February 23, 2011

Jeff 'Beachbum' Berry
shares his tiki cocktail wisdom

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Jeff "Beachbum" Berry is the author of five books on vintage tiki cocktails and cuisine and serves on the advisory board of the Museum of the American Cocktail. You can visit his website at beachbumberry.com.

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Jeff "Beachbum" Berry is the author of five books about tiki cocktails and cuisine.

Courtesy photo

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ALL GOOD PARTIES need great music. I asked Rich Shipley of HawaiianRainbow.com, an all-Hawaiian music Internet radio station, to recommend some musicians and CDs that will take people beyond Don Ho, "Hawaii Five-O" and "Blue Hawaii."

Shipley recommended a range of artists in a variety of styles, and says you can find these and other artists on Amazon.com, Mele.com and iTunes.

He suggests that you go online to listen to some samples so you can find what you like.

If you can stream music from the Internet, another great option is to just tune in to HawaiianRainbow.com. It's a commercial-free station, with just the occasional break for Shipley to do a station identification.

"Gabby" by Gabby Pahinui (slack key guitar)

"Hula! Big Island Style" by various artists

"Facing Future" by Israel "IZ" Kamakawiwo'ole

"Ke'Alaokamaile" by Keali'i Reichel

"Hula Gems" (original recording remastered) by Aloha Pumehana Serenaders

"Maui" by Hapa

"Grandmaster Slack Key Guitar" by Ledward Ka'apana

"Slack Key & Steel Guitar -- Volume II" by The Maile Serenaders

"Ho'oluana" by The Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau

"Enduring Pride" by Olomana

"He'Eia" by Cyril Pahinui (slack key guitar)

"The Best of The Brothers Cazimero" by Brothers Cazimero

"Na Mele Henoheno" by Dennis Pavao

"Hawaiian Tradition" by Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom and Willie K.

"Jack de Mello Presents Steel Guitar Magic Hawaiian Style" (original recording remastered)

"Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Masters Collection 2"

"Hawaiian Steel Vol. 6" by Greg Sardinha, Alan Akaka and Casey Olsen

Q: It seems like maybe this latest tiki revival might have some legs to it.

A: I don't want to venture too strong an opinion that it will last, but I think it's definitely got another few years. I mean, it's just started to peak now, and it hasn't filtered down to non-major metropolitan cultural centers yet, which the first wave did. The first tiki craze lasted about 40 years. It was the longest drink fad in the history of the country.

It started off in Hollywood and San Francisco with Trader Vic's and Don the Beachcomber, and gradually it spiraled out. Almost every medium to small town in the country had some kind of tiki bar or Polynesian restaurant. It was insane.

Q: The fruity, sugary drinks that people think of as tiki, is that just what the original cocktails morphed into over the years?

A: You hit it on the head. It really has morphed into that, and that was one of the reasons why the revival was so long in coming, why it took forever for the places in big cities which have discerning clientele to think that they could actually serve these drinks. Because the public conception since the 1970s has been that these are going to be really fruity, syrupy, cruise ship drinks.

Basically, to try to put it in a nutshell, the original restaurants were so profitable -- and what drove the profits were the drinks -- that they kept the recipes secret. They wouldn't publish them, and the only people who knew them were the bartenders.

The only way you could get these recipes if you were opening up your own tiki establishment was to poach one of the bartenders from Trader Vic's or Don the Beachcomber's who knew the recipes. Even then, very often the bartenders would not tell you what the recipes were. Consequently, very little got written down, and the bartenders who knew the recipes got very, very possessive about them.

I mean, when I first started interviewing these old-timers and tried to get the recipes out of them, some of them had been retired for 40 years and there was absolutely no reason why they needed to keep these recipes secret, but they wouldn't tell me what was in them.

When all the big, glamorous, high-overhead tiki places started going out of business, when the fad had finally run its course and people had decided that it was tacky instead of sophisticated, the drinks kind of died out with these places, and the places that were left were the low-overhead places that could still survive. And they didn't have the money or the skill or the bartenders to make the drinks properly, and they made cheap knock-off versions.

The original drinks were culinary cocktails, and some of them were 70 years ahead of their time.

I do a lot of cocktail seminars around the country and in Europe now, and bartenders are all interested in these drinks, and a lot of them are really surprised to see what these recipes were in back in the '30s and '40s. Now you hear all this talk about farm-to-glass cocktails and culinary cocktails and all this kind of stuff, and they were doing that in the 1930s.

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