Why the pina colada is back – and how to make your own retro cocktails

 drinking cocktails - Hulton Archive
drinking cocktails - Hulton Archive

Does your cocktail cabinet boast a decent supply of advocaat? What about a bottle of grenadine? Got any maraschino cherries in, or little cocktail brollies? You’ll be needing an overhaul, then.

This summer, your cocktails will travel back in time to an era when a flared jean and a shag haircut were considered the height of sophistication because retro cocktails are back.

Waitrose have noted searches for cocktails with “a dose of kitsch” are on the rise and interest in Piña Coladas is up 40 per cent, with Blue Lagoons, Tequila Sunrises and Mai Tais following close behind.

The New York Times, meanwhile, has named the Dirty Shirley “the drink of the summer”. A lurid shade of cherry, this cocktail is as sweet as the original Shirley Temple – ginger ale and grenadine, topped with the obligatory maraschino, but with a slosh of vodka to rough it up a bit – and mixologists are finding that increasingly, old classics are proving the most popular.

Cocktails, much like haircuts and jeans, go in and out of fashion. Last year it was the Paloma. Tequila, grapefruit, lime, agave, soda – it was all very refreshing and, crucially, Instagram friendly in a lovely shade of millennial apricot.

Woman drinking cocktail through straw c. 1950 - Science & Society Picture Library/SSPL/Getty Images
Woman drinking cocktail through straw c. 1950 - Science & Society Picture Library/SSPL/Getty Images

Remember the Aperol Spritz summer of 2015? Dangerously easy to drink, tasting like grown up Fanta and served in bowl glasses the size of your face. It’s all part of the formula when it comes to finding a “drink of the moment”, says Siobhan Payne, co-founder of London Cocktail Week. They need to “look good in a picture”, and be a crowd pleaser. They also need to be “easy to make at home”.

For a while, cocktails had become a rather staid affair. Garnishes were out, so were juices and mixers. Bartenders eschewed the naff and ushered in an era of pared-back glamour. A cocktail had to be short, and served simply over ice in a neat, quietly elegant glass. Now, thankfully, excess seems to be back.

“People have missed the exuberance of overblown cocktails”, says Jake Burger, drinks historian and co-founder of Portobello Road Gin. “Perhaps it’s because we’re getting back to some degree of normal.” It might sound a little far-fetched to think a cocktail trend could be driven by a wave of post-pandemic indulgence, but stranger things have happened.

“We riff on a lot of classics,” says Andrei Marcu, bartender and manager of Coupette in East London. “These are very popular, people can relate to them, as opposed to a random name and conceptual drink.”

Payne agrees. “There’s definitely a bit of nostalgia going on, and good fun. Especially after the time everyone has had.”

This summer, then, it’s time to get in a few bottles of cheap booze, tinned fruit and cartons of juice. And for the record, mine’s a Tequila Sunrise.

Now it’s time to grab your cocktail shaker set as Burger shares three classic recipes.

Five classic retro cocktails that you must try

Jake Burger, drinks historian and co-founder of Portobello Road Gin

Take a large cocktail glass such as a Hurricane Glass (or, for the home mixer, a wine glass will suffice).

Fill with ice then add 50ml of 100% Agave Blanco Tequila, top the glass with 120ml of freshly squeezed orange juice, then slowly pour in 10ml of grenadine syrup, allowing it to trickle down the inside of the glass and sink to the bottom, causing the sunrise effect.

To garnish, cut a circle of orange and slice halfway into its diameter, then thread it in an s she onto a cocktail stick, including a cherry in one of the loops.

Top tip: There are not many good orange juice cocktails but this one can be delicious if good ingredients are used. It is important to use a 100 per cent agave tequila like that from Ocho or Tequileno, and to use freshly squeezed orange juice – not the from concentrate juice. Good grenadine like that from the Bristol Syrup Company will also improve this drink.

Take a tall straight glass and fill it with ice cubes, add 50ml or Portobello Road Vanilla Vodka, 15ml of good quality grenadine and 15ml of freshly squeezed lime juice. Top the glass with with Fever Tree Ginger Ale and gently stir. Garnish with a lime wedge and a cocktail cherry or three.

Top tip: Avoid the luminous red cocktail cherries of old and go with something like the Lazzaroni Amaretto Cherries or Luxardo Original Maraschino Cherries.

A great modern take on the grasshopper comes from Jeffrey Morgenthaler in Portland, Oregon.

It takes a bit more work than a conventional grasshopper but is well worth the effort.

In a drinks blender mix the following:

  • 45ml creme de menthe green

  • 45ml creme de cacao white

  • 15ml milk

  • 15ml single cream

  • 1 teaspoon of Fernet Branca

  • 1 pinch of salt

  • 1 scoop vanilla ice-cream

  • A handful of crushed ice

Blend until it is the consistency of a milkshake.

Top tip: It’s relatively thick, so works well served in a classic milkshake glass, with a straw.

In a cocktail shaker full of ice combine and shake the following:

  • 60ml Appleton 12-year-old Jamaican Rum

  • 15ml Curacao (Pierre Ferrand do a great one)

  • 7.5ml Orgeat syrup (Bristol Syrup Company would be great but the one from Monin is pretty good too)

  • 7.5ml sugar syrup

  • 25ml fresh lime juice

Shake and strain onto crushed ice in the most tropical drinking glass you can find and garnish with a mint sprig, a wedge of fresh lime and a cherry.

Top tip: A homemade Demerara sugar syrup is ideal for this. Make by combining two parts sugar with one part water and simmering on the stove till all the sugar is dissolved. You can just buy sugar syrup from the shop, but it won’t be as good.

Take a tall thin straight glass, fill with ice and 50ml Aluna Coconut Rum, then slowly pour in 200ml of pineapple soda, taking care not to let it foam up.

Gently stir to ensure the ingredients are adequately mixed and then garnish with a pineapple slice, a cherry and a cocktail parasol.

Top tip: Use pineapple soda (3 Cents make a great one) rather than juice for a piña colada that's more refreshing than it is tooth-achingly sweet.

Do you like pina coladas? Tell us how you make yours in the comments section below