Oh! Tiki culture, you morally confusing beast. I love your bright colors and unabashed tackery. But I’m troubled by your cultural appropriation of Polynesian mythology and imagery. To say I’m conflicted about tiki culture would be an understatement. But having said that, I have to admit it fascinates me. It’s a bizarre mash-up of misinterpreted cultural symbols and mid-century American aesthetics. It’s strangely beautiful, there’s no getting around it. So, when you isolate tiki culture from the unfair stereotypes it places on a minority, it’s not difficult to see its charms. But is it a given that it should be seen as its own stand-alone cultural phenomenon? No, not necessarily. So, before we get to the frothy, blue fun that is Blue Hawaii Granita let me be clear: Tiki culture is not to be mistaken for Polynesian culture. Okay, I feel marginally better, let’s press on.
Now, given the painfully serious preamble, you might be wondering where tiki culture actually came from. Tiki culture is purely an American creation that has its roots in California. We have a man named Donn Beach (not his birth name) to thank for the creation of American tiki. Beach opened Don the Beachcomber bar and restaurant in 1933 in Hollywood, California. This is largely considered to be the first tiki bar.
Don the Beachcomber’s menu was largely Cantonese but the cocktail menu featured a series of rum punches, the prototypes of the tiki cocktail subset. Torches, leis, rattan furniture and vibrant fabrics made up the restaurant’s decor and laid the groundwork for the tiki aesthetic. Palo Alto, a tiki bar in Oakland, followed the model Donn Beach laid out when it opened its doors three years later. After that, numerous restaurants and bars followed suit. A movement was born and it was popular.
Both Don the Beachcomber and Palo Alto are largely credited with the creation of many of the drinks and bar snacks we consider quintessentially tiki today. Victor “Trader Vic” Bergeron, the owner of Palo Alto, is said to have created crab rangoon and rumaki. While Donn Beach is considered the father of the tiki cocktail with such drinks as the Zombie and Scorpion credited to his name. There is still a lot of contention around who invented what, but it is clear that Beach and Bergeron are the originators of American tiki culture. But what about the reason we’re all here? What about the Blue Hawaii?
Well, the Blue Hawaii was actually created in Hawaii, which I’m sure is a bit of a shock considering how this story has played out thus far. The electric blue cocktail was created by a Waikiki bartender by the name of Harry Yee. Its conception was prompted by the Bols company. Bols had just put blue curacao on the market and they wanted a signature drink to go with their new product. Yee obliged and the Blue Hawaii was born.
Now that we know the drink’s origin, let’s pin down what it is. Well, as with most cocktails, there is a fair amount of variation. But the standard ingredients appear to be: rum, vodka, blue curacao, pineapple juice, and sweet and sour mix. The drink is typically shaken and served on the rocks. But we’re not making the drink, are we? No, we’re making Blue Hawaii Granita!
So, granitas are not remotely tiki. In fact, granita is a common breakfast item in Sicily. But tiki-culture is all about bending and blending, so let’s take tiki to Italy. Why not? Sure, a Blue Hawaii Granita doesn’t make sense but it will turn your tongue blue and give you brain freeze. And really, can we ask for anything more? Making sense is overrated.
I think a lot of people look at granita and think “project”. And yes, I suppose it is. But aside from the 30-minute check-ins, the actual labor involved is minimal. All you have to do is scrape the damn thing with a fork every 30 minutes as it sets. That’s it! So really all you have to do is be around for 3-4 hours to make this Blue Hawaii Granita. Do it on a Saturday afternoon in your underwear and I swear it won’t feel like work. Plus, you get a frozen cocktail at the end of it. It could be so much worse.
There is nothing difficult about Blue Hawaii Granita. Even making your own sweet and sour mix is a breeze and extracting pineapple juice is nothing to be afraid of. When you really think about it, this Blue Hawaii Granita is more gourmet than anything this unnaturally blue has any business being. And for that twist alone, these frozen beauties have earned a lasting place in my heart.
So that’s the low down on these forthy, blue beauties. Give ’em a try at your next tiki-themed shindig.
Blue Hawaii Granita with Fresh Pineapple Juice
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- Juice of 2 lemons
- Juice of 2 limes
- 1/2 a pineapple cut into chunks
- 3 oz vodka
- 3 oz white rum
- 2 oz blue curacao
- Pineapple wedges for serving
- Luxardo cherries for serving
- Cocktail umbrellas for serving
- Pour water, sugar, lemon juice and lime juice into a small saucepan. Place the pan over medium heat and bring the mixture to a simmer. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Remove the mixture from the heat and set aside to cool completely.
- Place the pineapple in a food processor and blitz until it resembles mulch. Pour the pineapple into a fine mesh strainer and press with a muddler to extract the juice. Reserve the juice and discard the solids.
- Pour the vodka, rum and blue curacao into a large mixing glass. Add the lemon/lime mixture and the pineapple juice and stir to combine. If the color is verging on green feel free to add a drop or two of blue food coloring.
- Pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a loaf tin and transfer to the freezer. Let set for 30 minutes then scrape the surface with a fork. Repeat this step every 30 minutes for 3-4 hours or until set.
- Divide the granita amongst 4 coupe glasses and garnish with a pineapple wedge, a Luxardo cherry and a cocktail umbrella.
- Serve immediately.