Welcome to Wonkette Happy Hour, With This Week's Cocktail, The Jungle Bird!

Welcome to Wonkette Happy Hour, With This Week's Cocktail, The Jungle Bird!

Exotic danger in a glass!

Matthew Hooper

Greetings, Wonketteers! I’m Hooper, your bartender. I haven’t made a tiki drink for you folks in a long time. Come to think of it, I haven’t made a drink for you folks that didn’t take a long time, in a long time. Let’s shake up one of my favorite tiki staples and drink it right now. Time to make a Jungle Bird. Here’s the recipe.

Jungle Bird

1 ½ oz Gosling’s Rum

¾ oz Campari

1 ½ oz pineapple juice

½ oz lime juice

½ oz demerara syrup

1 dash Angostura bitters

Shake all ingredients and pour into a rocks glass over ice. Garnish with a dried pineapple chunk and a tiny umbrella.

The Jungle Bird took flight in the 1970s, when Jeffrey Ong of the Kuala Lampur Hotel crafted it for the Aviary Bar. It didn’t really catch on until 2003 or so, when “Beachbum” Berry chronicled it in his book, Intoxica!. Since then, it’s been a feature on every tiki bar’s menu. I’m always delighted when I find a tiki drink that was authored by a Polynesian bartender. It’s one thing to drink a cocktail that celebrates Asian cultures; it’s quite another to taste a drink that comes out of that culture. So far, I’ve discovered that the Singapore Sling and the Blue Hawaii are authentic Polynesian drinks. I’m hoping to find more.

The Jungle Bird is a brute-force example of a core tiki principle: Fruity rum drinks don’t need to be sugary to be tasty. Campari is an intensely bitter, slightly sweet aperitif. It’s a dominating cocktail ingredient that can overrun any drink that it touches. Most cocktails that feature Campari, such as the Negroni, are bracingly bitter. A great Jungle Bird, on the other hand, is not bitter, or sweet, or boozy. It finds an exotic middle ground that you can’t quite describe, but keeps you coming back for more. The Jungle Bird is one of the simplest examples of the balance you can find in tiki. I’ve had Zombies that used 14 ingredients, but still remained balanced (and didn’t turn into a muddled mess like a Long Island Iced Tea). It’s almost magical. You take loud, babbling ingredients, tap the podium with your conductor’s baton, and on the downbeat, a choir of angels rises up. It never fails to make me smile.

I’d be remiss not to mention the beautiful, and mind blowingly complex, Jungle Bird served at The Aviary in Chicago. This is a Jungle Bird transformed into a pousse-cafe. Multiple rums are layered over Campari and a pineapple-lime syrup, with an intermediate layer of house-made rum boba balls bobbing in the middle of the glass.

I mean, just look at that beautiful monster.Martha Williams, via Timeout

It’s a tiki tour de force. All the ingredients are literally balanced in the cocktail. It’s gorgeous, and I’d love to have someone else make one for me. In the end, it’s still the same cocktail I’m writing to you about — the same ingredients, gently and carefully transformed into art.

Let’s talk about the ingredients in this glass. You do have a little leeway in here, so make the drink you want.

Ingredient Shot. The Jungle Bird took flight after this photo was taken. Matthew Hooper

Gosling’s Rum: “Beachbum” Berry used a Jamaican rum like Appleton Estate in his Jungle Bird. Most modern bartenders prefer Gosling’s for added spice and complexity. Gosling’s is a great rum, but I find that Jamaican rum and pineapple juice are fantastic in the same glass. If your budget and liquor cabinet permit, I’d use 1 oz of Gosling’s and ½ oz. Appleton Estate and get the best of both worlds. Mount Gay Eclipse is going to be tricky to balance. It’s got a touch of slate-like bitterness that will support the Campari instead of contrasting with it.

Campari: It’s officially Negroni Week, according to the makers of Campari, and they’re more than happy to tell me all about it. They sent me a bright red poster full of interesting facts about Campari. Thanks to that poster, I now know that Campari was invented in 1860 by Gaspare Campari, and that the old Campari production facility is now The Camparino, a bar in Milan. I do love a Negroni in cold weather, but it’s a bit warm still for all the fuss. And I’m probably going to toss the poster.

Pineapple Juice: For some reason, canned pineapple juice is always better in cocktails than fresh. Canned juice is more intense and less watery. I use the little cans from Dole. A full bottle oxidizes quickly in the fridge. It’s worth noting that Jeffrey Ong’s Jungle Bird uses 4 ounces of pineapple juice instead of an ounce and a half. Feel free to add more pineapple to lower the proof of this cocktail and make a more approachable drink.

Lime Juice: Lime juice and rum are a match made in heaven. Always use fresh juice. Plastic limes provide plastic juice.

Demerara Syrup: One part sugar in the raw, one part water. Simmer until the syrup is translucent. If you love rum, you should always have a bottle of this in the fridge.

Angostura Bitters: This is my own twist on the classic. At Crafted Cocktail, I’d use a dash of tiki bitters, but Angostura shows up in other tiki drinks so it’s a legit choice. It takes a little courage to add it into a precariously balanced bittersweet glass, but I love it. Try it and see what you like.

Garnish: At home, I used dried pineapple instead of fresh as a garnish. It’s easier to keep and store, and keeps the little umbrella open. You absolutely need a little umbrella in a tiki drink. It’s mandatory.

In summary and conclusion, drink well, drink often, and tip your bartender — donate to Wonkette at the link below! If you’re in Ohio, come celebrate the grand-reopening of Tiki Underground at the Tiki Flea next week! And if you'd like to buy some bar gear or books from Amazon, please click here!


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Matthew Hooper
Matthew Hooper, aka Samurai Grog, turned 50 in 2021 and decided to have a midlife crisis by leaving a boring sales and marketing job to tend bar at the local country club. He's never been happier. He's also a fencer, a dad, a husband, and a punk music fan. Overall, he's way cooler than he ever thought he could be when he was 16. 

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