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A Cocktail wonk look at classic libations and the modern tiki vanguard
Matt Pietrek & Carrie smith
Most cocktail books these days are published by big prestigious bars. Names like Death & Co, The Aviary and Smuggler’s Cove need no introduction for most cocktail lovers. It seems to be relatively rare to see books come from true enthusiasts, but Minimalist Tiki is exactly that. Many rum fans like myself have surely heard the name Matt Pietrek (aka Cocktail Wonk). His blog, Cocktail Wonk, is a deep dive into all things spirits, cocktails and drinking. Now, Matt has taken the absolutely huge step of self-publishing his own addition to the tiki vanguard. Minimalist Tiki lives up to the high standards of the Cocktail Wonk blog in every way. The book will exceed even the most skeptical reader’s expectations of what a cocktail book should be.
The first recipe in Minimalist Tiki doesn’t appear until page 144 of its 296 pages. Prior to the first recipe, Matt presents his definition of Minimalist Tiki. The book then details what it takes to set up your own Minimalist Tiki bar. Matt then takes you a step further into where to go once you’ve “mastered” minmalist and want to take the next step. The third section is a treatment of rum as a spirit that only the Cocktail Wonk could put together. It is all highly recommended reading.
Matt constructs a list of what he calls the Minimalist Tiki Classic Thirty. These are thirty drinks that represent the core of what tiki drinks look like. On Pages 14 & 15, he puts together a full matrix of those thirty recipes and all of their ingredients broken down by juices, sweeteners, rums, liqueurs & bitters, base spirits and, yes, ginger beer. This matrix is exceptionally helpful in understanding what ingredients you need for your own tiki setup. The matrix helps you set up a buying list based on your own preferred cocktails. If this wasn’t enough, Matt then teaches you improvisation techniques that you won’t find anywhere else. In Minimalist Tiki, Matt is basically giving you all of the keys you need to unlock your own magical tiki world.
Other than the classic thirty, the recipes in the book are contributed by the biggest names in tiki bars and bartenders. Each includes a brief summary of the person or place that the drink comes from. These lists of bars can (and should) be used to create your own tiki pilgrimage plans.
From a data standpoint, Minimalist Tiki does not look quite as minimalist as you might expect. 52% of the 165 ingredients are used only once. The average number of ingredients per recipe is 7, making each drink a bit more complex than you might find in other cocktail books. These drinks take a bit of work to put together, but you’ll be rewarded with flavor profiles that accentuate the spirit of tiki throughout the book. Pan to start with the classic thirty, and then grow into the rest of the book as you continue your tiki journey.
There are a few interesting participants in the most used ingredient from Minimalist Tiki, most notably Pineapple Juice and Falernum. Most cocktail books will have Lime Juice and Lemon Juice at the top of their ingredients lists but the presence of Pineapple Juice in 21% of the recipes says a lot about the flavor profile of these drinks. Matt’s is the first book I’ve seen with a Falernum recipe in it, and it makes judicious use of the tasty concoction in 17% of its recipes.
What Matt has accomplished with Minimalist Tiki cannot be overstated. Tiki – often shrouded in mystery and magic – is exposed at a level that anyone can understand. With his explanation of improvisation and drink creation, he also gives you room to grow. Minimalist Tiki is a book you can take off the shelf and use right away. More than that, it is a book you’ll continue to pick up for years to come. I can’t wait to see what else Matt has up his sleeves.