The Real Story Behind the Piña Colada

Estimated read time 4 min read

Rupert Holmes’ 1979 hit single “Escape,” better known as “The Piña Colada Song,” may have affected how generations view the iconic tropical cocktail. The cheesy song about the scandalous exploits of two horrible people in a relationship transformed the classic drink of rum, pineapple juice, and cream of coconut into a punchline.

“The song pigeonholed the drink to this stereotype of being a trashy, fun, party drink,” says LyAnna Sanabria, co-founder and beverage director of Papi Portland in Portland, Maine. “It’s never treated as a drink with nuance anymore.”

Soft rock anthems aside, the cocktail’s origin story is anything but straightforward. The Piña Colada’s creation is instead a convoluted tale complete with squabbling properties, public statements, and claims that may or may not be true.

A drink of riffs and legends

The Piña Colada, as we know it, was created in Puerto Rico. It became the Caribbean island’s national drink in 1978, a full year before Holmes’ song was released. It remains a cherished beverage in its homeland to this day.

These are verifiable elements. Everything else is a bit messy.

The drink, Spanish for “strained pineapple,” was likely a riff on another cocktail with its own mythos. It’s generally agreed the original drink was the lesser-known Cuban Piña Colada, a concoction made with rum, pineapple juice, lime, and sugar that falls in between a classic Daiquiri and a Hemingway Daiquiri. The earliest reference to this drink comes from a December 1922 issue of Travel magazine, which name-checks Bacardi and implies the drink’s popularity in Havana.

A few historians theorize the drink goes back to the 1800s, although their account requires buying into a legend. In this story, a pirate from Puerto Rico named Roberto Cofresi allegedly made a drink of white rum, pineapple juice, and coconut milk to keep his crew happy and avoid a mutiny. The legend also mentions he took the recipe to his grave.

A modern debate

Two properties claim to have created the modern Piña Colada: The Beachcomber Bar inside Puerto Rico’s historic Caribe Hilton Hotel and a restaurant two miles down the road in historic Old San Juan, Barrachina

Three bartenders contend the drink was their idea.

The Caribe account is split into two parts. The story goes that bartender Ramon “Monchito” Marrero initially claimed to have invented the drink at the Beachcomber Bar in either 1952 or 1954, depending on the source. Fellow Caribe bartender Ricardo Garcia disputed his co-worker’s assertion by saying he was the one who came up with the recipe in 1953.

Barrachina didn’t enter the chat until 1963, when one of its bartenders, Ramon Portas Mingot, supposedly created the drink. The eatery still supports Mingot’s assertion through an elegant marble plaque that backs up his claim. But is it accurate? It’s hard to tell. 

Puerto Rico’s official tourism website, Discover Puerto Rico, subscribes to the Caribe theory with Marrero as the drink’s creator. They don’t explicitly say so, but the organization does refer to National Piña Colada Day on July 10, 2024, as the drink’s 70th birthday. A little math reveals their stance right down to the year (1954). This also knocks Garcia out of the running since he claimed he invented the drink a year earlier.

Marrero allegedly created the beverage after the hotel challenged him to make a drink that best represented Puerto Rico (some attribute a similar story to Mingot, citing a cocktail competition as the impetus). However, Marrero’s original creation notably lacked alcohol, supposedly consisting of coconut cream, pineapple juice, and vanilla ice cream. The rum would come later. 

Whatever Marrero created, it was a hit. It’s said that legendary actress Joan Crawford tried his creation and said it “was better than slapping Bette Davis in the face.”

The key ingredient

The catalyst behind the modern Piña Colada is another quintessential Puerto Rican ingredient: Coco López, the cream of coconut concoction invented in the late 1940s by Ramón López Irizarry, a professor of agricultural science at the University of Puerto Rico. 

According to the Marrero theory, the bartender used the product, which was new at the time, to create the cocktail. Coco López’s imprint on the drink remains strong to this day, even if newer alternatives now exist on the market. 

“Coco López may be antiquated in a craft [bar] setting, but it is awesome in a dive bar, where you’re more likely to find it anyway,” says Sanabria. “It holds a lot of honor because of its past.”

Will we ever know who created the Piña Colada for sure? Probably not. But it’s here now and that’s all that matters. 

Source link

You May Also Like

More From Author

+ There are no comments

Add yours