Tiki For Dummies

Tropical escapism in five ingredients or less.

It may sound like an oxymoron, but there is such a thing as easy tiki. While the genre typically hinges on the appearance of extravagance, often flaunting upwards of 10 ingredients, multiple spirits and, of course, elaborate garnishes, tiki doesn’t need to be difficult. After all, Trader Vic’s most famous contribution to the canon, the Mai Tai, comes in at only five ingredients. Channeling a similar level of restraint, these modern recipes are likewise capped at five ingredients, offering a minimal path to tropical escapism, with easy-to-source ingredients, to boot.

While they’re not the usual tiki suspects, mezcal and Chartreuse punch above their weight when it comes to adding depth to cocktails. At San Francisco’s Smuggler’s Cove, Marco Dionysos does away with rum altogether in his Chartreuse Swizzle, an herbaceous take on the Carribbean original. Despite the unexpected pairing, the alpine flavors of the liqueur work in tandem with the unambiguously tropical elements of falernum, fresh pineapple and lime juice. At Otis in Brooklyn, bartender Channing Centeno takes a similar tack, opting for a smoky mezcal base complemented by yellow Chartreuse, lime and charred pineapple for what reads like a beachside bonfire in a glass.

Bitter elements like amaro and, well, bitters, can also offer a fast track to complexity when thrown in alongside traditional tiki components. At Fort Defiance, the Angostura Colada offers the requisite pineapple and coconut atop a full ounce and a half of Angostura bitters, all served over crushed ice. Though slightly more reserved, Cynar—an artichoke-based liqueur—lends a bittersweet element to Jeremy Oertel’s Artichoke Hold, a riff on Oertel’s own Bitter Mai Tai.

Trader Vic’s Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, meanwhile, stands as a testament to the timeless appeal of easy tiki. With just four ingredients (demerara rum, falernum, Curaçao and lime), it proves that sometimes less is more—even in tiki.

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