Beachbum Berry's Potions of the Carribbean
Sub Category: Cocktail Books
Author(s): Jeff Berry
Published: February 2014
Jeff Berry spent five years working on Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them. He describes it as "the most epic narrative I've ever attempted".
This hard-cover book sees Jeff extend beyond his usual out-and-out tiki expertise, and beyond the geographic homeland of the USA's tiki borders as he embarks on a tropical journey around the Caribbean. In fact, it's practically a world tour given the waxing and waning influences of European countries and America on the history of the islands.
He manages to capture an astonishing amount of detail in his tales, the prose effortlessly betraying his screen-writer's talents for story-telling. He easily paints pictures in your mind's eye, builds mood and atmosphere, and there's that familiar mix of humour and considered opinion (Ernest Hemingway created 'lousy' drinks, he says).
On Cuba and Havana - a city once of 7,000 bars and 270 brothels, he segues from the origins of Sloppy Joe's bar, to authentic 1930s recipes by El Floridita's King of the Daiquiri Constante Ribalaigua, to tales of a copulating showman who received magnificent plaudits for his on-stage talents and charged only $1.25 for the privilege. Bravo!
The finished product includes some 77 vintage Caribbean cocktails, with 16 unearthed by Jeff that have never seen the light of day and another 19 that have never been published in a book. There are well-told stories behind each drink's genesis, their twisted paths through history and previously undiscovered nuggets of cocktail trivia. Each is told not in isolation from history, but seamlessly interwoven with wider context and peppered throughout with compelling images, artefacts Jeff has collected, vintage cocktail books and recipe cards.
Exciting characters featured in the book include swashbuckling William Dampier, a 17th-century "pirate of exquisite mind" who plundered native cities but collected native recipes; Conrad Hilton, who Jeff describes as the "bible-thumping tycoon who used drinking and gambling to kickstart modern Caribbean tourism"; and a mysterious Egyptian mixologist Joe Scialom, who escaped a Cairo prison to bring a new style of cocktail to the islands.
That the title is but a few letters short of the most successful pirate franchise films of all time also gives Beachbum a second possible nickname: the Captain Jack Sparrow of mixed drinks?