When I think of summer, I think of sunshine, bikinis, warm sandy beaches and tropical cocktails. And when I think of tropical cocktails, the first thing that comes to mind are tiki cocktails.
Tiki drinks are drinks that are inspired by the islands of the South Pacific, back before WWII, when the idea of visiting an exotic isle was out of reach for many an American. The Polynesian and Caribbean islands where life was simpler, orchids bloomed, beaches were made up of white sand and bright red sunsets were commonplace. While that laidback lifestyle may not exist as much today, it doesn’t mean we don’t long for those days of yesteryear. As a matter of fact, we’re in such longing for it, there seems to have been a serious resurgence as of late, in the form of the tiki bar.
Tiki bars have become so commonplace, it’s hard to find a metropolis that doesn’t have at least one. They’re easy to find, as they’re usually adorned with bamboo, a tiki idol or two, plenty of Hawaiian themed music, beautiful island-themed posters or paintings and bottles and bottles of rum. Yes, rum is an essential ingredient when shaking up a tiki drink. And you can’t just use any kind of rum. Most tiki bars have silver rum, aged rum, lightly aged rum, dark rum… I could go on and on. Not all light rums are the same, though. Depending on how the rum is aged and what region it’s from, can and will change the flavor of the cocktail. Since most tiki bars want to recreate the classic tiki drinks of the 50’s and 60’s, they want to make sure they have the right rum. That means stocking several different versions of what basically amounts to light rum, dark rum, etc. While it’s true there are some tiki concoctions that don’t use any rum at all, I’d say about 85 – 90 percent of them do, and most them use more than one kind.
Now, you’ve probably heard of the Mai Tai, as it’s one of, if not the most, popular of the tiki drinks that uses at least one kind of Jamaican dark rum. Unfortunately, it also happens to be the most bastardized. See, the original Mai Tai came from Trader Vic’s in 1944. It contained rum, lime juice, orange curaco, a little simple syrup and some orgeat syrup. Notice anything missing from that list? There isn’t one single ounce of pineapple juice. See, Vic (the man behind this classic) thought the rum he used was so good, he didn’t want any tropical juices overpowering the flavors from the liquor. Hence no pineapple juice. But odds are if you’ve enjoyed a mai tai today, it’s probably been made with pineapple juice because when most people think of tropical drinks they think of pineapple. Even with all the changes the Mai Tai has gone through in its 73 years of existence, it’s still the grandfather of the tiki world and the drink everyone thinks of when they think tiki.
It’s for precisely that reason I chose to make a different tiki drink. Since the Mai Tai is the most popular, odds are you’ve probably tasted one. But believe it or not there are others that are just as common and almost always found on every tiki menu in existence. As a matter of fact, according to the cocktail book from the San Francisco tiki bar, Smuggler’s Cove, there are “eight essential exotic elixirs”. They have been around since the beginning of tiki and either Donn Beach (originally Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt) of Don the Beachcomber, or Vic (Victor Jules Bergeron), of Trader Vic’s, were responsible for most of them. I was so excited to discover there were 8 tiki drinks, I couldn’t wait to make make each and every one. Unfortunately it turned out not only had I already made several, I’d enjoyed all of them. According to Martin Cate of the Cove, those eight elixers are the Mai Tai, the Hurricane, Planter’s Punch, the Zombie, Navy Grog, the Scorpion, the Fog Cutter, the Singapore Sling and the Doctor Funk.
I chose the Doctor Funk because like most tiki cocktails out there, the Doctor Funk is made with rum. But not just any rum. This drink uses black rum. Never heard of black rum? Neither had I. According to Cate, black rum is a dark rum with little to no age. “But is defined by the addition of caramel, molasses or both to the finished rum and is typically much darker in appearance than even fifty years in a barrel could achieve.” Since it’s used in several tiki cocktails it’s definitely good to have a bottle on hand. Because the caramel or molasses is added at the end of this particular rum’s distillation, it not only gives the liquor its dark color, it adds a funky flavor that’s ideal for this cocktail.
But the “funk” in the cocktail’s name doesn’t come from the flavor of the rum, though that definitely helps. Funk was actually the surname of the doctor for who this drink is named. Doctor Funk was a German doctor by the name of Bernard Funk who worked in Samoa around the turn of the century. He was supposedly the man behind this concoction because as a doctor, he often had to prescribe medications, which at the turn of the century, often came in the form of alcoholic concoctions. Future mixologists took Funk’s base ideas and turned them into an actual cocktail around Prohibition. Since no liquor was allowed in the states at that time, the drink took off in the South Pacific and became really popular in Tahiti. Once Prohibition was repealed though, Vic and Donn each came up with their own version. Since there was a lot of theft between the two there’s no telling whose was more popular or more famous. But since Vic’s came first, that’s the recipe I’m providing.
What separates this cocktail from the other seven essentials and adds to that funky flavor for which it’s named, is the absinthe. As a matter of fact, Cate says that if you want the cocktail to really shine, absinthe isn’t the only necessity. You have to use a “funky rum (so) it stands up to and complements” the absinthe. The absinthe is so important in fact, it is the only liquor in the drink that hasn’t changed over the course of the cocktail’s history. Once you taste it, you’ll understand why.
Doctor Funk Cocktail
- 2-1/4 oz. black rum
- 1/4 oz. absinthe
- 1/2 oz. lemon juice
- 1/2 oz. lime juice
- 1/2 oz. simple syrup
- 1/4 oz. grenadine
- 1 oz. club soda
- Add all the ingredients except the club soda to a cocktail shaker. Add crushed ice and shake vigorously for about 30 seconds.
- Pour into a double old-fashioned. Add the club soda, garnish with a flower and a sprig of mint and serve.
Cocktail photos by Jennifer Richmond
Jennifer Richmond has been cooking ever since she could hold a wooden spoon. Her food blog, Kitchy Cooking, appeared in 2009 when she realized she could combine her love of vintage life with cooking and writing. While she enjoys creating twists on classic savory and sweet recipes, she especially loves learning about the history and recreating vintage cocktails. You can follow her blog at kitchycooking.com and on Instagram and twitter at @kitchycooker.