February 23, 2011

Jeff 'Beachbum' Berry
shares his tiki cocktail wisdom

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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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

Don the Beachcomber had one drink called the Missionary's Downfall. Yeah, a kitchsy name, but the drink had fresh mint, fresh pineapple, honey, fresh lime juice, peach brandy and rum. And if you entered that drink in a cocktail contest today, you would at least place.

It's really a contemporary drink, and he invented it in the 1930s. Nobody was doing anything like that back then with cocktails, which is why his place became so famous and so popular.

Q: I picked one cocktail, a signature drink for the party, because it was going to be so complicated and expensive to offer several. Would you recommend that too, if you're having a party?

A: There's a lot of party pitfalls with these drinks. They're really labor intensive and take forever to make, even if you've done everything in advance -- juiced the limes and got everything together -- they're still going to take a long time, and you can't really be a good host or hostess because you're going to be behind the bar all night. The way I get around that is I do punches. Look through the book and find something that doesn't call for a blender, and best if it doesn't have bitters in it, because that's not going to work as well.

The other problem I've had at parties is that some people just don't like rum. Either they can't drink it or they don't like it, and they'll ask you for a vodka drink. So it's good to have a vodka drink in your back pocket that you could make if you have to.

Q: Do you have a favorite tiki drink?

A: I'm a big fan of Don the Beachcomber's Navy Grog.

He called himself Don the Beachcomber, but his actual name was Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt. He was from New Orleans. But he was just this genius. I think he was one of the greatest American mixologists of all time myself, and I'd make that argument to anybody.

That drink is a good example of the kind of pioneer stuff he did. It's lime, grapefruit, honey and a little soda water, and then three kinds of rum mixed together.

Nobody was really sweetening drinks with honey back in the '30s and '40s, but he used it, and it works great with grapefruit juice and lime juice. Nobody was combining citrus like that, and nobody was using honey.

But his biggest genius thing was combining the three rums the way he did. You would never think of putting two or three gins in a martini, or two or three bourbons in a Manhattan, but he routinely did that with rums.

He would mix rums with different body and character from different regions, and create a base spirit that no one rum could possibly give you, and really dimensionalize the drink.

That was one of his little secret weapons, the secret stuff he did that he wouldn't want anyone else to know about back in the day.

Q: Is there the same sort of revival going on with tiki-style food?

A: Not really, because the food was basically just Cantonese food, which in the 1930s was very exotic to people. Back then, and all the way up into the '50s, American dining out was basically steak and potatoes, or spaghetti if you went to an Italian place.

Back in Don's day, going to a Chinese restaurant was considered a daring, kind of slumming thing to do.

The kitchens were considered unclean, and soy sauce was called "bug juice." When he started serving that food in his restaurant, he actually did kitchen tours for diners so they could come into the kitchen and see how bright and clean it was. But of course, over the years, Cantonese is now the most prosaic, boring kind of Chinese food there is.

No, the food hasn't really survived, and to a large extent that's a good thing, because a lot of it wasn't very good.

Q: It would be great if someone would come along and reinvent it, huh?

A: Yeah, well, that is actually kind of happening. In these new tiki bars that are opening up, the food is generally much better than it was back in the day.

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