The Tropical Itch started as a use for Mango puree. You see I have a mango problem. The street we live on in St Pete Florida that has 3 or 4 fully mature Mango trees. Mango trees grow 50-80 feet high as big as an oak, and are covered in an abundance of mangoes. An abundance. When mangoes ripen they fall. Like soft, heavy, tropical bombs. We have so many mangoes that I needed an outlet beyond “Mango Margaritas” and “Mango Daquiris”. Enter the Tropical Itch. One of my cocktail buddies recommended this one, but the Tropical Itch needed some work. It was just mediocre when I got it.
Perfecting the Tropical Itch
Rumor has it the Tropical Itch was invented in some bar in Hawaii, not sure. I can tell you the version I got initially was not very good. So I went to work, which means I made about a dozen Tropical Itch cocktails until it was fantastic. The ingredients need to be specific. The Tropical Itch needs the right Bourbon and Rum. Oh, and a great Mango Puree, you can find my recipe here. Yes the tropical itch has the odd combo of both bourbon and rum, fear not it’s delightful.
Use a sweeter bourbon like 4 Roses, or Treaty Oaks Ghost Hill. The rum needs to be complex and soft to not overpower. Personally I like a higher end rum, the El Dorado 12 is fantastic. Also note, the Tropical Itch recipe I got had vodka in it, that ingredient was a total waste. Made the cocktail taste like rocket fuel. Trust me try this Tropical Itch, it is top shelf all the way and is an itch you need to scratch with a drink in hand!
Treaty Oaks Ghost Hill Bourbon. El Dorado 12 Year Rum. Grand Mariner. Mango. Pineapple. Lime. Angostura. Black Strap Rum.
Trust me try this Tropical Itch, it's top shelf all the way and is an itch you need to scratch with a drink in hand!
- 1 oz Treaty Oak Ghost Hill Bourbon, or 4 Roses Barrel Select Bourbon
- 1 oz El Dorado 12 year Rum
- 1 oz Grand Mariner
- 4 oz Mango Elixir (puree) (see link in text)
- 1 oz Pineapple Juice
- 1/2 oz Lime Juice
- 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
- 1/2 oz Black Strap Rum as a Float
Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with small ice, except black strap rum.
Shake for 10 seconds.
Dump the shaker, ice and all into a hurricane, or double old fashioned glass.
Carefully float the black strap rum on the top, it will seep down through making beautiful dark currents in the glass.
Garnish; cocktail skewer with a lime wedge, pineapple wedge, and a cherry; mint sprig and a straw.
The original garnish besides the fruit is a wood back scratcher. While unique, I simply don't have a plethora of back scratchers laying around for cocktail garnishes. If you do, please feel free to add it. Scratcher up, handle down. Oh wash it before, and probably after.
The Gods of Tiki
Here is where I need to apologize. Real Tiki drinks are not simple, they are not the “life hack” internet easy so common today. If you find a post that maybe says, “5 simple Tiki drinks”, they probably loosely based on the original concept. I am not saying are bad. In all likelihood they are great drinks, just not true to form Tiki cocktails. After making so many traditional Tiki cocktails, I will proclaim making them worth the effort. But make no mistake there is effort.
Rhums, Rums, Rons and What the Heck is Donns Mix?
Many Tiki drinks use 3 and up to 5 different rums. The call is oddly specific, so having all the rums is a real expensive pain. Other rums can be substituted, but a black strap rum, sadly is not replaceable with a captain Morgan spiced. Also you will either have to buy or make things like Donns Mix, Orgeat, Allspice Dram, Fassionola, or Pearl Driver Mix. I’m a bit of a purist, but I cheat on this stuff too, so I’ll try to offer recommendations if there a riff or substitution. The difference in Rum, Ron or Rhum is the country of origin. It turns out in the rum world the flavor of a rum has almost nothing to do with the color, but nearly everything to do with where it is produced.
Luckily TIKI and tropical drinks are strong and the flavor profile is very forgiving, if you don’t have an ingredient and substitute, usually you will be okay. A substitute will usually taste great, and it will still suggest the flavor of the original. I riff Tiki drinks nine ways to Sunday, and within the reasonable bounds of the cocktail they are always good, usually fantastic.
Tale of Two Bartenders
This is not my story, but it is well researched. In fact there are several cocktail books that do a fantastic job of explaining the story of Donn Beach (born Ernest Gantt) and Trader Vic (Victor Bergeron Jr.). The basic gist is these two very successful bar owners were also fierce competitors, and exceptional showmen in their own right. Each bar, Don the Beachcomber, and Trader Vic’s are iconic and legendary bars that created the Tiki culture. While they shared a style, they did not share recipes. Quite the opposite. Unlike today where a recipe is plastered all over the internet, (guilty as charged here) their recipes were fiercely guarded. But guarding a recipe can only take you so far.
In addition they had secret ingredients in their drinks. Little mixes and concoctions that had special names, and ingredients only a trusted few knew. These ingredients are not complex, but important. I will share how to make many, but some you may want to buy.
Why bother with these shenanigans? In the 1950’s a bartender with the knowledge to make their wildly popular yet proprietary drinks could make a lot of money elsewhere. Sadly these recipes were lost until a research author Jeff “Beach Bum” Berry spent years meticulously uncovering them. Only recently have all these ingredients been known.
This level of secrecy has its benefits, but it has its downsides too. As the actual ingredients were a secret, bartenders all over the world just made their version of the cocktails with the same name and passed them off as the real thing. Think about unless you have been to the actual bars, how would you really know.
Navy Grog, Mai Tai, & the Zombie
The most popular Tiki drink is probably the Mai Tai. Until I started making my own I thought a Mai Tai was just a rum punch. Basically, fruit juice and strong rum. It is also so much more. Once I had a real Mai Tai, I was hooked, the other big drinks were the Navy Grog and the Zombie. A zombie is my absolute favorite Tiki drink, if you were wondering. These three are the trinity of Tiki. There are many more but this is the holy three. You will find these secret elixirs from the past are amazingly delicious.
Try our other amazing Tiki and Tropical cocktails: