Hailing from the tropical main island of Puerto Rico, there is no cocktail in existence more iconic or as refreshing as the pina colada. Splash of rum, refreshing pineapple juice, coconut cream together with heavy cream, and round it off with some ice – you can already feel the breeze in your hair and smell the Caribbean. The pina colada has been around for decades, some even claim a whole century, and while newer variations exist, the recipe stayed true to the original, or at least what is widely considered the original. Today we’re going to dive into the history and origin of this famous drink.
Pina Colada – A National Drink
The most popular origin story comes from the famed Caribe Hilton Hotel, located in San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico. During the 1950s, the head bartender at the time, Ramón “Monchito” Marrero, was trying to create a refreshing drink that every guest at the hotel could enjoy. He was determined to mix the right ingredients and create something that could be the embodiment of Puerto Rico and could fit all the beauty of the island into a single glass.
Coconut was a major commodity on the island, along with pineapple as well, which made it a clear choice for don Ramon. Also, this was around the time that Coco Lopez, a creamy coconut extract mixed with natural cane sugar, found its way to the supermarket shelves. It was an essential ingredient that allowed the bartender to make the cocktail by the gallons. Everything came together, except one missing ingredient which was added later on. It was, of course, genuine Puerto Rican rum.
According to long-time employees, in its initial form, the drink was served without alcohol and was meant to be a simple refreshment found at snack bars. It was shaken up with crushed ice and served as a milkshake. With the invention of all-purpose blenders, and the addition of rum, the Pina Colada as we know it today was created.
The popularity of the cocktail skyrocketed in a matter of no time. Everybody who visited the island was raving about it and couldn’t get enough of it. Famous American singers Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. absolutely loved it. John Wayne and his Hollywood co-star Joan Crawford didn’t shy away from it either. The drink was finally established as the national drink of Puerto Rico in 1978.
Alternative Origin Stories
While Ramón “Monchito” Marrero is widely credited as the creator of this signature drink, alternative origin stories do exist. One story includes none other than don Ramon’s contemporary and colleague at the Caribe Hilton, Ricardo Gracia. Ricardo claimed to be the original creator of the drink during a shortage of coconut products due to a strike but his story was never backed up by his colleagues.
Another popular story falls in the domain of folklore and has all the elements of an exciting Caribbean adventure. It involves a famous pirate Roberto Cofresi and his adventures crew. According to this article, the pirate captain served his crew with his own version of Grog, mixing pineapple juice and coconut milk with rum. According to legend, he took his recipe to his grave at the bottom of the sea.
Whether pina colada was created in the 1950’s or during the 19th century doesn’t really matter, what matters is that we can enjoy it today. If you would like to make it at your home, all you need is a blender that blends ice and the usual ingredients – fresh pineapple juice, coconut cream, heavy cream, and crushed ice. Garnish it with a slice of pineapple or a cherry and you’re all set. If you can’t be bothered making the drink yourself, you are always welcome to try it at our Rakija Lounge where our bartenders serve it like it’s 1959 all over again. Check out our menu for more drinks!