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Tiki | Shannon Mustipher

Tiki | Shannon Mustipher

Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails

By Shannon Mustipher

Intro: Welcome to the Cookery By The Book Podcast with Suzy Chase. She's just a home cook in New York City, sitting at her dining room table talking to cookbook authors.

Shannon: My name is Shannon Mustipher, and I am the author of Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails. When I'm not working on writing and developing cocktails, I'm the spiritual advisor, a.k.a. beverage director of Glady's Caribbean, which is a rum-focused bar in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. I also work as a consultant and educator on the spirit of topics and cocktails.

Suzy Chase: This is the first cocktail recipe book written by a working, African American bartender and released by a major publisher in more than 100 years. When you decided to write this book, were you aware of that statistic?

Shannon: Yeah, I was. Just a little background. I'm a big history buff, always have been, and I want to say maybe a decade ago, I became aware of a book called The Ideal Bartender by Tom Bullock, who published in 1919 and worked at the Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky. He was the first and the last to publish this book, African American bartender to publish. There are a lot of bar books floating around, but that one, I just didn't ... I wasn't hearing of it, and my peers weren't reading it, and I just thought it was fascinating that it was like this little nugget of history. When I decided to write my book, it was five years ago, and I didn't know when it was going to be published based on the negotiations I was going through with my publisher, Rizzoli. For it to come out in 2019, a 100 years after Mr. Bullock's publication, just feels like there's something about it that was meant to be.

Suzy Chase: I'm probably the only person in the world, but I never knew that Tiki was a huge category of cocktails. For some reason, I thought Tiki was like a vibe or a mindset. Talk a little bit about that.

Shannon: It's all those. In regards to Tiki being a cocktail category, it's helpful to keep in mind that when Tiki came about in the late '30s, I mean the first Tiki bar was a spin-off of hinky dinks and that became Don the Beachcomber. Don the Beachcomber, his name was Ernest Gantt, was kind of a world traveler, rum aficionado. Came up with this idea of creating an escapist experience in his restaurant because this is at the end of the Great Depression, and people were looking for some relief from the day to day. The type of cocktails he came up with differed from every other in that you could blend a couple different spirits in one cocktail. That had never been done before. You could also blend a few different juices as opposed to most recipes that would have one or two at the most and various sweeteners and things of that nature. Those features of cocktail you're not seeing other styles of cocktail, and that's ... The recipes are like the core of what makes it different.

Then there's other elements like the attention to vessels and presentation and things like fire and orchids and all this craziness that just not ... you're not seeing it in other styles of cocktail. From I would say a structural standpoint where the recipe concerned, there are some clear differentiations. Then of course in the presentation, you don't see that outside of Tiki.

Suzy Chase: Last week Grub Street mentioned you saying you're a central figure in the Tiki renaissance in New York City. It's all about the appearances the element of surprise. Do you think this is a misunderstood tradition or a forgotten tradition or both?

Shannon: I don't it's as misunderstood as it was when I got my start five years ago. I had to qualify in that on the west coast where Tiki originated, it never fully disappeared. Right? There was a moment where there was only a few bars that still had the authentic recipes. The reason for that was there was secrecy around those recipes, and they were coded because the restaurants and bars that served Tiki in the '40s were very popular, and the information regarding those products was considered propietary. It be like, think of the recipe or formula for Coca-Cola. That's proprietary. Right? When the people that created those recipes and worked in those restaurants retired, they didn't necessarily share the knowledge. This sort of knowledge begins to die off, and then add to that in the late '60s and '70s, American mixology in general was on the wane. It was associated with a generation that was a little bit older. Younger kids, the hippies so to speak, weren't interested in drinking cocktails like their parents did. They preferred recreational experiences. You know what I mean?

Yeah, from the '70s through the '90s, there was no information really. You had Tiki tea in California and Los Angeles and Tonga Hut remained open, and there are other places. Outside of a handful of bars, people didn't really know the recipes anymore. The few that did, they weren't talking about it or giving out those recipes because that was just a culture, to keep them under lock and key. When Jeff Beachbum Berry began writing his book about 15, 20-odd years ago, he did the most extensive research into Tiki, went to all those bars, and looked for the rum bottles and scoured any document he could find and was able to reverse engineer and figure out what these drinks actually were.

As his books became more popular, and people were more aware of what he was doing, then Tiki started to make a comeback. It wasn't reduced to oh, it's a sweet, tropical drink with an umbrella in it. People began to see the workings and the mechanics of this style of cocktail and understand and appreciate the level of craft that goes into taking eight or 10 ingredients and balancing it in a cocktail. Now, the cat's out of the bag. Right? We have the Jeff Beachbum Berry books. We have Smuggler's Cove, which does an excellent job of talking about not only the history of Tiki and showing us those recipes as well as Martin Cate's newer recipes. The information is out there now. Maybe there are people that still misunderstand it, but it just doesn't have to be that way anymore. Whereas 20 years ago, there just was scant means to educate yourself about it.

Suzy Chase: Give us the short history of rum.

Shannon: Yeah, sure. Rum is a byproduct of the sugar industry. When European powers began to colonize the Americas, the top priority was to find a cash crop or some other resource that would provide a large stream of revenue, big stream of revenue. Initially the thought was gold, and that didn't really work out. There was experimentation with various things, rice and cotton. Sugar was the one, especially in the Caribbean, that had the highest yield. Just some context, the kind of revenue that was coming out of just Barbados or Jamaica alone by the late 19th century, was on par with oil boom or the gold rush and what took place in Silicon Valley more recently. There had never been a moment in the history of the world where there was such a big shift in the economy.

It's important to remember that rum is not just a style or a category of spirit that came about because that's what someone wanted to make. They had this idea in mind of a flavor profile and certainly wanted to craft. It's a byproduct and another way to add revenue to a sugar plantation, their operation. For who are less familiar, in order to produce rum you need molasses or you could use fresh cane juice, but rum as we know it in the Caribbean came about when planters were looking for a way to utilize molasses which was regarded as a waste product. They discovered that you could ferment it and then distill it. This began in earnest around 1705.

Prior to that, in the earlier part of the 17th century, there was a little bit of rum production on the islands, but it was basically moonshine. It wasn't packaged. It wasn't bottled. People didn't regard it as a spirit category in the way that we look at spirits today. It was just, this is what we have to drink in terms of alcohol because we can't make beer here. It's too expensive to bring over wine. In fact, the wine doesn't really travel well in the heat. This all began to change, and rum started moving towards how we think of it in a modern sense in 1650 when Jamaica was taken by the British. The British adopted rum as the liquid that they will give out in their daily ration, which became a form of payment in addition to a supplement to the really poor diet that the sailors had on board.

By 1750, the Navy had grown to such an extent that they could no longer source the rums themselves from the islands, but they hired an outside firm called [ED & Man 00:11:08]. This firm would source the liquid from various islands and then take them over to London. They created a proprietary blend, and they would age it there. Meanwhile, for those of you who don't know, brands the way we think of them today, they didn't exist back then. A distiller didn't have a face or a label. They didn't make liquid and put it in a bottle and sell it. They'd make liquid and sell it to brokers, and the brokers would create the brands and sell the products. At this time, there was a robust business around that in the scotch and port and sherry categories in London. These merchants caught on to the rum, and they realized that it was par on with single malt scotch, especially the rums from Jamaica which are highly prized, because they had a really special aroma and heavy body due to their production processes.

By 1820s, this is when you start to see rum appear as a commercial product in Europe. To this day in the Netherlands and in Germany, the preference for rum [inaudible 00:12:23] Jamaica styles that haven't differed too much from that time. By 1860s, then you start to see rum become a big global business, do brands like Bacardi. Where we are today is we are getting back to looking at the earliest styles of productions of rum. We want what we consider to be more authentic expressions that haven't had sugar added and are made on stills or in facilities that have been operation for 200 or 300 years. It's a really great moment for the category, especially where Tiki is concerned, we can make the recipes the way they were intended.

There was a moment in the '70s through the early '90s where the rums that were in the original recipes were not available in the U.S. You could attempt to make the drinks, but you were not really going to really hit it. Now, we can make those drinks again.

Suzy Chase: In opinion, what's a good rum to start off with if you're not familiar with rum?

Shannon: Well, here's the thing. Rum is a huge category. You can make it in over 90 countries. I compare it to wine in that ... Let's say you look at gin and whiskey. Sure, there are some variations and different brands and styles, but it's not such a huge spectrum of rum. You can get something that's like really light and dry and clean, or you can get really fruity or earthy and funky or on the sweeter side depending on how it's produced. To answer that question, I'd say you have start at least five, because if you are trying to pick out a starter, there's so many places to start. If you take one bottle or one style, you're not ... It doesn't really capture what rum is about. With that in mind, I would suggest picking up a spectrum of rums. Right?

On one hand, you want to start with say a lighter rum. For that, I would suggest Rhum Barbancourt [bonk 00:14:33] from Haiti. It's made from fresh pressed juice. Has a little bit of a delicate gassiness and fuller element to it. You can sip it neat. You can put it in cocktails. It's really easy to work with and to enjoy. From there, I would suggest picking up a bottle of an un-aged overproof English style rum, and that would most likely be Jamaican rum. That could be Rum Fire or Wray & Nephew. If you're lucky enough to go to Grenada, I really love the River Antoine. What that bottle is going to do for you is you're not necessarily going to drink it by itself. If you want to have more intensity, then you'll need a rum like that.

In terms of something that's just more like everyday drinking rum, cocktail or otherwise, I would suggest picking up a Barbadian rum or a Bajan style rum, because those strike a nice balance between being fuller bodied and rich, but also really clean and smooth and elegant and super easy. The drinking culture in the islands differ from the island to island. That's reflected in the styles. In Barbados, they have this pastime called liming, which means that you gather with your friends at a little shack called a rum shop, and you sip rum all day. Maybe you use mixers, but for them it's not ... rum isn't cocktailing. Rum is just spending time with friends. Right?

Then from there I would suggest you would want pick up a rhum agricole from Martinique or one of the former French territories. Those are really cool. They're made from fresh cane juice like the Barbancourt I mentioned, but their standards of production, they have a DLC around it. They're very particular about what you're going taste in the glass because they want to highlight and emphasize the [tarare 00:16:27] of their respective geographic areas. There's also a lot of influence from Armagnac and Cognac production there. With the agricoles, you get to see a really high level of production and crafted. You don't typically associate with rums, but I think trying those will shift your perception around what you think rum is in a positive way.

Lastly, some people prefer what they would call a smoother, rounder, richer type of spirit. I find that people that prefer whiskey have a tendency to enjoy Spanish-style rums which undergo more time in the barrel because the Spanish approach is more influence by wine and sherry where the base liquid is not what's emphasized, but what's emphasized is a barrel regimen and the house style and the skill of the blender. That's what they want you to taste in the end.

Suzy Chase: Yeah. I read in the book that for example, Jamaican rums have kind of grassy notes, and that's something you wouldn't even think about with rum.

Shannon: That's why I love it. Prior to opening Gladys and working in that program five years ago, I was into a pre-prohibition era cocktails and gin and whiskey and all that stuff. I still enjoy it on occasion, but if God came to me and told me that from here on out I was confined to only drinking one spirit category, I'd happily choose rum because there's one for everybody and for every mood or hour or what have you. If I want something that is really dry and light and crisp, I can find it in the rum category. If I want something that's big and bold and chewy or even smokey, I can find that in rum as well. If I just had gin for instance, the spectrum of options is limited.

Suzy Chase: In Tiki, chapter one kicks off with foundational cocktails. What are those?

Shannon: Where rum is concerned, there's what we call the holy trinity, which is rum, sugar, and lime. They just work really well together in the earliest rum drinks. The Navy grog, that's rum, sugar, and lime. The Caipirinha, it's made with Cachaça so it's not technically rum, but the Cachaça is sugar and lime. The same is true for the [Dakaiti 00:19:00], which rum, sugar, and lime. In those foundational drinks, we walk through those cocktails so that you can taste the different styles of rum and get a sense for how those rums behave. The underlying elements are more or less the same. Also, those drink a base template for others cocktails that follow, and so the bulk of Tiki drinks have those three elements and them build from there.

Suzy Chase: There's a technique in the book called fat washing spirits. What does that mean?

Shannon: It's an infusion. It was pioneered by Don Lee who is a partner in Existing Conditions currently and got his start at PDT. With fat washing, you take an oil. It could be derived from an animal. Don Lee's was smoked bacon fat. I do a lot of vegan fat washes, so I love coconut oil. Essentially you I guess steep or infuse the liquid with the oil for a 12-hour period at room temperature, and then you freeze it so that the solids separate. They come to the top. You skim it off. You strain it. What happens is that the liquid is now, it has those fat molecules in it. It takes on a different texture and a creamier mouth feel. Milk punches utilizes the same principle. They're very labor intensive. It requires multiple steps and a number of ingredients and a couple days to achieve that result. Yeah, milks punches which were popular in the 18th century, have made a little bit of a comeback in the modern bar, is where that idea is derived. Fat washing with oils is much faster and more consistent.

Suzy Chase: You created a cocktail inspired by a reggae song. Tell us about that.

Shannon: It's one of my favorite cocktails actually. It's called the Kingston Soundsystem. I was approached by Punch Magazine to pick a reggae song and make a cocktail. I really love Skylarking by Horace Man. It's a really chill, laid back, kind of lazy day kind of song. I was like, okay. There's a bird reference here. I love the Jungle Bird. I'm going come up with an unusual twist on it. The idea was kind of like a white angelonia. I wanted to make a white Jungle Bird. For those who are not familiar with the cocktail, they Jungle Bird has aged Jamaican rum. It has Campari, lime, and pineapple. I looked at each of those elements and went on the other end of the spectrum.

Rather than aged Jamaica rum, I used an un-age higher proof Jamaica rum. It's call Rum Fire. Instead of Campari, I used a gentian liqueur called Suze. I love that stuff. A consumer right now, the American public is not too hip to it, but I think it's wonderful. I use it kind of in a way, a lot of people have used St. Germain in the past, which is elderflower liqueur, but way too sweet for my tastes. I want something dryer. That's stands in for the Campari. Rather than pineapple, I wanted to again reference Jamaica so I use Soursop. Soursop is a large fruit about the size of a big cantaloupe, and it has little prickles on it. Kind of think of it as a prickly pear. It has a really wonderful, delicate, floral aroma in the nose. It's delightful for those who have not tried it.

Then again, not very sweet. Kind of tastes cross between a pear and an apple, but it has a really clean, dry finish on it. There's really nothing else like it. Then of course, there's a lime. The result is a drink that follows the Jungle Bird template, but takes it in a dryer, more herbaceous direction.

Suzy Chase: Do you think we can find these ingredients in our local grocery store or liquor store/Whole Foods?

Shannon: It depends on where you live. Soursop, you'll find it in Caribbean stores or Asian stores. If you can't find the juice, you can usually find it as a frozen concentrate. That would be Goya or [lafame 00:23:43]. Then where Suze is concerned, yeah, if you live in an area where you can get to a decent liquor store that has Craft products, you'll find it.

Suzy Chase: As a bartender, what's the most annoying request you get the most?

Shannon: I don't. I like bar-

Suzy Chase: Nothing?

Shannon: You know how some people are like, "Oh my God, you're ordering a Mojito now. It's busy." For me, I'm there to serve the guests and I'm delighted to do it. You're there to get what you want, and that's why I'm there, to give you what you want. Case in point. I was doing a pop-up, and it was Tiki drinks. Someone wanted a Martini. I was so excited because she was getting what she wanted. I made a her what I hoped was a really good Martini. I really enjoyed it and so did she.

Suzy Chase: They're more than 60 beautiful color photographs in this book. You call Tiki a theater for the senses, and you get such a good feel for that with Noah Fecks' photos. Tell us about your friendship with him.

Shannon: It's a beautiful one. We met through a mutual friend, Nicole Taylor. She's the author of the Up South cookbook.

Suzy Chase: She's amazing.

Shannon: Oh, God. I want to be her when I grow up.

Suzy Chase: Me too.

Shannon: I met her a decade ago. She's just so dynamic and has forged her own path. She's totally Nicole and just ... I don't know. I can't go on enough about her. I had a birthday party and she invited him to tag along. She predicted that we would quote unquote ride off into sunset together. We hit it off that night, and we're chatting. He approached me shortly thereafter about doing some test shoots at Gladys because he shoots a lot of food. He wanted to added some liquor and cocktail content to his book. The shoots went really well. I worked in the photo industry for the first five years of living in New York as a style and prop assistant. I knew procedures of how a shoot would go. It was really smooth and the images were beautiful. Shortly after that, he suggested that we do this book with Rizzoli.

Suzy Chase: I don't know how long this book took you, but there is a full color photo with every cocktail in this book. I can't even imagine the work that went into that.

Shannon: Well, I mean, had I know how much work was going to go into it, I don't know if I would have agreed to do it.

Suzy Chase: I mean, just looking at it I just think, wow, that's a lot of work, but it's gorgeous.

Shannon: I mean, to be fair, I believe that that work is not just what I did in the two years that I was writing it and producing a book, but in the years prior that I spent studying visual art and practicing as an artist, I went to [Ritzies 00:26:52], studied painting and art history. I started drawing when I was five. I was always making things. The book was really exciting in that not was I able to share my recipes and more importantly, my approach to flavors and ingredients, but also could indulge that part of me that wanted to create images. That was the intention behind the photography in the book.

Now, you look at a lot of cocktail photography and it follows a formula. It's like, okay, here's a drink on a bar or against some kind of backdrop or what have you, and that's pretty much it. Because we're working in Tiki, we wanted to go beyond and create vignettes that would evoke a story.

Suzy Chase: Well, you did it. It feels like it's a culmination of your fashion background and your mixology background. This is all of that in one book.

Shannon: Oh, yeah. When I closed my studio shortly before I moved in New York 12 years ago, I had a lot of friends around me who were dismayed because, "You're so good. Why are you doing this?" I had various reasons. I didn't think that what I refer to as the art industry was for me. One of my biggest reservations around it was the accessibility of that work and the class issues around it. Right? Where do most people go to see art? They go to galleries. They go to museums. Museums are wonderful institutions, but there are a lot of people that can't afford to go to a museum, or culturally it's just not an inviting place for certain individuals.

When you go deeper than that, when it's time to buy artwork, that's again confined to a class of people. Taken further, when a collector acquires a work, doesn't necessarily get seen. I think the statistic is that 70 to 80% of all the artwork is in storage. This idea of making this thing for a select few is probably just going to sit in a dark room. That's not where I wanted to put my energy, and that's not how I want to share what I had to say in the world. With that being said, being able to make a cocktail book where my creativity could be there and it was very accessible to people. I mean, a cocktail is like 10 or 15 bucks. Most people can do that every once in a while, was really gratifying.

Suzy Chase: Now to my segment called my last meal. What would you have for you last supper, and what cocktail would you have with it?

Shannon: I'm a pretty simple person. I would have ostrich steak.

Suzy Chase: That's simple? I thought you were going to be, "I'll just have a taco." You say ostrich steak. That's so interesting.

Shannon: It's so delicious. You ever had it?

Suzy Chase: No.

Shannon: It's going to change your life. Okay.

Suzy Chase: Where do you get that?

Shannon: Okay, so I had it in South Africa. I think that if you live in Africa or certain parts of the world, I mean, I think you can get ostrich here. The whole point is in South Africa, it's not a big deal. That's the meat that they have. Right? Like we have cows, they have ostrich. It's like a steak, but the texture ... I don't know. I can't even tell you why it was so good. I'd do that and pair it with a nice glass of wine.

Suzy Chase: Not rum?

Shannon: No.

Suzy Chase: Wow. What kind of wine? You're just throwing me off today.

Shannon: What kind of wine? Probably a Zen or ... No, that's too sweet. I don't know. Something kind of dusty, maybe [Linwood 00:31:00]. I used to work in wine. I still enjoy it. Yeah, I mean, rum's great, but I just don't if it would go that good with the steak.

Suzy Chase: Where can we find you on the web, social media and in Brooklyn?

Shannon: My website, Shannon dot ... shannonmustipher.com. It's not a dot. That's my email. On Instagram, same thing. Just Shannon Mustipher. I don't have an alias. I'm like, no ... I want you to find me. It's not like, what's her handle? Just my first, I say. Put it into Google. You'll find me.

Suzy Chase: It's M-U-S-T-I-P-H-E-R for everyone out there. I also want to remind everyone that we're going to be doing a free live Tiki talk and book signing at Lizzyoung Bookseller in Cobble Hill in Brooklyn on Thursday, May 30th. Look for more information on my Instagram and Shannon's, and we we hope to see you there. Thank you so much, Shannon, for coming on Cookery By the Book Podcast.

Shannon: Suzy, it was a pleasure. Thank you for taking the time, and I look forward to seeing you next Thursday.

Outro: Follow Suzy Chase on Instagram at Cookery By the Book, and subscribe at cookerybythebook.com or in Apple Podcasts. Thanks for listening to Cookery By the Book Podcast, the only podcast devoted to cookbooks since 2015.

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