[Editor's Note: This post introduces a five-part blog collection about the inspirations for island cocktails served on Isla Palenque. The bottom of this post includes links to all posts in the Island Cocktails series.]
“Ordering a rum and coke is cheating. If you want to feel the effects of alcohol you should be willing to taste it.”
I take my drinking seriously – which is not to say that I drink heavily; rather, I mean that I have a lot of respect for alcohol (it’s arguably responsible for human civilization, after all), and when fixing drinks for myself and others, I want to make sure they are of the highest quality.
About ten years ago, I started getting into mixology – the craft of mixing cocktails. After extensive reading, lots of trial and error, and the purchase of dozens and dozens of base liquors and various mixers, I’ve become something of an expert. And, like any self-proclaimed expert at a craft, I’ve also become quite opinionated about what makes for great cocktail. So I assigned myself the tasks of designing Isla Palenque’s bar menus and manuals. A real chore, I know: one of the pleasures of being President of Amble Resorts is assigning myself those tasks which I find to be closer to play than work.
In every aspect of resort development, we try to draw from the locale for inspiration – from incorporating local handicrafts into the interior décor for individual rooms right down to our cocktail menus. But Panama’s a small country, and while it produces a very good rum (Abuelo), this hasn’t resulted in any signature cocktails that can trace their origin to Panama. Drink mixing in Panama often just means Seco and milk, or Abuelo with ginger ale, and while I can appreciate both, neither concoction rises to the level of a “cocktail”. (That’s not to say a great cocktail can’t be just two ingredients: it’s really about understanding the inherent flavors of various spirits and mixing them in ways that enhance — or at least don’t mask — their qualities.)
Which brings me back where I started. The quote that tops this article, or something very similar to it, was told to me by my maternal grandfather, who was something of a classicist when it came to imbibing: he pretty much only drank Bordeaux wine or bourbon and water. (He also met my grandmother – a patriarchal woman who every evening drank exactly one Dewar’s and water – while stationed at the Panama Canal in the late ‘30s, but that’s another story…) At the time, I was in my early teens and my wish to mix drinks to order during a gathering at my grandparents’ house had been granted. And while I’m not sure if he was intending to impart wisdom or just making an offhand comment, the message stuck.
Though I ignored his admonishment a bit in college, the message always lingered in the back of my mind, and so I forced myself to acquire the taste for alcohol. Much to my benefit, as it turned out, because the taste of good alcohol, like the taste of good coffee, requires some “acquisition”, but once acquired, it becomes one of life’s great pleasures.
To design a list of drinks that provide this pleasure to guests of our resort, and in a style authentic to Panama without being limited to Seco-with-milk, we had to cast our “inspirational net” wider. (We’ve done this with a few other elements of the hotel: for example, the music our guests will hear playing in the resort’s restaurants is not all from Panama.)
The result is a list of island cocktails and tropically-inspired beverages both potent and delicious. Tap the trend in vintage cocktails with the Straits Sling, perfect for a hot day on the beach; meet the classic Margarita (you’ve likely never known her), made with the best of ingredients and the freshest of our island limes; shake it up with the ultra-classy Pisco Sour for a unique taste of Latin America in a signature cocktail that hasn’t yet been bastardized by a shoddy common treatment, and discover nine other island cocktail recipes that I will describe, to try at home or simply look forward to tasting at The Resort at Isla Palenque.
I could wax poetic about and write a full blog post on every one of these cocktails – but I’ll contain myself and simply focus on a particular type of cocktail for each of the posts in our island cocktails series to appear over the next month. I think this journey through the classic cocktails we’ll be serving on Isla Palenque will make for some interesting and instructive reading, especially for those who also take their drinking seriously.
Enjoy the first in this series, published alongside this introduction, to take a look at some classic Latin cocktails we’ll be featuring in The Resort at Isla Palenque’s restaurant and bar offerings.
A full list of posts in the Island Cocktails series:
- The Joys of Mixology: Classic Cocktails on Isla Palenque
- Classic Latin Cocktails: Part I (The Holy Trinity), Part II
- Vintage Cocktails for the Tropics
- The Tiki Drink