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.
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.
- 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)
- 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.
- 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).
- Add optional garnish, plus a long straw, and serve.
- 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.
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.”
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