“When you think about the Caribbean, a few things immediately come to mind: beach, sun, palm trees, and a refreshing Piña Colada,” notes Rafael Lebron, Senior Manager, Food and Beverage at Caribe Hilton.
“Puerto Rico is ‘the’ place to enjoy the famous cocktail and it is one of the favorites at Caribe Hilton, especially with guests who know the drink’s history.”
The Piña Colada’s history is inextricably linked with the Caribe Hilton. Over six decades ago, barman Ramon “Monchito” Marrero created the original recipe there. And, since 1978, the Piña Colada is Puerto Rico’s national drink. But there’s even more to the story than that. The Caribe Hilton was the first Hilton property on international soil and Conrad Hilton pulled out all the stops to wave the American flag.
In 1949, one of the hotel’s signature amenities was the “Welcome Caribe Hilton Cocktail.” And it was not the Piña Colada. The Caribe Welcome created in 1949 was pre- Piña Colada, but still had the same familiar dessert-like notes — Puerto Rican rum, apricot brandy, whole fresh coconut, coconut water, cream of coconut, and lime. The drink was revised by bar manager Ricardo Gracia around 1954 to include Coco Lopez cream of coconut, which was instrumental in the creation of the Piña Colada.
Introduced in 1954, this canned version of coconut cream revolutionized cocktails of the era by offering a reliable, non-spoiling, labor-saving version of the original. As noted above, Coco Lopez was added to the revised Caribe Welcome Cocktail and, in a happy accident, also added to the hotel’s Piña Fria, a popular Caribbean sipper comprised of fresh pineapple juice blended with rum and sugar. Oddly enough, the term “Piña Colada” simply means “strained pineapple.” When the bar team at the Caribe added coconut to the Piña Fria it was christened the Piña Colada, for reasons unknown. The rest, of course, is history.
Not just history, in fact. In his definitive “Potions of the Caribbean”, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry invokes the words of cocktail historian Jared Brown, who states that the Piña Colada is “the most broadly influential cocktail ever created.” Indeed, it quickly claimed a spot as the Caribe Hilton’s new, official Welcome Cocktail. Berry points out that the drink is all “sweet” and “weak”, with nary a bit of “sour” to be found. So, why is a drink — a rum drink no less — that is completely unbalanced, so popular? In Berry’s words, it’s because “Not everyone likes rum drinks, but just about everyone likes dessert… it succeeds as a pineapple-coconut milkshake.”
The Original Piña Colada
- 2 oz. Don Q Gold Rum
- 1 oz. Coco Lopez Coconut Cream
- 1 oz. Heavy Cream (Also Known as Double Cream)
- 6 oz. Fresh Pineapple Juice
- Pineapple Wedge and Maraschino Cherry, for Garnish
Preparation: Add the rum, cream of coconut, cream and pineapple juice in a blender. Add 1/2 cup of ice and blend until smooth for about 15 seconds. Serve in a 12-ounce glass. Garnish with a fresh pineapple wedge and a maraschino cherry.
None of this information is meant to criticize this so-called “pineapple-coconut milkshake.” A drink’s origin is an almost solemn communion with history and the spirits of the day. The Piña Colada not only assumed the mantle of official vacation beverage, but became the gateway cocktail for an entire generation. The Caribe Hilton respects the drink’s past as well, but as Lebron insists “we felt it was time to innovate and add some twists to the original concoction… We will always be the birthplace of the Piña Colada, but today, we can say we are also the place where the Piña Colada has been reinvented. So, along with the original version, Lebron is offering his own new take, as well as two Colada riffs from the 70s and 80s.
Perhaps the most intriguing and original of these re-inventions is Lebron’s Clear Colada, whic uses a most modern method of fat-washing the rum with coconut oil to impart a deeper nutty flavor. Likewise, clarified pineapple juice removes the pulp and adds some acidity. As Lebron describes it, “We’re left with a curious drink that tastes like an extraordinarily fresh Piña Colada, yet is clear and without froth; just a smooth velvety texture.
Created at Caribe Hilton (2015)
- 1 1/2 oz. Atlantico Platino Rum
- 2 oz. Clarified Pineapple Juice
- 1/2 oz. Pineapple Syrup
- 1 oz. Fresh Coconut Water
- Coconut Ice Pop (coconut water frozen in a mold)
- Dehydrated Pineapple and Dehydrated Lime, for Garnish
Preparation: For the coconut oil fat-washed rum — Warm 8 oz. coconut fat oil in a pan until clear. Mix in 1 bottle of white rum. Put mixture into a Kilner jar (or other jar with rubber seal like those used for preserving) and freeze for 2 hours. Remove the coconut oil which will have frozen solid on top of the liquid.
For the cocktail: Stir fat-washed rum, clarified pineapple juice, pineapple syrup, and fresh coconut water. Strain and add a few cubes of ice followed by a coconut ice pop so it protrudes from the drink. Add more cubes as necessary. Serve in a 14-oz Highball glass. Garnish with dehydrated pineapple and dehydrated lime.
The Colada Nueva was created in the 1990s at Trailer Happiness. Lebron describes this London spot as “a new wave Tiki bar that could be held responsible for kick starting the Tiki revival.” Whether this is true or not, this drink is a decadent tiki-style libation.
Created at Trailer Happiness, London (1990s)
- 1 oz. Don Q Silver Rum
- 1 oz. Bacardi 8 Year Rum
- 1 oz. Coco Lopez Coconut Cream
- 1 oz. Mango Purée
- 1 oz. Passion Fruit Purée
- 4 Pineapple Chunks
Preparation: Blend Don Q Silver, Bacardi 8 yr, Coco Lopez coconut cream, mango purée, passion fruit purée and pineapple chunks with one heaped scoop of crushed ice. Serve in a 15oz. Hurricane glass. Garnish with passion fruit purée ‘flower’ and real flower.
The Painkiller is a riff on the Piña Colada, using Pusser’s Navy-strength rum early on. Pusser’s trademarked the drink as the Pusser’s Painkiller in the 1980s. When a bar in New York opened in with the same name, Painkiller, and featured their own version of the drink — without Pusser’s rum — on their menu, they were promptly brought to court by Pusser’s. The bar was forced to change the name of the bar and the drink to PKNY. In the aftermath of the lawsuit, Pusser’s became a bit of a pariah in the bartending world and found itself actively boycotted. It’s a rather sordid tale of brand litigation, but regardless of the politics, the drink is superb and shows how a simple change of ingredients — adding orange juice and changing to dark rum — can completely alter a drink’s profile.
Created at the Soggy Dollar Bar, British Virgin Islands (1971)
- 2 1/2 oz. Pusser’s Navy Strength Rum
- 1 oz. Coco Lopez Coconut Cream
- 1 oz. Freshly Squeezed Orange Juice
- 4 oz. Fresh Pineapple Juice
- Pineapple “Stick”, for Garnish
- Acerola (West Indian) Cherry – or Maraschino, Cinnamon Stick, Orange Wheel, for Garnish
Preparation: Shake Pusser’s Navy Strength rum, Coco Lopez coconut cream, fresh orange juice and fresh pineapple juice. Strain and add a few cubes of ice followed by a pineapple stick. Add more ice cubes as necessary. Serve in a 14 oz. Tiki mug. Garnish with a pineapple stick spiked with a marinated acerola on a pick, cinnamon stick, and orange wheel.