“Blend or shake 6 ounces of pineapple juice, 3 ounces of coconut cream, 1½ ounces of white rum and crushed ice until smooth. Serve in chilled glasses, garnished with pineapple wedge and/or a maraschino cherry.” – Piña Colada (1954 recipe)
Proclaimed as the national drink by Puerto Rico (1978), this cocktail although steadily popular in all Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries, is widely enjoyed across the world. The popularity is affirmed by it being a part of the world of entertainment, from music, popular lyrics to cinemas. For instance, “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” by American musician Rupert Holmes (1979) had reached the number one spot and stayed there for few weeks.
While the name piña colada literally means “strained pineapple” in Spanish; this sweet cocktail is made with rum, coconut cream or coconut milk and pineapple juice. Usually served either blended or shaken with ice, it may be garnished with either a pineapple wedge, maraschino cherry or both.
Legends abound the origin of this cocktail. The earliest known legend states that Puerto Rican pirate Roberto Cofresí, to boost his crew’s morale, gave them a beverage or cocktail that contained coconut, pineapple and white rum; what would be later known as the famous piña colada (19th century). This recipe was believed to be lost with his death (1825). Yet this story is widely disputed by food historians.
By popular belief, the creation of the piña colada was credited to bartender Ramon “Monchito” Marrero (1954). Working in the Beachcombers Bar of the Caribe Hilton, one of the premier luxury hotels in San Juan; he was asked by hotel management to create a signature drink that captured the flavors of the island. By his account, Marrero had spent three months experimenting with hundreds of combinations before perfecting his sweet, frothy concoction of rum, cream of coconut and pineapple juice. Once introduced it had gained mass popularity. Marrero mixed up and served his creation at the hotel for 35 years until his retirement (1989). Concurrently another barman, Spaniard Ricardo Gracia who had served drinks at the Caribe Hilton, had claimed that he invented the cool, creamy cocktail. As per the interview to the Coastal Living magazine (2005), a strike by a coconut-cutters union (1954) had prevented him from serving up the popular mixed drink of rum, cream of coconut and crushed ice in its traditional sliced coconut. When forced to improvise, Gracia had poured the drink into a hollowed-out pineapple. When the fruit’s added flavor proved popular, Gracia said he added freshly pressed and strained pineapple juice to the previous combination of rum and cream of coconut, to create the piña colada.
Concurrently two miles west of the Caribe Hilton, another San Juan hotspot stakes its claim as the birthplace of piña colada. As attested by the marble plaque outside the entrance of the Restaurant Barrachina ( established late 1850s), Ramon Portas Mingot, a Spanish mixologist who wrote cocktail books and worked in the top bars of Buenos Aires, had made the first piña colada (1963) inside its doors.
Although the piña colada, was born in Puerto Rican capital of San Juan; the identity of the bartender who first mixed up the iconic rum-based cocktail remains a point of contention. However the modern-day beach cocktail wouldn’t be possible until the invention of Coco Lopez, a pre-made cream of coconut (1954). Developed by Ramon Lopez-Irizarry, an agriculture professor at the University of Puerto Rico; he had blended cream from the hearts of Caribbean coconuts with natural cane sugar, which later became an integral part of the island’s piña coladas.
Over the years, different proportions of the core ingredients, as well as different types of rum, may all be used in the piña colada to create different and new signature varieties. While frozen piña coladas are also served today; other named variations like the Amaretto colada (amaretto substituted for rum), Chi chi (vodka in place of rum), the Virgin piña colada or piñita colada ( non alcoholic, without the rum) or even the Soda colada (resembles the original recipe, but soda is used instead of coconut milk) to list a few. For the more resourceful or food connoisseurs and experimenters, piña colada can be blended into smoothies, milk shakes, cupcakes or even into cheesecake.
With National Piña Colada (July 10th) being celebrated tomorrow, it would be fun to experiment and create a similar based concoction, or simply enjoy the flavours of the original piña colada to mark special occasions.
CARIBE HILTON’S PIÑA COLADA RECIPE
2 ounces rum
1 ounce cream of coconut
1 ounce heavy cream
6 ounces fresh pineapple juice
1/2 cup crushed ice
Mix rum, cream of coconut, heavy cream and pineapple juice in a blender. Add ice and mix for 15 seconds. Serve in a 12-ounce glass and garnish with fresh pineapple and a cherry.