When you gaze into the signature artwork by lowbrow king Mike “Pooch” Pucciarelli, you’re immediately transported to a surrealistic land of insane roller coasters traversing impossibly twisted tracks in a dark but fantastically fun theme park. Until recently, that imaginary place was limited to canvas, tattoos, and Pooch’s vivid imagination.
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* Toast the Tropical Thunder Express at The Hukilau unofficial preparty on May 25
Exclusive cocktail recipes: Pooch Punch | Tropical Thunder Express
Now, thanks to Tiki Farm, Pooch’s wild world has taken on three-dimensional form with the release of an ambitious four-mug set: Tropical Thunder Express. Packaged in a colorful box adorned with Pooch’s distinctive artwork, it’s almost like four roller-coaster cars from one of his paintings jumped out of two-dimensional world and came to life.
You can find the mugs in their native habitat in the 2021 digital art piece “The Rum Ride”, but the idea for the real-world mugs actually came first. Pooch reached out to Tiki Farm with his first mug design, a moai, earlier that year.
Tiki Farm owner Holden Westland, who was aware of Pooch’s reputation in the lowbrow art world, loved the “Tiki mug as ride vehicle” concept. Pooch seized the opportunity. “I said, because it’s a (roller coaster) car, maybe we should have more,” Pooch said of his conversation with the mug mogul.
In short order, they joined forces to create a distinctive coaster train featuring four colorful mugs: Grey Moai, Blue Lono, Green Marquesan, and Orange Ku. Westland needed promotional artwork to promote Tiki Farm at Tiki Oasis in August 2021, so Pooch quickly brought “The Rum Ride” to life.
Like his other classic thrill ride paintings, this new piece takes the viewer into a vibrant nether world filled with skulls, Tiki imagery, A-frame huts, a giant moai, and Tiki mugs on wheels happily riding an impossibly angled roller-coaster track.
He said he intended to paint it, but creating it digitally was essential to meet the deadline. The piece is available online as a giclee-quality matte paper print for $50.
Working off of Pooch’s two-dimensional drawings, Tiki Farm’s sculptors have perfectly captured the whimsical world of his paintings, mashing up Tiki, tattoo, and Kustom Kulture into one cool package. In keeping with the theme, the mugs are not sold separately and must be purchased as a set for $125 directly from Tiki Farm online.
* Click here to buy Tropical Thunder Express box of four mugs
Pooch added digital art to his repertoire about eight years ago, but he said he approaches the format much the same as his other art. The main benefit, he said, is speed. “It’s not that different, other than it’s faster,” he said.
He created three different views of each mug in two dimensions rather than using 3-D software. Pooch said he could have done the same thing on paper, it was just more efficient to use digital tools.
No matter the medium, Pooch has carved out his own distinctive style over the past quarter century, simultaneously building a loyal following for his colorful ink work at Altered State Tattoo in South Florida (est. 1996). A longtime fan of Tiki culture, he often includes the imagery in his work, channeled through his own unique lowbrow-inspired lens.
Turning his Tiki coaster cars into actual mugs was the next logical step. Finally, Pooch’s work has made it into the vast catalog of Southern California’s Tiki Farm, the world’s premiere mug manufacturer since 2000.
Pooch parlayed his new relationship into an opportunity to create a new custom mug for The Mai-Kai when the historic South Florida restaurant reopens later this year. He’s also working on other potential designs for Tiki Farm.
The Tropical Thunder Express mugs are made in China like most of the Tiki Farm releases, but they feature a matte finish like many of today’s artist-driven custom mugs. The entire set is priced around the same as some single-mug releases, making it a definite deal.
Released in February, the mugs are 2 pounds each and range from 19 to 21 ounces. The tallest, the Orange Ku, stands 7.6 inches tall. According to Tiki Farm, “Tropical Thunder Express is the perfect gift for any Tiki aficionado and an even better gift for someone who needs to discover the world of Tiki!”
Growing up in Florida, Pooch discovered Tiki and amusement parks at a young age. As his official bio states, he was “raised on a diet of Ray Harryhausen films, H.P. Lovecraft novels, comics, Walt Disney World, and other Florida tourist traps. … His art is a visual cocktail of these influences – with a shot of lowbrow culture – shaken and stirred, then served up in a souvenir Tiki skull on the Day of the Dead.”
A self-taught artist, he turned to tattooing as a career after excelling in the music world in his angry youth. Pooch still enjoys playing music, recently contributing lead guitar (and artwork) to a new track from Violetmusik.
At Altered State Tattoo, located on the southeast Palm Beach County coast in Boynton Beach, Pooch and his fellow artists specialize in custom work that pushes the envelope of creativity. The shop recently celebrated its 27th anniversary with a party that featured some of Pooch’s newest artwork, a series of dark paintings inspired by Swiss airbrush master HR Giger.
His work has been featured in many tattoo publications, including Tattoo Society and International Tattoo Art. He accepts clients by appointment only by calling (561) 806-5853.
Pooch’s flair for art bloomed alongside music, but the success of his shop enabled him to fully explore multiple mediums. Quickly gaining notice from galleries and fans of lowbrow and pop surrealism, Pooch has shown his paintings at exhibits across South Florida well as Los Angeles, Seattle, and New York City.
In 2000, he started painting in oil and acrylic, his early works feeding off his obsession with dark rides and roller coasters. His later work took on all manner of dark topics, from Mexico’s Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) to Giger-esque biomechanical works.
More recently, he is just as likely to use his digital pen as paint and bushes. Either way, the result is the same: wildly creative, colorful, distinctive pieces that whisk you away to another place and time, much like Tiki. His series spotlighting The Mai-Kai (“Mystery Girl” | The Molokai | “The Gardens”) is a great example.
Since the temporary closure of The Mai-Kai, Pooch was forced to find his Tiki cocktail fix elsewhere in South Florida. Luckily, a fantastic option surfaced in nearby Boynton Beach.
While it’s not a full-blown Tiki bar, Driftwood features a menu of expertly-crafted tropical cocktails, some served in mugs from Tiki Farm. The 5-year-old restaurant also serves up delicious farm-to-table cuisine.
As a regular, Pooch has a symbiotic relationship with Driftwood and beverage director Joe Everett. Not long after he starting visiting and offering positive feedback on the drinks, Everett added a new creation to the menu: Pooch Punch. The artist returned the favor by adding some distinctive ink to one of Everett’s arms.
Below you will find our tribute to Driftwood’s Pooch Punch. In true Tiki tradition, Everett won’t reveal the exact recipe, but we think we’ve come close.
It’s one of our go-to cocktails whenever we visit Driftwood, which has also become The Atomic Grog’s favorite local spot for inventive food and drinks. Everett and his team create some of the best Tiki cocktails north of The Mai-Kai and south of Orlando, in our humble opinion.
We also highly recommend the authentic Zombie and Hurricane, plus originals such as Point Nemo and Mad Botanist. The small and large plates, created by owner and executive chef Jimmy Everett (Joe’s brother), perfectly complement the drinks with their bold flavors and high-quality ingredients.
All things considered, Driftwood was the perfect spot to meet up with Pooch and Joe Everett shortly after the release of Tropical Thunder Express for a photo shoot (see images above and below). Plus some libations, of course. Driftwood now features the mugs in regular rotation.
After consulting with Pooch, we hope to offer some cocktail suggestions. It makes sense that the four Tropical Thunder Express mugs contain drinks that are near and dear to the artist’s heart (and palate).
It’s hard to argue with that lineup. But we went even further and tried to create the ultimate single cocktail for the Tropical Thunder Express mugs by combining flavors and ingredients from all four of Pooch’s favorites. We hope the signature recipe below is worthy of its vessels.
THE HUKILAU WARM-UP PARTY: Pooch joins Skinny Jimmy Stingray on May 25 at Driftwood in Boynton Beach
Recently, another good reason to visit Driftwood emerged when Deerfield Beach surf guitarist Skinny Jimmy Stingray began a series of intimate gigs in the bar. The bespectacled axe slinger and his three-piece band perform several sets of low-fi classics and originals on the last Thursday of every month.
Stingray is a fixture at The Hukilau, the annual Tiki weekender scheduled for June 8-11 in nearby Pompano Beach. He’ll be making his eighth appearance at the event, with an unofficial preparty scheduled for Driftwood on Thursday, May 25.
This month’s appearance will be the perfect date to gather at Driftwood and properly celebrate the release of Tropical Thunder Express. A fresh batch of mugs has been ordered, and Pooch will be there to meet and greet friends and fans.
The Atomic Grog will also be in attendance, celebrating the 12th anniversary of this blog, which launched in spring 2011. Join us at the bar starting around 5 p.m. to toast the artist while enjoying a Pooch Punch in one of his mugs while South Florida’s premiere instrumental surf band rocks the house all night.
Stingray and his three-piece band – Frenchy on bass and Kevin on drums – will play from 6 to 9 p.m. Advance reservations are recommended if you plan to stay for dinner. Go to DriftwoodBoynton.com or call (561) 733-4782.
If you can’t make it to Driftwood, we hope you mix up the recipes below and take your own ride on the Tropical Thunder Express. Just remember to fasten your seatbelt. And keep your arms, hands, legs, feet and head inside the ride vehicle at all times.
Find Pooch online
* Pooch Island: Official lowbrow art site
* Altered State Tattoo official site | Twitter
* Instagram: Pooch’s art page | Pooch’s Tiki Mug Tattoos page | Altered State page
* Facebook: Altered State page | Pooch’s personal page
EXCLUSIVE COCKTAIL RECIPES
Following are two potent recipes you can enjoy in a Tropical Thunder Express mug, or any similar Tiki vessel or glass. Both pay tribute to the creator, South Florida lowbrow artist Mike “Pooch” Pucciarelli.
(Tribute recipe by Hurricane Hayward / Original served at Driftwood in Boynton Beach, Fla.)
* 1 ounce fresh lime juice
* 1/2 ounce unsweetened pineapple juice
* 1/2 ounce hibiscus syrup (see note below)
* 1/2 ounce allspice dram
* 1 ounce Demerara rum (Hamilton 86 preferred)
* 1 1/2 ounces dark Jamaican rum (Smith & Cross or Hamilton Black preferred)
* 2 dashes Angostura bitters
* 1 ounce club soda
Pulse blend with 2 cups of crushed ice for up to 12 seconds. Pour into a 20-ounce Tiki mug or snifter with more crushed ice to fill. Garnish with a lime wheel and pineapple leaf.
Created by beverage director Joe Everett, Pooch Punch is a staple on the Driftwood menu. It’s a robust cocktail that pairs well with the restaurant’s over-the-top and creative food.
Tasting notes: A Planter’s Punch riff with a swift allspice kick, this dry and well-crafted cocktail is rummy, tart and spicy – but also well-balanced and easy to drink. It tastes familiar yet exotic thanks to the fresh hibiscus syrup. While not 100 percent accurate, our tribute recipe comes very close to the flavor profile of this big, bold punch.
Ingredient notes: The rums noted above are highly recommended, but they could be replaced if necessary. Just try to use the same style of rum with a similar ABV. There are multiple options for allspice dram (aka pimento liqueur), but you may need to cut back slightly if it starts to dominate the drink. Allspice should be in the forefront, but not overwhelm. The hardest ingredient to duplicate is the hibiscus syrup, which Driftwood makes in-house. I opted for a bottle of the Monin brand, which is passable in a pinch. I tried using several other syrups as a substitute. The flavor won’t match the original exactly, but the next best option would be a 50/50 blend of passion fruit syrup and grenadine, assuming you’re using high-quality (or homemade) versions of these.
In August 2016, The Atomic Grog was privileged to create two special cocktails for the Altered State Tattoo 20th anniversary party in West Palm Beach. The Altered State Zombie remains one of our favorite twists on the classic, but we wanted go above and beyond that in honor of Pooch’s first mug release.
We asked the artist which cocktails he would want served in his mugs, and there was a clear consensus: Trader Vic’s Mai Tai and Don the Beachcomber’s Zombie are longtime favorites. Pooch is also a huge fan of The Mai-Kai’s Black Magic, so that was a natural along with Driftwood’s Pooch Punch (see above).
Pooch recommends serving the Mai Tai in the Blue Lono, the Zombie in the Orange Ku, the Black Magic in the Grey Moai, and Pooch Punch in the Green Marquesan. Those four drinks make for a powerful lineup, which we highly recommend if you’re having a Tropical Thunder Express party and want to experience a variety of classics in one flight.
But if you’re a solo rider and want to get maximum impact from one cocktail (or make a batch of four in one fell swoop), we had to come up with something big. The recipe below combines ingredients from all four of those Pooch favorites into one giant Frankenstein’s monster.
TROPICAL THUNDER EXPRESS
(By Hurricane Hayward, The Atomic Grog)
* 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
* 3/4 ounce grapefruit juice
* 1/2 ounce unsweetened pineapple juice
* 3/4 ounce hibiscus syrup
* 1/2 ounce orgeat
* 1/4 ounce falernum
* 3/4 ounce brewed coffee (chilled)
* 1 teaspoon allspice dram
* 1 teaspoon orange curacao
* 2 dashes Angostura bitters
* 1 ounce lightly aged Spanish-style rum
* 1 ounce dark Jamaican rum
* 1/2 ounce aged agricole rhum
* 1/2 ounce 151 Demerara rum
Pulse blend with 2 cups of crushed ice for 10-12 seconds. Pour into a 20-ounce Tiki mug or large snifter. Add more ice to fill, and garnish liberally with mint.
A wild ride of flavors that will have you hanging on for dear life, but loving every minute of it.
Tasting notes: The coffee comes around the bend first, accompanied by the dry notes of curacao giving you the initial rush. Sweet, tart and sour flavors quickly wash over you as you turn the corner and prepare for your next sip. As you tighten your grip, hibiscus, orgeat and allspice bring comfort and immerse the taste buds in a complex journey. Finally, the rums take you to the climax, challenging the palette with alternating bursts of grassy agricole and funky Jamaican flavors. As you head for the home stretch, the strong 151 Demerara and distinctive Angostura push you into the final turn at top speed. Your head is spinning but you’re raring to go again. Just be sure to collect all your belongings as you exit the vehicle.
Ingredient notes: This seemingly daunting recipe includes a lot of classic flavors featured in four distinctive drinks, as noted above. It wouldn’t hurt to become familiar with these four cocktails on their own before attempting this E ticket attraction. Of the 14 ingredients, just two (lime and dark Jamaican rum) are shared by all four of the inspirational drinks. Angostura bitters is featured in three, while four ingredients have two cocktails in common. Finally, there are six unique ingredients that are in only one of the other drinks, such as orgeat (Mai Tai) and coffee (Black Magic). (Note that we went with the 1934 recipe as the baseline for the Zombie.)
Rums: If you have preferred brands or specific agricole and 151 rums you prefer in your Mai Tai and Zombie, by all means use those here. We were happy with Rhum JM VSOP and Hamilton 151. Since the Pooch Punch recipe above features Smith & Cross (or Hamilton Black), we recommend those. If you’re familiar with the Black Magic, you might want to try our recommended Mai-Kai dark Jamaican blend. The Spanish-style rum component has the most room for improvisation since there are so many quality aged spirits in this category from Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the Dominican Republic, et al. All of those we tried have worked fine.
Miscellaneous: See the notes above under Pooch Punch for hibiscus syrup suggestions. Some of the other ingredients simply boil down to personal preference. We like to use Latitude 29 Formula Falernum and Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao since they have flavor profiles that are very rich and sharp, respectively. You don’t want to use anything too restrained or it will get lost in the mix. Coffee is key, like it is in the Black Magic, so be sure to brew something medium-bodied – not too strong or weak. The Mai-Kai prefers a standard Colombian coffee, which has a mellow acidity and strong caramel sweetness that works perfectly in their signature cocktail. Feel free to experiment, but I wouldn’t stray too far in this complex creation, sort of a Black Magic on steroids.
You’ll note many similarities to the Black Magic flavor profile, but also many new surprises. Hang on, it promises to be a wild ride.
PLEASE DRINK RESPONSIBLY!
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The Atomic Grog served up drinks for special guests of artist Mike “Pooch” Pucciarelli at the 20th anniversary party for his South Florida shop that has gained him a worldwide following for his highly creative ink.
* Recipes: Altered State Zombie | Mai Ta-IPA
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