Aug. 23 2014 11:35 AM

Tiki drinks don't have to be so sticky-sweet

Erick Castro
Erick Castro
Lyudmila Zotova

I was talking to a friend recently about cocktails, and we got on the subject of tiki cocktails. She made a face best described as "eww."

"Once you add pineapple juice," she said, "I'm not interested."

That got me thinking: For a cocktail to be truly tiki, does it have to have a sweet juice as its base? Craft-cocktail bars use fresh juices, which dial back the sweetness, but some folks still find pineapple juice in particular to be a little cloying.

"Why would somebody not like pineapple juice? That's crazy talk."

That's Erick Castro, general manager at Polite Provisions in North Park. Castro's a bit of a tiki fiend. The second Tuesday of each month, he decks out the bar in tiki decor and offers specials on tiki drinks.

If you're not into overly sweet drinks and, say, find yourself at Polite Provisions on a Tuesday, ask your bartender to make your tiki cocktail as dry as possible, Castro suggests. Or, opt for a Mai Tai.

"I love making people Mai Tais because the only version they've had tends to be a really bad one," he says. "It's all about the fresh juice and a good orgeat."

Castro's version has fresh lime juice, a house-made orgeat, Orange Curacao and two kinds of rum: El Dorado and Appletons. He's also a fan of a good, basic daiquiri with fresh lime juice and an aged rum.

What about a tiki drink made with bourbon? Sure, Castro says—there's the Western Sour, made with grapefruit juice, lime juice, Falernum, simple syrup and bourbon. The Eastern Sour, first made at Trader Vic's, combines orange and lemon juices, orgeat and bourbon.

Orgeat (pronounced or-zaht or, if you want to be fancy, or-zha) is an almond-based syrup. It was Polite Provisions, specifically the Attorney Privilege (a simple but delicious combo of bourbon, orgeat, Angostura bitters), that turned me on to orgeat. After looking for it in smaller liquor stores, I ended up at BevMo, where I was directed to Torani's orgeat. That stuff's not good. Avoid it. But I'll forgive BevMo, because on a recent trip there, I found Berkeley-based Small Hand Foods' orgeat. Now, that stuff's good. Really, really good (Small Hand also has a nice selection of syrups, some of which are at BevMo. See smallhandfoods.com for the whole lineup).

If you want to make your own orgeat, you'll find no shortage of recipes online, though they're a little involved and, if you mess up, you've just wasted a bunch of money on almonds. Since I recently ditched regular milk for almond milk, the orgeat recipe at craftcocktailsathome.com—"A Blasphemously Easy Recipe for the Best Homemade Orgeat"—that uses almond milk got my attention. The website's version is in grams, so here's a conversion that worked out pretty well:

6 ounces unsweetened almond milk

3 ounces sugar

Eight drops almond extract (I really like almond extract, so I added a few extra drops)

Four dashes orange blossom water (also available at BevMo)



Email kellyd@sdcitybeat.com or follow her on Twitter at @citybeatkelly.

Calendar

  • Visit one of the 70 participating restaurants, bars, coffeehouses and nightclubs in town on this night and 25 to 50 percent of sales will go to local HIV/AIDS services and prevention programs. 
  • Anthony Bernal and Chris Ward, who are vying to replace Todd Gloria on the San Diego City Council, will discuss urban issues, such as parking, homelessness and new developments
  • The new exhibition designed by Dave Ghilarducci is made from hundreds of rolls of packing tape and bound together by layers of plastic shrink-wrap. Visitors can navigate their way through cocoon-like passageways...
  • The renowned Mexican black and white photographer presents an exhibition exploring the principal themes within three groups: "Bestiarium"," Fantastic Women" and "Silent Natures."
  • Presented by Pacific Arts Movement, the sixth annual mini film fest features 14 film programs from 10 countries that includes everything from docs to romantic tearjerkers. See website for full lineup and...
  • The San Diego County Bike Coalition hosts this monthly bike-in happy hour event to get biking residents involved in their communities and discuss bike projects planned for that specific community
  • Debunk some of the stereotypes surrounding cannibalism at this new exhibition that takes a hands-on approach to the subject. Includes video games and interactive activities where patrons will have to decide...
  • So Say We All's monthly storytelling night features stories about those jobs we took because we had to take a job. Featured readers include Allison Gauss, Annmarie Houghtailing, Cecile Estelle, and more
  • Artists from the all-abstracts group show will talk about their work and techniques. Artists include Edwin Nutting, Danielle Nelisse, Leah Pantea, Lenore Simon, and more
See all events on Thursday, Apr 28