Likely based off of a recipe for the piña fria, a non-alcoholic pineapple slushy hailing from Cuba, the Piña Colada has become a touchstone of 20th-century pop culture. Immortalized most famously in Rupert Holmes’ hit single, “Escape (The Piña Colada Song),” by the late 1970s this famed umbrella drink had secured its place in the public imagination as a symbol of carefree, tropical escapism.
It’s a cocktail that’s exceedingly easy to like—not to mention, dangerously easy to drink—and is most often a frozen combination of pineapple juice, Puerto Rican rum and coconut cream (the latter ingredient added to the recipe sometime in the 1950s). While those flavors are certainly not mild, they do pair uniquely well with a wide variety of spirituous additions, something that makes the Piña Colada an easy drink to work with, if you’re looking for something on which to put a personal stamp.
Oftentimes, to keep the proof in check, bartenders will scale back on the rum, or, in the case of Erick Castro’s Piña Verde, omit it entirely (he relies instead on green Chartreuse, but keeps the other building blocks intact). A number of other drinks simply split the base—in the case of the Angostura Colada, for example, with a full ounce and a half of bitters, or in the Brancolada, with bitter Branca Menta.
Still, there are a few drinks in the Piña Colada canon that stray pleasantly further from the base recipe. Maxwell Britten’s Absinthe Colada, for example, which he developed at Maison Premiere in collaboration with fellow bartender Natasha David, swaps out the coconut cream for a lighter, housemade coconut syrup. To that, he adds the requisite pineapple, plus absinthe, crème de menthe and a touch of rhum agricole. Conventional, it is not. But then again, when it comes to the Colada, it doesn’t really need to be.
Put the Lime in the Coconut