What is it about a Hawaiian cocktail that makes us so happy?
Well . . . kind of everything. Aesthetically, it’s often a sight to behold: a colorful liquid clinking with ice in a festive glass crowned with an exotic garnish, and (if you’re lucky) studded with a tiny paper umbrella. As for taste, you can bet it will be a party of flavors on your tongue. Also: There will be ice. It’ll be crushed, blended or rocky to keep things cool. And then there’s the way it makes you feel: like you’re in paradise. Nothing says “on vacation” like a healthy gulp of tropical spirits, especially when shared with friends. In fact, none of your semi-frequent Hawaiian daydreams ever feature you without a big fruity cocktail in hand.
Whether you are enjoying an Aloha Friday happy hour at Koloa Landing Resort on Kauai’s sunny South Shore (and are ordering your Hawaiian drinks straight from the HoloHolo Grill’s poolside bar) OR you’re simply daydreaming at home on the couch about your next great vacation on the Garden Isle, here are five of our favorite Hawaiian cocktails to keep you rumming along.
Do tropical drinks get any more classic than the Mai Tai? We think not. Funny, then, that it was not created anywhere near the tropics. Legend says the Mai Tai sprung to life in Oakland, California in 1944 when Vic Bergeron (aka Trader Vic) decided to wow some friends visiting from Tahiti by whipping up this rum-drenched, tart-sweet masterpiece. Upon tasting it the guests howled, “Maitai roa ae!” which loosely translates to, “Very good, and how!” and the name stuck.
Vic brought the beloved Mai Tai to Hawaii in 1953 where it really took off. Is this when Vic added a splash of pineapple juice?
No one is sure. But you can bet it had half a lime shell floating upside down like a little island and a sprig of mint set into it like a palm tree.
Purists insist on Vic’s precise original recipe, and we applaud this because it is refreshing and complex. Still, understandably, bartenders across Hawaii love to put their own stamp on it. If you’re up for creating a classic Mai Tai on your own, always use fresh squeezed juices — and never a bottled mix. Your taste buds will thank you.
Trader Vic’s Original Mai Tai:
1 oz. Rhum Clément VSOP Martinique rum (or other light rum)
1 oz. Appleton Estate Extra Dark Jamaican rum (or other dark rum)
The juice of one fresh lime (reserve half the lime shell)
1/2 oz. Orange Curacao
1/2 oz. Orgeat (a distinctive nutty-rose scented syrup)
1/4 oz. Simple Syrup
2 cups Crushed Ice
Fill a double old-fashioned glass with crushed ice. Pour all ingredients into a shaker except the Dark Rum. Shake and pour into the glass over the ice. Float the Dark Rum on top. Garnish with the lime shell cut side down (the island) and a tall mint sprig (the palm tree). A pretty paper parasol scores extra points, of course.
As turquoise as a tropical lagoon, this taste explosion was created by bartender Harry Yee at the Hilton Hotel in Honolulu in 1957. A sales rep from an Amsterdam distillery introduced Yee to the first bottle of Blue Curaçao ever to reach the islands. A true Blue Hawaii is meant to be built rather than shaken, as Yee was known to layer all the ingredients into an individual hurricane glass filled with ice, give it a stir and then hold up each finished drink to compare its shade of blue to the Pacific Ocean outside the window. Not to be confused with another luau drink the Blue Hawaiian which includes coconut cream, the Blue Hawaii was invented four years before Elvis Presley ever danced the hula in a movie of the same name. Interestingly enough, no one consumes a Blue Hawaii in Blue Hawaii but loads of happy people have enjoyed them for decades all over the world. (Note: Harry Yee just celebrated his 100th birthday in 2018! Could tropical cocktails promote longevity?)
¾ oz. White Rum
¾ oz. Vodka
¾ oz. Blue Curaçao
3 oz. Fresh Pineapple Juice
1 oz. Fresh Sour Mix (see recipe below)
Fresh Pineapple Wedge
Fill a hurricane glass with ice cubes. Pour in each ingredient and stir with a tall spoon. Slice a notch in the pineapple wedge and fit onto the lip of the glass. For a frozen drink, pulse all ingredients in the blender until smooth before pouring into a glass.
For Fresh Sour Mix:
1 Cup Water
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Cup Fresh-Squeezed Lemon Juice
½ Cup Fresh-Squeezed Lime juice
In a saucepan over medium heat, stir water and sugar together until dissolved. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Add lemon and lime juices and mix well. Keeps in the refrigerator for up to a week.
It’s hard to improve upon a hand-crafted Mexican margarita, but the Hawaiian drinks version is a more-than worthy cousin. What makes this mixture so unforgettable is the lilikoi (aka passionfruit) that brings a uniquely tropical flavor. Mexican margaritas are rimmed with salt to give them dimension. For this version, the rim is dusted with red li hing mui powder.
(What the what?) It’s a tart-sweet-salty dust made with pulverized dried asian plums that pairs perfectly with this luau drink.
1.25 oz. Tequila
.75 oz Triple Sec
.75 oz. Lilikoi Purée (purchased or puréed from fresh fruit)
.75 oz. Fresh-Squeezed Lime Juice.
1 oz. Simple Syrup
Lime Slices for Garnish.
Bonus: Li Hing Mui Powder
Rim a hurricane glass with the li hing mui powder. Pour all other ingredients into a shaker of ice and shake well before filling the glass. Garnish with lime slices and andale!
Quite unlike any other concoction at the bar, this coconutty cocktail, when prepared properly, simulates the flow of molten lava. As for flavor, if a Piña Colada spent some quality time with a Strawberry Daiquiri, the result might be a Lava Flow. Creamy, frozen and bursting with fruit flavors, the Lava Flow is a true Hawaiian drinks original.
Muddle in the bottom of a shaker:
2 Fresh Strawberries, hulled
A 2-inch Slice of Fresh Banana
Fill the shaker with ice and then add:
1 oz. Coconut Cream
1 oz. Fresh Pineapple Juice
1.5 oz. Golden Rum
Shake, then pour into a hurricane glass and garnish with a pineapple wedge. Sit back and watch the crushed strawberry swirl into the liquid looking kind of almost sorta like lava.
Purists insist that a martini contains three ingredients only: gin, as little dry vermouth as possible and an olive. End of story. However, the word “martini” is so romantic bartenders widely borrow it to describe all manner of tasty little up drinks in a V-shaped glass. And we’re okay with that — especially when on vacation. One is never too far from a mango tree on Kauai, so if you’re going to mess with the word martini, you might as well do it this deliciously.
1 oz. Fresh Mango Juice
1 oz. Triple Sec
2 oz. Vodka
The Juice of Half of a Fresh Lime.
Add all the ingredients into a shaker filled with ice cubes. Shake well before straining the liquid into a martini glass. Garnish with an orchid because an olive would just be weird. Aloha!
What’s your favorite Hawaiian cocktail? We’d love to see you with a big festive drink in hand soon at Koloa Landing Resort. After all, we’re all about helping you live out your daydreams.
— Erica Karlin, Koloa Landing Resort