food hawaii

Tropical Drinks

Tropical drinks are part of the Hawaii vacation experience

Tropical Drinks on a hot day
Enjoy a tropical drink in Hawaii

Tropical cocktails at sunset anyone?

Ever since Harry Yee created the “Blue Hawaii” nearly 45 years ago, tropical cocktails have been as much a part of the Hawaiian experience as white sand beaches, rainbows, and waterfalls. Think about it. Is sunset in the Islands really complete without a refreshing Mai Tai or Tropical Itch?

Tropical cocktails are as diverse and colorful as the Hawaiian islands themselves. Their names are creative and often whimsical: Paddler’s Passion, Lava Flow, Hula Girl, Big Kahuna, Tropical Delight, Torch Lighter‚ and even the Missionary’s Downfall. Traditional and new tropical drinks use a wide range of ingredients, and many of today’s recipes are nonalcoholic (so even the children can enjoy these fruity concoctions).

Blue Hawaii

Blue Hawaii tropical drink
The drink that started it all

Yee came up with Blue Hawaii in 1957, while working as a bartender at the now Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa in Waikiki. A sales representative for Bols asked Yee to create a new drink using blue curacao, one of the company’s new liqueurs. After experimenting with several ingredients, Yee hit the jackpot with Blue Hawaii. His recipe is a zesty blend of blue curacao, rum, and vodka.

Blue Hawaii Recipe

3/4 oz. Rum
3/4 oz. Vodka
1/2 oz. Blue Caracao
3 oz. Pineapple Juice
1 oz. Sweet & Sour
Ice (optional)

Tropical Itch

Tropical Itch drink with a back scratcher
Even comes with a backscratcher for later

That same year, Yee created another favorite Island drink, the Tropical Itch, which is made with rum, passion orange juice, and orange curacao. The first Blue Hawaii drinks were stylishly served in a ten-ounce glass with a garnish of fresh pineapple, while the Tropical Itch came in a hurricane glass with a bamboo backscratcher.

Mai Tai

Ironically, the king of tropical drinks in Hawaii—the celebrated Mai Tai—wasn’t created in Hawaii. An enterprising chef by the name of Donn Beach created the Mai Tai in California in the 1930s or ’40s. Beach, in fact, concocted more than 90 drinks during this time period.

In her book, 101 Great Tropical Drinks, author Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi provided this Mai Tai recipe from the Royal Hawaiian Hotel:

Royal Hawaiian Hotel Mai Tai Recipe

1/2 oz. Orange Curacao
2 oz. Orange Juice
1/2 oz. Lime Juice
Dash of Orgeat
Dash of Simple Syrup
1 oz. Light Rum
1 oz. Myer’s Dark Rum

(The rums should be layered: first the light rum, then the dark rum.)

Chow’s Mai Tai Recipe by Chowhound

Helpful Hints

While there are no rules for selecting a tropical cocktail, it may be helpful to follow the advice of writer Rick Carroll. No tropical cocktail should taste too strong, too weak or too syrupy. It should be clean, fresh, smooth and flavorful with no jolt of alcohol or a lingering aftertaste. The perfect tropical drink shouldn’t burn your throat or turn you to stone.

Whether you favor a Kakaako Swamp Water or Greg Brady’s Wipeout, enjoying a tropical drink in Hawaii is as refreshing as a swim at Hanauma Bay. Suck ’em up!