It’s back! Enough of you enjoyed my first foray into themed mixology enough for me to consider making this a regular series. And, as I’m able to invent or refurbish drinks, I will. So if you enjoy your theme park history sprinkled with some distilled spirits, let’s have a drink on it!
This month’s drink comes to us from the Polynesian Village, through a column written by Dorothy Chapman for the Orlando Sentinel – Thought You’d Never Ask, a long-running series divulging recipes for area restaurant dishes, including many at Walt Disney World. Published in December 1977, and republished the limited edition spiral bound book collection of the articles in 1980, The Seven Seas Drink immediately lept out at me – for reasons both good and bad.
Read it first:
This immediately got my attention for a few reasons. First, it was never republished elsewhere and has sunken into absolute obscurity. Second, it specifically calls for something a lot of old-time Disney World collectors have – the large, footed, frosted Polynesian Village tiki mugs.
And the third reason it lept out at me is because it’s a total disaster as a recipe. Look at that – two kinds of orange liqueur plus orange juice? Squeezing an orange into the glass? Who would do such a thing??
And even worse, if you actually went through the effort to make the darn thing, it was a total downer – a sickly, sweet confection reminiscent of Orange Fanta and with enough sugar to give you a headache. Can it be saved? Is it even worth saving?
|1980 Polynesian drink menu courtesy of How Bowers
$3.25 is roughly equivalent to about $10.50 today
Decoding and Improving, First Try
So what’s going on with this drink? If you’ve looked at other Walt Disney World recipe guides from before the mid-90s, you may have noticed that Disney was not exactly a temple of great cocktail drinking, a distinction they still hold today. But in the 70s, things were even rougher, because the “specialty” drinks were not even fully mixed by the local bartender. Instead, Disney made use of a huge number of mixes.
And I don’t mean huge bottles of Lime Juice Cordial – Disney made their own mixes, daily, in the same gigantic centralized kitchen which produced much of the food served at Magic Kingdom and the hotels. Working from early in the morning, white aproned kitchen staff would be hard at work mixing huge plastic buckets of mixes for Scorpions, Mai Tais, Banana Bogeys and Monorail Pinks. Distributed to the individual bars, barkeeps would merely have to dump out the correct amount of drink mix, add the base spirit, maybe some soda water, shake it all up, and call it a day.
With this in mind, it’s easy to make more sense of the Seven Seas Drink – the recipe asks the barkeep to squeeze fresh orange and lemon juice into the glass to add some freshness back into the likely hours-old mix. If you looked at the “sour mix” and thought of Rose’s Sweet and Sour, you’re wrong – we’re probably talking about the even grosser powdered lemon bar mixes, probably sourced from Franco’s in nearby Pompano Beach. The Orange Juice was likely direct from the carton.
Anybody sitting down to make the drink today can simply substitute the appropriate amounts of fresh orange juice and fresh lemon juice and dispose of the need to squeeze citrus into the glass, then build the drink and stir. An approximation of the sour mix can be obtained by using half lemon juice and half sugar syrup.
This also explains the baffling choice to call for both Curaçao and Triple Sec, both orange flavored cordials – one sweet, one dry, both working together to keep the already astronomical sweetness in check. Today, we have access to the excellent Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao, making such mixological tricks unnessecary.
Finally, there’s the question of the rum. If any modern day Tikiholics are reading this, they likely gasped at the call for Lemon Hart Rum, since the Lemon Hart 151 is currently a beloved if scarce ingredient in tropical drinks. Based on reviews of Lemon Hart’s modern portfolio and from Disney’s instructions to cut Bacari Silver with dark rum, I’d say that Lemon Hart 1804 is the nearest modern match.
I’ve been unable to find Lemon Hart 1804, and the reviews online lead me to believe it’s fairly mediocre, so in this case feel free to use any blended aged “Gold” rum you personally enjoy. Mount Gay Eclipse is a decent and widely available choice, and El Dorado 5 or 8 is even better. I do NOT suggest blending Bacardi Silver and dark rum as Disney suggests.
Finally, the grenadine contributes neither color nor flavor to the drink in the “dash” amount specified, so that can go right out. Here’s what the Seven Seas Drink looks like if we adapt it for modern ingredients and methods:
Seven Seas Drink 2.0
.5 oz Fresh Orange Juice
.25 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
.25 oz Simple Syrup
1 oz Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao
1.5 oz Gold Rum
Shake very hard with crushed ice and dump, unstrained, into a Polynesian Village frosted mug. Garnish with the spent Orange shell. Drink with optimism.
If you make this and the original recipie specified in Thought You’d Never Ask, you’ll notice only very minor improvements. Simply put, this is still far, far too cloying and sweet for its own good.
So let’s see if we can start balancing this thing out, and we’ll break all three of the major components down into categories.
Rum – The Strong
In a hotel bar in Florida in the 1970s, perhaps 1.5 ounces of the good stuff was enough, but today we can do better. I boosted the rum content to an easy to remember 2 ounces, which allows us to combine an ounce each of multiple rums for deeper flavor.
The suggested combination of light Bacardi and dark Meyer’s is not that great to begin with, and in my opinion Bacardi is expensive and fairly insubstantial. Even switching the recipe over to using a gold rum, as I did in the halfway version above, yields a considerable improvement.
Frankly, though, I think in this drink the darker you go with your rum blend, the better. Unless you’re absolutely dedicated to using a white rum in this, you can do better by combining a gold aged rum and a dark one. I ended up using an equal mix of Mount Gay Eclipse and El Dorado Dark for testing purposes.
Citrus Juices – The Sour
A half ounce of sour was far too little for this job. Looking to classic exotic cocktails for guidance, you’ll see very few that use orange juice by itself, usually mixing it in combination with a stronger juice like passion fruit or pineapple. This is because, even when fresh juiced, orange is simply too wimpy to put up much of a fight against rum. I tried boosting the amount to 3/4 of an ounce of each orange and lemon juice, and got a much clearer citrus flavor.
Curaçao – The Sweet
Even with the excellent Pierre Ferrand and with boosted juice and rum, this drink needed far less orange liqueur. Few tropical cocktails use a full ounce of the stuff, and it’s because it’s really very bossy and can quickly take over a drink. Cutting back the Curaçao to half an ounce helped, but really, this drink needed some depth. So enter the secret of many an exotic cocktail: the spice cabinet!
Given that this is a blog about weird old Walt Disney World, not drink mixing, I wasn’t about to tell you to make your own cinnamon syrup or something like that. As I saw it, there were only two viable bottled options: Allspice Dram or Falernum.
Allspice Dram we saw in my last cocktail, The Howling Dog Bend, and I love its spicy complexity, but in this citrus-heavy drink it simply did not fit in. Falernum is a spiced ginger syrup from Barbados, and it nicely rounded out the Seven Seas Drink with just a hint of complexity. I like John Taylor’s, but Trader Sam gets very nice effects with the spicier BG Reynolds. You can also make your own fairly quickly, especially if you begin with a commercial almond milk, which I recommend.
So to your half ounce of Curaçao add another half ounce of Falernum. Now we were getting much closer to a proper drink.
At this point I had to stop and consider carefully whether the drink was likely to continue improving, and moreover, what exactly the Seven Seas Drink was. After all, this was not some extravagant Donn Beach 11-ingridient opus – this was a resort drink, that tasted like oranges, intended to be enjoyed on the shores of the Seven Seas Lagoon. My inclinations to start floating 151 rum on top of it or adding hazelnut bitters were likely to only bring me further and further away from my goal, which was to improve the 1977 original. But I still had a few more tweaks to try.
I tried cutting half of the rum with Dry Gin, a common Trader Vic technique to lighten up a heavy drink, but the benefits here were negligible – we may as well have been using vodka. Instead, I found that the darker I took the rum blend, the more interesting the drink became, and ended up enjoying a blend of 1 oz El Dorado Dark to 1 oz Black Overproof Dark (think Lemon Hart 151, Gosling 151) the most. However, use whatever work for your interest and budget level.
I tried adding pineapple juice to the drink, but in both half ounce and ounce intervals it only seemed to muddle up the balanced citrus flavor. Speaking of the citrus, I found that bottled OJ works just as well as fresh – the fresh orange juice really only adds a nice orange shell that you can dunk in the drink. If you want to do this, you should use a medium-sized Florida-style juicing orange like a honeybell instead of the monster navel oranges that come from California.
Finally, I decided that the bitters weren’t adding much to the mix. You can still use them if you like, but even after adding 3 very aggressive shakes to the mixing tin, I found the flavor was simply lost in all of that juice and rum. Besides, I liked that I had 3 measures of six ingredients, making my improved Seven Seas Drink one of the few tropical cocktails that was easy to remember, and the Bitters were throwing off that neat symmetry.
I like to use my Waring Drink Mixer to put this together, otherwise known as a milkshake mixer. If your go-to drink is a Mai Tai or Test Pilot you probably have already gotten one of these beasts, but for the rest of you, the milkshake mixer is entirely optional. I think it adds just the right texture to tropical drinks when blended up with crushed ice, and it somehow aerates and brings out the flavor in your cocktail syrups like falernum.
If you’re using a traditional shaker, you’re going to want to shake the daylights out of this drink until it’s very, very cold, then open up the whole thing and dump the contents – ice and all – into your beautifully frosted tiki mug. Do NOT attempt this with a classic blender with a blade in it, because you’ll just end up turning all of your ice to slush and cleaning the darn thing out later.
Seven Seas Drink Reborn
.75 oz Orange Juice
.75 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
.5 oz Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao
.5 oz Velvet Falernum
1 oz Demerra Blended Rum
1 oz Dark Rum
If using fresh orange juice, place spent orange shell in bottom of 1970s Polynesian Village frosted tiki mug.
Combine all ingredients and crushed ice and shake until very, very cold. Pour shaker contents, unstrained, into frosted mug. Add ice cubes as needed until mug is full. Garnish with spent lemon shell and drink through a long straw.
For garnish, I like a few pineapple fronds if I have them, but a nice big bunch of mint works just as well. Go ahead and stick an umbrella in that lemon shell – it’s a resort drink, after all.