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Toronto Star

A Caribbean Tale Of Two Piña Coladas

Susan Sampson

29 December 2004
Copyright © 2004 Toronto Star. All rights reserved.

San Juan, Puerto Rico In Puerto Rico, the Piña Colada is garnished with a pineapple wedge, a maraschino cherry and a dash of controversy.

A weathered sign outside the Barrachina restaurant and jewellery store (an odd pairing indeed) proclaims it the birthplace of the Piña Colada: "The house where in 1963, the Piña Colada was created by Don Ramon Portas Mingot."

But over to the west, the posh Caribe Hilton serves up an alternative theory: Bartender Don Ramon "Monchito" Marrero invented the Piña Colada there in 1954.

"We've always had that argument," says Rafael Ruiz, manager of the Barrachina in Old San Juan. He says people's memories of when and where they first encountered the Piña Colada may not be reliable.

I have been lured in by a woman at the door, beckoning tourists with promises of free samples. The icy drinks are doled out in tiny plastic cups. Put in the mood by the palms and the shrieks of macaws in the courtyard of the colonial 17th century building, I order a full-sized version. It is fragrant, not too sweet and has a subtle kick from the rum.

The current barkeep tells me Mingot was a sixtysomething bartender (and a fine opera singer, by the way) when he created the Piña Colada. Nowadays, the Barrachina's "little secret" is to freeze the concoction of pineapple juice, coconut cream, rum and water for three or four hours, until almost solid, then blend it into a frigid cocktail.

What could be more tropical and carefree?

Piña Colada means "strained pineapple," and Marrero, meanwhile, is remembered as a stickler who spent three months mixing and tasting before he was satisfied with his formula.

Stories about him can be found in travel guides and hotel literature: That he insisted on using juice from pineapples fresh from the fields that morning and believed only the Puerto Rican farmers knew how to slice the fruit just right. That his cocktail was served to the rich and famous, like Gloria Swanson, Elizabeth Taylor and even manly John Wayne. That actress Joan Crawford said the taste of a Piña Colada was "better than slapping Bette Davis in the face." (The two had a long rivalry.)

The Puerto Rican establishment seems to be on Marrero's side. Coco Lopez, the maker of the coconut cream most often used in the drink in Puerto Rico, marked the selling of the 3-millionth Piña Colada at the hotel in 1978 by presenting a colour television set to Marrero. On the same day, he was honoured with a party and the government declared the Piña Colada the national drink of Puerto Rico.

Piña Colada Monchito

Strong and not very sweet, this is billed as the original recipe from Don Ramon "Monchito" Marrero. Coconut cream is sold in specialty stores and some supermarkets. Do not confuse it with creamed coconut, which is a solid block. If you can't find coconut cream, scoop the thick cream off the top of an unshaken can of coconut milk in which the liquid has settled at the bottom.

2 oz light rum

1 oz each: coconut cream, whipping cream

3/4 cup pineapple juice

1/2 cup coarsely crushed ice

1 each: small pineapple wedge, maraschino cherry

Pour rum, coconut cream, whipping cream and ice in blender. Process 10 seconds at high speed. Pour into 12-ounce glass.

Garnish with pineapple wedge and cherry.

Makes 1.

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