In the 1960s, my great-uncle John invented a drink especially for post-surfing, hot summer afternoons in San Onofre, California. He enjoyed rum, so he built his drink using Wink soda (a grapefruit-flavored precursor to Squirt), fresh lime, dark Bacardi rum, and lots of ice. He called the concoction a Long John Silver.
“In a pirate brogue, John would always say, ‘Take a drink of this and you’ll see double and feel single,’” Aunt Elli told me. I believed it, too, because the last time I saw him before he passed away, he said those very words to me.
That cocktail was present at all of our family gatherings, long before I came on the scene, and even when we moved out of state, my mom made sure the cocktail legacy continued. The first thing I did when I heard of his death was to make a Long John Silver. My mom and I drank them together, smiling through our tears. Aunt Elli later reminded me of another of his pirate quotes: “Them that dies are the lucky ones.”
When it gets hot, I always find myself longing for a Long John, a little sip of family and summer. What I didn’t know until recently, though I had long since enfolded this drink into my repertoire, was that it belongs to a longstanding tradition of tropical drinks.
My uncle John had tapped into what Jeff “Beachbum” Berry once called the Caribbean holy trinity of mixology: rum, lime, and sugar.
From the simple, refreshing daiquiri to the Long John Silver, the possibilities are endless. Even the very first cocktail I made myself, the Havana Sidecar, is just lime, triple sec, and dark rum (this was originally made with Cuban rum, but I just used what I had on hand). If you start thinking about it, I imagine you’ll find that many of your favorite cocktails fall into the category of classic tropical drinks, as defined by this three-ingredient base.
With the simple trifecta of ingredients at hand, it is easy to extemporize new combinations in a pinch. Follow the guide of a recipe you like and substitute other ingredients you suspect will drink well together. While lime is classic, why not try out other citrus fruits?
If you add more than one type of citrus, or start getting really fancy with other tropical flavors, you’re entering tiki territory. Tiki was invented by Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt (who called himself Don the Beachcomber), just after Prohibition ended. He opened the first tiki bar in Hollywood, California, and the concept spread like wildfire.
When I first started learning about tiki, I began to think that my beloved Long John Silver might have been partially inspired by that movement. Tiki had everyone dreaming of the tropics.
Although Aunt Elli thinks Uncle John named the drink solely for the pirate connection, I still always think of it as his namesake. When I serve these, I always make sure to quote Uncle John in my cheers. “To seeing double and feeling single,” I’ll say, even if I haven’t put in quite as much rum as he might have.
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Long John Silver
created by John Horne
1 or 2 ounces dark Bacardi rum (choose your own strength)
1 wedge of lime
Wink soda (although Wink is still produced in limited quantities in parts of the U.S. and Canada, Squirt makes a good substitute)
Fill a collins glass with ice and add rum. Squeeze a wedge of lime into the drink and then run it around the edge of the glass. Top off with soda.