In Defense of the Piña Colada on this National Day of Piña Coladas
A few weeks ago NPR ran a highly scandalous and under-researched piece called "The Tragedy of the Piña Colada" and for once we didn't feel bad for not pledging and thought, "There's finally something that NPR just doesn't get."
Now, while making love in the dunes on the cape might be a little too messy for some, there's something monumentally fantastic about a piña colada. Raise your hand if you'd rather be sipping a piña colada at any bar, pool or beach (or the best option: a bar in a pool at a beach!) than be wherever you are right now. Landslide! We won.
NPR's Dan Pashman and Rachel Martin's main contention with the drink is that it's too sweet, feels like a gut bomb and the key ingredient, Coco López, has too many ingredients ending in the letters A-T-E. And we're all like, SO!? Beach. Piña colada. Good times. Focus!
They even tapped Rachel Maddow for some advice. She's a mixologist. Go figure. She said the piña colada was "never wholesome."
Good. It wasn't supposed to be.
Thing is, as they point out, it's hard to get around Coco López, which is a little sticky and weird. But, soliciting actual cream out of a coconut is laborious and cheats us of the very sun-kissed don't-care flippancy that is the essence of the drink. Although for some, it might be worth the trouble (keep reading).
Alex Fletcher is the GM and head barkeep at The People's Last Stand. Below he's provided us with a from-scratch piña colada recipe. Notice he doesn't suggest a whirl through the blender, but instead strains the drink through a Boston shaker (or your hand or whatever you have in a nearby drawer).
Fletcher's Piña Colada Recipe: 2 oz. Cana Brava Rum 1/4 oz. Velvet Falernum (a subtle clove liqueur) 1 oz. fresh pineapple juice 1 oz. coconut syrup (see below for recipe) 1/2 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice
• Combine all ingredients in a tin and shake for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled martini glass.
• Garnish with a Luxardo cherry and slice of pineapple stabbed with a bamboo pick.
If you're an A-game cocktail maker, below is a recipe for a replacement for Coco López.
Coconut Cream: 3/4 pound coconut shavings 2 cups water 1 cup sugar 4 dashes of orange blossom water
• Combine all ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil until sugar dissolves and syrup begins to thicken. Pour syrup into a container and let sit for 24 hours in fridge. Use a fine strainer to strain syrup.
Next we have Jeff Biehler, who plays in the thrash metal band Maleveller when he's not holding down the bar at The Foundry. He started mixing drinks more than 12 years ago at Bar of Soap back in the day (when it was a bar). When I talked to him about this project, he experimented with a few different options and tried to get around the Coco López.
For a basic piña colada, Biehler keeps it simple and suggests the three key ingredients of pineapple juice (not from concentrate), Coco López and Bacardi white rum. Biehler stays away from flavored rums because they usually have half the alcohol content of non-flavored rums. And where's the fun in that?
But, Biehler also came up with a concoction that involves a bit of sweetened condensed milk along with coconut milk, which renders a rich and creamy cocktail. It works particularly well if you prefer your cocktails a little less sweet. Biehler also serves his cocktails over ice because blended ice will water things down too quickly and, again, where's the fun in that?
Biehler's Fancy-Pants Piña Colada Goes Like So: 2 oz. Bacardi rum 2 oz. SO Delicious Coconut Milk 2 oz. pineapple juice (like R.W. Knudsen Organic) 2 oz. sweetened condensed milk (or more for sweetness)
• Shake them together, but not too much, garnish with a fat slice of pineapple and enjoy.
Both bartenders will be more than happy to whip up a piña colada, so just ask them if it's not on the menu. And together let's restore the good name of perhaps one of the most under-appreciated drinks of our time.
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