A Tiki Charmer from Trader Vic
Trader Vic didn’t invent Tiki. Credit (or blame) for that goes to Donn Beach (founder of the Don the Beachcomber restaurants), as discussed in our posts on The Zombie and Planter's Punch. But these days, Trader Vic (a/k/a Victor Jules Bergeron, Jr.) is probably better known than Beach.
Don the Beachcomber restaurants have mostly died out (the 3 that currently bear the name were revived in 2001), but Trader Vic’s moniker is still on restaurants in the US and throughout the world. And he invented perhaps the most famous Tiki drink of all time — the Mai Tai.
Trader Vic also concocted other popular (and flavorful) Tiki drinks, including today’s special: The Fog Cutter. It’s a smooth potion with delightful citrus flavor. The Fog Cutter lost some luster in the 80s (when mixed drinks in general, and Tiki specifically, fell out of favor). But its tremendous taste has been rediscovered in the past decade or so.
Take a sip of this beauty, and you’ll wonder how anyone could ever stop drinking it.
Recipe: The Fog Cutter Cocktail
Technically, it’s not correct to call this drink a “cocktail” — it’s actually a tall Tiki-class “drink.” But we’ve grown so used to calling any mixed drink a cocktail that it seems silly not to.
The Fog Cutter features light rum, along with brandy and gin — a departure from the usual Tiki rum medley. The Fog Cutter isn’t nearly as potent as the original Zombie, but it’s still a pretty hefty drink. Trader Vic himself once said of it, “Fog Cutter, hell. After two of these, you won’t even see the stuff.”
This is an original Trader Vic recipe, as described in Jeff Berry’s Beachbum Berry Remixed. Trader Vic actually created other versions of the drink over the years, but this is my favorite. It takes about 5 minutes to mix, and serves one. Serve this drink in a tall (10 ounces or so) glass or a Tiki mug.
- 2 ounces light rum (plain old Bacardi, although not exciting, works OK in this drink)
- 1 ounce cognac or brandy (nothing too expensive — a moderately priced VSOP or even VO like St. Remy or Raynal works well)
- ½ ounce gin (any name brand will do)
- 2 ounces lemon juice
- 1 ounce orange juice
- ½ ounce orgeat syrup (see Notes)
- ½ ounce cream sherry or Amontillado sherry (nothing fancy; spend $10 or so for a bottle)
- orange wheel, maraschino cherry, and/or pineapple wedge garnish (optional)
- Add all ingredients (except the sherry and garnish) to a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice.
- Shake well for 20 seconds or more until the shaker is frosty cold.
- Strain into a Tiki mug or a tall (10 ounce or so) glass filled with ice cubes or crushed ice.
- Carefully pour the sherry into the glass so that it remains on the surface (this is called a “float” — see Notes for more details)
- Garnish with pineapple wedge and maraschino cherry (or any garnish you like), and serve with long straws.
- Whenever a drink is served with a float, you should always drink it with a straw. Otherwise your first sip will be overpowered by the flavor of the float – not what you want at all. (I didn’t include straws in the pictures just to show the garnish more clearly.)
- Pouring the float over the back of a tea spoon can help the float remain on the surface of the drink.
- Why float alcohol on top rather than mix it in? Well, as you sip the drink through a straw, the top float layer will gradually make its way to the bottom of the glass. By the time you get to the end of the drink, the ice will have melted (at least partially), diluting the drink. The float helps boost the flavor of the last few sips.
- Some versions of this drink call for twice as much OJ as I use. Try that if you like (but I don’t recommend it).
- This drink requires Orgeat, a sweet syrup flavored with almonds and orange or rose water. The most common brand you’re likely to find is Torani. Although many liquor stores carry Torani (or another brand) orgeat, not all do. You can also buy it through Amazon. Refrigerate once you open the bottle.
- I prefer to use crushed ice when I serve this drink (I used ice cubes in the pictures because they photograph better). Crushed ice melts quicker, which dilutes a drink. That’s a good thing, IMO, given the amount of booze in this one — a more dilute drink has a smoother flavor.
- Most any garnish you like will work fine with this drink. A little cocktail umbrella is always a cheerful addition.
Trader Vic Trivia
Trader Vic’s first restaurant was in Oakland, California. It was called Hinky Dink’s (supposedly the name was inspired by the World War I song “Mademoiselle from Armentières,” which has the refrain “Hinky, Dinky, Parlez-Vous”). He changed to a Polynesian theme after he saw how much success Donn Beach was having with Tiki.
As Trader Vic expanded his restaurant operation (opening additional locations and selling franchises), he soon surpassed Beach. In fact, some credit Trader Vic with creating the first successful chain of themed restaurants. His US restaurants have since declined in popularity, though Trader Vic still has 7 locations in the US, along with 4 in Europe, 10 in the Middle East, and 6 in Asia.
Trader Vic’s nickname was coined by his first wife, Esther, who noted his habit of ”swapping meals and drinks for supplies and services.” He was also quite the showman. He had a wooden leg — he lost the limb at age 6 to tuberculosis of the knee, but claimed that it had been bitten off by a shark in the South Pacific. He also claimed to have been born on a remote South Pacific island. To entertain customers, he’d sometimes hand them an ice pick and let them stick it into his leg (the artificial one).
In addition to The Fog Cutter and the Mai Tai, Trader Vic also invented the Scorpion Bowl. This drink looks much like the Fog Cutter and has a somewhat similar flavor, but it was intended to be as much “centerpiece” as cocktail.
As originally served, the Scorpion Bowl was an oversized drink, meant to irrigate 3 or 4 customers. It appeared in a communal bowl — with a gardenia floating on top — and diners would drink it through long straws. The serving bowls were colorfully painted, and their styles varied over time.
At first, the Scorpion was served in a footed ceramic bowl (the feet were shaped like topless Tahitian girls). Later on, it sometimes showed up in a volcano bowl. This container held a quart or more, and featured a “volcanic mountain” that rose up from the center. A “crater” in the volcano would be filled with a 151-proof spirit that a waiter set alight. The idea was that you’d get to enjoy watching the flaming volcano as you sipped your drink (and hoped your hair didn’t catch on fire).
Entertaining, I’ll bet. But the Fog Cutter is a better drink than the Scorpion Bowl, IMO. It has a smoother flavor, and it’s much easier to mix in a single-serving portion. And you don’t need a fire extinguisher.
You may also enjoy reading about:
Gin and Tonic