Tiki Week: By the way, What is Tiki? + Hibiscus Rum Punch Cocktail Recipe

Tiki Week: By the way, What is Tiki? + Hibiscus Rum Punch Cocktail Recipe

Tiki Week: By the way, what is Tiki?

We’re not island types. It’s not a mistake that our entire adult lives have been spent in big, hard-charging, businesslike cities. We know, however, that a key to successful urban living is, every once in a while, escaping to the beach. We follow the practice in real life, and we thought it was about time we did the same in our cocktail consumption. So, this week we’re dipping our toes into tiki. If our little taste of tiki leaves you wanting more, we’d suggest Martin and Rebecca Cate’s tiki textbook, Smuggler’s Cove, as the source of all of the tiki knowledge you’re likely ever to need. 

We’re now to Thursday of Tiki Week, and we thought it’s probably time we address what exactly–or at least approximately–tiki is.

To understand tiki, we have to take ourselves back to the 1930s. It’s the Great Depression, and what with the world economy having collapsed and flying still not being broadly available, world travel is still pretty rare. You either have to be really rich or have parents crazy enough to give you your entire college tuition in cash to go overseas. The rest of us would hear stories of tropical island beaches, but not have much of a chance of seeing one with our own eyes.

Imagine you could escape the Depression for one of those tropical beaches, at least in your imagination, for just one night. That’s what The Road to Singapore was all about, and tiki.

Realism wasn’t really a concern, since almost no one was able to do a reality check. Plus, realism wasn’t the point. Escapism was. So, Don the Beachcomber and the other parents of tiki  felt the freedom to create a fantasia of ideal tropical island elements:

  • Polynesian decor–a mishmash collection of rattan furniture, Polynesian masks, bamboo torches, and–of course–tiki statues;
  • Tropical fruits and spices;
  • Caribbean rum;
  • and various nautical and beach flourishes like ropes and nets and driftwood.

Basically, you combine a South Pacific aesthetic with Caribbean liquor, and you have yourself tiki.

While the approach to decor was essentially whimsical, the drinks were taken very seriously, at least at first. As we discussed on Tuesday, tiki involves a very sophisticated appreciation of different types of rum and how to use them well. It also requires the judicious use of spices and syrups, and a keen sense for when a lime is called for and when a lemon is better. Put all of this together in a complex blend, and you get a drink that tastes exactly like the perfect day on a tropical beach.

Hibiscus Punch Cocktail Recipe

Today’s recipe is a Smuggler’s Cove original, again slightly adapted by us.

It’s light and easy, with a strong caramel note and a pleasantly sour lime back taste. We credit the caramel note to the demerara syrup, which you may have noticed features prominently in this week’s recipes. We were skeptical as to how much difference a change of type of sugar would make, but we’re convinced. The richness and complexity the demerara contributes is just one more example of the surprising subtlety of tiki mixing.


  • 1 1/2 oz aged rum from a pot still
  • 1 oz hibiscus liqueur
  • 1/2 oz lime juice
  • 1/3 oz demerara syrup (see bottom of Monday’s post)
  • 2 oz seltzer
  • edible hibiscus flower (the pretty choice) or lime wheel (the practical choice), for garnish


  • Add seltzer to a highball glass.
  • Add the rest of the liquid ingredients to a cocktail shaker.
  • Fill the shaker with ice, and shake for about 20 seconds.
  • Strain into the highball glass.
  • Carefully add ice to fill the highball.
  • Garnish.

Roberts & June