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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

All Hail the Bum!

Back in the Golden Age of Polynesian Pop, vast Temples of Tiki sprang up all around the U.S. and slaked the thirst of their neo-primitive acolytes with mysterious and potent palliatives made from fresh fruit juices, exotic spice syrups, and expert blends of top-shelf rums. The recipes themselves were guarded more closely than nuclear secrets by their creators; the ingredients precisely dispensed in unlabeled, numbered bottles by the Chinese and Phillipino bartenders who labored ceaselessly behind bars of teak and bamboo to create classic cocktails like the Zombie, Mai Tai, Scorpion Bowl, Astro Aku Aku, and many others.

But in the dark ages of the 1970s and 80s, when the temples fell into ruin and their followers scattered, these pinnacles of the mixologist's art fell into disrepute and became the object of scorn, derided as too-sweet "girly" drinks. Ironically, the very secrecy that protected the original recipes from falling into the hands of their competitors had opened the door for vastly inferior imitations that diluted the potency and provenance of their namesakes.

In 1998, Jeff "Beachbum" Berry first hiked up his surf jammies and stood practically alone against this fetid tide of rancid rotgut with his quintessential volume of resurrected tropical tipples,
Beachbum Berry's Grog Log. Filled with authentic recipes, often cadged directly from the cribbed notes of retired barhands, the Grog Log was an instant underground hit that introduced a new generation to the forgotten joys of authentic vintage tropical-cocktail mixology. Berry soon followed it with two more bibles of cocktailiana, Intoxica! and Taboo Table, the latter an attempt at preserving the classic restaurant recipes of the PolyPop Era.

The Bum's latest masterwork was released back in June. In addition to another motherlode of fabulous cocktail recipes, Sippin' Safari parts the curtain on the misty faux-Polynesian past and casts a spotlight on the personalities who made it happen; larger-than-life characters like the grandaddy of the tropical cocktail, Donn Beach (AKA Don the Beachcomber), along with Ray Buhen, Bob Esmino, and Mariano Lucidine who started out as employees in his Beachcomber restaurants, then struck out to find success with their own legendary watering holes, the Tiki Ti, Mai Kai, and Kon Tiki (defunct).

So to all who love a good drink made well, I say, hoist your glasses high and raise a toast to the Messiah of Tropical Mixology...All Hail the Bum!

Beachbum Berry's Grog Blog