A few months ago, we made an investment in our cocktailian education by attending the Beverage Academy Tiki class at Bourbon & Branch. The good professor Martin Cate, formerly of Forbidden Island, waxed eloquent on the rise and fall of tiki culture in America.
Beginning with Don the Beachcomber's 1934 Hollywood début and the advent of Victor "Trader Vic" Bergeron's empire of restaurants, tiki joints held the promise of something exotic and fun, a dose of escapism in a novelty mug. After World War II, soldiers came back with stories from the south seas, and tiki bars blossomed like island hibiscus all over the country. We were held rapt as Martin stepped through slides with images from the original haunts, decorated with palm fronds and fishermen's nets.
Martin's Power Point-fu was complemented by more practical learnings: Hands-on instruction on making classic tiki cocktails.
At their most basic, tiki drinks are punches and can trace their roots to the classic Planter's Punch. According to Wikipedia, the first known print reference was in the August 8, 1908 edition of The New York Times:
This recipe I give to thee,
Dear brother in the heat.
Take two of sour (lime let it be)
To one and a half of sweet,
Of Old Jamaica pour three strong,
And add four parts of weak.
Then mix and drink. I do no wrong —
I know whereof I speak.