Her version, created expressly for Punch’s Ultimate Jungle Bird tasting, in which it took third place, went on to become part of the official “bible” for Brooklyn’s now-closed Donna, a rum bar known for bringing a modern sensibility to tropical drinks. Chu’s version of the bitter tiki classic apart thanks to an innovative rum blend: In equal measures, Lemon Hart Blackpool spiced rum combines with the funky notes of Doctor Bird Jamaican rum for a dessert-like banana bread note.
Compared to the more austere, molasseslike character of the commonly used blackstrap rum, the “caramelized” tones of Doctor Bird, “a really funky Jamaican-style rum” made by Detroit’s Two James Spirits, brought something fresh to the drink. “I wanted to use it because of the banana notes; it’s more tropical,” she explains.
Rum is still central for Chu, now a New York–based brand ambassador representing Bacardi. But she recalls that during her days at Donna, the bar frequently championed smaller rum brands, often mixing bottlings together. “Blending rums—that’s what I was taught,” she says. “One rum is nice, but two rums are better because you get more layers in your cocktail.”
With the rum blend in place, Chu turned to the other Jungle Bird components: a three-quarter ounce measure of Campari held steady, alongside one and a half ounces of pineapple juice, which must be fresh so it can be shaken to a “super fluffy” consistency. Together, “it’s like a juicy, tropical Negroni,” says Chu.
In place of standard simple syrup, she opts for a half-ounce of rich Demerara syrup. Without blackstrap rum, she felt her Jungle Bird needed a dark sugar note to shore up the drink. “Demerara helped elongate the drink, and kept the fattiness you want for a Jungle Bird, but let it linger harmoniously and beautifully together.”
To that, she adds a half-ounce of lime juice. “You have to have some acidity to all that sugar that’s being brought to the table, or in this case, brought to the tins,” she says. “Even just a smidge.”
From there, the drink is shaken. While her Punch recipe calls for cracked ice, she admits that when she’s behind the bar, she might use multiple types of ice. “I usually do two or three Kold-Draft cubes, then a half-handful of crushed ice so it will be frothier,” she explains. “Then I do a dirty dump [pouring it into the glass without straining]. Then I add cracked cubes [to the glass].” It’s a matter of figuring out how much each type of ice will melt, she explains: “Only crushed ice, that would be too much dilution. This way, there’s just enough dilution and the froth stays, too.” (If that sounds overly complex, Chu understands. “I’m a little fussy,” she says.)
While she workshopped five or six versions of her drink over the course of a week— most of that devoted to perfecting the rum blend—she offers that it’s a versatile drink that can adapt to a variety of spirits, such as tequila or mezcal. “Pineapple and Campari work well with others, for the most part,” she says, although she’s quick to note that without rum, it’s not technically a Jungle Bird. Perhaps the only spirit that should be bypassed, Chu says, is white rum: “You need a dark rum to hold up against Campari.”
And while the perfect balance of “bitterness to sweetness to juiciness” is what makes the drink so appealing, “it’s a very personal cocktail,” she says. To Chu, mastering the Jungle Bird means the drink doesn’t have to be locked into a single formula. “Cocktails are open to interpretation,” she says. “It’s up to you to figure out what you want to drink. There is no right answer.”