Jeff “Beachbum” Berry Gets Remixed

by Matt Robold on March 1, 2010

Image Courtesy Rimas Zailskas

I think Jeff personally revived the tiki cocktail, at first single-handedly and then with a growing pack of acolytes behind him.

- Wayne Curtis, author of And a Bottle of Rum

I’ve mentioned Jeff Berry numerous times here on RumDood.com.  It’s hard not to.  Actually, let me rephrase that: it’s impossible not to.

Jeff “Beachbum” Berry may be the closest person we have to a living Tiki God today.

Possessed of equal parts author, historian, detective and mixologist; Jeff has produced 5 books on Tiki drinks, culture, and history.  His influence on the modern Tiki and classic cocktail revival is undeniable.  It would be a challenge to find a good bartender or cocktail geek that didn’t have at least one of Jeff’s books sitting in their library.

[H]e and Ted Haigh are pretty much responsible for most of the modern cocktail movement,” says Blair “Trader Tiki” Reynolds.  “He was the first author of a non-crap ‘Tiki drink’ book and his research is what is bringing about the Tiki revival that’s been going on for the past decade.

Berry’s newest book, Beachbum Berry Remixed, is due out in the coming weeks.  The book features over 240 drink recipes, a revamped ingredient glossary, as well as full-color vintage artwork and original drink photography.  This book is yet one more example of the man affectionately referred to as “The Bum’s” incredible tenacity when it comes to finding his way through a hazy and long-neglected maze of Tiki drink history.

Jeff has spent more than a decade discovering, deciphering and decoding the great Polynesian drinks from Tiki’s heyday in the mid-Twentieth Century.

Jeff Berry and RumDoodIt certainly hasn’t been easy.  Tiki bars and their bartenders were (and in many cases today, still are) incredibly secretive.  That amazing drink that they served would lose its luster and they their business if the new place down the street could serve the exact same drink.  A veritable arms race of Polynesian mixology ensued.

Don The Beachcomber was perhaps the greatest example of this clandestine cocktail culture.  Don’s own bartenders often didn’t know the exact ingredients in the drinks they were making, instead pouring from bottles labeled “Spices #2″ or “Syrup #4.”

For more than a decade the Island shirt clad Jeff Berry has combed through books and magazines and hunted down former Tiki greats and their descendants in a tireless search for the drinks that were more than Hawaiian Punch, sickeningly sweet liqueurs, and bad rum.  Along the way Jeff has unearthed secret ingredients, sparked a massive cocktail movement, and – most importantly – helped bring about the current rum renaissance in which we find ourselves today.

It’s largely due to the efforts of the Bum that today we know how to make a proper Zombie or what exactly goes into something called “Don’s Mix.”  Even beyond Tiki one can find the fruits of Jeff’s labor when they make a proper Hurricane.

Says Martin Cate of Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco, “Beneath the published veneer of slack lurks a relentless and focused investigator who will stop at nothing to unearth and catalog all of the vast details of the history of the exotic cocktail.  A lesser intellect would have balked at the first coded ingredient.  Don [The Beachcomber] would be proud.  Or pissed off.

Tomorrow be sure to check back for my interview with Jeff about his new book, researching lost Tiki drinks, and which Zombie recipe is the best one.

* Jeff Berry photo (top of post) courtesy of Rimas Zailskas

Question of the Day:

What’s your favorite Jeff Berry book?

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