The new wave of tropical cocktails still draws plenty of inspiration from the sense of escape and lush flavors that tiki has long been known for: Those custom layered rum blends, fresh juices, notes of citrus and spice, and dreamy garnishes aren’t going anywhere. But they’re now filtered through a more austere lens, one that sees thoughtful but simple recipes, elevated highballs that are a far cry from the traditional Dark ’n’ Stormy, and references to decidedly nontropical classics such as the Old-Fashioned. They’re also filtered through a lens that is aware of both the complicated history of the tiki category and current issues of equity and sustainability within the industry.
“The modern tropical cocktail, to me, still invokes the elements of a classic Planter’s Punch: strong, weak, sweet, sour, spice,” says New York–based cocktail consultant Devin Kennedy. “[But] it doesn’t need to be anything fussier than that.” Nashville bartender Demi Natoli—who came up in tiki bars but now specializes in drinks she prefers to call “tropical and Caribbean”—says that though many assume a tropical-style drink means “sweet,” with a long checklist of ingredients, that does not need to be the case. “I am a big fan of ‘more is more’ when it comes to garnish, but that’s not always the best policy when building drinks,” she says. “Contemporary tropical cocktails are trending toward a more minimalistic style, overall. I try to add ingredients and garnish that pack the most punch.”
Two such ingredients are the rum offerings from Ten To One, a Black-owned label founded by Trinidadian Marc Farrell, that bartenders are turning to for the rums’ complex flavor profile and versatility in new tropical cocktails. Ten To One’s herbaceous white rum combines a blend of column-still rum from the Dominican Republic with a high-ester pot-still rum from Jamaica, while the dark rum blends eight-year-aged Barbados and Dominican column-still rums with Trinidadian rum and a Jamaican high-ester pot-still rum, which are then aged in American white oak bourbon casks.
Farrell, who holds a deep appreciation for the versatility of rum throughout the Caribbean, says that his mission for Ten To One is to offer a “contemporary and elevated blend designed to challenge expectations and reinvigorate the way people taste, experience and talk about rum.” Both of his expressions contain no added sugar, color or flavoring, and make a strong foundation to explore the landscape of new-look tropical-inspired drinks.
In partnership with ReserveBar—an online retailer focusing on luxury and premium spirits that has committed more than $5 million in support of BIPOC- and woman-owned brands through their Spirited Change Initiative—PUNCH turned to a quartet of talent from our Bartender in Residence program to create simple recipes using Ten To One that embody the essence of the modern tropical cocktail. From a beach-ready Old-Fashioned to inspired highballs, each showcases the vibrant flavors of the tropics as well as these two contemporary, elevated rum expressions.
Pink Palace | Demi Natoli
For her riff on the classic Daiquiri, Demi Natoli drew inspiration from the unique profile of Ten To One white rum, which she describes as having “a little more refinement and less heat” than its contemporaries. “I especially enjoyed the out-of-the-ordinary notes like lemongrass and jasmine,” she says. “Even though this is a blended rum, it has a lot of those beautiful Jamaican rum qualities,” says Natoli. “Its herbal notes can work well with savory as well as tropical flavors, making its use super diverse.” Her Pink Palace cocktail pairs those elements in the rum with grapefruit and lime, along with coconut syrup for body and a dash of aromatic cardamom bitters—while its namesake color instantly evokes a balmy beachside evening.
Swim Up Bar | Devin Kennedy
A classic Tom Collins takes a trip to the tropics with Devin Kennedy’s refreshing Swim Up Bar highball. “The Ten To One white rum is a lovely expression that’s begging to be in a cocktail,” he says. “The palate [starts] with some lovely tropical fruit, bananas and light spice that’s not too overpowering. It has a nice body that can hold up to a bevy of ingredients”—making it ideal for a Collins-style drink. In this take, Kennedy adds notes of tropical fruit via fresh lime and mango nectar, then lengthens the cocktail with spicy ginger beer, a natural partner for both tropical fruit and Jamaican rum. “This is an easy cocktail that anyone can whip up from a quick trip to the grocery store, but will taste like you got it from your favorite cocktail bar.”
Hakuna Banana | Christine Wiseman
When she first opened a bottle of Ten To One dark rum, Christine Wiseman, beverage director for a Miami-based lifestyle and beverage agency, was immediately taken by its notes of bananas and brown sugar. “This rum is super diverse, so I had a hard time deciding which route to take with the cocktail,” she says. “A tall tropical-style drink is usually my go-to, [but] I went the stirred route because I wanted to … let the rum speak for itself while layering those complementing notes.” Her Hakuna Banana takes its cue from the classic, nontropical Old-Fashioned; the result is an inspired, unexpected variation that leans into the rum’s distinctive tropical notes and allows the spirit to be the star of the show.
TTO + T | Orlando Franklin McCray
For Orlando Franklin McCray, a bartender at a disco-inspired Brooklyn nightclub, the modern tropical cocktail is all about “simple builds relying on higher quality products, as opposed to nine-ingredient recipes.” McCray created his bitter and botanical-driven aromatic highball around Ten To One dark rum with the addition of Suze, Bonal and Drambuie. “Ten To One lends itself to cocktails which call for a dark rum because it works well with other ingredients, doesn’t overpower a mixed drink, and can have many applications,” says McCray. “This is essentially a rum and tonic without the tonic water while two liqueurs provide the gentian and the soda brings bubbles and balance to the dark rum.”