Making tropical cocktail and setting up your own Home Tiki Bar is easy, especially with these essential fruit juices, special syrups, and aromatic bitters!
This is part two of a series on how to build your own Home Tiki Bar, with a focus on the tropical mixers and bitters used to sweeten and flavor many Tiki Cocktail Recipes. For a full overview of the series, start here.
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Home Tiki Bar Essentials
No true home bar is complete without some selection of fruit juices, syrups, and bitters. While the varieties may change depending on the genre of cocktails you generally enjoy, there are some classics that carry over and will likely appear very familiar. It is not uncommon, however, to encounter ingredients in Tiki Cocktails that seem utterly foreign (and at times unpronounceable). Let’s see if we can demystify things a bit.
Tropical Fruit Juice Mixers
An essential element to every good tropical drink is a combination of delicious, fresh fruit juices. Lime juice and pineapple juice are a definite must.
Ideally, you should squeeze everything by hand. But I’m not going to judge you if that’s a little too much work for your Home Tiki Bar. When possible, go for the higher quality juices without added sugars for best results. You can always add more sweetness to taste, but you can’t take it away!
Stepping It Up:
It all depends on the drinks you want to make or what you have available. Just swapping in different juice combinations can add a new twist on any classic Tiki cocktail recipe. Lemon and passion fruit juices are great places to start, but grapefruit can add a nice tart element as well.
As with any home bar, it never hurts to have club soda, tonic water, and ginger beer on hand for variety, but I leave that to you.
Classic Simple Syrup is always good to have on hand, and I find I use it in my morning coffee even more than I do in cocktails. You can purchase corn-syrup based versions readily in most grocery stores, but honestly, homemade is so cheap and easy you may as well just make up a batch when you have the time. The recipe just requires sugar, water, and a stovetop, takes 20 minutes (max) to make (with very little attention), and can be stored in the fridge for up to a month. You can do this, trust me.
Orgeat (pronounced Or-jyah) is an almond-flavored syrup popular in many Tiki Drinks, but otherwise rarely seen. It’s a little bitter and a little sweet, and helps give Tiki Drinks their distinctive flavor. Orgeat is readily available on Amazon, and I can personally recommend both BG Reynolds and Small Hand Foods brands. You certainly can try your hand at homemade orgeat syrup, but personally I find blanching almonds and letting them soak is more work than I’m willing to do when commercial brands are so delicious.
Stepping It Up:
Have you heard of Falernum? Like orgeat, it’s a sweet syrup used in tropical drinks and found in many traditional Tiki recipes. While the two syrups aren’t exactly the same, they can often be used interchangeably to add a little extra something to your drinks.
Specific recipes can vary, but the flavor profile contains almond, ginger, lime and a variety of warm spices, like vanilla, cloves, and allspice. Falernum’s origins are dubious, with some reports dating its invention to the Caribbean islands in the 18th century. The earliest concrete evidence seems to date to the 1930’s, but like most of Tiki Culture it’s exact pedigree is a mystery. Falernum can be even harder to find than orgeat, but BG Reynolds makes a version that is available online.
Essential Aromatic Bitters
Traditionally, cocktail recipes work on a basic formula: Something potent (hard liquor of choice), something sweet (sugar or syrup), something tart (citrus juice), and something bitter. The last is usually achieved by a class of bar essentials appropriately called ‘bitters’. These lightly alcoholic preparations are flavored with herbs, spices, and other botanicals, and many of the longstanding brands were originally developed as medicines for a variety of ailments. They are now sold as digestifs and cocktail flavorings (although some will still claim their relative health benefits!).
Many classic cocktails float a few drops of bitters on top of the finished product, but many Tiki Cocktails require the bitters (often in larger quantities than you may be accustomed to) to be shaken or stirred in with the rest of the ingredients.
Angostura Bitters are a proprietary mixture of water, ethanol, gentian, herbs, and spices that comes straight from Trinidad and Tobago in the West Indies. If you like mixing drinks, it’s very likely you already have a bottle of this popular brand in your Home Bar. If you don’t, now is the time!
Stepping It Up:
I was introduced to Elemakule Tiki Bitters at the store Art In The Age in Philadelphia. At first it felt a bit extravagant to get a bottle specifically made for one genre of drink, but after trying it I fell in love. You can add this to all sorts of cocktails – not just tiki – to give them a slightly different feel.
Single-spice bitters – Cinnamon, Clove, All-Spice – are all great additions to keep on hand as well with a variety of uses. I’m personally a big fan of the Dashfire line of bitters.
Now that we know all the necessary ingredients, in my next and final installment I’ll share suggestions for a true staple to Tiki Culture – elaborate garnishes, fun and colorful accessories, and the best types of cups and ceramic mugs to use in your Home Tiki Bar.