We’ve updated our happy hour menu – drop by and have a taste!
Also be sure to try one of these dishes of the new spring dinner menu. Enjoy!
While it is true that there are exotic drinks based on pretty much any type of liquor that suits your fancy, rum still rules the roost. The history of rum is fascinating and well worth exploring. Moreover, much like wine, there are a lot of different styles and flavors that come from various rum making (and rum aging) parts of the world.
Trader Vic’s Portland is all about diversity, and we’ve been adding new rums to our collection for the past several months. At this point, the list has become quite large. We’ve even begun offering rum flights. So if you’re ready to take your rum appreciation to the next level, come on down to the lounge and let the sampling begin.
This month Trader Vic’s Portland is featuring two cocktails of high historical significance. In much the same way blues, country and jazz make up the foundation of rock and roll, rum, sugar and lime are the building blocks for virtually every exotic cocktail – including the mighty Mai Tai.
Rum, sugar and lime are the only ingredients in the original daiquiri, which was a massively popular cocktail in the 1930s and 40s (and bears little resemblance to the fruity frozen plonk referred to as daiquiris at Mexican restaurants and tropical tourist traps around the globe).
In the mid-1930s, Victor Bergeron, the proprietor of a popular Oakland saloon called Hinky Dinks, decided to go out into the world in order to expand his knowledge of “fancy drinks.” His travels took him to New Orleans then to Havana, where he sat at the famous La Florida bar and watched Constantino Rapalo mix daiquiris for an entire week. Soon after that trip Bergeron would change the name of Hinky Dinks to Trader Vic’s and begin a dynasty that lives on to this day.
The simple, elegant, La Florida Daiquiri #1 is one of the drinks we’ll be featuring this month.
If you’ve celebrated Black Tot Day with us before (or are frequent reader of this blog or a serious tiki scholar), you already understand the link between the British Royal Navy and rum. While the glorious naval tradition of daily rum provisions for British sailors has sadly come to an end, the special blend of five West Indian rums that was served for more than 300 years lives on in Pusser’s Rum.
One of the most famous Pusser’s Rum recipes is The Painkiller, which is the other cocktail we’re featuring this month. The Painkiller is made with a little (or a lot) of Pusser’s along with pineapple juice, orange juice and cream of coconut and topped with a sprinkling of nutmeg and cinnamon. The flavor profile of the Painkiller is similar to a Pina Colada. The main difference is in the flavor of the rum itself, which takes a far more prominent role in the Painkiller and provides a nice complement to the sweetness of the pineapple and coconut cream.
The history of rum, the Caribbean, Europe, Colonial America, pirates and even slavery are way more intertwined than many people realize. There’s a great book about rum history called Rum, A Social and Sociable History that’s worth a read — particularly if you like stuff that reads like a history textbook (light reading it is not).
One of the more interesting facets of rum history has to do with the British Royal Navy, which set about taking care of the piracy problem in the Caribbean in the mid-1600s (a problem which England helped create in the 1500s).
In 1687, the British Admiralty officially began providing sailors in the West Indies with daily rum rations — known as tots — as a reward and to kill the bacteria that developed in their drinking water. By 1731 a pint of strong undiluted rum was given to every sailor throughout the Royal Navy every day.
This did a lot for morale, but took a toll in terms of safety and productivity — particularly as some sailors took to saving up a few day’s rations and gulping them down all at once.
In 1740, Admiral Edward Vernon — better known by the nickname “Old Grog” because of the grogham boat-cloak he wore on deck — ordered daily rations to be diluted 2:1 and served with a bit of sugar and lime juice to “make it more palatable.” In reality, the lime juice would spoil a few days after mixing, making hoarding less desirable. This decision was not too popular with the crew, but Admiral Vernon’s recipe was the precursor to one of the most popular Trader Vic’s cocktails of all time — Navy grog. For that we salute him.
In 1805, England’s greatest Admiral, Horatio Viscount Nelson, was killed in the battle of Trafalgar and his story was the inspiration behind Nelson’s Blood, one of the first cocktails to be created at Trader Vic’s Portland.
The tradition of providing rum to British sailors (albeit in smaller and smaller amounts) on a daily basis endured until July 31, 1970 — a date that has become known as “Black Tot Day.”
In observance of Black Tot Day, happy hour will be extended all day and we’ll be offering specials on Navy Grog and Nelson’s Blood. Join us.
One of the greatest things about the Trader Vic’s menu is that it’s been in a constant state of evolution since its inception, when the bulk of the offerings were primarily Chinese/Polynesian. The Portland menu is no different, and since we’ve opened we’ve made sure to incorporate local ingredients and flavors and develop our offerings based on the preferences of our delightfully discerning guests.
But there’s also something to be said for paying homage to the past. Throughout the month of August, we’ll be offering a special fixed-price anniversary menu that includes some Trader Vic’s classics. Everything on our regular menu will also be available (and if you haven’t been here in a while, you owe it to yourself to see what we’ve added in the past few months).
It’s called Spring Fever and it’s a beauty. We start with muddled lime and house-infused plumb/cilantro rum, add some pineapple and cranberry juices, a dash of Rock Candy syrup and top it with a splash of soda water.
Whether you’re celebrating the sunshine or cursing the rain, the Spring Fever is sure to please.
Before Trader Vic there was Victor Bergeron and before Trader Vic’s there was Hinky Dinks. In 1936, when San Francisco food columnist, Herb Cain, was first tipped off about this wonderful little eating and drinking establishment across the Bay, his informant recommended he try the barbecued steak and a libation called the Banana Cow.
In his 1947 Bartender’s Guide, The Trader described the Banana Cow as “the world’s finest, greatest, oh-so-good, peachy hangover special,” but you don’t actually need to be hung over to enjoy this amazing concoction.
The original recipe called for a dash of Angostura bitters, a whole banana, sugar, vanilla, milk, rum and shaved ice. We’ve taken a few liberties with the Trader’s recipe by working our house-made rum ice cream and a few other odds and ends into the blender. The result is a magical, semi-nutritious, fully delicious milkshake for the ages.
The new and improved Banana Cow will be unveiled on Mother’s Day and will become a regular feature on our brunch menu thereafter. The virgin version is (almost) as good as the grown-up version, so it’s something the whole family can enjoy.
The following article is by Jennifer Steimer, Trader Vic’s bar manager extraordinaire
The perfectly executed tiki drink is literally and figuratively a very powerful thing. In the context of the tiki bar, these magical concoctions are your ticket to the tropics. And, while the exotic cocktail is a highly approachable beverage that can be enjoyed by pretty much anyone, when it comes to tiki drinks, the more you know, the more enriching the experience can be.
With that in mind, below are 10 things every budding tikiphile should know:
1. Not all tiki drinks are created equal – but they should be. Tiki drinks (more appropriately called exotic drinks) are complex. Most contain anywhere between 4 and 8 ingredients and there are plenty with 10 or more. Some of these ingredients are so highly concentrated they are measured in drops. Even a slight variation can dramatically impact the final flavor profile and ruin a drink completely.
At Trader Vic’s we’re expected to get every single drink exactly right every single time. The Fog Cutters, Scorpions and Zombies they’re enjoying over in London need to taste identical to those being quaffed right here in River City. The only way to make that happen is to measure each ingredient for every cocktail we make. And that’s exactly what we do – without exception. It takes a lot more time to do it right, but in this case, it’s time well spent.
2. A Mai Tai isn’t a Mai Tai isn’t a Mai Tai. The Mai Tai was created by Trader Vic Bergeron in August of 1944. His goal was simple – to come up with the best drink he could make using the finest ingredients he could find. Those ingredients included 2 oz of seventeen-year-old J. Wray Nephew Jamaican Rum, ½ oz curacao, ½ oz French Orgeat syrup, ¼ oz Rock Candy syrup and the juice of 1 fresh lime.
The Mai Tai became an instant classic and quickly found its way onto cocktail menus around the world. Of course, back in those days, exotic drink recipes were closely guarded secrets. This meant competitors had to create their own versions of popular drinks and, often, those concoctions bore little resemblance to the originals.
So if the only place you’ve ever been served a Mai Tai is at some all-inclusive beach resort in Mexico, chances are you’ve never tasted a real Mai Tai. And that’s just sad.
3. Ice is an ingredient. Most exotic drink recipes call for crushed ice. They do so for a reason. Before these drinks are shaken, swizzled or stirred, they are highly concentrated. A certain amount of ice melt is necessary for the drink to taste right.
As you work your way through an exotic cocktail, notice how the flavors change and evolve. Slurp it down like a lush and you’ll miss some of these wonderful nuances the melted ice (a.k.a. water) brings out. Let it sit too long and you’ll end up with a pretty soupy drink. But if you sip like ladies and gentlemen like the Trader intended, you’ll get the most out of your drink from the first drop until the last.
4. Presentation matters. The tiki bar is a tropical paradise designed to offer you a quick break from reality. A proper exotic drink should look as good as it tastes. That’s why they are served in a host of different glasses and drinking vessels. And, while a few of our drinks actually do sport little umbrellas, we tend to rely a lot more on fresh fruit, flowers and the occasional parrot or Menehune to give them their signature look.
5. Some of the best tiki drinks are off menu. Every bartender at Trader Vic’s has memorized enough tiki drink recipes to fill a small book. Think of the menu as a greatest hits album. There’s plenty there to keep the masses satisfied, but those in the know understand the rewards of digging deeper. If you’re feeling adventurous, strike up a conversation with one of the bartenders and let them guide you to an undiscovered oasis.
6. Know what you don’t like. With so many different options available, it can sometimes be hard to figure out where to start. If you’ve never been to a tiki bar before, one good option is to start with the classics like the Mai Tai, Samoan Fog Cutter, Scorpion, Navy Grog, etc.
However, if there are certain liquors or flavors that really turn you off, let the bartender know so they can steer you in another direction. It’s just easier that way.
7. Tiki drinks are balanced. The overwhelming majority of exotic drinks have at least two full shots of alcohol. Our most potent libations have more and/or use overproof rum to push them over the top.
Our menu takes into account the fact that some people believe a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down while others prefer drinks with a little more bite. Some, like the Mai Tai or the Queen’s Park Swizzle, prominently feature liquor. Others have such a complex flavor the alcohol can be pretty hard to detect.
Just because a particular cocktail doesn’t taste excessively boozy doesn’t mean you’ve gotten short changed on the pour (since we measure each drink, the chances of that happening are pretty slim). It’s more likely you’ve got a drink that was mixed by craftsman who is perfectly following a recipe developed by an artisan who understood (or understands) what it takes to make a perfectly balanced exotic cocktail.
8. Make ‘em to order/Make ‘em from scratch. A good tiki drink is made to order using fresh ingredients. You can’t make them in batches ahead of time; they don’t really keep. We use very few mixes at the bar. Those we do use are either extremely complicated to make and require significant preparation (like the Navy Grog mix) or they’re simple combinations of basic non-alcoholic ingredients that have been pre-measured for speed and consistency (like the Mai Tai Mix, which is simply Rock Candy Syrup, Orgeat and a little orange flavoring).
In the case of the Mai Tai, we also offer a version called the 1944, which is virtually the same drink made from scratch for those who like it old school. You can also order your 1944 “the old way,” which means we add a float of 151 that adds a very nice flavor that works its way in as you go.
9. Good bartenders get the shakes. Another secret to making a good tiki drink is shaking technique. You need to shake long enough to allow the ingredients to marry, get everything to temperature and allow for the right amount of melt. If you watch our bartender’s closely, you’ll see they don’t simply slam the shaker back and fourth. That breaks down the ice and can water down the drink. Instead they shake with a rolling motion in such a way that the contents follow a figure 8 pattern inside the glasses.
10. Know when to say when. Tiki drinks are among the most magnificent cocktails ever created. But, as mentioned above, they pack a pretty powerful punch and must be approached responsibly and respectfully. That’s why Victor Bergeron had a soft spot in his heart for “those merry souls who make drinking a pleasure; who achieve contentedness long before capacity; and who, whenever they drink, prove to be able to carry it, enjoy it, and remain ladies and gentlemen.”
Every day across this great nation and around the globe Mai Tais are lovingly lapped, sensuously sipped and gleefully gulped. But on June 30, 2011, global Mai Tai consumption skyrocketed. That’s because a wonderful cocktail-oriented blog called A History of Drinking declared June 30 to be National Mai Tai Day in a post that quickly went viral.
Funny thing about the Internet though: Occasionally someone gets it wrong. And after doing some digging, it became clear that the origins for this particular holiday – at least this particular holiday on this particular date – are unknown.
Ask the community over at Tiki Central when National Mai Tai Day is and they’ll tell you it’s August 30, which makes a whole lot more sense because:
As far as we’re concerned, August 30 is the real National Mai Tai day (and anyone who says it isn’t is a dirty stinker). But our hope is that this debate isn’t laid to rest without a good fight because, when it comes to the Mai Tai, controversy is part of the allure. Worst case, we’re stuck celebrating this amazing cocktail twice a year indefinitely.
For centuries the history of rum and the British Royal Navy have been intertwined. Starting in the early 17th century, a ration of rum was served to all sailors on a daily basis – a practice that continued until July 31, 1970 (Black Tot Day).
In the early 1800s, England’s greatest naval hero, Admiral Horatio, Viscount Nelson, whose tactics led to the defeat of the Spanish and French fleets, was killed in battle. To preserve his body so it could be buried with full honors at St. Paul’s cathedral, the Admiral was placed in a barrel of the ship’s “pusser’s rum.” When the barrel was opened in England, the rum was gone. Sailors had secretly drilled a hole in the barrel so they could drink a tot of “Nelson’s Blood,” which later became another colorful synonym for rum.
Our bar manager, Joshua Trapman, took inspiration from this rather ghoulish story to create the Portland Trader Vic’s “locals only” cocktail. Nelson’s Blood is a magnificent concoction featuring blood orange puree, dark rum and ginger beer.
Stop in and tell the bartender you’re ready to “tap the Admiral.” You’ll be glad you did.