The Perfect Piña Colada
The Piña Colada is an amazing drink. Every time we have one, it brings us right back to that winter we spent snorkeling in Puerto Rico. That was our time and place for a great memory, but it’s also the birthplace of the first piña colada.
It happened at the Barrachina Restaurant in Old San Juan, to be exact. The restaurant claims that Don Ramon Portas Mingot mixed up the first Piña Colada behind its bar in 1963. Since that time, the drink has found its way into slushies and onto the decks of cruise ships the world around. Perhaps not the better for it, it has become a sickly sweet mixture of flat canned pineapple juice (yuck) and Coco Lopez (if you’re lucky), the coconut cream of discerning bartenders.
Over the years, the Piña Colada has fallen on hard times. It’s past due for a brand refresh.
Let’s tackle the drink in three parts; the sour, the sweet, and the spirit.
Sour – Fresh pineapple juice is glorious, but rare behind the bar and rarer still at home. Canned juice lacks acidity and suffers from the same problems that commercial orange juice does. This flat, insipid liquid isn’t worth the steel it’s protected by. Reaching for a pineapple shrub makes all the difference. The increased acidity from vinegar helps not only preserve the pineapple flavors but it provides the lost balance of the canned juice. And for bartenders, we don’t have to toss out half a can at the end of the shift like we’ve done so many times before. The allspice in Shrub District’s offering provides depth of flavor and elevates this into a tropical sensation.
Sweet – Coconut cream offers viscosity and sugar, but not much else. And it’s a goopy mess trying to get it out of the can and measure properly. The increasing prevalence of boxed coconut water gives us another option, one that provides some depth of coconut flavor, a little viscosity, and a freshness for which this drink has always yearned. Another option is reaching for coconut milk, which we have fun with, but requires making an emulsion first. That makes it a little more challenging to create the perfect relaxed cocktail. We’ll save that for another day.
Spirit – For a drink that originates in Puerto Rico, we should probably reach for Puerto Rican rum. Bacardi is the big name, but the locals would reach for DonQ. White rum is called for to keep the drink light and fresh. Personally, I love Ron del Barrilito, which is distilled at Bacardi but aged like Cognac and blended into 2 Stars (and 3 Stars (6 – 9 years), which takes the drink in a richer direction. Once impossible to find on the mainland, we’re starting to see better distribution, at least in the mid-Atlantic. Read more about Barrilito on Eater. Whatever rum you choose, make sure you like how it tastes on its own, because it will sing, rather than hiding, in this approach to the Piña Colada
Ready for a party?
How do you like your Piña Colada? What do you think about a lighter approach?