Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Scorpion Cocktail

Scorpion Cocktail with orange slice garnish and cocktail umbrella

A party-perfect Tiki drink from Trader Vic

The Scorpion Cocktail is legendary.  Multi-legendary, in fact — there are so many “authentic” versions of this drink that no one really knows which was the original.

But we do know that it became one of Trader Vic’s best-selling Tiki drinks, along with the Mai Tai and Fog Cutter.

The Scorpion (aka the Scorpion Bowl) was typically mixed in quantities large enough to serve several people — and it made a memorable impact. It showed up in a communal ceramic bowl with “feet” that looked like topless Tahitian babes. A gardenia floated serenely on top. Drinkers would use long straws to sip from the bowl while admiring the botanical feature.

My Scorpion recipe is meant for one. But if you want to serve this drink in quantity, don’t fret. In the Notes, I provide a scaled-up version that’s fit for a crowd. You’ll need to source your own gardenias though.

Scorpion Cocktail with orange slice garnish and cocktail umbrella

Recipe:  The Scorpion Cocktail

Trader Vic produced at least three different recipes for the Scorpion over the years — tinkering with ingredients and quantities to achieve perfection.  His competitor Donn Beach (aka Don the Beachcomber), who started the Tiki craze, constantly reworked his cocktail recipes too.  So figuring out the “best” recipe for the Scorpion (and other Tiki drinks) can be a challenge.

I’ve tried several versions of the Scorpion, but my favorite is one that appears in Gary Regan’s The Joy of Mixology. It’s a single-serving recipe that Regan adapted from Beachbum Berry — the consummate Tiki master. The Beachbum’s recipe serves 3 or 4 (I provide it in the Notes).

This recipe takes several minutes to make, and serves one.

Ingredients
  • 2 ounces light rum (use your favorite, or see Notes for suggestions)
  • ½ ounce brandy or cognac (see Notes)
  • 2 ounces fresh-squeezed orange juice (you can use bottled in a pinch, but fresh tastes much better)
  • ¾ ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice (there’s no substitute for fresh; if you like a tarter drink, increase to 1 ounce)
  • ½ ounce orgeat syrup (see Notes)
  • ½ ounce 151-proof rum as a float (very optional; see Notes)
  • orange slice or wedge as a garnish (optional)
Procedure
  1. Add all ingredients (except optional 151-proof rum and orange garnish) to a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice.  Shake until cold, a good 20 seconds or so.
  2. Strain into a tall (Collins) glass or a Tiki mug filled with ice cubes.  If using optional 151-proof rum, carefully pour it over the top of the drink (you want it to float on the surface).
  3. Add optional garnish, plus a long straw, and serve.
Scorpion Cocktail with orange slice garnish and cocktail umbrella

Notes
  • For the light (white) rum, I like either a Puerto Rican like Bacardi Superior, or a Virgin Island rum like Cruzan.  Lately, I’ve been using Cruzan as my “house” light rum.
  • I recommend using a decent cognac or brandy when making this drink — but that doesn’t mean you need to spend more than $15 or so on a bottle.  I generally use a moderately priced VSOP like St. Remy or Raynal.
  • Trader Vic sometimes used pisco brandy from Peru in the Scorpion.  If you have that on hand, you might give it a try.
  • Citrus juices always taste best when freshly squeezed.  When it comes to lemon juice, there’s really no substitute for fresh.  But for this drink, you can probably get away with using store-bought refrigerated OJ (not from concentrate).  The flavor of the OJ won’t be as bright and fresh, however. 
  • It’s a good idea to pour freshly squeezed juices through a strainer before adding them to this drink, to reduce the amount of pulp.
  • 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, but there are other good brands. Although many liquor stores carry orgeat, not all do. You can also buy it through Amazon, although it’s pricier than if you find it in a liquor store. Refrigerate once you open the bottle. 
  • The float of 151-proof rum is very optional, IMO (and for the pictures accompanying the post, I didn’t include it). But if you have a bottle of overproof rum handy, it’s a tasty addition. I recommend Lemon Hart 151-proof Demerara rum (made in Guyana). This can be rather hard to find, however (I have to get mine mail order). El Dorado (also from Guyana) produces a 151-proof rum that’s supposed to be good, although I haven’t tasted it. I do like everything else I’ve had from the El Dorado company, though. I’m not fond of Bacardi 151-proof rum, but your mileage may vary. 
  • 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 — which is not what you want at all. 
  • 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 whatever is left. The float helps boost the flavor of the last few sips. 
  • If you want to make the Scorpion in a larger quantity, you might try Beachbum Berry’s recipe, which is intended for 3 or 4 people: 6 ounces light rum, 1 ounce brandy, 6 ounces orange juice, 4 ounces lemon juice, and 1½ ounces orgeat syrup. Add all ingredients to a blender with 2 cups of crushed ice, and whir for a few seconds (up to 10). Pour unstrained into a decorative container, preferably a Tiki bowl (available online at specialty stores — do a Google search). You can also serve this drink in a volcano bowl (if you don’t know what that is, see our post on The Volcano Bowl Cocktail). 
  • Serving a really big crowd? Cocktail historian extraordinaire David Wondrich published a recipe for a humongo version of the Scorpion in Killer Cocktails (he believes this was Trader Vic’s first recipe for the drink): 36 ounces light rum, 2 ounces gin, 2 ounces cognac, 12 ounces dry white wine, 16 ounces lemon juice, 8 ounces orange juice, 8 ounces orgeat syrup. Fill a punch bowl with cracked or crushed ice, pour in all the ingredients, and let sit in the refrigerator for an hour or so until the flavors blend. 
  • BTW, some people claim that Trader Vic didn’t actually invent the Scorpion. They say the drink originated at a small bar called The Hut in Honolulu, and that Trader Vic just adapted it. Whatever. 
  • My usual disclaimer: I’ve offered several brand names in this post. These brands reflect what I like and recommend from personal experience. I buy all my own booze, and I receive no compensation for mentioning any brand by name.
Scorpion Cocktail with orange slice garnish and cocktail umbrella

A Lovely Sting

“Tasty drink!” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs as she sipped her Scorpion.  “Spectacular flavor.  Wonder how it got its name, though?”

“No idea,” I confessed.  “Couldn’t find anything remotely authoritative on that subject.”

“It’s certainly smooth for something called the Scorpion,” she noted.  “Though the rum does give it a nice sting.”

I watched her drink descend the glass.  “Bet I’ll be making another round of these,” I said.

“Indeed,” said Mrs K R.  “They go fast.  Probably should try Wondrich’s version next time.”

“You mean the one with 36 ounces of rum?”

“Yeah,” said Mrs K R, slurping the bottom of her drink.  “That should be almost enough for the two of us.”

You may also enjoy reading about:
Mai Tai
Fog Cutter Cocktail
Volcano Bowl Cocktail
Planter's Punch
Singapore Sling Cocktail
The Zombie
Classic Daiquiri
Bermuda Rum Swizzle
Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Cocktail

86 comments:

  1. The orgeat syrup is interesting, and I wonder how orange blossom syrup will taste instead. A wonderful drink to try, that´s for sure! Maybe I´ll just find a bartender who knows how to make it!

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    1. Hi Paula, I've not had orange blossom syrup, but if it's anything like orange blossom water, it wouldn't work. The predominate flavor of oregeat is almond; and you could substitute almond syrup (not extract) and that'd be OK (it'd lack a little bit of punch, but just a little). Not every bartender will know this recipe, but you can give them this one to use! I sometimes have to walk bartenders through how to mix some classic cocktails that they don't know. Thanks for the comment.

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  2. Now this takes me WAY back...I haven't lived in a city with a Trader Vic's since I was 28...and you know what city that is? Well, the one you know call home!

    You are on one heck of an island kick and I'm loving it...and I even have orgeat syrup...yes I do. I'll be trying this; holding on to the last of summer while I do...thanks John!

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    1. Hi Barb, Trader Vic's are still around - oddly more outside of the US than in, last time I checked (a couple of years ago). But they're sure not as popular as they used to be. This drink is truly worth trying - I think you'll enjoy it. Someday I'm going to have to throw a huge party and make the version that require 36 ounces of rum! Thanks for the comment.

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  3. I know that if I drank, I would love all your citrusy cocktails! The orgeat is interesting....I wonder what kind of flavour it adds to an already strong flavored cocktail. Can you taste it?

    Lovely photos as usual John.

    Nazneen

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    1. Hi Nazneen, you can just taste a faint almond undertone in this drink. It also provides some of the sweetness, so it's doing double duty. Thanks for the comment.

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  4. Woaa....a detailed writeup about something I am unaware of. But the cocktail does take my breath away. Love the colors. There's so much new in this post for me, like the orgeat syrup. I might go hunting for that and make it this weekend. Thanks for all the notes.

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    1. Hi Asha, it's a great cocktail - glad to introduce you to it! Thanks for the comment.

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  5. Oh John! What a coincidence...we will be going to Trader Vic next week...
    I like the sound of the oregeat...almond...in this orange drink...
    Hope you are having a fun week...and cheers!

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    1. Hi Juliana, if you're going to Trader Vic's I'd definitely try one of their big drinks meant for two or more - they're loads of fun, and this one is excellent. You might enjoy a Mai Tai, too. Thanks for the comment.

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  6. Another delicious post John. I'm not much of a bartender so my husband will have to make this one for me. :D Love any cocktail with citrus in it. YUM!

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    1. Hi Anne, I'm sure your husband would love to make both of you one of these! Now all you need is a Tiki bowl. And a gardenia, of course. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  7. You are amazing , I must try the Scorpion Cocktail ... I must try them all {giggling} It's fun with my tent up in the yard . I agree with Mrs. K R I am thinking on the lines of the Wondrich's version , thanks for sharing :)

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    1. Hi Nee, I should make the Wondrich version for you and Mrs K R! That's quite some recipe, isn't it? Love to make it sometime! Thanks for the comment.

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  8. I can't say I have ever had the pleasure John. It sure does look enticing though. I feel a remedy just around the corner:)

    I'm sure curious as to how it got its name, but I am well aware of the difficulties in trying to track these things down:)

    Love the notes and conversation. Almost makes me wish I were sipping a Scorpion rather than plain ol' tea.

    Thank you so much for sharing...I'm luvin' Tiki Month!

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    1. Hi Louise, isn't Tiki Month fun? I'm have a blast! I do wish I could find a source I really trust for the name, but that's the way it goes sometime. Thanks for the comment.

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  9. I always enjoy your cocktail photos...no one does them better than you.

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    1. Hi Karen, thanks so much for those kind words, and for taking time to comment!

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  10. When I read the title of this post I was thinking this cocktail sounded like something you would see featured in a James Bond movie. I have never heard of orgeat but I do love anything scented with rose or orange water. It's a very pretty drink and I agree that fresh OJ would make the difference over pre-packaged juice every time xx

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    1. Hi Charlie, it does sound like it belongs in a Bond movie, doesn't it? If you like this sort of drink, it's one worth trying - one of the better Tiki drinks, IMO. Thanks for the comment.

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  11. What a name for a coctail. And it will be a nice recipe to use during a weekend :D

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    1. Hi Marta, it is quite a name, isn't it? But great drink, and perfect for the weekend! Thanks for the comment.

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  12. I love your conversations with Mrs KR, so funny! Your drink, as usual, is gorgeous!!

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    1. Hi Chris, those conversations are always fun to write! Thanks for the kind words, and comment.

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  13. I just got stung! Don't I wish I had one of these to take the pain away. Well, it makes a good story anyway.This looks perfectly suited for tiki month!

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    1. Hi Abbe, :-) This is a fun drink, and you're right that it's so appropriate for Tiki Month! Thanks for the comment.

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  14. Another gorgeous cocktail...perfect summer sipper. And thanks of exposing me to orgeat...I'd love to try it.

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    1. Hi Liz, this really is a great sipper! Very refreshing. Orgeat has a wonderful flavor - a lot of people will use it as a flavoring for coffee. Thanks for the comment.

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  15. Another gorgeous cocktail for summer! Can't wait for summer to arrive soon at down-under...

    Zoe

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    1. Hi Zoe, this one is delish! You'll be experiencing summer before you know it! ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  16. That opening photo of a stinger is a real beauty, John, and completely hides its venom. WIth 2 types of rum and some brandy, little doubt that a couple of these could leave a person feeling stung. Still, with all of that citrus, I bet it's a great tasting cocktail and Tiki Month wouldn't be the same without it. :)

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    1. Hi John, it's really a nice, refreshing cocktail - although it does have a bit of a bite. But it's a great Tiki drink, and a lot of fun to drink. :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  17. You know I just realized that all the cocktail names are VERY interesting. Food or dessert usually gets ingredient's name, but cocktails always get interesting names like this (like candy bars and snacks). I wonder how this drink got the name! I enjoy your cocktail drinks and you are my go-to site when it comes to cocktails (both recipe and photography). :)

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    1. Hi Nami, I agree cocktails names are so interesting! The names and their history is what actually got me interested in them several years ago. We used to never drink them, but became so interested in their history, the next step was to sample them. ;-) Thanks for your kind words, and comment.

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  18. This is really interesting, I love those combinations !

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    1. Hi Sketched Chef, isn't this a fun cocktail? Such a flavorful combo of ingredients! Thanks for the comment.

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  19. I've thought there is no way you could come up with even more interesting names for your cocktails than what you already have on your site - that is, until I saw "The Scorpion cocktail". Completely intrigued. Pinned!

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    1. Hi Julia, cocktail names can be so much fun. But this is nothing: take a look at any book of Tiki cocktails, and you'll see some names much more interesting than this! Including some that are kinda edgy, and I might not want to put in the title. Thanks for the comment.

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  20. I love how refreshing this looks. Like I could sip them all day. I bet it is that kind of drink that you could easily be in trouble with because it tastes so good. I'm definitely going to whip up a batch this weekend.

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    1. Hi Kim, this actually is a pretty smooth drinking cocktail. Great at any time of the day! Thanks for the comment.

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  21. Another fantastic cocktail! Delightful clicks.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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    1. Hi Rosa, it's really a great drink! Thanks for the comment.

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  22. 36 ounces of rum sounds like plenty for two - perhaps it's a good excuse for a party? However you enjoy it, this recipe does indeed sound very smooth.

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    1. Hi Beth, yeah, we'd never get close to finishing the drink with all that rum! Two normal size cocktails is actually more our speed. But I'd love to make that big recipe sometime for a party! Thanks for the comment.

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  23. Another new one on me and another beautiful drink, or at least you make it look beautiful. With run, brandy and strong rum, I'm sure this cocktail provides quite a kick. I wasn't familiar with orgeat and was surprised to see an almond flavor being added here. Sounds like a very interesting cocktail. Thanks for another one!

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    1. Hi MJ, Trader Vic seemed to have liked orgeat a lot, so it's in a lot of his drinks - notably this one, and the Mai Tai. It really works, though - it has a great flavor. Thanks for the comment.

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  24. I love how you "dress up" your drinks the way you do. You always make them look so appetizing! I should learn from you :)

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    1. Hi Ashley, most drinks need a garnish or something - otherwise it's just a glass of pretty liquid. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  25. What a perfect looking Tiki drink! I would love to try some Scorpion cocktail!

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    1. Hi Rika, it's a delish drink - well worth trying. Thanks for the comment.

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  26. I love that you post so many unique cocktails. I'm not very creative when it comes to alcoholic beverages, so your posts inspire me. I love brandy and cognac too.

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    1. Hi Laura, there are a lot of good drinks out there! And although I have my favorites, I'm always up for trying something new. Thanks for the comment.

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  27. Your The Scorpion Cocktail is so gorgeous. Really perfect for parties...or my daily cocktail treat! ;)

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    1. Hi Amy, isn't it pretty? And it'd make a great daily drink! Thanks for the comment.

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  28. Gorgeous pictures! And I love the detailed notes you provide about the ingredients. Too often I don't make cocktail recipes because I'm unsure about what the ingredients are. Shopping at the liquor store, the ones near my house are massive, can be a little intimidating if you don't know precisely what you are looking for.

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    1. Hi Christin, glad you like the Notes - I include that info because that was all stuff I had to learn, and I assume a lot of people know little about drinks spirits and other cocktail ingredients. Thanks for the comment.

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  29. I can just envision drinking one of these in a tiki bar with the Rat Pack at the next table. Love the drinks of this era. Not the food so much, but the drinks, absolutely.

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    1. Hi Karen, totally agree on the food. I like some of the items on the Pupu Platter, but most of the main dishes in Tiki restaurants tend to be too sweet. Which figures, since most of the drinks have a bit of sweetness to them, so they actually pair fairly well. Thanks for the comment.

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  30. John, I'm totally loving this series of retro cocktails that you are presenting here. Makes me quite thirsty! Great post, thanks again for sharing.

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    1. Hi Lizzy, aren't all these Tiki drinks fun? ;-) It's the weekend, so go ahead and quench that thirst! Thanks for the comment.

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  31. The float is *not* optional!! Heh, well I don't think so anyway, YYMV. I think I might have to get myself some rum this weekend, haven't had a scorpion in way too long.

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    1. Hi Bob, rum has such a tasty flavor, doesn't it? And the Scorpion if a fine drink - particularly nice on a weekend. Enjoy! And thanks for the comment.

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  32. I'd be disappointed if you didn't have a conversation at the end of every post :)

    That drink looks too happy to be called a scorpion.

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    1. Hi Maureen, those conversations are fun, aren't they? Alas, some posts are written in a way that a conversation isn't the best ending, but I'm trying to include them whenever I can. Thanks for the comment.

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  33. Thanks for presenting these fun retro cocktails, it's a really inspiring idea!
    We prepared already some of them and they are a always a hit among our friends.

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    1. Hi Daniela, aren't these fun? Glad you hear you and your friends have enjoyed some of them! Thanks for the comment.

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  34. Yeah, I wonder how the cocktail 'Sex on the Beach' got its name? The problem with these drinks is that they look like Hawaiian punch and I feel like gulping them down, with the consequences to come later! Whooppee!

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    1. Hi Fran, in the 70s there were a whole bunch of cocktails that were invented with names similar to that. I haven't had many of them, but every one that I've had wasn't very good. That's back when vodka was replacing many other spirits as the spirit of choice, and people were trying to figure out how to use it to make drinks (a tough proposition, since it has no flavor of its own). But you're right that drinks like the Scorpion drink too easily, and one can really overindulge. Thanks for the comment.

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  35. I do remember the cauldrons of Scorpion cocktails at that restaurant. It always looked like a party in a bowl. LOL

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    1. Hi Carolyn, party in a bowl is a great line! And that's pretty much what this drink is. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  36. I have never heard of this drink but then I don't go to bars very often but it sounds fun with the sting in the tail. If I ever come across one, I will make sure I use a straw.

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    1. Hi Suzanne, this used to be a lot more popular back way back when there were more Tiki restaurants around. Worth making at home, IMO - it has good taste. Thanks for the comment.

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    1. Hi Raymund, it's really a super cocktail - loads of flavor, and looks terrific. Thanks for the comment.

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  38. You are killing me with your fabulous drinks! My husband is laying off the booze for a few months. I promised him I would do the same. A sip doesn't count right??? :D

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    1. Hi Gomo, if you have a sip, I won't tell! Just tell hubby he has some wonderful drinks to look forward to. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  39. You are definitely the mixologist king of all time!!

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    1. Hi Kiran, gosh, thanks for that very kind comment!

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  40. Another great cocktail. I could see myself sipping on this one on a Friday night after a long work week.

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    1. Hi Dawn, this is really a nice weekend cocktail - quite tasty and relaxing. Thanks for the comment.

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  41. How interesting! I love how this drink has multiple ways of making it, makes it more fun! I think I have most of the ingredients, so I totally need to try it! Yum, take care, Terra

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    1. Hi Terra, an awful lot of the tiki drinks seem to have multiple recipes. Makes testing more fun! Thanks for the comment.

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  42. Hi John, as usual your photography skill is excellent! 2 thumbs up for you.
    Very delightful and refreshing scorpion cocktail, you're good. Thanks for sharing the note and recipe. ahead.

    Have a great day

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    1. Hi Amelia, isn't this such a nice drink? It's one of my favorite Tiki drinks - tons of flavor. Thanks for the comment.

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  43. Oh my, first of all I love your photos! And you sent me reeling back in time with Trader Vic's and Scorpion bowls. Wow, lots of good memories. I have the Trader Vic's cookbook and now you're inspiring me to pull it out. Perfect for summer! Thanks so much.

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    1. Hi Hannah, I'll bet that Trader Vic's cookbook has tons of nifty stuff in it! You'll need to browse through it and make us some goodies. ;-) Thanks for your comment.

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