Even during the heyday of Tiki, the 1950s, the Martini reigned supreme. And while rum was the spirit of choice for most tropical libations, some bartenders sought to create gin-based concoctions that they might sell to Martini drinkers – no doubt at a higher markup. The Royal Hawaiian is one such drink. It first appears in published form, as far as I can tell (it’s not like I have All the Books), in Ted Saucier’s 1951 Bottoms Up, so it must have existed at least a few years before that. And lo and behold, Jeff Berry tells us it was served as early as 1948 at both the Royal Hawaiian and Moana Hotels in Honolulu (Saucier credits it only to the latter). So who knows, this may have even been a wartime invention.
1 1/2 oz. gin
1 1/2 oz. unsweetened pineapple juice
1/2 oz. lemon juice
1 tsp. orgeat syrup*
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Whoa! Damn! That’s a good one. I was expecting a decent but unmemorable little tropical whose best characteristic would be the ease of making it compared to many another Tiki drink. But this thing is excellent, with the lemon juice providing just the right amount of tang to offset the sweetness of the pineapple and the orgeat, and all of those wiping out the juniper notes of the gin. Don’t get me wrong, I love gin, but when mixed with ingredients of a more tropical flavor profile, it doesn’t always work. Here it does, in spades. Five livers.
* I’ve used Torani orgeat (or-ZHAY) for years, and there’s nothing wrong with it. But I recently got a bottle from Small Hand Foods. It’s a very different beast than the Torani, much more complex and nuanced. That said, I haven’t really found it to be “better” as a cocktail ingredient. Until now. I will chalk up this shortcoming on my part to the Torani simply being what I’m used to. Really, the two are so different that it almost doesn’t make sense to call them both orgeat. But the Small Hands stuff is definitely the way to go. It lends, in this drink, a great depth that I think would be absent with the Torani. Will it still be a good drink without some fancy-ass orgeat? Yes. But not as good.