Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them (Cocktail Kingdom), hardcover, 317 pages, $34.95.
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Like a fine barrel-aged rum, the new magnum opus from Tiki cocktail historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry benefited from years maturation, developing a rich depth of flavor and nuance. When Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them is finally uncorked next week, it will undoubtedly be savored to the last drop by a growing legion of fans.
It could also quite possibly be Berry’s last call as a self-proclaimed “layabout” author. While the carefree image will likely remain, Berry’s other much-anticipated project could soon make him a much busier Bum. The former screenwriter, whose six books since 1998 have sown the seeds of the Tiki cocktail revival, will be embarking on a new career next year when he opens his own bar in New Orleans.
These plans are accelerating, Berry confirmed in an e-mail this week, and he hopes to sign a lease at an undisclosed location by the end of the year. That would put him on track to open his Tiki bar (in partnership with Mrs. Bum, aka Annene Kaye) as early as spring 2014. They already have a designer, architect and key staff lined up. In the meantime, Berry’s solo career as a literary figure will reach its peak with the release of Potions of the Caribbean.
Berry’s sixth book on tropical drinks and the fascinating stories behind them, Potions of the Caribbean could be considered the sequel to Sippin’ Safari (2007), both in style and substance. Berry’s first three books were mainly spiral-bound drink recipe compilations, and his previous (Beachbum Berry Remixed, 2010) was a redesigned and expanded re-release of the first two.
But with Sippin’ Safari, Berry used his seemingly endless supply of vintage recipes, photos and artwork to embellish the stories of the bartenders, restaurant owners and other pioneers of the early days of Tiki. The result was a wonderful read – a beautifully illustrated cocktail guide, history book and retro culture travelogue all rolled into one. The new book follows this same format, with the stories taking a starring role and the recipes enhancing the narrative.
The rich history of the Caribbean and its role in the Tiki cocktail movement was actually supposed to be an additional chapter of Sippin’ Safari. A subtitle near the end of the book’s final chapter, which tells the story of Mariano Lucidine and The Mai-Kai, introduces the Potions of the Caribbean name while very briefly mentioning the birthplace of rum and its role in Tiki cocktails.
Berry explained his dilemma on the Oct. 29 episode of The Quiet Village podcast. “I was trying to cram all this stuff into one chapter,” he told host Digitiki. “After we talked about The Mai-Kai, I was just going to go down to Cuba and Jamaica. But I realized there was just way, way too much stuff to do that, so it became its own book, five years later.”