August 16th is National Rum Day, so we’re inviting you to check out the history of tiki drinks, and to make yourself a flaming (or not) Scorpion with the recipe below.
You may or may not be old enough to remember the tiki drink craze of the 1950s and 1960s, abetted by a chain of Trader Vic’s restaurants and competitors like Don The Beachcomber (Ernest Raymond Beaumont) in Hollywood.
These two restaurateurs introduced mainland America to “tiki” drinks: plenty of rum and sweet mixers, garnished with baby orchids and a mini Japanese paper umbrella.
Cocktails included the Fog Cutter, the Jungle Bird, the Mai Tai, the Navy Grog, the Scorpion Bowl, and the Zombie, among others. You can easily find the recipes (and their many variations) online.
One of our favorites was the flaming Scorpion Bowl, a cocktail served in a small punch bowl with a flaming “volcano” center (today it might be Sterno) and long straws for drinking. It was meant to be shared by two, three, or four. The recipe is below.
> The history of tiki drinks.
The origin of all “tiki drinks” in the U.S. dates back to the late 1930s when Victor “Trader Vic” Bergeron visited Hawaii (more history here).
One story says that Bergeron discovered the Scorpion or Scorpion bowl, as it’s sometimes called, at a bar named The Hut in Honolulu (it’s long gone).
Okolehao was mixed with a combination of fruit juices (today lemon, orange, and pineapple are typical) and served in a large communal bowl. It’s essentially a rum punch.
When Bergeron returned to his Trader Vic’s restaurant in Oakland, California (the original location), he created his own variation of the Scorpion using rum, instead of the okolehao, which was hard to find outside of Hawaii.
There is another origin story that may be more true, with Bergeron discovering the Scorpion at a luau which he attended in 1939. The Daily Beast has done extensive research on it.
There are also print references to the Scorpion as early as 1937. It’s reasonably safe to assume, though, that by 1940 those lucky enough to get to Trader Vic’s in Oakland could have a Scorpion.
His original recipe reportedly had 15 different ingredients and was served in a custom-made ceramic “volcano tiki” punch bowl with hula girls (photos #1, #4, and #5) or other tropical-style decorations, meant for two or more people.
A center “volcano” cup (photos #6 and #7) was filled with overproof rum and lit on fire before it arrived at the table. The flaming bowl was garnished with baby orchids or gardenias, to the delight of the recipients.
It was served with long straws for communal sipping.
Did Bergeron invent the flaming center of the drink or the orchids and gardenias he garnished it with? That’s yet to be determined.
But skip ahead a few decades to New York City.
We were lucky enough to dine at the Trader Vic’s branch in the Plaza Hotel in New York City, numerous times in the years before it closed.
As a teenage girl (18 was the legal drinking age at the time), we loved the flaming Scorpion Bowl with its garnish of fresh gardenias. It remains the most memorable drink ever brought to our table.
Over the years, Trader Vic published three different variations of the Scorpion. In his 1946 Trader Vic’s Book of Food and Drink, there was a Scorpion recipe made with rum, gin, brandy and half a bottle of white wine. In other recipes, he substituted pisco for the gin [source].
Other versions appeared in his 1972 Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide, which included a recipe for an individual Scorpion and an updated bowl recipe that would become the more commonly used version of the recipe. Both are reprinted below.
The drink doesn’t have to be flaming, but if it is, remember that it’s real fire, and take all precautions not to ignite your sleeve when reaching across the table to give your companion a piece of Crab Rangoon from the pupu platter* (we speak from experience).
We thank Distiller.com for the information.
Ingredients For 1 Drink
1. BLEND all ingredients in a mixer with one scoop of shaved ice. Pour into a glass, mug, or one-person volcano bowl.
2. ADD ice, and garnish with gardenia.
1. BLEND all ingredients in a mixer with two scoops of shaved ice. Pour into a Scorpion bowl.
2. FILL the bowl with ice and garnish with gardenias. Serve with long straws.
*Trader Vic’s pupu platter included Char Siu Pork, Crab Rangoon, Crispy Prawns, Rumaki, Spare Ribs, You can find some of the recipes here.
A pupu or pu pu platter is a plate of American Chinese or Hawaiian foods consisting of meat and seafood appetizers. In the Hawaiian language, pū-pū denotes a relish, appetizer, canapé, or hors d’oeuvre.