Fed up of the sweltering weather, our columnist goes looking for some tropical cocktails to cool himself down.

The world of cocktails is such that there is pretty much something for everyone. Want something classy? Try a Martini. Want something to warm you up during winter? Try a nice hot toddy. Want a nice, long refreshing drink to quench your thirst during a hot tropical day? Well, from mojitos to margaritas to piña colada, there is no shortage of so-called tropical drinks that are just perfect for our hot Malaysian weather.

But, what exactly makes a cocktail a “tropical cocktail”? Is it the spirit? Is it the ingredients? Is it the way it is presented? To find out, I headed to Marini’s on 57, where the outlet’s beverage operation manager and head bartender Rizal Junior (better known as Junior) gave me a brief rundown on tropical cocktails.

While there is really no hard and fast rule on what makes a cocktail a “tropical” one, Junior reckons that many such drinks do share a common theme as well as similar ingredients.

“From my experience interacting with bartenders from tropical countries as well as from the books I’ve read, almost all the tropical cocktails seem to use orgeat syrup and freshly-squeezed juices,” said the Sabah-born bartender, adding that the use of orgeat syrup (a syrup made from almonds, sugar and rose water or orange flower water) may have started with the invention of the Mai Tai.

Another thing he has noticed is that rum always seems to be the go-to spirit when it comes to making tropical cocktails.

An Eastern twist: The Eastern Sour is a tropical twist on the classic whisky sour cocktail.

True enough, most classic tropical cocktails such as the Mai Tai, mojito, and the piña colada, use rum as a base, probably because of the tropical banana and vanilla notes that are quite inherent in most sugarcane-based spirits.

“Personally, I feel the spirit doesn’t matter, as long as you have the right ingredients. It’s usually something light and refreshing. For instance, a piña colada – even if you substitute the rum for whisky, you can still enjoy it under a hot sun because of the way it is presented,” he said.

“Although whisky is usually not made in tropical climates, if you mix it with tropical ingredients like pineapple juice or so on, you can turn it into a tropical drink.”

Just to prove his point, Junior went on to make three tropical drinks that DON’T use rum, but had that “tropical feel” just the same.

Junior putting the finishing touches on the Soursop Sour, which he says reminds him of his hometown Keningau in Sabah.

Eastern Sour

Presented in a pineapple-shaped glass with a pomelo slice garnish, Junior gives the classic whisky sour cocktail a tropical twist with this drink, using orange juice to balance out the sourness of the lemon juice.

The combination of orgeat syrup, orange and whisky also makes this a wonderfully complex yet refreshing drink.

  • 75ml fresh orange juice
  • 20ml fresh lemon juice
  • 10ml orgeat syrup
  • 5ml simple syrup
  • 60ml Makers Mark bourbon whisky

Combine all the ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake, strain, and garnish with a pomelo slice.

Mexican Head Hunter

A wonderfully refreshing and tasty drink, the combination of the two aged tequilas give it an added complexity, while the pineapple and ginger add a definitive tropical flavour.

Junior used homemade Sage Gomme for the drink, which he made by blanching sage in the hot water for 30 seconds, cooling it down in cold water, and then blending the herbs with simple syrup at a 2:1 ratio.

  • 30ml Don Julio Reposado tequila
  • 20ml Don Julio Añejo tequila
  • 20ml fresh lemon juice
  • 15ml Sage Gomme
  • 15ml honey
  • 5ml ginger juice
  • 2 dashes Gary Reagan orange bitter

Combine all the ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake and garnish with mint and a caramelised pineapple slice.

Soursop Sour

This is one drink that is quite close to Junior’s heart, as the soursop fruit reminds him of his hometown back in Keningau, Sabah.

“Back home, the soursop is everywhere, and sometimes we don’t even know what to do with it!” he said with a laugh. “For me, the soursop is a very local fruit and flavour that reminds me very much of home.”

The drink itself uses the juniper-heavy Beefeater London Dry Gin, which blends with the soursop to give the drink a slightly herbal but ultimately quite unique flavour.

  • 20ml fresh lemon juice
  • 30ml soursop nectar
  • 45ml Beefeater London Dry Gin
  • 2 dashes angostura bitters

Combine all the ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake and garnish with mint leaves.

Michael Cheang likes piña coladas, but is not too fond of singing songs in the rain. Marini’s On 57 is located at Level 57, Menara 3 Petronas, Persiaran KLCC, Kuala Lumpur (tel: 03-2386 6030).