Words by Nneka Samuel
Everyone knows that pineapple juice, cream of coconut and white rum are the key ingredients of the piña colada, Puerto Rico’s official national drink and arguably, one of the most famous cocktails hailing from the Caribbean. But did you know that its origins are debated?
Some say a pirate named Roberto Cofresi served the sweet cocktail as a morale-booster to his crew in the early 1800’s. In 1954, two San Juan bartenders at the Caribe Hilton’s Beachcomber Bar also claim to have fashioned the drink, though that title, according to the hotel, belongs to Ramon Marrero. Barrachina restaurant in Old San Juan erected a plaque outside of its doors to celebrate the supposed creation of the cocktail in 1963 by bartender Don Ramon Portas Mingot.
While both the origin and creator of this beloved drink may be contested, one thing that’s certain is the piña colada’s far reaching appeal. Its modern day recipe is served in tiki bars, restaurants and on beaches around the world, often tweaked – some piña colada variations are made with vodka or amaretto instead of rum, or coconut water instead of coconut cream, for example.
But how did the drink become so popular? In print, the piña colada was first written about in 1922 in Travel magazine. Describing its refreshing, tropical sabor, a writer asked rhetorically: “What could be more luscious, more mellow and more fragrant” than a piña colada?
Roughly 15 years after that article was published, the rum industry took off in Puerto Rico when the Bacardi Corporation was registered there and allowed to conduct business. Today, Puerto Rico now considers itself the rum capital of the world and supplies the United States alone with more than 70% of its rum.
National Geographic once ranked the piña colada as the world’s best beach drink. A distinctly Caribbean flavor, this strained pineapple cocktail even has its own day of celebration: July 10. But you needn’t wait for that day to drink one.