The Tiki drink named after Robert Louis Stevenson’s physician
Everyone knows Robert Louis Stevenson, right? He wrote classics like Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Swell swashbuckling stuff, some of those books.
What you might not know is that Stevenson spent his final years in Samoa. There he was attended by Bernhard Funk, a German physician who was also an accomplished mixologist. One of Funk’s concoctions (and one which he reportedly served to Stevenson) is the inspiration for the drink we know today as the Dr. Funk Cocktail.
The drink originally was intended to be a tonic. Modern medicine might quibble with that claim, but all would agree that this drink is a great way to beat summer’s heat. So if the dog days of August are getting you down, Dr. Funk has just the prescription for you.
Recipe: The Doctor Funk Cocktail
Tiki cocktails are Polynesian-inspired. They usually (though not always) are fueled by rum, and often contain numerous additional ingredients. The great majority of Tiki cocktails were created by Donn Beach (who started the “Don the Beachcomber” restaurant chain) and his competitor, Victor Jules Bergeron, Jr. (better known as Trader Vic). Both men created versions of the Dr. Funk Cocktail, though Beach was the first to mix a drink by that name.
BTW, no one knows what recipe Dr. Funk himself followed when he mixed his drink, but there are numerous reports that he used absinthe, grenadine, lime juice, and sparkling water—all ingredients that Beach and Bergeron employ in their versions.
Bartenders traditionally serve the Dr. Funk Cocktail in a tall glass, usually a hurricane (chimney) or pilsner glass. But it can also be served in Tiki mugs—specifically, Fu Manchu-inspired mugs (see the picture right before the Notes). If you don’t have any of this exotic glassware, a tall (Collins) glass works just fine.
The recipe we discuss here was developed by Donn Beach. We learned about it from Beachbum Berry, who is the most knowledgeable curator of all things Tiki. He includes it in his book, Beachbum Berry Remixed. (Donn Beach typically developed multiple versions of his cocktail recipes; in our opinion, this is the best iteration of the Dr Funk.) We list some alternate versions of the cocktail in the Notes.
Berry is the source for much of our knowledge about the historical Dr. Funk. But Jim “Hurricane” Hayward also has some great historical information about the Dr. Funk Cocktail over at The Atomic Grog. Worth checking out.
This recipe takes about 5 minutes to make, and serves one.
- 1½ ounces light (white) Virgin Islands or Puerto Rican rum (see Notes)
- 1 teaspoon absinthe (or a substitute, like Pernod; see Notes)
- ¾ ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
- ½ ounce grenadine, preferably homemade (see Notes)
- ~1 ounce fizzy water (or to taste; you can use club soda, seltzer water, or any kind of sparkling water)
- lime slice or wheel for garnish (optional)
- Add the rum, absinthe, lime juice, and grenadine to a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice. Shake enthusiastically until well chilled (20 or 30 seconds).
- Strain into a tall glass (hurricane glass preferred; see recipe headnote) that is filled with ice cubes (or crushed ice, if you like). Add fizzy water. Stir once to incorporate the water (stirring isn’t strictly necessary; I often skip this). Garnish with a lime slice or wheel, if using. Add straws and serve.
- We like to use Virgin Islands rum in this drink (we generally use the Cruzan brand). But Bacardi Puerto Rican rum is easier to find, and it works quite well.
- Or use any other light (white) rum of good quality. You can substitute amber rum if you prefer, but we find that light rum gives a cleaner flavor.
- Reminder: We’re a noncommercial blog and are not compensated for mentioning brands. We recommend only what we like and use.
- Absinthe is an anise-flavored spirit. For years, it was illegal in the US and much of Europe (one of its ingredients was thought to be psychoactive and addictive). It’s now legal again—and usually quite high proof (100+).
- Grande Absente makes a nice absinthe—and it comes in conveniently small bottles. Our liquor store carries the 100 ml size for about $10. That’s perfect for making a drink like this, where you use just a bit of absinthe. (A full-size bottle of this brand is pricey.)
- We often substitute Pernod for absinthe—mainly because it’s our favorite brand of pastis. But there are other good brands out there. If in doubt, ask the friendly sales people at your liquor store what they recommend.
- We strongly recommend using real—i.e., pomegranate—grenadine, not the ersatz stuff that liquor stores usually stock. Commercial brands (such as Rose’s) offer attractive fluorescent color (and the hue is oddly compelling, we admit), but they’re made primarily from artificial flavors. You’re better off making your own Homemade Grenadine. It’s easy and takes just minutes.
- One alternative recipe for the Dr. Funk Cocktail uses 2½ ounces dark Jamaican rum (like Meyer’s), 2½ ounces fresh lime juice, ½ ounce fresh lemon juice, ½ ounce grenadine, and ¼ ounce absinthe or Pernod. To make it, shake these ingredients with ice, pour into an ice-filled tall glass, and top with fizzy water.
- The recipe listed in the prior bullet has lots of citrus in it—which makes it pretty sour. When we mix this version, we use just ½ ounce lime juice (plus ½ ounce lemon juice). We find this makes for a much better balanced drink.
- There’s also a Son of Dr. Funk Cocktail (a Trader Vic invention; in this one he omits the absinthe, reportedly because he didn’t much care for its taste). To make it, you’ll need 2 ounces dark Jamaican rum, ½ ounce lime juice, ½ ounce lemon juice, ¼ ounce grenadine, and ¼ ounce simple syrup. Shake these ingredients with ice, strain into an ice-filled tall glass, and top with an ounce or two of fizzy water. Then carefully pour (float) ½ ounce of 151-proof rum on the top (for over-proof rum, we like Lemonhart 151).
Feel the Funk
“Yum, I’ve been waiting all summer for a Tiki drink,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, sipping her Dr. Funk Cocktail.
“Well, August is finally here,” I said. “So it’s officially Tiki time on the blog.”
“And this drink showcases the true Tiki spirit,” said Mrs K R. “In fact, with that little cocktail umbrella, it’s sort of, well, funky looking.”
“I believe ‘funkadelic’ is the correct term,” I said, taking a long sip.
“So, shall we put on some groovy tunes and feel the funk?” asked Mrs K R.
“And maybe have another one of these?” I asked.
“Absolutely,” she said. “Mix that funky cocktail, white boy.”
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