Whiskey cocktail

Tiki drinks with whiskey instead of rum

Olivia Griffin had a vision for her tiki bar.

Part of that vision involved music and burlesque (Titty Tuesdays and Bamboo & Bondage are theme nights at The Limbo). But she also wanted her tropical drink oasis in Louisville to stand out in a different way — through bourbon.

But using whiskey in some of his drinks wasn’t supposed to disrespect rum. It was meant to celebrate him, especially among a crowd that might otherwise have remained loyal to his hometown. “The bar is for whiskey lovers. I thought it might be a gateway for people to get into aged rums,” Griffin tells us. “Basically, I wanted to introduce Kentuckians to rum, and there was no starting point.”

So you’ll find both rum and bourbon on the menu at The Limbo. And you’ll sometimes find bourbon in place of rum in some classic tiki cocktails. “I’ve always had a star cocktail that has a bourbon and rum base, or just bourbon swapped for rum, whether it’s a Painkiller or a Hurricane,” she says. “Maybe some people are afraid of rum? There is an illusion that it is too sweet. Not to overly sexist, but bourbon is also considered a “men’s drink” even though it’s enjoyed by everyone. So, hey, maybe I’ll give you a try in a Mai Tai.

A drink and cocktail menu from The Limbo, a tiki bar in Louisville

The limbo bar

There is no huge precedent for whiskey in what would be considered a tiki cocktail, at least as a bar’s main theme (“I don’t know anyone else who does it,” Griffin admits.) Other bartenders and drink pros have definitely toyed with the idea. Depending on your historical period, the Suffering Bastard uses whiskey or rum as its base. The godfathers of Tiki, Trader Vic, used whiskey in an acid. And some brands of whisk(e)y now do additional maturation in rum casks, which certainly opens up brown spirits to the world of tropical drinks.

At Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s Sipping Safari – a 2007 tome credited with the Tiki revival – the author defines a tiki drink loosely as a “retro term by 21st century cocktail categorizers…these are faux Polynesian post-prohibition riffs on pre-Caribbean drinks prohibition” and mentions the key ingredients of lime, sugar and rum. So he knows the history of the tiki drink and recognizes its very loose definition. In other words, it’s open to interpretation…and yet, I could only find one cocktail in this book that used whiskey as an ingredient (and not the main ingredient either).

“Tiki recipes have always been shrouded in mystery,” says longtime veterinarian Megan Coyle. “Since the early days of the tiki, the ingredients used were hidden away in mysterious bottles, often with descriptive labels such as ‘mixture #3.’ Really, how can we be sure that some of those original rum blends didn’t have a hint of grain in them?Also, I’d say retraining our brains to think of Tiki drinks as something independent of a category of specific spirits will lead to greater freedom of movement for some underutilized players.

As Griffin notes, it’s fairly easy to swap bourbon or whiskey for rum – depending on the cocktail, bourbon may make those reconfigured drinks more alcoholic and less sweet, and the whiskey will definitely be more noticeable in your cocktail than an unaged rum (which could go to waste).

That said, “Be mindful of your builds,” suggests Coyle. “I often work by letting myself be guided by the aromatic profile of the whisky. Where would you like to sip it neat? In front of a campfire? Maybe you want to get rich and smokey. On a beach at night? Try tropical and a little salty, maybe. Although I would say there are no hard and fast rules (i.e. never use smoked scotch in a Mai Tai), it really all depends on where you hope the drink will take you. emotionally. Remember, it’s Tiki. A world of fantasy made real and impossible to reach is the whole point.

A few whiskey/tiki (or tropical whiskey) cocktails to try:

Three Dots and a Dash drink at Limbo

Virginia Miller

Three dots and a dash

Courtesy of The Limbo, Louisville

2oz. Artisan bourbon from the coopers
0.25oz. St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
0.25oz. The Bitter Truth Golden Falernum
1 oz. Fresh lime juice
1 oz. Fresh orange juice
0.5oz. Darling

Add all ingredients to a blender with ice and blend quickly; pour into a Tiki mug over crushed ice; garnish with three blueberries and a slice of candied ginger, skewered and a pineapple wedge; serve with a straw.

And the palm trees lined the street cocktail

Courtesy of Megan Coyle

And palm trees lined the street

By Megan Coyle

1 oz Rampur Double Cask single malt whiskey
1 oz Capitoline Tiber Aperitivo
1 oz Regal Rogue Wild Rosé Vermouth
1 oz fresh pineapple juice
1 oz passion fruit juice

Add all ingredients to a shaker with ice. Shake vigorously to combine and pour into a Tiki over crushed ice. Garnish with black lemon bitters.

Ardbeg Islay Birdie

By Cameron George, Ardbeg National Brand Ambassador

1.5 oz Ardbeg Wee Beastie
1.5 oz pineapple juice
0.5oz Campari
0.5 oz lime juice
0.5 oz maple syrup
Sprinkle with sparkling water (if necessary)

Add all liquid ingredients to a shaker (except sparkling water), shake to dilute. Strain into the glass over ice. Garnish with pineapple, pineapple leaves, cherry.