Pagan Holiday

I have a thing for Thai food. I love the mixture of flavors like basil with spice and cooked fruit. One of my favorite Mojito riffs is to make one with Stiggins Pineapple Rum and basil instead of white rum and mint. It’s delicious. You should try it.

So when I needed a recipe for a cocktail last year, I reached for that as a starting point…

Pagan Holiday Cocktail

Pagan Holiday

  • 1 oz Aged Jamaican Rum (pictured with Plantation Xaymaca)
  • 0.5 oz Plantation Stiggins Fancy Pineapple Rum
  • 0.5 oz Aged Demerara Rum (pictured with El Dorado 12 Year)
  • 1 oz Basil-Honey Syrup (see below)
  • 0.75 oz Lemon Juice
  • 0.5 oz Pineapple Juice

Frappe with crushed ice and dump into an Old Fashioned Glass or Mai Tai Glass. Garnish with fresh basil.

This recipe is one of the last-minute concoctions I have thrown at the wall for the annual Summer Tiki Throwdown at 320 Main – this one for 2018. As is often the case, I was nearing the deadline to submit my recipe (I may have actually already been late) and was tempted to just submit the aforementioned basil pineapple Mojito, but that didn’t feel Tiki enough. So in order to punch up the Tiki-ness and mask the fact that this was thrown together at the last minute, I decided to try using a homemade syrup.

I usually try to avoid homemade syrups. I don’t like having to remember to prep something in advance any time I want a drink – I’m too lazy for that most of the time. However, for 2017’s Throwdown, I made my own tamarind syrup for my entry and was very pleased with how that turned out. So I decided to give it another go and tried my hand at making a basil honey syrup, which allowed the drink to land somewhere between a Mojito and a Missionary’s Downfall.

The syrup was…meh. It didn’t really imbue the basil to the degree I wanted. I ended up muddling the basil into the drink to get the flavor I wanted, but I was unhappy with doing so. I also tried making a normal honey syrup and then simmering it with chiffonaded basil leaves. This works, but can be a bit hit-or-miss. Get the temperature too high and you end up with a slightly off flavor. Luckily for me, 320 has a great kitchen that can execute on things better than I can and they made a pretty awesome syrup for me.

For best consistency, I recommend using the method Jeffrey Morgenthaler has in his The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique. You end up with a dark green syrup, but this is a Tiki drink so you don’t really have to worry about color (and thanks to Craig Hermann from Colonel Tiki for suggesting I revisit Jeff’s book for a way to consistently get a good syrup).

Basil Honey Syrup

* adapted from Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s Mint Syrup in Bar Book.

  • 1 cup Honey
  • 1 cup Water
  • 5 bunches of sweet basil

Prepare a pot of boiling water and an ice bath for the basil. Flash boil the basil for 15 seconds and then deposit in the ice bath for 1 minute. Pat leaves dry and then remove from stems. Place honey, water, and basil leaves into a blender and blend thoroughly. Filter through a fine mesh strainer or cheese cloth. Store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Do note that the syrup calls for sweet basil (also called Italian Basil) and not Thai Basil. I’ve tried making this with Thai Basil and it’s still pretty good, but the added anise flavor from the Thai Basil sticks out a bit in the drink and I’ve found the Sweet Basil to be a better crowd pleaser.

The drink did not win me “Best Drink” honors at the throwdown. That’s like 10 straight years without winning the people’s choice vote for that. But I did have the extremely humbling experience of winning the Bartender’s Choice for Best Drink, voted on by my colleagues/competitors, including Kelly Merrell from Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar, Brittany van Hooser from 320 Main, and our People’s Choice winner: Matt Ellingson of Club 33 and 21 Royal fame.

I have to admit that I’m somewhat embarrassed that I have yet to try this as a blended drink. I’m already using a blender to make my basil honey syrup, so just blending the whole thing isn’t really too far afield. I think the only thing holding me back is that I started at Mojito and if I go fully blended I’ll have arrived very, very close to just making a Basil Missionary’s Downfall. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I think I just find it a bit frightening to realize how quickly an idea can bounce from “inspired by Drink A” to “almost exact replica of Drink B” (it’s criminal how often I have almost accidentally recreated the Mai Tai). From a practical standpoint, I do like that going shaken means that I can break out the blender once every two weeks (the syrup should keep about that long in the fridge) instead of every time I want to make the drink.