Read, Write, Run, Roam

Detective RHOB and the quest for Puerto Rico’s perfect pina colada


A few months ago, Muz had a business trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and I sweetly asked to tag along. As we packed, I talked about my plans to explore Old San Juan and soak up the sun. Truthfully, I had a secret agenda: to find the best pina colada in the city. Sure, RHOB is always up for a cultural cocktail, but there was more to my quest than meets the eye. I, dear readers, consider myself something of a pina colada conocedora. My parents like pina coladas, I like pina coladas, and I am often required to make them at summer family events. A pina colada has four basic ingredients: rum, coconut cream, pineapple juice, and lime. It sounds deceptively simple, but the rum and ratio of ingredients is the difference from a good pina colada and sugary swill.  I figured there was no better place to sample the frothy, coconut goodness than at its birthplace in San Juan. It’s Puerto Rico’s national drink, after all.

The origin of the pina colada is a bit of a mystery: it was certainly invented fifty years ago in San Juan, but the Hilton Caribe and Restaurant Barrachina both claim to be the birthplace of this perfect beachside drink. I thought, What would Olivia Benson do? and decided to try them both.

I first went to Barrachina, located in the heart of Old San Juan (OSJ). OSJ is a touristy spot, and Barrachina was no exception. It was filled with cruise ship day trippers and sunburned conventioneers. Undeterred, I saddled up to the bar and asked the bartender for a pina colada with light rum. And proceeded to be very, very disappointed. The pina colada came. out. of. a. MACHINE. I don’t know how I missed it when I was talking to the bartender, but the machine was right there. A swirling, pre-made pina colada machine that looked like it was straight out of 7-11. HERESY.

Needless to say, I felt a bit cheated. I’ll bet they didn’t make it out of a machine in the 1960s. The drink itself was pretty good–a little heavy on the pineapple–but I walked out thinking that Barrachina was relying on a tourist trade that rarely returned.

I moved on to the Hotel Caribe, in a less-than-ideal location between Condado and Old San Juan. They had signs celebrating the 50th anniversary of the pina colada, which I thought was a good sign…until I asked the waitress for a pina colada and she walked away without asking what kind of rum I wanted. Uh oh. Rum is a very diverse spirit–there’s light and dark and gold and spiced and overproofed and premium–all without even getting into brand names. But I’ll say this: it looked pretty. It tasted…pretty much the same as the Barrachina one. I heard blenders running, so I presume (and hope) that it didn’t come out of a machine. Yet it seemed again a bit too pineapple-ish and acidic for my taste. After sampling some others around San Jan over the course of four days, I came to one amazing conclusion: the perfect pina colada was the one that I made at home. Here’s the recipe:

RHOB’s perfect pina colada 
  1. 1 can Coco Lopez coconut cream (do not substitute)
  2. 5 ounces light rum
  3. 8 oz. pineapple juice (don’t go cheap here–too sweet is deadly)
  4. 4 cups crushed ice
  5. Juice and slice of one lime in each glass
  6. Here’s the kicker–a tiny, tiny float of dark rum. Not enough for you? Dust a dash of nutmeg on top.

Save the maraschino cherry for a Shirley Temple. Pour in glasses and serve.

It wasn’t my most difficult mystery, but it was among the tastiest. Lesson learned: sometimes the answers are right under your nose…in a frosted glass with a slice of lime in it.

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4 responses

  1. Oh boy! i miss the booze… nice sweet coctails or even cold beer :). Unfortunately I’m walking dairy factory at the moment so no alcohol for me for long time. But I can always read about it from you. Great post.
    Pozdrav!

    November 13, 2012 at 7:55 am

  2. Anonymous

    Majmun here. RHOB’s pina colada recipe sounds delicious. BUT I think it would be improved by tossing in some fresh pineapple chunks when the ice is crushed. It gives the drink more “body” in my opinion. And I’ve been enjoying pina coladas for some time now.

    November 13, 2012 at 4:42 pm

  3. Excellent tip, majmun!

    November 13, 2012 at 5:22 pm

  4. Hvala–i čestitam on the baby! I like to know I can be counted on to deliver important cocktail info.

    November 14, 2012 at 3:31 pm

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