June 13 is the birthday of Hawaii’s Ambassador of Aloha, Don Ho, and for that we’re going to prescribe the Luau cocktail. Sure, it’s also National Prosecco day and Annie Oakley’s birthday, but as the patron saint of drunk guys in Hawaiian shirts we are giving the nod to Don. After all, who else could be an enormous music star while wearing raspberry-tinted sunglasses and singing a song entitled Tiny Bubbles. With our motivation coming from Hawaii, of course, we’re entering the tiki dimension, and nothing could be more Hawaiian than a Luau cocktail.
Born in Honolulu on August 13, 1930, Don fit the melting pot image of Hawaii, coming from Native Hawaiian, Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch and German descent. He grew up on Oahu and began singing there at a restaurant and lounge owned by his mother.
Mr. Ho enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and got certified as a fighter pilot. In the end, though, he wound up flying cargo transports back and forth across the Pacific. He left the service in 1959 and went back to his mother’s bar business, Honey’s. Don ended up turning that place into a hotspot for celebrities taking a break from Hollywood and Las Vegas. He moved Honey’s to Waikiki in 1963.
When he ran out of room at Honey’s he was recruited to play at a club called Duke’s that was actually owned by Duke Kahanamoku, the guy who popularized surfing. There he was noticed by record company guys and signed to Reprise Records. Once he released his first album, Don Ho Show, it was off to high profile locations like Las Vegas and New York. Back home in Hawaii he was able to fill the lounge at the Waikiki Beachcomber Hotel six nights a week, for nearly four decades. Not too bad for a guy a Variety critic said “is no Pavarotti.”
By 1966 he released his most famous song, the hit single Tiny Bubbles. Here was tropical indulgence in music, long before Jimmy Buffet gave us Margaritaville in 1977. Sure, Tiny Bubbles was in the style of most 1960s pop arrangements, meaning light instrumentation and Hammond organs. That’s not exactly a musical formula that has aged well, but we certainly have it to thank for helping to popularize Hawaii along with tiki bars.
The Luau Cocktail
We obviously need something from the tiki dimension as Drink of the Day. Mr. Ho seems to have favored Mai Tais, but we already covered that drink for National Mai Tai Day. And by our standards at The Drunkard’s Almanac such things as the Blue Hawaiian just won’t do. Instead, we turn to the Luau cocktail as a natural fit for Hawaii.
Strange thing, though. The Luau comes from PDT (Please Don’t Tell), the iconic bar hidden behind the phone book at the back of the hot dog joint Crif Dogs. So while the East Village in New York doesn’t usually make one think of tiki paradise, they do good work there and this is a winner. Besides, it offers an opportunity to make good use of the little umbrellas you have stashed somewhere.
According to The PDT Cocktail Book, the Luau was created at PDT in 2009 by Gerry Corcoran for two of their bar regulars. It’s his adaptation of the Luau Grog from Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari. Like many tiki drinks it employs multiple rums. You won’t go to the Cocktail Hall of Shame if you have only one rum laying around, but if it’s not a Jamaican rum you may want to reconsider and mix up something like a Queen’s Park Swizzle. And then go take a hard look in the mirror and promise to mend your ways.
- ¾ oz White overproof rum We recommend Wray & Nephew but whatever you got.
- ¾ oz Jamaican rum Appleton Estate recommended.
- ¾ oz Aged rum
- ½ oz Fresh lime juice
- ¼ oz Passion fruit puree Indeed, this is a very small amount. So if you're out of passion fruit just toss in a little simple syrup and we'll look the other way.
- ¼ oz Orgeat syrup
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
- Garnish: Umbrella, lime wheel, orange slice
- Add all ingredients to your trusty cocktail shaker.
- Add ice and shake until frosty cold.
- Strain over crushed or pebble ice into rocks glass.
- Garnish with fruit and umbrella.