Author and cocktail historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry solidified his standing as the “Indiana Jones” of Tiki mixology with his first branded product, unearthing a long-lost gadget from the catacombs of mid-century bar culture: Beachbum Berry’s Navy Grog Ice Cone Kit.
See below: Putting the ice cones to the test | Vintage Navy Grog recipes
Related: Jeff Berry proves he’s never too busy to be a ‘Beachbum’
Mai-Kai cocktail review: Even landlubbers can appreciate a strong ration of Yeoman’s Grog
* Buy the Navy Grog Ice Cone Kit now from Cocktail Kingdom
The Navy Grog (aka Yeoman’s Grog, Captain’s Grog, et al.) “was one of the most popular drinks until the Mai Tai came along,” Berry said during a symposium at The Hukilau in June 2013. “It’s a lovely combination of three rums, two fruit juices, a little spice, a little syrup.” But just as much as its taste, it’s distinguished by a cone of ice protruding from the glass, neatly encasing a straw. The cocktail emerged in the early 1940s and was a mainstay of Tiki bars well into the 1970s. But as mixology in general, and Tiki cocktails in particular, devolved during the ensuing decades, the ice cone disappeared.
When Berry began gathering recipes for his first book, this technique had been long forgotten. As far as Berry knew, only the historic Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale was still serving a drink with a traditional ice cone (a descendant of the Navy Grog called the Yeoman’s Grog) when he put together Grog Log, released in 1998.
Some 15 years and five books later, Berry teamed up with Cocktail Kingdom to create a metal mold that perfectly re-creates a vintage ice cone. The finished product works not only in the Navy Grog, but any drink that fits in an 8-ounce rocks glass as well as a larger Mai Tai glass.
But before Berry envisioned this nifty bartending tool, he had to figure out how to make an ice cone from scratch. Grog Log revealed the DIY technique, and Berry told the back-story in Remixed, a compilation of his first two books released in 2010. In the early 1990s, Tony Ramos, a veteran Tiki bartender who had worked for Navy Grog inventor Don the Beachcomber, told him the trick: Pack a pilsner glass with finely shaved ice, run a chopstick through the middle to make a hole, then remove from the glass and freeze overnight. Insert the straw when serving, and voila! A perfect Navy Grog ice cone.
Many of us followed this method for many years, with varying degrees of success. Several broken pilsner glasses later, investing in a metal mold didn’t look like such a bad idea when it was released in June 2013. The fact that it was endorsed by Beachbum Berry, designed by Cocktail Kingdom, and packaged and presented flawlessly certainly didn’t hurt its chances for success.
Berry, like many, considers Cocktail Kingdom to be the best place to buy premium bar tools, including many imported from Japan. In 2012, the company’s mastermind, publisher Greg Boehm, approached Berry about creating a Tiki bar tool there might be a need for. They already had a deal to release Berry’s magnum opus, Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them.
“Immediately, without even thinking, I said ‘Navy Grog Ice Cone’,” recalled Berry in an interview last year at The Hukilau before its release. “I’ve wanted one for years. I’ve been using pilsner glasses and doing it that way, because that’s the way I was taught.”
“It’s a pain in the ass to do it with a pilsner glass,” he said, “because you have to carry it with you wherever you go, and they’re glass so they break. And they’re not the perfect size.” The resulting cone is sometimes too big or small to fit into a rocks glass, he said.
Berry knew that molds were used in the past. Bob Esmino, who used to manage restaurants for the long-defunct Kon Tiki chain, told him that a plastic mold was used for many years, but he could never find one. But Boehm’s team was able to make the perfect product out of stainless steel, Berry said. They also made the base of the cone small enough to fit into a single rock glass, he said, which was “very smart.” The larger double old-fashioned glasses are often hard to find in bars. “You can put it in a double too,” he said, “it just won’t stick out as far.”
Instead of using a chopstick to make the hole in the cone, they came up with the stainless steel poking rod. They did everything, he said. “I just gave them the idea. And I sent them a bunch of old Navy Grog photos, but they did everything.”
So how does it really fare against what we’ll call the “traditional” method using a glass? I put them both to the test and tried to document the results. I’ve also mined Tiki Central for comments, tips and tricks from the home-bartending enthusiasts who frequent that message board.
Cone vs. cone: How does Beachbum Berry’s mold stack up?
One particularly helpful Tiki Central poster is Jim Masterson, aka Sunny&Rummy. He’s made many more cones using the new tool than I have. He also showed off his skills recently by winning a contest sponsored by The Hukilau to present the latest glassware from the event in a vintage cocktail. Masterson’s Gill-Man Grog pulls together elements of several classic Navy Grog recipes, and it features a perfect ice cone.
* Click here for a photo and recipe
Masterson said he much prefers Berry’s mold to the pilsner glass method. “The big improvement to me is that both ends of Jeff’s mold are open so you can pack in the ice, and then run a chopstick or hard straw straight through the cone while it still has the support of the mold.” He said he also likes the metal mold over the glass because he can really pack down the ice and not worry about breaking the glass.
The only feature that he’s not sold on is the metal rod. He said he typically uses a chopstick or hard plastic straw and just leaves it in place while the mold freezes. Masterson’s method: He makes about six cones at a time and stands them up in a square Corningware pan with a sheet of wax paper. He puts the pan in the freezer for at least a few hours. He says the wax paper helps keep the molds from sticking to the pan, but even with the paper he needs to use a little but of water to thaw the base of the cone a bit so he can pop it off. Before he adds a cone to a drink, he swaps the freezer straw for a new one because it’s usually clogged with ice from ramming it through the cone and freezing it. “Making the cones is great fun and it has definitely upped Grog consumption levels at home,” he said.
Everyone seems to have their own creative ways to adjust the cone-making process. One poster correctly called it “a little fiddly.” The key to using it properly is actually the ice, and several folks have reported having the cone fall apart when removed from the mold. TropicDrinkBoy reported that he has had success with finely crushed ice. “If the ice is too coarse, the cone will fall to pieces,” he said.
Ice from a refrigerator’s ice crusher isn’t fine enough, and crushing it further in a bag can have mixed results. I’ve also seen reports that ice can be too fine if produced by a snow cone machine, so you need to find a middle ground. If the ice is too fine or dry, Tiki Central’s Chip and Andy suggest first wetting the inside of the mold, then packing in the snow. They urge making sure you pack the ice in tightly, pressing it down and repeating until you reach the top.
I’ve had good results using this ice crusher from Deni, and it also produces ice that I can use to make other cocktail features such as the shell for the Special Reserve Daiquiri. It’s clear from the comments that if you don’t have ice with the correct consistency to start with, your cone will most likely suffer.
Unlike Sunny&Rummy, TropicDrinkBoy said he does use the metal poker after he packs the cone with finely crushed ice. He puts it in the freezer for an hour before removing it to a Tupperware style container for storage. The other variation is the freezing process. Some remove the mold while others were not able to get it to work without freezing the ice in the mold. I would recommend this if you’re having trouble getting the ice to stay formed. You then let it warm up outside of the freezer, then re-freeze if you need to make more. This is a bit clunky, but similar to the pilsner method. I’ve had more success than not by freezing the glass. With Beachbum Berry’s mold, I’ve generally been able to freeze the cones with the mold removed and not have them collapse. Points there for the mold. Another good tip (from AdOrAdam) is placing the cone in a glass as you pack it with ice, avoiding spillage.
But there still are some who stand by the pilsner glass method. GentleHangman said he packs them tight with ice from a vintage snow-type machine, the plastic straw inserted. He runs them under cold water and they slide right out for placement in the freezer on dry wax paper.
So here are the results of my test. I judged the methods on both usability and presentation:
I followed Berry’s instructions for both the mold and the pilsner glass as closely as I could and ran multiple tests over several months. During the first several tests, the results were close. The cones made by the mold tended to be a bit more unstable until I got the hang of the new device. But when they worked, they were a work of art. The pilsner glass cones were probably more consistent, perhaps because that’s what I was used to. But they were also consistently more oddly shaped. One particular cone was way to phallic for my tastes. The mold gets a slight edge for usability, docked points only due to its learning curve. But once you can perfect the technique, I wouldn’t expect any problems.
The poker was a bit awkward at first, as reported by some others. But eventually I got it to work and didn’t have further problems. I may try using a straw as suggested above and compare the results. Visually, the cones made with the mold are certainly much more appealing, though they tend to be smaller (to fit in smaller glasses as mentioned above). Unless you require a giant cone, I don’t see any reason to stay with the pilsner glass. The other wild card issues with the glass – portability and breakability – also work to the mold’s favor. During my final test, a glass slipped out of my hands and crashed to the floor, essentially ending the competition with Beachbum Berry’s Navy Grog Ice Cone Kit declared the winner.
The Navy Grog: Another battle between Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic
There are just as many Navy Grog recipes as there are different techniques in making the ice cone. But it’s generally accepted that the drink was invented by Donn Beach (aka Don the Beachcomber) during World War II. He had a similar drink on his menu called Don’s Own Grog (revealed by Beachbum Berry in Sippin’ Safari, 2007), but it disappeared from the menu by 1941. That’s the year that Berry cites for the Navy Grog recipe that’s generally considered to be the original. It’s featured in Grog Log, Remixed, and on the box of the Navy Grog Ice Cone.
* Click here for the recipe, plus The Mai-Kai’s Yeoman’s Grog
This test game me the opportunity to try out the new tribute recipe for the Yeoman’s Grog, so I put that to use in Berry’s Ice Cone Mold. To test the traditional pilsner glass mold, I wanted to feature a different version of the drink. There were many good ones to choose from, including the Luau Grog from the Luau restaurant (in Sippin’ Safari), the Captain’s Grog from the Captain’s Inn (in Grog Log) and Captain Vadrna’s Grog by Beachbum Berry himself (in Remixed).
But I decided to go with Trader Vic’s Navy Grog, which arguably has become the definitive version to millions of imbibers who have frequented the many Trader Vic’s restaurants around the world for the past 80 years. It was reportedly a favorite of everyone from Frank Sinatra to Richard Nixon. While the Don the Beachcomber chain is long gone, Trader Vic’s is still thriving, keeping the drink’s legacy alive. But it’s hard to put a finger on the “authentic” Navy Grog recipe by “Trader Vic” Bergeron.
Most recent Trader Vic’s recipe books call for Trader Vic’s Grog Mix, which is sometimes (but not always) available in the company’s online store and at some restaurants. Even more rare is the Grog Mix “concentrate,” which is apparently what the bartenders use in the restaurants. I’ve yet to try either, but the consensus online is that the mix is a combination of grapefruit juice and spices, namely allspice. There are many riffs on this recipe on Tiki Central and elsewhere, and lots of talk about how to make the mix. For more reading, check out the posts (and recipes) on A Mountain of Crushed Ice, Sloshed and 5 Minutes of Rum.
My favorite version of the Trader Vic’s style Navy Grog is one I came across back in 2007 on BeachbumBerry.com (Click here for the full story). It’s very similar to the Navy Grog (aka The Ancient Mariner) recipe published in 2009 in Ted (Dr. Cocktail) Haigh’s Vintage Spirts and Forgotten Cocktails. But while Haigh calls for allspice dram (aka pimento liqueur), Berry’s recipe includes allspice syrup, which I prefer. It’s also probably closer in spirit to Vic’s original mix.
NAVY GROG (The Ancient Mariner)
(Adapted by Beachbum Berry)
* 3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
* 1/2 ounce white grapefruit juice
* 3/4 ounce allspice syrup (see below)
* 1 ounce dark Jamaican rum
* 1 ounce Demerara rum
Shake with lots of crushed ice. Strain into a double old-fashioned glass containing an ice cone. (If not using cone, pour unstrained into glass.)
Here’s a simple recipe for allspice syrup. I ordered dried allspice berries online, but you may be able to find them in a local specialty store.
Allspice syrup: Grind enough whole dried allspice berries to make 6 level tablespoons. Place in a saucepan with 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and while keeping the saucepan covered, let steep for 2-3 hours. Then strain through cheesecloth (multiple times if necessary to remove debris) into a bottle and refrigerate. My syrup has lasted a long time in the fridge. Just add a small amount of white rum to keep it stable.
An easier option than making the syrup is using a bottled allspice dram (St. Elizabeth’s and The Bitter Truth brands are widely distributed and available online). Just reduce to 1/2 ounce and also add 1/2 ounce of simple syrup to boost the sweetness. To me, the version with the syrup tastes sweeter and richer, and it’s my preference. If you like your drink drier and more sour, go with the allspice dram.
My rum choices were Coruba (dark Jamaican) and El Dorado 8 (Demerara). But this drink gives you the flexibility to try different rums in each category, such as Appleton from Jamaica or some of the El Dorado premium rums. I’ve also seen a version that calls for Martinique rum instead of the Demerara. The Navy Grog is a versatile concoction. And extremely tasty.
So why even use the ice cone at all? Is it just for show? Actually, I’ve found that, particularly with the rich Navy Grog, the cone is much superior to crushed ice since it doesn’t dilute nearly as fast. The drink keeps the flavor and intensity much longer with the cone.
The Atomic Grog on Beachbum Berry
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* ‘Potions of the Caribbean’ cruises back to the birthplace of Tiki cocktails
* A Tiki Top 10: Photos and memories from The Hukilau 2013
* Take 5: Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Tiki cocktail author and historian extraordinaire
* Zombie alert: 5 crucial things you need to know about the deadly cocktail
* Audio slideshow: Hukilau 2011 cocktail contest was a Barrel of fun
* Beachbum Berry digs deep to unearth vintage Zombies
* Rum Rat Pack starts a revolution at Hukilau 2011
* The Hukilau crowns a Rum Barrel Master Mixologist
* We be Jammin: Rum Renaissance Zombie fest at The Mai-Kai
* All posts on Beachbum Berry