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Tiki Central Forums Tiki Drinks and Food Question For Professionals and Tiki Drink Fans on Liqueurs
Question For Professionals and Tiki Drink Fans on Liqueurs

Joined: Feb 28, 2013
Posts: 1
Posted: 2013-02-28 2:03 pm   Permalink

Greetings! I am new to this group but have really enjoyed reading through all of the various posts! A little background info to set up my question on liqueurs and cordials in Tiki drinks.

I work as a professional bartender at a bar that focuses on two main things: classic cocktails made well, using great booze and other high quality ingredients. The other focus of our bar is small but balanced list of house originals that tend to be centered around fresh, local produce (lots of muddling of fresh fruit, herbs, spices and lots of house-made syrups and tinctures). I do all the ordering of liquor and mixers for the bar, and the purchasing requirements--per ownership and our restaurants sommelier--is pretty intense. We carry high quality spirits, liqueurs, and mixers, so no Dekuyper Apple Pucker, no cheap, rot gut brands in the well.

Here's my question and my dilemma: we had a spare room in the restaurant that the owners are now turing into a beautiful bar. They have just now started the build-out. They want it to be a tiki themed bar, with tiki drinks new and old, in addition to classic caribbean drinks. I am in charge of ordering all the liquor, cordials, and mixers for this tiki bar. But I am supposed to keep the same purchasing criteria and philosophy we use in the restaurants main bar. This has been a huge challenge because several of my drinks call for things like creme de banana, apricot brandy and liqueur, peach brandy and liqueur, orange curacao, coffee liqueur, and raspberry liqueur. These are not only things that we don't carry in the restaurant's main bar, they are things that don't really meet our ordering philosophy because it seems like most of these items--or at least the brands I know about--are poorly made artificially flavored products.

I know that I have some options with orange curacao. We use Pierre Ferrand in the restaurant, and it works well. We also have a nice raspberry liqueur so we don't have to use Chambord, and same goes for a coffee liqueur. We actually make the coffee liqueur in house. I have done some research, and I can get a really nice apricot liqueur, but it's very expensive compared to something like Dekuyper. It tastes better, and it's a well-made product, but my drink cost would be much higher if I use the good apricot liqueur, and I don't think people would pay $12 for a tiki cocktail, but I don't know. When it comes to things like creme de banana and peach liqueur, all I can find are the Dekuyper brands. Sure they are economical, but they taste so artificial. Does it not really matter in Tiki drinks? I found a beautiful peach brandy and apricot brandy from boutique distillers, but the cost of a small 375ml bottle was quite expensive, making it prohibitive to use in a cocktail. My cocktail philosophy has always been to use great ingredients, which is then reflected in the final product. Is this true with Tiki cocktails?

What do good tiki bars use? Do they make their own creme de banana, apricot brandy, peach brandy, apricot and peach liqueurs? Or do they use cheaper brands like Dekuyper? Since many of the popular tiki drinks call for coconut and banana and other fruits, does it not really matter what brand/quality of liqueur you use in the drink, because its just getting covered up with heavier ingredients or stronger flavors? Does any tiki bar spend the extra money on higher quality liqueurs and then charge more for the drink? I'm really curious. Making enough of these liqueurs ourself on a weekly basis does not seem practical for the volume we are expecting. I know some better brands are probably out there for certain liqueurs, but they are most likely much more expensive than Dekuyper. What are your thoughts on using brands like Dekuyper and Bols? Is it true what I have heard about these brands using better quality ingredients in the versions of these liqueurs sold oversees, and those of us in the United States get a lower quality version of their liqueurs?

I had a bartender tell me most of those ingredients just add sweetness to a tiki drink, and they don't really add a lot in the way of flavor. For instance, if a tiki drink calls for fresh banana to be blended in the drink and it also calls for creme de banana, can't you just use more fresh banana and something like simple syrup for the sweetness, or are you loosing banana flavor because you're not using any creme de banana? Same goes for raspberry liqueur. Why not make a raspberry syrup from fresh raspberries, and use that instead of Chambord? Again, I guess it comes down to cost, and also being able to keep up with making a raspberry syrup on a regular basis if its a drink that you sell a lot of.

I appreciate any tips from this community. Going the Dekuyper route might not only be more cost effective, but logistically speaking, it might make the most sense. Are there better brands for things like banana and apricot liqueurs, and if so, are they worth using in a tiki drink? I think we will stick with the Ferrand curacao in our Mai Tais like we do in the restaurant bar. Sure it costs more, but a Mai Tai with Ferrand compared to a Mai Tai with Dekuyper is hands down the winner for our clientele and our staff.

So what do you think? Home-made liqueurs, Dekuyper Liqueurs, or hunting down higher quality liqueur/cordial brands and increasing the costs of the drinks? Oh, and if there are higher quality brands for things like creme de banana, what makes it "higher quality"? Does it taste more like banana instead of artificially flavored? Is it actually made with banana instead of aritificial flavoring? Or does the brand simply have a better reputation than say a brand like Dekuyper? I'm always curious what makes a brand of liqueur "better" than another. With something like orange curacao, I have something to go off of. When I taste Ferrand side by side against Dekuyper, there is a huge difference in quality. The Ferrand is a well-made product, a balanced product. The Dekuyper is overly sweet, and just tastes fake.

Thank you!

[ This Message was edited by: billynbooze 2013-02-28 14:04 ]

[ This Message was edited by: billynbooze 2013-02-28 14:05 ]

[ This Message was edited by: billynbooze 2013-02-28 14:09 ]

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Grand Member (8 years)  

Joined: Mar 30, 2008
Posts: 9063
From: The Anvil of the Sun
Posted: 2013-02-28 7:16 pm   Permalink

Billy, welcome to TC. You have come to the right place ~ there are some serious mixologists and imbibers here, hopefully someone will give you the answers you seek. Where is your bar located?

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nui 'umi 'umi
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Feb 21, 2011
Posts: 2599
From: La Mirada Atoll
Posted: 2013-02-28 7:48 pm   Permalink

BNB, Many people that I know would gladly pay 12 bucks for a well crafted drink. In a tiki setting with the proper ambience-you betcha! We're in the LA/ Orange County/San Diego tiki paradise area.

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Mar 31, 2009
Posts: 417
From: Cincinnati, Ohio USA
Posted: 2013-02-28 7:57 pm   Permalink

Hi Billy,

Welcome to TC! Out of curiosity, where are you located?

Just my two cents here. Most bars & restaurants that do Tiki cocktails well do not make their own liqueurs (syrups yes, liqueurs no), they purchase them from wholesalers (ie, distributors such as Southern Wine & Spirits, RNDC, etc). While most of the better places (such as the Mai Kai, Forbidden Isle etc) may not use the most expensive liqueurs available for their drinks, they are certainly pouring better quality than DeKuyper. I represented DeKuyper for years, and DeKuyper really is the bottom of the barrel, they use nothing but artificial flavorings to create their liqueurs, and they tend to be overly sweet as well. My suggestion is that you don't try to carry a myriad of different liqueurs to create dozens of Tiki cocktails, but that you create a well thought out menu of cocktails that would allow you to purchase fewer liqueurs that are of better quality. Do fewer drinks and do them better, remember that your end product cannot be better the the sum of its ingredients.

Incidentally, if the liqueurs are a potential budget breaker for your business, how are you going to handle the varieties and quantities of rums that are needed for Tiki cocktails?


[ This Message was edited by: CincyTikiCraig 2013-02-28 20:29 ]

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Grand Member (7 years)  

Joined: Apr 03, 2008
Posts: 2400
From: Deep in the Jacksonville Florida jungle.
Posted: 2013-03-01 04:21 am   Permalink

I agree with CincyTikiGreg - consider limiting your drink list to those which are known to be made with only "better" ingredients. If you find yourself unable to make a couple "must have" drinks, you can weigh out the possibility of compromising at least on a temporary basis. While the low-end syrups and flavorings are an issue, I think they are capable of being (at least partially) remediated by the other high-quality ingredients you are using.

I applaud you for caring about the quality of what you are serving and wish you all the best for success.

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The Blue Kahuna
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jun 01, 2011
Posts: 380
From: Points East & West
Posted: 2013-03-01 05:41 am   Permalink

Where this new tiki bar is opening would be great info! I agree, a few well done cocktails is better than a huge list of mediocre ones. I don't mind paying $12 for a cocktail that's well done and SERVED properly. This quest for speed in making a drink is the most annoying thing for me, it pisses me off to pay $12 for a cocktail that I need to wipe down and use five cocktail napkins to mop up the mess (sorry, rant over).

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Hale Tiki
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Oct 19, 2004
Posts: 1799
From: Pittsburgh
Posted: 2013-03-02 10:55 am   Permalink

Agreed. I live in Pittsburgh, a place that has a cost of living that's much MUCH lower than LA. I don't know the figures, but Pittsburgh is approx half of NYC, so take of that what you will. But $12 for a good cocktail here is no sweat. The good craft cocktails here are $10-12 all day long. And for those that seek them out, there's not a second thought given to paying $12 for a finely crafted cocktails.

Here's my 2 cents as a home bartender with a larger liquor selection than most bars. First, get yourself every Beachbum Berry Book. Grab all the Trader Vic's books that you can. Do your research, and have them on hand in the bar. I'm sure the restaurant/bar will pay for them. These give not only recipes, but the history behind the drinks as well. Vic is often happy to talk at length about recipes. Do not go with the assumption that just because you can make a good cocktail, that you can make a good tiki drink. They're totally different animals. And as per your friend, no, the ingredients aren't there to sweeten it up. A good tiki drink has a balance of flavors. Make yourself Don's Punch, or a proper Mai Tai with Eldorado 12, Smith & Cross, homemade Orgeat, homemade rock candy syrup, and a fresh, organic lime. Taste the complexity in the flavors. A good tiki drink is no different than a good cocktail. Every ingredient is showcased and adds to the overall flavor of the drink.
If you have an iPhone, get the Tiki+ app immediately. It's a good primer, and is more immediate than getting the Berry Books. Go into the help section, start reading.
Now, as far as syrups and liqueurs go: you can make your own. Most of them, anyway. Orgeat, Falernum, Rock Candy, Orange Blossom Water, Grenadine...these are basic, and easily made. Others can be made as well. Do some research on here, you'll find a lot of recipes. You can also make your own rum in house using Martin Cate's recipe. I choose to do this, though I've tweaked it a bit.
Everyone above who mentioned designing a menu that revolves around a core set of ingredients is right. I would say that a menu of 10 drinks, which is a lot for a non-tiki bar, will require you to have at least 20 bottles of booze/ingredients on hand, as well as fresh fruits. Start making lots of drinks from those books. Find ones you like. Make them your own if you'd like, then develop your menu.
There is only two drinks that I know of that require a fresh banana to be put in the drink. So don't worry too much about that. If you want to make your own flavored liquors, your best bet is to start with a rum/vodka base, infuse the flavors, add simple syrup/sugar to get them to be around 20%. You could do well with reductions of the fresh fruits mixed with sugar as well.
If you REALLY want to get into making your own boozes, there's a German book, I believe, from the 1800s that has recipes for distilling just about any type of liquor you can think of. Although you can't distill them yourself, it may provide some insight as to what to put in them.
Lastly, make the Tiki Ti your new home. Taste their drinks. Observe them being made. You won't be able to replicate them because of their unmarked bottles, but that's your best place in LA to really experience a wide variety of traditional drinks. Get the Ray's Mistake, and the Uga Booga, and pretty much everything else on the menu. Bring your books with you to cross reference and make notes as you taste the drinks.

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Mar 31, 2009
Posts: 417
From: Cincinnati, Ohio USA
Posted: 2013-03-02 9:40 pm   Permalink

I agree with Hale Tiki, buy all of Beachbum Barry's books. Not only do you need to know how to make the drinks, you need to understand the fundamentals of Tiki cocktails. Tiki is the most difficult level of mixology, and I've seen many otherwise excellent and expert mixologists get completely stymied by the genre. On another note, check your state laws before you make house liqueurs or spirits, in some states it's illegal to alter purchased spirits in any way or to even make your own infusions with them. California finally changed their law just over a year ago:


[ This Message was edited by: CincyTikiCraig 2013-03-02 23:52 ]

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Grand Member (first year)  

Joined: Jun 16, 2006
Posts: 2345
From: Home of the best rum collection in NC
Posted: 2013-03-04 1:29 pm   Permalink

I think you'll find that the most highly-respected tiki mixologist, who is also currently operating a very successful tiki bar, is Martin Cate (Tiki Central: martiki) of Smuggler's Cove in San Francisco. Your best chance at success would begin with hiring him to consult on your menu. As a regular patron of his establishment, I can tell you that $12 is a very reasonable price to ask for a well-made tiki cocktail using the finest ingredients. If you're anywhere near a major city, you should have no problem getting people to pay that much.

I also think it is much more important to focus on quality, rather than quantity. If you can't afford to make all the drinks well, then only make the ones you can afford. When you have a small, well-curated menu, guests are more likely to always get a drink they'll like. If you include some sub-standard cocktails just to have a huge selection, you're opening yourself up to more less-than-favorable guest experiences.

Two other thoughts in response to the comment you got from a bartender who said the ingredients are just to add sweetness: 1. Not all tiki drinks are sweet! 2. Why bother with an ingredient if it doesn't add something unique to the flavor of a drink? If it's sweetness you want, add simple syrup, or honey, or whatever other sweetener works for that drink. But if you want banana flavor, use a banana ingredient. Every ingredient in a drink should serve a purpose, or leave it out.

The main points are these:
  • Any tiki drink worth making is worth making well with the right ingredients.
  • Do your research. Read the Beachbum Berry books. Keep asking the questions you're asking until you get an answer that feels right and makes sense.
  • Tell us where this bar is.

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jul 03, 2011
Posts: 1315
From: NJ
Posted: 2013-03-16 9:11 pm   Permalink

Yes, tell us where you are located!

Good luck to you! You're getting excellent advice already. Listen to them.

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Atomic Tiki Punk
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jul 19, 2009
Posts: 7048
From: Costa Misery
Posted: 2013-03-16 9:45 pm   Permalink

Does anyone else think it is odd that someone takes the time out to ask a question here
but does not reply to, or thank anyone for their answers?

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