Friday, May 09, 2014

Cocktail of the Week: The Jungle Bird

Strange how a creature with such beautiful plumage can hide in plain sight.

When Seattle’s Rob Roy changed its menu, we stopped by at the earliest opportunity to sample the latest wonders from Anu Apte and her team. Rosemarie’s eye was immediately drawn to the Jungle Bird. “It sounds like a tiki drink,” she said, “but it has Campari in it.” As we were leaving, she informed me, “We’ll be coming back for more of those.”

A short time later, this Robert Simonson piece in the New York Times offered an update on the Jungle Bird’s migratory pattern. It was coming home to roost at cocktail bars all over the country. The drink is no spring chicken; created at the Kuala Lumpur Hilton in Malaysia, it’s been around since 1978. The recipe was recorded in John J. Poister’s New American Bartender’s Guide (1989), where it was largely ignored. Only when tiki authority Jeff “Beachbum” Berry unearthed it for his 2002 book Intoxica! did its popularity begin to hatch.

What gulls galls me – all right, I’ll lay off the puns – is that I have Poister’s book on my shelf, yet unlike everybody else, I’d never heard about the Bird*. Poister’s recipe calls for a veritable flotilla of garnishes: a maraschino cherry, an orange slice, a lime slice, and an orchid (listed as optional, and thank our lucky stars for that). He also recommends you “serve in a special ceramic bird container or use a chilled hurricane glass.” You’ll take a basic rocks glass, Poister, and you’ll like it. Most bars now pour the cocktail over a single large ice cube.

I freely confess I am not typically a fan of tiki drinks. More often than not you can only taste the fruit, the rum not hitting you until you wake up in Laughlin with yet another showgirl wife to explain to the uptight authorities. As Rosemarie suspected and Berry confirms in the Simonson article, it’s the presence of Campari that accounts for its success in the contemporary bar scene, its bitterness corkscrewing through the drink and preventing the entire enterprise from floating away on a cloud of sweetness.

While Simonson is correct in saying rare rums aren’t required here, you’ll want a darker one that will bear up to the Campari. I followed the advice of esteemed New York bartender Giuseppe Gonzalez and used Cruzan Black Strap, the more intense (and, yes, bitter) version made from blackstrap molasses. The complex taste and texture of this spirit leave no doubt who’s in charge here. I appreciated the result more having tried a different variety first – I believe Rob Roy’s fine Jungle Bird is prepared with Amrut Old Port Rum – and would suggest doing likewise in order to understand the drink’s nuances. Perhaps a flight of Jungle Birds? OK, seriously, I’ll stop now.

*Technically not a pun, but a dated musical reference.

The Jungle Bird

1 ½ oz. dark rum (blackstrap when you’re ready for it)
1 ½ oz. pineapple juice (canned is fine, fresh is infinitely better)
¾ oz. Campari
½ oz. fresh lime juice
½ oz. simple syrup

Shake. Strain. No garnish necessary, but feel free to go nuts. (NOTE: do not garnish with nuts.)

Want more Cocktail of the Week? The first fifty-two essays are available in the Kindle bestseller DOWN THE HATCH: ONE MAN’S ONE YEAR ODYSSEY THROUGH CLASSIC COCKTAIL RECIPES AND LORE. Buy it now at