My first bartending job was at this awesome family-owned restaurant located on the marina in Marina Del Rey. We had a enormous cocktail menu with hand shaken martinis and all kinds of fun tropical vacation drinks – think Mai Tai’s and Chi Chi’s. We had several blended drinks, and I will let you in on a little secret, that is maybe not so secret. Most bartenders loathe blended drinks. Just imagine the bar is two deep and all of the servers have drink tickets for martinis, Mai Tais, beers, wine and then a dreaded blended drink ticket comes ticking out of the printer and you want to crawl under a table or light the bar on fire. It sort of feels like trying to do the back stroke in a pool full of Jell-O. For the longest time, I couldn’t hear a blender without shivers going down my spine. Here is my dirty little secret; I love blended drinks, especially when I’m vacation. Sipping a cold frothy beverage by a pool makes you feel like all is right with the world. Everyone has a vacation drink, right? I don’t typically like sweet cocktails, but this is my one exception. I do, however, try to find ways to appease the savory side of my palette by creating different versions of this delightful cocktail. Bar snobs take heed, if it’s good it’s just good. I don’t care who you are – most Pina Coladas, even the bad ones are delicious. Yes, I said it. For today’s cocktail, I turn up the heat slightly by adding Thai basil and cayenne. But first, a few words on one of the most important ingredients of the Pina Colada:
Coco López: Created by Ramón López Irizarry, who was an agricultural professor for the University of Puerto Rico. He created the beverage by mixing sugarcane sugar with coconut cream and found that found it made an ideal mixer. One of the biggest criticisms of these blended island drinks is that they’re too sweet. If you’d like to make your own version of Coco Lopez because you’re a sugar control freak like me, it’s really easy. Just take a can of coconut milk and leave it in your fridge for at least 24 hours. The coconut “cream” will separate from the the coconut water. When you open the can you can scoop out the coconut cream. It will have the consistency of very heavy whipped cream. Then you can just add sugar to taste. I feel that pineapple juice has plenty of sweetness. You can also just use coconut water for a lighter and fresher coconut flavor. Sometimes I just don’t have the time and the pool beckons my name so Coco Lopez it is!
INFUSED PINEAPPLE JUICE
4 cups of pineapple juice
1 cup torn Thai basil
2 tsp cayenne pepper
In a medium sized pan over medium-high heat, add pineapple juice and cayenne pepper. Whisk the pepper well to incorporate into the juice, ensuring that there are no clumps. Once the pepper has been mixed in, add Thai basil. Simmer mixture for 20 minutes. You don’t want to bring this up to a full boil, or over reduce it. There is already so much sugar in most pineapple juice, so you want to make sure not to create an overly thick syrup. You’re simply trying to infuse the juice with the other ingredients. Allow mixture to cool, strain and store in airtight container in your fridge.
GETTING CAUGHT IN THE RAIN
1 cup Coco Lopez (or coconut cream or coconut water)
1 cup infused pineapple juice
3/4 cup spiced rum
1/2 cup coconut rum
3 cups of ice
Add all ingredients to a blender. Blend well. Pour, imbibe, kick back.
SIR MIX IT UP: I think with the spice in the pineapple juice this makes for a great tequila/mezcal split base. If you missed our split base class in January, clearly the obsession continues. If you’re not into spice, you can skip the cayenne and use coriander to add some savoriness. I also think this would be great with rosemary, star anise or sage. If you can’t find Thai basil no sweat, just use regular basil. I like the slight anise peppery flavor of Thai basil, but regular basil will do just fine.
PARTY TIP: Making blended drinks for a crowd can be kind of a pain, but if you premix everything before your party you can blend in batches. I like fill large containers with the mix and booze so I can just add it to the blender with some ice later.
So blend away friends and I will be thinking of all of you as I’m enjoying my vacation in a glass!
Your neighborhood bar geek,