Tiger Mama’s tiki program sits at the intersection between tiki culture, world history, and modern cocktail innovation.
Boston may seem awash in tiki culture these days. 2018 was bookended by the opening of two new tiki-themed establishments – Tiki Rock and Shore Leave. And while both opened as dedicated tiki bars, they joined a multitude of bars that already featured strong tiki programs.
In such a crowded market, how is a tiki bar supposed to distinguish itself? One way would be to play up tiki’s kitschy aesthetic – make the drinks more colorful, the garnishes more elaborate, the glassware funkier and more intricate.
At Tiger Mama, bar manager Brian Callahan opts for a more thoughtful approach (though there’s still plenty of tiki-esque razzle and dazzle).
Tiki Around the World
Tropical drinks have been a staple of chef Tiffani Faison’s Southeast Asian-inspired Tiger Mama since it opened in Fenway in 2015. But a dedicated tiki bar at the back of the restaurant is where Callahan and his team devise cocktails that stretch the boundaries of modern-day tiki culture.
Featuring drinks that Callahan calls “history inspired” and “world inspired,” Tiger Mama’s tiki menu, titled “A World Awaits,” dispenses with the notion that tiki drinks should all be rum-forward and Polynesian-themed. With a slew of spirits and influences drawing from an array of world cultures, Tiger Mama’s tiki menu takes guests on a boozy tour of the globe.
The Ballad of the Wind Fish summons the flavors of Japan, with Japanese gin, a hitachino white ale reduction, ginger, peach, lemon, grapefruit, and sesame. A ginger-forward cocktail that’s fruity but not too sweet, it’s deceptively smooth for a gin drink.
The Italy-inspired Silk Sling is made with an aged demerara rum, overproof St. Lucia rum, kiwi, amaro, Italian falernum, lemon, pineapple, and soda. It’s surprisingly dry and bracing, with spices and subtle notes of kiwi.
The Legend of Kon Tiki smartly incorporates ingredients from Peru, Polynesia, and Scandinavia. Named for the 1940s Kon-Tiki expedition, in which Norwegian scientist/explorer Thor Heyerdahl fashioned a raft out of balsa wood and sailed from Peru to the Polynesian islands, this inventive cocktail features brown butter-washed aquavit, pisco, chichi morada, coconut, banana, passion fruit, lemon, and makrut lime.
You might feel a bit like an explorer yourself while sipping this one, trying to identify each ingredient and wondering whether you’ve ever had aquavit in a tiki drink before. The mug cleverly recalls the famous expedition.
Of course, no tiki program is complete without some pyrotechnics. The Aloha Catrina, inspired by the Mexican Day of the Dead holiday, arrives in a blaze of fire. The smoke clears to reveal a fearsome red skull mug with a mix of reposado tequila, navy strength rum, mezcal, coconut horchata, cacao, almond, lime, grapefruit, and fassionola – a lost tiki syrup made with raspberry, mango, pineapple, passion fruit, hibiscus, and lime.
This is an absolutely top-notch tiki drink, with a unique mouthfeel, a hint of smoke, and a burst of complex flavors.
A Drink and a Show
Tiki cocktails are inherently playful and fun, giving bartenders a chance to flex their creative and artistic muscles. But substance ultimately needs to prevail over style.
Tiger Mama’s tiki drinks are delightfully over the top from an aesthetic standpoint, but beyond the funky mugs and garnishes are cocktails that live up to their presentation and stories that make each drink a conversation piece.
Address: 1363 Boylston Street, Boston
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