It's difficult to imagine a person who doesn't immediately think Jimmy Buffet and spring break vacation at the mention of a piña colada. Yet, this beloved cocktail synonymous with beachside drinking should not be written off as merely a hokey tourist-attracting concotion designed specifically for slushee machines.
The official drink of the Puerto Rican islands, the piña colada is a combination of rum, coconut cream, crushed ice, and pineapple juice (the name itself translates to “strained pineapple juice”). In Puerto Rico the drink is treated with the respect it rightly deserves, available as a casual beverage in just about every bar and restaurant on the island.
The drink’s origins are hotly debated, with stories dating back to the 1800s. The oldest claim is linked to Puerto Rican pirate Roberto Cofresi, who supposedly served his crew a cocktail of coconut, pineapple, and rum to boost morale.
However, the most widely accepted story of the drink's origin comes from the Caribe Hilton’s Beachcomber Bar in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It is said that in 1954, hotel management requested that head bartender Ramon Marrero create a drink to delight the palates of visiting Hollywood celebrities. And it worked — the legendary Joan Crawford supposedly declared that the drink “was better than slapping Bette Davis in the face.”
Interestingly, another bartender at the Beachcomber also takes credit for the invention, saying that a local coconut harvester’s strike caused him to start serving another popular drink, the Coco Loco, in hollowed-out pineapples instead of coconut shells. When the coconut-heavy Coco Loco was blended with the pineapple juices, the piña colada was born.
The cocktail is internationally recognized as including white rum, cream of coconut and pineapple juice, though heavy cream is often added as well to provide an extra luscious, creamy texture. The ingredients are all blended together with ice, and then (often) poured into the wackiest glass on hand.
Still, once one gets away from San Juan where the cocktail was born, recipes start to fluctuate with each individual bartender. This became especially true after the drink's popularity exploded in 1979 with the release of Rupert Holmes's iconic “Escape (The Piña Colada Song).” (Good luck getting that hook out of your head now.)
These days, the drink has lost some of its connection to its traditional Puerto Rican roots, and has gained more of a kitschy tiki bar following, but ask anyone in San Juan what they’re drinking and they’ll be proud to tell you that they do, indeed, like piña coladas. And if you're looking to cool off and keep this tropical buzz going, there are lots of other mojitos, margaritas and more cocktail recipes perfect for warm weather.
The Caribe Hilton in San Juan, Puerto Rico still proudly claims heritage to the pina colada and this recipe is straight from the source. Even if you can't enjoy it beachside, the refreshing, tropical flavors will make you feel like you are.
If you prefer a mocktail or want the kids to feel like they're in on the fun, then a virgin pina colada is the way to go. Vanilla extract gives some of the flavor boost that rum would but withuot the high alcohol content.
Prefer your tropical flavors in muffin form? Then this recipe is for you. Yellow cake mix gets gussied up with coconut extract, rum extract, shredded coconut and pineapple for an easy, family-friendly, tropical take on a morning glory muffin.
If you want to go rogue, then try this riff on the classic colada, which swaps in mezcal for a savory, smoky flavor. This one is shaken, not blended, along with banana liqueur, pineapple and lime juice. It just goes to show that the piña colada continues to influence and delight bartenders and consumers alike.