‘O Ka Make on Vaycay (a Tiki Cocktail)

No matter what you name it, Watermelon, Summer Pumpkin, or Jack O’ Melon, this green freak of a fruit makes one hell of a Tiki Cocktail! And, due to the presence of absinthe, among all of the tropical flavors, I thought the name ” ‘O Ka Make on Vaycay “, (‘O ka make is Hawaiian for DEATH) was well-suited for this summer sipper.

If Earnest Hemingway can call champagne and absinthe “Death in the Afternoon”, and the addition of Creme de Violette, makes it a “Death at Dusk”, then I can most certainly call my tropical Tiki drink with absinthe “Death on Vacation”, or better yet… ” ‘O Ka Make on Vaycay “! I just love a well-crafted libation that has a catchy name!

Anyone who knows me, knows that I love a good theme–and a good drink. And, when I can have both, I’m in paradise — but a spooky one, of course! Tiki is exactly that: a tropical paradise with a hint of spookiness! The colors, the mysterious, lush jungle, the haunting call of birds, the masks and totems, and all the fun!

My love for Tiki probably goes all the way back to my earliest memories of Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, and it’s neighboring Jungle Cruise Ride. When I was a little ghoul, my parents and I went to The Magic Kingdom every year, and the spooky parts were always my favorite — and still are! I wasn’t into the frilly princess stuff, but Madame Leota was the best! I mean, if I could move into the Haunted Mansion, I would! It’s amazing how childhood can have such an impact on our adult preferences. Disney and The Munsters, are two of my favorites that have influenced my persona, for sure!

Speaking of retro days gone by, as an adult I rediscovered Tiki Culture through my love for Mid Century Modern decor and architecture. I mean can you even own a 1950’s ranch home without a Tiki Bar? Oh, the horrors!

And, finally, my days as a professional bartender taught me what it takes to make a damn good Tiki Cocktail. Contrary to some of that syrupy swill that basic bottle jockeys will try to pass off as a Tiki Drink, it’s not just rum and grenadine with a pineapple slice. (Gaaah! I’m having flash backs of a particularly smarmy drink-slinger, with whom I had the displeasure of sharing a well. His motto was “Make it red, and send it out!” So gross!) While Tiki drinks have been known to pack a wallop, and yes, tropical fruit juices do play a major role, their demand for balance in flavor profile is what impresses me so much about a true Tiki cocktail. The ingredients should blend, yet all have their individual moment to shine within each sip, like the notes of a fine wine.

Ice is the first ingredient that can make or break a Tiki drink. I know, I know what some of you are thinking. ‘What? Ice is an actual ingredient?!’ Yes! Ice is definitely NOT an afterthought to the Tiki tender. Plain cubes, are just so… SQUARE. Since Tiki libations are potent, the proper dilution ratio is key to their oh-so-easy drinkability, especially in the Summer months. Therefore the quality of the ice matters, since you wouldn’t want odoriferous tap water to taint the taste of the tropics. Use ice made from quality, filtered water, and with a high-speed blender (I use a Vitamix), crush the ice to almost a snow-cone consistency. Fill a frosty 12 ounce glass with crushed ice, lightly packing it to form a dome, or mound, about an inch above the glass. You can put the properly iced glass back in the freezer, while you prepare garnishes, and gather the other ingredients. This will help maintain the lightly packed dome structure, even when the drink and garnishes are added, with minimal melting.

Honor the Tiki gods with gorgeous garnishes! Since we begin enjoying foods and drinks with our eyes, first, I recommend enhancing your presentation with mostly edible garnishes, which reflect the ingredients of the recipe. Think of garnishes as a tempting preview of what’s in the glass. Based on this recipe, a glass-sized watermelon wedge, lime wheel, and bountiful mint sprigs (bonus if your mint is flowering) are the most obvious, and readily available choices. While, I haven’t tried it, even the plumeria blossom, or frangipani flower (which happen to grow in my yard) is edible. Just be sure not to include the green, milky stem or leaves, which are toxic. The only non-edible garnish is the paper umbrella, and is a nostalgic nod to Tiki culture. Oh, and be sure to use a reusable straw of glass, metal, or silicone, because keeping our beaches and oceans clean will surely please the Tiki gods.

When scooping out your Summer Pumpkin to create your Jack O’ Melon, place flesh of the fruit in a blender, and process at low speeds, keeping the seeds in tact, for easier straining. Once the flesh is liquefied to the consistency of a melting slushy, strain the juice into a sieve, pressing the pulp with a silicone spatula to yield the most juice. One small seedless watermelon, about the size of a severed head, yielded approximately 4 cups, or 32 oz of juice. It helps to start with a previously chilled Summer Pumpkin, that way the juice is already cold.

Gather all of the liquors, juices, bitters, garnishes, muddler, and cocktail shaker. And, because precise measures are a Tiki-cessity, I suggest using a bottle pouring spout AND a jigger with marked measurements, or a cocktail measuring glass to ensure a beautifully balanced result.

12 mint leaves (muddled)
Fill shaker 1/4 full of ice cubes
1 oz platinum rum (I used Matusalem Platino)
1 oz spiced rum
1/2 oz absinthe (I used Lucid Absinthe Superiure)
1 oz orgeat syrup
3 drops bitters (I used Bittermens Orange Cream Citrate)
1 oz of fresh lime juice
1/2 oz coconut water (NOT coconut cream, or milk)
3 oz watermelon juice
Shake vigorously until outside of shaker begins to frost
Strain the 8 oz drink, slowly, into the 12 oz glass of mounded crushed ice, and garnish liberally.

My spooky Luau Lovers, I implore you to carve your Creepy Tiki Jack O’ Melon before partaking in the party known as ” ‘O Ka Make on Vaycay “. Don your grass skirt, and hula ’til your Hawaiian heart’s content. Feel the cool sea breeze in your hair, and huddle in a hut with your honey. ” ‘O Ka Make on Vaycay ” is an escape to paradise — but a spooky one, of course!