Cups of the Caribbean
Cocktails are as quintessential a part of the Caribbean experience as its idyllic combination of sun, sea, and sand. The dreamy amalgam of a brightly hued beach drink, sunny skies, and turquoise seas cranks the happiness dial to 10. How, you have to wonder, can life be any better than when you've got your toes in the sand and a vibrant, fruity drink in hand, especially if it's served with a mini paper umbrella in a fresh coconut or pineapple?
The Caribbean has spawned at least a dozen classic cocktails, from Cuba's citrusy mojito to the British Virgin Islands' potent Painkiller to Martinique's simple but strong Ti' Punch. That most are rum-based comes as little surprise; this is where rum was first made, though not without a troubling origin story. (It was produced by enslaved Africans working on sugarcane estates throughout the islands.) Whether you credit Barbados for inventing rum—Mount Gay, the first commercial rum distillery, was established there in 1703—or credit Jamaica's Appleton Estate (established 1749) for perfecting it is beside the point. All that matters is that you appreciate the transportive spirit rum adds to any beverage.
The consummate Caribbean cocktail is rum punch. Invented in the 17th century, the traditional recipe (credited to Barbados) calls for "one of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, and four of weak." Lime juice provides the sour; sugar or syrup the sweet; the strong is rum; and water, club soda, ginger ale, or fruit juice make up the weak part. To finish, add a dash of bitters—Trinidad's Angostura brand, naturally—and you've got a cup of Caribbean pleasure that you can enjoy even if you're thousands of miles away from a sun-drenched slip of sand.
Of course, the best place to enjoy a Caribbean cocktail is in the Caribbean, where you can imbibe the drink of your choice on the island on which it was invented. Sip a Bahama Mama (Kahlúa-spiked rum punch) on Nassau's Junkanoo Beach, or linger over a snifter of the Jamaican coffee liqueur Tia Maria as you watch the sun descend from the cliffs in Negril. Better still: Build an itinerary around these eight iconic drinks in beachside bars across the islands.
Created in the 1970s at Grand Cayman's Wreck Bar at Rum Point, this potent vodka, Kahlúa, and Baileys Original Irish Cream cocktail might taste like a milkshake, but it can't be ordered virgin because all you'd get is a cup of crushed ice!
2. Planter's Punch
Rum, simple syrup, and citrus or other fruit juice go into this punch, which dates from the late 18th century, when Jamaica was a British colony. The Grog Shoppe Restaurant at Kingston's Devon House, the 19th century home of the island's first Black millionaire, is a fitting place to drink one.
Only distantly related to the slushy iteration from commercial machines, the classic daiquiri is made with just three ingredients—white rum, sugar, and lime juice—shaken with crushed ice. In Havana, try one at Ernest Hemingway's old haunt, El Floridita bar.
4. Sky Juice
This creamy concoction of fresh coconut water and condensed milk liberally mixed with gin is also known as Gully Wash and tastes equally good by either name. Sip yours with a sea view at The Green Parrot, overlooking Nassau Harbour.
5. Dark 'n Stormy
A can't-miss combination of Goslings Black Seal Rum and ginger beer garnished with a wedge of lime makes the Dark 'n Stormy as easy to make as it is to enjoy. It's served all over the island, but the beach bar at Tobacco Bay Beach on the island's East End is an excellent choice.
6. Piña Colada
Two establishments—Barrachina bar and the Caribe Hilton hotel—claim to have originated the island's national cocktail. That means you'll have two chances to sample the "original" pineapple-and-coconut-rum drink.
British Virgin Islands
Although the exact original recipe is known only to a lucky few, Daphne Henderson's rum punch with cream of coconut—born at Jost Van Dyke's Soggy Dollar beach bar—has eased the pain of many who have imbibed it.
8. Aruba Ariba
The best place to sip this classic rum punch is overlooking the sandy swath of Palm Beach at the Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort & Casino, where bartender Juan "Jocky" Tromp invented it 59 years ago.