It’s good to have talented friends. It’s better to have friends who are talented at developing good cocktails. And having friends who develop good tiki cocktails? Well, now you’re just asking for the gods, tiki or otherwise, to smite you with a long string of Old Fashioneds made with Canadian Whiskey, a maraschino cherry muddled at the bottom and enough soda to make a vaudeville entertainer blush.

But, such is my luck that I can name a small and talented contingent of folks along the western seaboard steeped in tiki culture and cocktail lore my friends. Sometimes, fortune smiles.

The Dark Magic is a drink that evolved over time but started by building on the shoulders of the Mai Kai’s Black Magic cocktail. The Mai Kai restaurant, one of the few surviving bordellos of 1950s and 1960s Polynesian funk and kitsch, is unexpectedly located in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. And let’s face it; knowing the Mai Kai is still around increases the number of reasons to visit Florida to three. Tiki drinks, mired in their own complexity and calling for distinctive and mostly obscure rums, are not the most accessible.

The Dark Magic, however, strikes a balance of DIY gumption, rewarding treasure-hunting and fine flavor that makes it worth the effort.

The Dark Magic

2 oz. dark Jamaican rum (Coruba or Appleton V/X preferred)
1 oz. fresh lime juice
1/2 oz. unsweetened pineapple juice
1/2 oz. coffee syrup
1/4 oz. passion fruit syrup
1/4 oz. vanilla syrup
8 drops Herbsaint or Absinthe verte
1 dash Angostura bitters

Blend ingredients with eight ounces of ice for five seconds with intermittent pulses. Pour into a hurricane or Collins glass.
The divine progenitor of this drink is Craig Hermann, a tikiphile and erstwhile bartender in Portland, Ore., who developed this drink and has featured it in Tiki Kon, a celebration of tiki culture, artistry and cocktails he helps produce each year. The heart of the Dark Magic is the coffee syrup. It provides a bitter and tannic base on which the tart, sweet and molasses flavors can bound and frolic. The passion fruit and lime elements bring tart acidity while the pineapple and vanilla syrup give cover through their sweet characters and heavy bodies. The Herbsaint (or absinthe), as usual, is present to give a high but complex note to the drink that is present throughout. Make a visit to to find quality passion fruit and vanilla syrup, get your coffee syrup ready and enjoy a drink that will leave you and your guests speechless. Or, at the very least, unintelligible.

Gabriel Szaszko writes at and enjoys visiting Craig Hermann and his family at their home and reading his website Colonel Tiki’s Drinks at

Vermouth Veritas

I have had to go out of my way to find interesting vermouths. Sure, there are your Martini & Rossi’s, your Cinzanos, your Noilly Prats and a whole host of other vaguely unsavory looking vermouths of unsure origins but those aren’t satisfactory when there’s a host of revelatory vermouths to shape and influence the texture of a cocktail. I’ve recently seen several vermouths creeping onto shelves that are worth your time and money to purchase and explore and may yet convince you that the Manhattan well-deserves a spot in the pantheon of humankind’s greatest accomplishments.

Vya Sweet ($15): Vya is the rare California vermouth product. They are careful about the varietals blended to create its base and use a blend of muscat, colombard and veldepenas varietals, along with a dash of port (unusual in a vermouth), to create a very rich and full-bodied base.

Carpano Antica ($32): Carpano Antica is the granddaddy of vermouths. The Carpano brand was the first to commercially produce and distribute a vermouth product and their Formula Antica, while not the original recipe, is based on the classic formula. Carpano Antica comes across as sweeter than the Vya but has a depth and complexity that is unmatched.

Punt e Mes ($18): Punt e Mes is also a Carpano product but bridges the gap between an amaro (Italian bitter aperitif) and a vermouth. It is traditional, in the Torino area, to blend vermouth with an amaro as a pre-dinner drink. Punt e Mes takes that concept and bottles it so that you have a bitter vermouth that greatly changes how it affects a drink calling for sweet vermouth.

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