Jeff “Beachbum” Berry Gets Interviewed

by Matt Robold on March 2, 2010

Post image for Jeff “Beachbum” Berry Gets Interviewed

Jeff Berry, the leader of a worldwide cult of Tiki, has a new book coming out.  Beachbum Berry Remixed is his latest effort to bring the best of Tiki to the masses.  The book contains more than 240 drink recipes – some classics, some new creations by today’s best barfolk – along with classic artwork and original drink photography.

Using all of my incredible connections in the industry, along with not-so-veiled threats to start encouraging people to make Mai Tais with Amaretto and orange juice, I was able to secure a little bit of Jeff’s time and ask him about his book, his history and which Zombie recipe is the best.

What’s the basic idea behind Beachbum Berry Remixed?

groglog_SmallIt’s the book I would have written first if I knew then what I know now.  Remixed is an updated, expanded, thoroughly revised anthology of my first two books, Beachbum Berry’s Grog Log (1998) and Intoxica! (2002), both of which collected the “lost” exotic drink recipes from Tiki’s original midcentury heyday.  Remixed also features a lot more drink history and lore, incorporating newly discovered information about the origins of the Mai Tai and other legendary Tiki mysteries.

How many drink recipes will readers find in Remixed?

241 all together.  In addition to all the recipes from Grog Log and Intoxica!, I’ve added 107 extra drinks: 41 newly discovered, previously unpublished vintage Tiki drink recipes; 43 of the best new recipes from today’s Tiki revival, gathered especially for Remixed from the world’s top mixologists; and 23 new original recipes by yours truly.

How do you dig up all of the history and lore behind all of these drinks – especially considering how secretive icons like Don The Beachcomber were?

I originally started in libraries, looking up old magazines, and in used book stores, searching for old recipe books.  I also scoured swap meets and paper ephemera shows for old Polynesian restaurant menus.  Aside from the Trader Vic books (which spilled many but not all of his secrets), I didn’t learn much this way.  The best information came from old Tiki bartenders themselves – the few who would actually volunteer any information.  Tiki bartenders were (and are) very cagey about their recipes because keeping those formulas secret made these guys more valued employees to their bosses, who could no longer serve the drinks if the bartender left with his bespoke recipes.  I may never have made much headway if not for the Internet, which gave me a way to connect with the children and grandchildren of long-deceased Beachcomber’s employees who had copied Don’s recipes into their own private notebooks – which their families kept among other memorabilia.

What was the hardest recipe to track down?

The Nui Nui.  It was thoroughly encoded in every notebook I managed to obtain.  It literally took me years to figure out what was in “Don’s Spices #2″ and “Syrup #4.”

What was the most surprising thing you discovered while writing Remixed?

The book was only supposed to take a couple of weeks – just update the text of my first 2 books and add some vintage color eye candy.  It ended up taking the better part of a year because of the sheer volume of new information and old recipes that have surfaced since 2002.  That was the big surprise.  In the immortal words of Jeff Lebowski, “New shit has come to light!”

Is the book all older recipes or can readers find new drinks in there too?

Intoxica_Small[There’s a] “New recipes From The Tiki Revivial” section — [and] it’s my favorite part of Remixed.  It’s very exciting to see the craft cocktail renaissance finally embracing Tiki, and having all these brilliant, forward-thinking drink-makers focus their talents on creating cutting-edge original exotic cocktails.  I rounded up 43 of them for the section, and was adding more right up until the last minute.  There are new Tiki drinks in there from New York, San Francisco, London, Belfast, Bratislava, New Orleans, Hawaii, Portland, and Seattle, to name a few craft cocktail hotspots.

The coolest thing for me about this section is imagining the reaction of someone finding Remixed in some thrift store 70 years from now, reading about these recipes, who made them, and the bars they were served in.  That person will be able to take the pulse of the cocktail scene three generations before him, the same way you and I turn to Charles Baker’s books to discover what was going on in the drink world between the two world wars.

How many long-lost ingredients am I going to have to learn to make now?  Are there anymore “Don’s Mix” type secrets unearthed in Remixed?

Fear not, Matt, you will have no problem with the new vintage recipes!  But the “New Recipes From The Tiki Revival” section, where I asked today’s star bartenders and cocktailians for their take on a new Tiki drink, really opened Pandora’s Box in the bespoke ingredient department.  These guys and gals submitted drinks that call for homemade sage liqueur, prickly pear puree, chocolate-infused rum, caramelized honey cream, sumac-infused pisco, banana flambe mix, orgeat foam…not even Donn Beach got this into it!

Why Tiki?  What drew you into the Polynesian scene to the point of becoming one of it’s biggest icons?

What originally drew me in was [that] I wanted a good tropical drink!  As a kid taken to Polynesian restaurants, I watched adults ordering these amazing-looking exotic cocktails served with ice cones molded around straws, fancifully garnished with flaming lime shells.  But by the time I was old enough to order one, all of the places that served them were disappearing.  So I looked into how to make them myself.

What’s your favorite Zombie?  The ’34, right?  Please don’t say the Spievak Zombie.  Blair says he prefers that one and he has to be wrong, right?

The ’34 is my fave, hands down.  In fact, it’s probably my favorite drink in all of Remixed.  It takes a while to assemble, but it’s worth the effort.  Sorry Blair!

Jeff’s new book, Beachbum Berry Remixed, comes out in the next few weeks.  Be sure to grab a copy when it does, or preorder it today!

Question of the Day:

How many Jeff Berry books do you own?

{ 11 comments }

Previous post:

Next post: