Boat Drinks with Ryan

In this week’s edition of Tales of an African Bartender, Ryan Duvenage explores the idea of Boat Drinks and lets us in on how to master a Añejo Highball…

I love gangster movies, always have. From the timelessness of The Godfather, to the brash confidence of Pulp Fiction, these movies and many others make up much of my personal Top Movies List but I also have a great fondness for the style of crime film that doesn’t take itself too seriously . Those with that twinkle of humour that makes them less real than their gritty, hard-nosed relations but so much more fun! One of my favourites (and criminally under-rated in my opinion) is Things to Do in Denver When you’re Dead (1995), a not too serious but charmingly enjoyable movie with a great cast.

Now, what does all of this movie stuff have to do with drinking? Well, not that much to be honest, but something that has always stayed with me from Things to do… is the idea of “Boat Drinks”.

Now I have no idea if this has any basis in real life (so little in Hollywood ever does) but the concept is one we can all appreciate. In the film, the characters use the term “Boat Drinks”, as a fond farewell and during the course of the movie, Andy Garcia explains to us that in the “old days” Boat Drinks were a common toast in prison, a wish for an ideal. That at the end of a long, bad life you’d be sitting on a cabin cruiser somewhere in the Florida Keys having “Boat Drinks”.

Now I love this idea – to wish someone to be free of all their troubles and have nothing more pressing to do than sit on a boat with their friends, with the sun on their backs and a drink in their hands. It’s the most simple and timeless of good wishes. Kind of like a mobster version of An Old Irish Blessing.

But what exactly are “Boat Drinks”? Well, the Google machine tells me that they’re often seen as essentially the same as Tiki Cocktails, a style of faux-Polynesian, over the top tropical drink made popular by guys like Trader Vic and Don the Beachcomber in the 1930’s and currently a very popular addition to cocktail menus in some of the world’s best bars. This revival has been lead by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, one of the leading modern experts on both the drinks and the culture and a good place to start if you’re at all interested in Tiki.

Tiki Cocktails are usually Rum based, fruity and very strong but the thing about them is that they are also, usually, amazingly complex. Now, unless you were a really successful criminal and could afford your own personal bartender on your little boat out there in the Keys, I wouldn’t want to be slaving for hours making syrups with  obscure ingredients and juicing mountains of fresh fruit (just a few of the requisites for good Tiki drinks). I want to relax with a simple but good drink!

So let’s take a look at our “Boat Drinks” style and come up with something a little easier!

We’ll stay with Rum as our base spirit – we are on a boat in the Florida Keys so it’s the natural choice. We want something with a lot of flavour but not too dark and heavy, a Cuban Añejo will be perfect. Our boat drink needs to be a little more complex and a bit stronger than a simple Spirit/Mix combo so we’ll add a bit of sweetness with some Orange Curacao (Grand Marnier will be fine) and balance that out with some fresh lime juice.

Now this brings us to an exceptionally important point and one that South African’s in particular seem to have a lot of trouble understanding:

Fresh Lime Juice and Lime Cordial are not interchangeable.


One is sweet the other is sour and therefore they do completely different things to a drink. Substituting Lime Cordial will result in a drink that is unbalanced and far too sweet as well as losing the “brightness” that fresh citrus brings to a drink. Ok, rant over – back to our drink!

We need to lengthen this drink a little and the perfect pairing to a good rum is a good ginger beer.

There are many good brands available on the market so find one that suits your taste. Spicy and powerful are usually good, with the powerful flavours of Rum and we’ll compliment this with a bit more spice from the Caribbean, a couple of dashes of Angostura Bitters.

Añejo Highball

Adapted from a recipe by Dale de Groff (2000)


45ml Havana Club Anejo Reserva

15ml Grand Marnier

15ml Fresh Lime Juice

2 Dash Angostura Bitters

Top Ginger Beer


Method: Build ingredients over ice, stir and serve.

Glass: Highball/Collins

Garnish: Fresh lime wedge

So there you go. The perfect drink to relax with, easy to make and great to drink as the sun goes down on your boat, wherever or whatever that may be.

Boat Drinks.


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