If you like piña coladas (and getting caught in the rain), you might enjoy learning to make your own piña colada at home. The decadent cocktail is a staple of tropical bars and sunny beach holidays, but that doesn't mean you can't bring the sun to you and enjoy one from the comfort of your own couch.
In its simplest terms, the piña colada is a cocktail made of rum, pineapple juice and coconut cream or coconut milk. It can either be served blended or shaken over ice and is garnished with a slice of pineapple and a maraschino cherry. The name means "strained pineapple" in Spanish, referring to freshly squeezed and strained pineapple juice.
The piña colada is the national drink of Puerto Rico and was invented there. The most commonly accepted origin story is that Ramón "Monchito" Marrero Pérez created the piña colada in 1954 when working at the Caribe Hilton Beachcomber Bar using Coco Lopez, a creamy coconut syrup. However, this claim is contested by Ramón Portas Mingot, who claims to have invented the cocktail at the Barrachina Restaurant in Old San Juan in 1963.
There aren't any hard and fast rules about what kind of rum to use. The original recipe used Don Q, a golden rum. Gold rum is usually mellow but distinct and works best if you want the rum to shine in your piña colada. If you like your cocktails sweet, fruity and disguising any sharp alcoholic flavors, you are better off using a neutral white rum.
Traditionally, the pineapple juice should be freshly made and strained. However, most bars will use boxed pineapple juice, and no one will say anything if you do, too.
The coconut is a bit more complicated. Piña coladas use either coconut milk, coconut cream or cream of coconut, which are all very different. Coconut milk is made by grating the white flesh of the fruit and mixing it with coconut water, then running the mixture through a cheesecloth so it has the overall consistency and appearance of milk. If you refrigerate this milk and allow it to set, the liquid and solids will separate, creating a thick, creamy layer at the top -- this is coconut cream. Cream of coconut is a sweetened version of coconut cream, used for making desserts and sweet drinks.
The original piña colada was made using cream of coconut, and you can use this if you are looking for an indulgent, creamy, sweet cocktail. However, some people find this version a bit too thick and sweet. Using coconut milk leads to a thinner mixture that incorporates the coconut flavor without being intensely sweet. A few baristas also use coconut water instead for a much lighter option, although that is definitely less indulgent.
Here is a classic piña colada recipe, closely following the original drink. Instead of using fresh pineapple, this recipe combines juice and frozen pineapple chunks -- this makes it more practical than making all the juice yourself, but you still get some of the consistency and flavor of fresh fruit. It also uses a blend of white and dark rum, which is a decent substitute for a golden rum.
Don't feel restricted to the classic recipe -- your piña colada can be anything you want it to be. Here are a few common variations of the basic recipe.
Instead of blending the ingredients, you can simply mix the juice, coconut and rum in a cocktail shaker and pour over ice. This will not have the "slushie" consistency of a blended ice drink, but will still be delicious. For an even simpler option, skip the cocktail shaker altogether and just pour the ingredients into a glass with ice, mixing with a stirrer.
Skip the rum entirely for a virgin version of the cocktail. Perfect for children, non-drinking friends and weeknights.
Perfect for when your home bar is not adequately stocked, this variation replaces the rum with vodka. The fruit flavors remain unchanged and become the focus of the drink, as vodka has a much more neutral taste than rum.
This cocktail adds a dash of amaretto, which is an almond liqueur. The almond gives a distinctive flavor, making the drink taste completely different and a bit less tropical.
This Hawaiian specialty is essentially a piña colada and a strawberry daiquiri blended together. It is very fruity, very tropical and very delicious.
Although the "piña" in the piña colada is usually essential, you can break the rules with any other sweet and acidic fruit. This version replaces the pineapple juice with mango juice and a squeeze of lime juice while keeping the cream of coconut and rum the same.
This is more of an honorary piña colada, given it completely removes the creamy coconut element. A Staten Island Ferry is a mix of pineapple juice and coconut rum (such as Malibu), which tastes very similar to a piña colada but has the consistency of a simple mixed drink. It is also far easier to make, making the perfect choice for when you want a tropical kick but do not have a blender at hand.
Now that you know everything there is to know about the piña colada, you are prepared to make every day feel like a tropical holiday. Just don't be fooled by the sweet and delicious flavor -- a few of these will go straight to your head.