Words by: Simon Difford
The name 'Piña Colada' directly translates from Spanish as 'strained pineapple', a reference to the freshly pressed and strained pineapple juice that should ideally be used in the drink's preparation.
Three Puerto Rican bartenders contest the ownership of their country's national drink. Ramon 'Monchito' Marrero Pérez claims to have first made it at the Caribe Hilton Hotel's Beachcomber Bar in San Juan on 15th August 1952, using the then newly available Coco Lopez cream of coconut. Ricardo Garcia, who also worked at the Caribe, says that it was he who invented the drink. And Ramon Portas Mingot says he created it in 1963 at the Barrachina Restaurant, 104 Fortaleza Street, Old San Juan.
It could be that all three Puerto Ricans played their part in the Piña Colada's creation. Perhaps Ricardo Garcia tweaked a cocktail originally created by his colleague. It is plausible that the cocktail was christened 'Piña Colada' at the Barrachina Restaurant a decade after first being created at the Caribe Hilton. After all, it is not mentioned in cocktail books until the late 1960s. The Barrachina Restaurant displays a plaque supporting Ramon Portas Mingot's claim to the drinks creation to this day.
Truth is, rum, pineapple and coconut have been mixed together pretty much since rum was first distilled and the first written reference to a drink named Piña Colada would appear to be in an issue of Travel magazine dated December 1922. However, this recipe does not include coconut and was more a shaken Pineapple Daiquiri served long, and made with Bacardi Rum, pineapple juice, lime and sugar. Now commonly referred to as a Cuban-style Piña Colada, this drink perhaps more befits the 'strained pineapple' name than what most people today consider a Piña Colada.
Travel magazine, December 1922, pg. 14, col. 1 (courtesy wiki.webtender.com)
"Havana has learned the art of mixed drinks from her northern (Col. 2--ed.) neighbor, and has contributed some original creations. In Cuba the ingredients of every known drink are to be had - even those of the South Seas. At the end of almost every bar is a heap of ripe pineapples and green coconuts. An excellent drink is made by mixing the milk of the latter with a little gin and a cake of sugar-foam. But best of all is a pina colada, the juice of a perfectly ripe pineapple - a delicious drink in itself - rapidly shaken up with ice, sugar, lime and Bacardi rum in delicate proportions. What could be more luscious, more mellow and more fragrant?"
So the Puerto Ricans merely added cream of coconut and it is commonly accepted that the modern Piña Colada was adapted from an existing creation at the Caribe Hilton Hotel. Like the Barrachina Restaurant, the Caribe Hilton has since promoted itself as the home of the Piña Colada and today credits Ramon Marrero Pérez with its invention.
The Caribe Hilton Hotel sits on a 17-acre peninsula outside San Juan and was the first luxury hotel to open in the region, becoming a popular destination for the rich and famous who helped spread word of the Piña Colada. Today, the hotel is more 'package tourist' than luxurious and you may prefer the Conrad Hilton across the causeway which traverses the lagoon, but even this is hardly what you'd consider a destination for "the rich and famous".
To make a 'Puerto Rican' style Piña Colada you'll need a sticky goo called 'cream of coconut', not to be confused with coconut cream. Cream of coconut is made by mixing coconut juice, sugar, emulsifier, cellulose, thickeners, citric acid and salt and is usually sold in 15oz/425ml cans which make 14 to 25 drinks depending on how sweet you like your Piña Coladas. Once opened the can's contents should be stored in a refrigerator: this may thicken the product, so gentle warming may be required prior to use.
The original brand of cream of coconut is Coco Lopez which was developed in 1948 in Puerto Rico by Don Ramon Lopez-Irizarry - hence the Puerto Rican connection and the believable 1952 date for the creation of the modern day Piña Colada at the Caribe Hilton Hotel. Some say the drink did not acquire its name until the 1960s - perhaps that's where Ramon Portas Mingot and the Barrachina restaurant come into play.
It seems there's a set day in the calendar to celebrate most things and readers may want to mark their diaries with National Piña Colada Day which is celebrated each 10th July on the island of Puerto Rico and to a lesser degree across the USA.