July 10 is a holiday of sorts, a day to celebrate the unique blending of sweet and sour flavors that makes piña colada such an enduringly popular tropical beverage.
Describing piña colada (Spanish for “strained pineapple”) as a pineapple juice, coconut, and rum drink hardly does this mixture justice, yet those are its main ingredients. Despite all of today’s bartender competitions and concoctions, piña colada – the official beverage of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico since 1978. – remains a high-demand favorite nearly six decades after its creation.
Some sources claim earlier inventors and locations, but the preponderance of evidence credits Conrad Hilton’s first international hotel, the Caribe Hilton in San Juan, as the birthplace of piña colada. The hotel claims the drink was invented there on August 15, 1954. I once walked around in San Juan and saw bar signs claiming to be the real source.
There are at least two major ways to make piña colada – as Caribe Hilton bartender Ramón “Monchito” Marrero made it during his 35 years at the hotel, and the simpler way I make it.
The original piña colada
2 ounces white rum
1 ounce coconut cream
1 ounce heavy cream
6 ounces fresh pineapple juice
½ cup crushed ice
Add the rum, coconut cream, heavy cream, and pineapple juice together in a blender. Add the ice, and blend for about 15 seconds or until smooth. Serve in a 12-ounce glass. Garnish with a fresh pineapple wedge and a maraschino cherry.
My piña colada
6 ounces of fresh or canned pineapple juice. I especially like Lakewood organic pineapple juice. http://www.lakewoodjuices.com
6 ounces of coconut milk/water. Again I like Lakewood’s organic coconut product, which is made from the opaque watery portion of the coconut (coconut milk) and from pressing the white fleshy portion of the nut.
Lakewood also makes an organic piña colada mix.
You may have to check several stores to find Lakewood juices; all stores don’t always carry them.
2 ounces of rum
½ cup crushed ice
Use the same directions as for the Caribe Hilton version.
After World War II, two hospitality moguls – Conrad Hilton and Juan T. Trippe of Pan American World Airways – took advantage of the Marshall Plan to build hotels outside the U.S. They became hotel rivals.
Much of this history has been forgotten. Pan Am is remembered in books, in a collection at the University of Miami, a storefront in the CocoWalk shopping center in Miami’s Coconut Grove area.
Hilton’s history is remembered in books, the Hilton Company archives, and the hospitality industry collection of the University of Houston.
“The Caribe Hilton opened in 1949, originally owned by the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and managed by Hilton International,” a Caribe Hilton spokesperson told me in an email. “This made Hilton the first international hotel brand, and also marked the birth of Hilton International.”
Despite all the rebranding of hotel properties through the years, the Caribe Hilton remains in the Hilton system. It opened with 300 rooms and now has 917 rooms.
Note: Click on the "Subscribe" button below to receive an email each time the Miami Food and Drink Examiner publishes a new article.