In 1979 the song “Escape” was written by a man named Rupert Holmes. He wrote in on a lark, about a man who is unhappy with his marriage, and goes seeking a woman through the personal ads in his local paper. After some correspondence, they agree to meet at a local bar. To the man’s surprise, the woman that he meets is his wife that he is so unhappy with. They realize that they have more in common than they thought, and live happily ever after. The song also lived happily ever after, being one of the most popular songs in the 1970’s, and one of the first number one songs of the 1980’s. It is the only song to be a number one hit on Billboard in two different decades. The writer of the song was proud of the fame and money that the song brought to him, but horrified that it was the only song he is known for. It was renamed shortly after it came out (with his reluctant permission) as “Escape (The Pina Colada Song).” July 10th is National Pina Colada Day, and while you may want to enjoy the song over and over on your iDevice, I suggest you try the drink that made the song such a hit.
Pina coladas (in Spanish, “strained pineapple”) are one of the few cocktails we have a solid date as to when it was introduced. On August 16, 1954 the pina colada was introduced to the world by a bartender named Ramón “Monchito” Marrero at the Caribe Hilton in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He was tasked to create a signature cocktail that would service the high end clientele that was coming to hotel on a regular basis. The hotel already had a drink that involved coconut juice, Bacardi rum, and the newly introduced Coco Lopez, served in a coconut. The coconut workers went on strike about that time, and so they had run out of coconuts. Instead, the decision was made to serve the drink in the husk of a pineapple, adding the final flavor and giving birth to a new drink. They also substituted the traditional Bacardi for Don Q Gold rum. It was by most accounts originally shaken and strained over cracked ice. In 1978 the drink was named the national drink of Puerto Rico.
That is not the only story, but it is the most popular and consistent one. It is rumored that a pirate named Roberto Cofresí invented a similar drink at the beginning of the 19th century that he shared with his crew. He did not write it down or tell anyone the recipe, so the drink died with him in 1825. The name of the drink was also mentioned in the magazine TRAVEL in 1922, without the coconut but adding some lime juice. Restaurant Barrachina, also in San Juan, claims to be the birth place of the modern pina colada. Bartender Ramon Portas Mingot added heavy cream to the mix and blended it with ice, creating the frozen libation we all know and love today. That was in 1963, and the restaurant has a plaque on the outside on the restaurant to commemorate the event.
When you order it today, it comes out frozen in a fancy glass, possibly with whip cream on top of it. Most places follow the same recipe, and there are very few variations on the drink. They do exist, like the Miami Vice (strawberry daiquiri layered on top of a pina colada), the Chi Chi (substitute the rum for vodka), or the Kahula colada (substitutes the rum for coffee liqueur). If you want to make one at home, here is the recipe:
2 oz. of light rum
2 oz. Coco Lopez (or other cream of coconut)
4 oz. pineapple juice
1 cup of ice
Maraschino cherry and pineapple wedge for a garnish
Add the rum, cream of coconut, pineapple juice, and ice into a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into a hurricane or other tall glass, and garnish with the pineapple wedge and cherry. If you want to make it a little sweeter, add .5 oz. of heavy cream. There are also recipes with some Angostura bitters for some extra spice. To make the non-frozen version, put all of the liquid ingredients into a glass over ice, and shake well. Then strain the cocktail over ice into the hurricane glass. You can even take out the rum entirely if you want to.
Rupert Holmes may have regrets about his pina colada adventure, but a well made one is delicious and refreshing in the summer months. It is also a lovely reminder of warm Puerto Rican beaches and cool breezes coming off the Caribbean. Find a patio on July 10th, order one up, and relax. Salud!