Sippin' Safari

Book review time! Today I pulled a non-fiction work from the pile: Sippin' Safari by Jeff Berry (who is perhaps better known as Beachbum Berry). This particular book is a history of tiki, focusing in large part on interviews with many of the original bartenders of the first tiki bars.

What people may or may not realize is that this is a good time for such things. Tiki culture is really quite synthetic and American - it has some very loose underpinnings from Pacific and Polynesian cultures but the truth of the matter is that it was pretty much manufactured in post-war America. It was a pretty cutthroat sort of thing at first and recipes were guarded pretty jealously, and that means the original recipes for many things are in danger of being lost. Or at least they were, until Berry did serious research and produced this book. I realize discussing "serious research" and "tiki bars" seems sort of ridiculous but anthropology is anthropology when you stop and think about it.

I liked the book a lot, but what you're going to get out of it is directly proportional to how much interest you have in tiki. There are recipes in here that look interesting, but a lot require hard-to-acquire ingredients. The book also has a section on where to find them (and Berry's web page updates that), but expect some work to make any of these. Also, many of these old-school drinks require pre-made mixes, syrups, or "batters" of butter and honey, so that requires a bit more set-up. (Having said that, I could support some research if people wanted to come over and try a few of these before I add them to the tiki party rotation. Speaking of which, how did it get to be May already. Wasn't it just Christmas?)

It's sort of silly to talk about "authentic" tiki since tiki itself is so patently and proudly fake. Having said that, it's still refreshing to see where it all came from, and to have a deep archive of recipes from a time when "tiki drink" didn't mean "rum with enough sticky sickly-sweet syrup added so you can't taste the alcohol". I think if the thought of a spot of tiki anthropology intrigues you then you would enjoy this book. If you're just looking for an intriguing zombie recipe you'll probably have better luck with a different book. If you want a few zombie recipes along with tracing the history of the drink and figuring out how it changed as Trader Vic and Don the Beachcomber and the others cloned or stole it, then this is exactly the ticket.