The “Piña Colada” Gets A Face Lift

Photograph Jolie Ruben (Time Out)

The Piña Colada (translated to English “strained pineapple”) has been for years like the washed up ditsy bimbo of  the cocktail world, only found in luxury cruises and franchise beach hotels. Disregarded by many bartenders with the use of mediocre techniques and cheap premixes, what was once one of the most delicious drinks ever created became a running joke for many. But that has not always been the luck for the Piña Colada. It’s origins, according to several different versions, trace back to the 1800’s where a Puerto Rican pirate by the name of Roberto Cofresi is credited to have mixed white rum, pineapple juice, coconut milk with hopes to boost the crews moral. There is no evidence of this recipe which disappeared with Cofresi’s death in 1825.

The New York Times mentions this drink back in 1950, “Drinks in the West Indies range from Martinique’s famous rum Punch to Cuba’s Piña Colada (rum, pineapple and coconut milk).”

The cocktail historians don’t think that this is enough evidence to prove it’s a Cuban creation due to two previous stories involving two “Ramones”.

In 1954 at the Caribe Hilton Beachcomber Bar in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the Piña Colada was first introduced by its alleged creator, Ramon “Monchito” Marrero. Setting aside the origin debate one thing the historians agree on is how The Beachcomber bar is responsible for putting this cocktail in the mainstream consciousness, spreading it around the world through its franchise chain.

The second Ramon (Portas Mingot, from Buenos Aires) claims to have created the Piña Colada at The Barrachina, a Puerto Rican restaurant where he  mixed pineapple juice, coconut cream, condensed milk and ice in a blender. A plaque outside the restaurant commemorates the occasion.

A third Ramon from Puerto Rico was also instrumental in the popularization of the Piña Colada. In 1954 Ramon Lopez patented a commercially viable way of processing crème of coconut. A product known famously as Coco Lopez.

In 1978 Puerto Rico declared the Piña colada its national drink

Through out the times some recipes mention only coconut without specifying what kind, be it coconut water, milk, coconut crème or crème of coconut. What difference does it make? A lot. Here’s an explanation from

Coconut water: Split open a coconut and the juice you’ll find inside is coconut water. You wouldn’t use it to sweeten a drink, but it can be an interesting substitute for water in punches.

Coconut milk: This is usually made by cooking equal parts coconut and water. You’ll see cans of it anywhere you can buy Thai food ingredients, since coconut milk is the basis of Thai curry. It’s not typically used for cocktails. Coconut milk has the consistency of dairy milk—there’s even a cream that rises to the top.

Coconut cream: This is thicker and richer than coconut milk. Coconut cream can be either the cream that rises to the top of a can of coconut milk or the product that results from cooking four parts coconut with one part water. You could use coconut cream in cocktails, but it isn’t as sweet as you’d expect.

Cream of coconut: This is the one you use in cocktails! Cream of coconut is coconut cream with sugar added.

Once more we got to give thanks to the resurgent Tiki movement for bringing back this beloved cocktail and giving it the place it deserves. Tales of the cocktail 2011 just recently held a Piña Colada Competition sponsored by Bacardi, where 17 bartenders presented their riffs on this classic drink. The winning cocktail was “No Passport Required” Created by Debbi Peek from Chicago here’s her recipe:

No Passport Required

2 oz Smoked Bacardi Añejo Rum*

2 oz coconut milk

1 oz roasted Pineapple Puree (Perfect Puree)

½ oz Brown Sugar Syrup (equal parts brown sugar/water)

½ oz Ginger Puree (equal parts fresh ginger/water/sugar, blended until smooth)

Garnish: glass dipped in honey and rimmed with toasted coconut


Shake all with ice.

Strain into toasted coconut-rimmed Piña Colada glass filled with ice.

*Smoked Bacardi Añejo – Cold smoke over cherry wood for 45 minutes.
Note: One hour of prep time needed to toast the coconut, melt the brown sugar, and puree ginger.

The goal of the USBG Piña Colada competition at Tales of the Cocktail was to inspire today’s generation of bartenders to reimagine this classic cocktail and take it forward into the second golden age of cocktails,” said Ann Tuennerman, founder of Tales of the Cocktail. ”The winning cocktails had true balance and complexity of flavor and deserve their place in history alongside the Original Pina Colada.

With so much exposure and attention this cocktail is having at events such as “Tales” with its competition and tastings we can be assured that this drink will be appearing more a more on cocktail menus but most importantly prepared the right way.

Ever since its opening in May 2010 PKNY holds the Piña Colada as the standard to which their other drinks measure up to.A Daiquiri in Havana can be as much of a barometer for indicating excellence in service as can be a Manhattan in Manhattan. At Painkiller, the standard frozen drink is the Piña Colada.” If you can master the execution of this drink, then you can properly make all of the frozen drinks on the menu with little variation.

Here’s is their recipe taken from their website


At Painkiller, we prepare our Piña Colada by combining the following ingredients in a blender:

1 1/2 oz. Aged Puerto Rican Rum

(The original may have called for silver or white rum, but we favor the depth of flavor that aged rum lends to the cocktail)

1 1/2 oz. Cream of Coconut

(If you do not want to make your own cream of coconut using the technique mentioned in this essay, a simple recipe for the home is 3 parts cream of coconut to 1 part coconut cream. This lightens the sweetness without diminishing the body).

1 1/2 oz. freshly extracted pineapple juice

(Sadly, there is no substitute for this. With very few exceptions, we do not serve anything that we do not juice fresh in-house. One could certainly use unsweetened pineapple juice from a can and the results would be potable. HOWEVER, the canned alternative will NEVER yield a cocktail that compares to one that features freshly squeezed juice.)

Add four large chunks of pineapple.  Add approximately 8 ounces of crushed ice.  Blend for 45 seconds.  Strain into a cored out pineapple.  Garnish with shredded coconut, an orange slice, and a cherry.

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