a book to read to familiarize myself with drink ingredients before I began helping to choose recipes. It took me ages to get through my introduction. I had never been in the bar when it was so still and silent. Lunsford was intent, cross referencing recipes in different books that he’d collected over the years. He brought me homework, introducing me to Beachbum Berry’s Potions of the Caribbean and 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them. From the hundreds of recipes, we narrowed it down to just a few, only 88, on our first day of choosing which drinks to sample and tweak before they would be offered to bar patrons. Some promising recipes were set aside to perhaps be used later on the Fall-Winter cocktail menu.

Obviously not every drink would make it to the new menus so Lunsford would sift through the recipes looking for the most interesting ingredients, catchy names, and creative combinations. If a drink failed to impress, he often made it again with his own twist, creating several original concoctions for the El Rey menu including the flaming Cobra Kai.

“There has been a tiki revitalization over the last 10 years with new drinks and potential to create many more, but it’s also fun to try drinks that maybe made our grandparents and great grandparents happy. Leroy in particular I use as a vehicle for such things,” Lunsford said.

One of the classic drinks that we tested which will be offered on Leroy’s menu is the Missionary’s Downfall, a drink featuring mint, fresh pineapple, honey, rum and brandy from the 1930s. I learned quickly it is typically unwise to finish any one glass when you’re doing this sort of condensed tasting of multiple drinks one right after another, however there was none left of the Missionary’s Downfall.

Every year Lunsford chooses several drinks to feature and then serves a variety of versions of these types of usually familiar cocktails. Last year the featured drinks were the Mai Tai and the Zombie. This year it’s the Daiquiri and the Hurricane. The earliest version of the Daiquiri he is offering is from 1887 and featured at Leroy along with six other daiquiris to choose from, including Hemingway’s favorite. There are five hurricanes on the tiki menu at El Rey, and Lunsford teaches his burrito bar patrons a bit about the history of the 1939 drink supposedly invented because of a surplus of rum. I don’t think anyone in Cloverdale ever complained about having too much rum.

If rum isn’t for you, there are tiki inspired drinks featuring other spirits. One of the highlights of the tasting menu was Bliss, a refreshing drink featuring cucumber, caramelized pineapple, and Hendricks gin. It will be offered at El Rey during the Tiki weeks and I hope it reappears on the Spring cocktail menus. If you are avoiding the alcohol completely, El Rey will be featuring Caribbean style tacos most of the month.

The tiki event starts Monday, August 7, with El Rey and Leroy wearing festive decor including imported island flowers, some edible varieties of which end up in drinks. The event runs for two weeks ending with a luau on August 19th. Leroy’s monthly trivia is August 8. Both locations will be running specials on International Rum Day which is August 16, and every Wednesday Leroy will feature different styles of rum for half price. The luau on August 19 will include surf rock band Maja Dunes, lots of Caribbean and Hawaiian food, as well as drink specials and souvenirs. Come on out and see for yourself what made America fall in love with tiki drinks.

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Amanda Burbank is an observer, savorer, poet, artist, mother, wife, and lover of beauty and life. Unexpected events found her family living nestled in the deep south woods within a family home built by her great grandfather. From there, she works as a freelance writer and photographer. Her heart is to live a life of acceptance and perhaps help others to see beauty in the unlikely through well crafted words and photographs of lovely ordinary everyday moments. https://www.instagram.com/mandyburbank/

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