The Jungle Bird Cocktail and Malaysian Independence

Your cocktail calendar entry for: August
31
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Greetings drunkards and drunkards in training.  You probably woke up this morning wondering what to drink in honor of Independence Day, or Hari Kemerdekaan, of the Federation of Malaya.  Or as you know it now, Malaysia.  We have the answer, with the Jungle Bird cocktail as Drink of the Day.

It turns out that observing Malaysia’s national day on August 31 is a bit controversial.  You see, the Federation of Malaya was what was previously called British Malaya, or eleven states that existed from 1948 until 1963.  August 31, 1957 is when the Federation became independent of Britain, but it was on September 16, 1963 that the Malaya federation was joined by North Borneo, Sarawak, and Singapore to form Malaysia.  They argue over this distinction in Malaysia, but since today is the official holiday we’ll run with it.

As you might have guessed from the prior name, British Malaya was a set of states on the Malay Penninsula that were brought under British control between the late 18th and mid-20th centuries.  This group consisted of British protectorates with their own local rulers as well as the Strait Settlements, a group of British territories in Southeast Asia that were under the sovereignty and direct rule of the British Crown.

This arrangement trundled along until Japan invaded in 1941 and occupied Malaya and Singapore, running the whole thing as a single colony from Singapore.  When Japan surrendered at the end of World War II, Malaya and Singapore were placed under British Military Administration.

Within a year decolonization began with leadership consolidated into the Malayan Union in 1946, but the Union was strongly opposed by the local Malays due to loose citizenship requirements and reduced authority for the local rulers.  That led to it being replaced by the Federation of Malaya in 1948 and then its independence from Britain in 1957.  All the Malayan states later formed a larger federation called Malaysia in 1963 which included Singapore.  They didn’t all get along, and Singapore was shown the door in 1963.  Seems Singapore has done alright, though, even if the Long Bar at Raffles isn’t what it once was.

So when we get to Drink of the Day we need something on point and we find it in the Jungle Bird.  It’s got a pretty tropical name, Malaysia has plenty of dense jungle, with plenty of pretty birds, and it was invented there.  If you’re a Tiki fan it’s right up your alley.

As far as the Jungle Bird’s origin, the original Kuala Lumpur Hilton Hotel opened in 1973 and one of the bars inside was named the Aviary, in which guests would see various birds kept in a netted area near the pool.  A bartender there named Jeffrey Ong brought the drink into existence, and it was apparently served as a welcome to arriving guests.

Like many cocktails that have become popular over the years the Jungle Bird has been through a few variations.  The original recipe called for a generic dark rum, but when Tiki authority Jeff “Beachbum” Berry catalogued the drink he published it using Jamaican rum.  Many bartenders went on to use blackstrap rum for its richness, and it was Giuseppe Gonzalez (who we know from the Trinidad Sour) who put it in its modern form by cutting down what was originally a hefty 4 ounces of pineapple juice, just too much for most current palates.

Jungle Bird cocktail

Jungle Bird

Although the Jungle Bird was originally served in a bird shaped ceramic Tiki mug, the design of those has been long lost after the original Kuala Lumpur Hilton Hotel was demolished. So if you're short on avian themed mugs or glassware, enjoy this cocktail out of an Old Fashioned glass.
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Equipment

  • Shaker

Ingredients
  

  • oz Rum Use a dark rum here, and if you prefer a blackstrap rum
  • ¾ oz Campari
  • oz Pineapple juice
  • ½ oz Fresh lime juice
  • ½ oz Simple syrup The original calls for syrup made out of demerara sugar, but whatever you have.
  • Garnish: Pineapple wedge and leaves. Or a cherry if you're out of those.

Instructions
 

  • Add ingredients to your trusty shaker.
  • Add ice and shake until frosty cold.
  • Strain into ice-filled Old Fashioned or rocks glass. You can go with either one large cube or crushed ice, but if using the latter the drink will dilute quite quickly.
  • Garnish with pineapple wedge and leaves. If you're out of those substitute a cocktail cherry.
  • Drink.
  • Eat pineapple wedge as a serving of fruit in your balanced diet.

 

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2 Comments. Leave new

  • Louis Spiegler
    August 31, 2021

    This sounds incredibly refreshing! Is there a particular dark rum you’d recommend?

    Reply
    • Jeff Anderman
      September 1, 2021

      We lean toward a Jamaican dark rum with some funk. Dr. Bird or Plantation OFTD would both be excellent choices, though anything dark will work well.

      Reply

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