"...better than slapping Bette Davis in the face." - Joan Crawford upon first tasting a Piña Colada

Considering the notorious drawn out catfight between these two stars of the classic era of the silver screen, this is mighty praise indeed for the drink. It should be tempered however with the fact that Joan was a drunkard as immortalized in the infamous book Mommie Dearest and subsequent movie. But I digress...it is the Piña Colada's fiftieth birthday that we need to talk about here.

That the drink originated in Puerto Rico is undisputed. As a matter of fact, in a very misguided moment, the Puerto Rican government decided that the island needed an official drink and issued a formal proclamation in 1978 elevating the Piña Colada to that exalted state. Where it was invented has been a matter of some controversy with a 'war of the plaques' breaking out in the early seventies and no less than three different establishments unveiling plaques commemorating the drink's invention. The commonly accepted (and now government sanctioned) story is that Ramón "Monchito" Romero, a bartender at the Caribe Hilton, is responsible for it. Monchito was hired by the hotel to be the head bartender for the Beachcomber's Bar in 1954. He then spent three months mixing and testing different fruit juice combinations to serve as a signature drink for the bar that would reflect the tastes of the island. The classic mixture of Rum, Coco Lopez*, Pineapple juice and crushed ice was the result of this quest. The name of the drink literally means "strained pineapple" and Monchito insisted on fresh pineapple straight from the field.

Allow me an indulgence in transporting you to the setting: It is the mid 1950s, rock and roll is yet to become popular and Frankie is the soundtrack of the times. Puerto Rico is still a backwater eclipsed by the popularity of Cuba as a Caribbean tourist destination. Nonetheless, the Caribe Hilton is a jewel in the crown of Hilton Hotels, a beautiful oasis at the entrance of the island that houses the old colonial center of the city. Open to the breezes blowing in from the Atlantic Ocean only steps away at the only private beach in all of Puerto Rico, the Beachcombers Bar overlooks the underwater lit pool where night swimming is a slightly illicit treat. The room is huge and open to the rest of the hotel with fifty foot ceilings and a rectangular central bar hemmed in by a mezzanine of tables on three sides. The strains of Latin music float in the air punctuated by the sound of blenders. This is what they are making:

    Piña Colada
  • 2 oz. rum (if you can get it, I recommend Don Q gold for an authentic period experience).
  • 1 oz. Coco Lopez
  • 1 oz. heavy cream
  • 6 oz. fresh pineapple juice
  • 1/2 cup crushed ice

Mix rum, Coco Lopez, heavy cream and pineapple juice in a blender. Add ice and mix for 15 seconds. Serve in a 12-oz. glass and garnish with fresh pineapple and a cherry. The modern version does away with the heavy cream and adds one more ounce of Coco Lopez

The result of this original recipe is creamier than what you would normally get. Anything from a machine is of course, an abomination and to be avoided. You can also omit the rum and end up with a Virgin Piña Colada.

Monchito is no longer with us but he held court at the bar for 35 years. In 1978, to celebrate the three millionth Piña Colada prepared at the bar, Coco Lopez presented him with a color TV and the Puerto Rico State Department issued a proclamation naming the drink the official beverage of the island. It is estimated that 200 million Piña Coladas have been served worldwide since 1954. Dammed if I know how they arrived at that number.

* Coco Lopez is condensed coconut milk in a can. You can find it at almost any self-respecting packie (you know, a package store, where you buy beah). Failing that, you can surely find it at a hispanic market. Oh, and brand counts don't use a substitute brand if you can avoid it.

Pina Colada http://www.frommers.com/destinations/sanjuan/0323027721.html , 9/14/2004
Pina Colada, http://www.loucrossietravel.com/Newsletters.htm, 9/14/2004
Bon Voyage Drinks ~ Chill Out With a Piña Colada, Linda Coffman,http://www.cruisediva.com/pina_colada.htm, 9/15/2004

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