A swim up bar is not the place a cocktail snob typically goes for a quality drink. Usually this fun resort amenity is associated with mass -produced frozen drinks, made from bottled mixes thrown together in industrial size blenders to satisfy the all-you-can-drink party crowd.
But at the Caribe Hilton in San Juan, Puerto Rico, this is not the case. This time-honored resort boasts a lengthy cocktail history. It is well known as the birthplace of the Pina Colada. Bartender Ramon “Monchito” Marrer introduced the classic coconut cocktail in 1954, at the hotel’s now-defunct Beachcomber Bar. Joe Scialom, the inventor the classic Tiki drink, the Suffering Bastard, also tended bar at the Caribe Hilton in the 1950s.
Continuing this long legacy of fine mixology is Ariel Rosario, who presides over the resort’s pool bar. Rosario, a rum connoisseur, has created an extensive list of signature cocktails. He’s even improved upon the pina colada, serving it in a hollowed out pineapple, carved into a whimsical sculpture, and fashioned with a smiling pineapple and cherry face.
His creations highlight the distinct flavors of local rums and the abundance of tropical fruit. According to Rosario, many people think of rum as an unsophisticated spirit because of its history with pirates and people making it at home during prohibition. But this is not true, he says. “In 1952 Puerto Rico created laws to govern the rums that are made here.” He points out. “Even the cheapest rum, if it’s made in Puerto Rico, goes through very strict regulations and processes. “
Puerto Rican rums are made from molasses and are aged for at least one year, which makes them a high quality spirit with much complexity according to Rosario.
One of the most popular poolside libations is Rosario’s update on the vintage Zombie cocktail. The original Zombie was invented by Earnest Raymond Beaumont Gantt, the founder of the string of Don the Beachcomber restaurants that were popular during the Tiki era. His recipe consisted of fruit juices, liqueurs, and various rums, and it was named for its perceived effects upon the drinker.
To make his Puerto Rican Zombie cocktail, Rosario uses five types of rum, four from Puerto Rico, as well as orange, pineapple, and guava and lime juices. “It has a lot of power and a lot of flavor,” he says.
The beauty of Rosario’s concoction is that, despite its lengthy list of ingredients, the drinker can still detect the distinctive flavors of the various rums. “Each rum has unique flavor because of the way it is made,” he says. “So if you mix different types of rum, you will have a blend of tastes. You will notice the difference in a way you can’t achieve with other spirits.”
At Rosario’s suggestion, I try the drink first from the straw for a hit of flavor from the bottom and then sip it from the rim. Each way, I notice the subtleties. The top is lighter and fruitier while the swig from the bottom has a deep warm rum twang. I can pick out a syrupy caramel hint from the Meyers, a rich vanilla tone from the Barillito, the punch from the Bacardi 151, and the pleasant mixture of fruity tastes from the infused rums and tropical juices.
While the drink doesn’t necessarily taste “strong,” I stop after one, not wanting to float away from my barstool.
The Puerto Rican Zombie
½ oz Meyers Dark Rum
½ oz Rum del Barillito
½ oz Don Q Limon
½ oz Bacardi Peach Red
½ oz. Bacardi 151
1 oz pineapple juice
1 oz orange juice
½ oz guava juice
½ oz lime juice
Splash of grenadine
Combine ingredients and mix well in a cocktail shaker. Serve in tall glass over ice. Garnish with fresh fruit.
Ingredients to make the Puerto Rican Zombie may be purchased at Dixie Liquor at 3429 M Street in Georgetown.