When it comes to market-fresh cocktails with high-quality ingredients, beverage consultant Kim Haasarud knows her way around a bar. As the woman behind Liquid Architecture, a beverage consultancy, she's helped top restaurants, hotels and spirit brands create one-of-a-kind liquid cuisine. The master mixologist and author has worked with Maxim, P.F. Chang's, and Campari America and has had her cocktails featured in publications such as Saveur, Wine Enthusiast, Cosmopolitan, and Vogue.
Recently, Haasarud has been working on the latest book in her best-selling cocktail series, 101 Tropical Cocktails, and she'll be at Tempe's Changing Hands Bookstore later this week to sign copies and shake up a few specialties. Leading up to the event, we caught up with her to chat about tiki drinks and the history of rum.
Haasarud tells us it would be impossible to talk about tiki culture without going back to the beginning with Don the Beachcomber, the Hollywood restaurant often credited with being the first tiki restaurant or bar ever. Opened in 1934, the Polynesian-themed bar and eatery featured Cantonese food, exotic rum punches, and flower leis. Three years later Trader Vic's popped up in Oakland and just like that the fathers of American tiki-kitsch were born.
The exotic drinks served at both places offered a "sort of little getaway" to people who were for the most part unable to travel in the years following the Great Depression, Haasarud says. And the tropical tikti trend continued through the 1940s and '50s, in the wake of World War II as soldier returned home with stories of the South Pacific.
In those early days, Haasarud says, bartenders were very proprietary about their drinks -- you might have already heard about the feud over who really invented the Mai Tai. But regardless of ownership, Haasarud says, one thing all tiki-tenders were doing was using fresh fruit, homemade syrups, and lots of varieties of rums in their drinks. And though tiki culture may not have disappeared over the years, those high-quality ingredients definitely did -- at least until now.
"I think tropical drinks and tiki cocktails are coming back," Haasarud says. "And you're definitely seeing a trend toward going back to the authentic tiki."
To her that also requires increasing awareness about the myriad of different types of rums, which she says is probably one of the biggest spirit categories. That's because the qualifications for rum are pretty loose, she tells us, in that any liqueur made from sugar cane can be called a rum.
The wide-reaching definition means that rums, particularly when it comes to tropical cocktails, can be layered together nicely.
"Rums, unlike other categories, really play well in the sandbox together," Haasarud says. In 101 Tropical Cocktails readers will find a breakdown of some rum basics, for example the fact that rum varieties from different Caribbean Islands each offer their own unique characteristics.
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And Haasarud says that the number of rums shouldn't be intimidating. In fact, she says many tropical cocktails are very simple to make but have been "bastardized" over the years. When it comes to the Mai Tai, she says most people don't even realize that one of the key ingredients is almond syrup -- which you don't even find in many modern recipes.
Join Haasarud at 7 p.m. Thursday, August 22, at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe. She'll be making at least two tropical drinks from her latest book and signing copies of 101 Tropical Drinks. For more information visit the Changing Hands website.