“But that’s not from Puerto Rico though, right?”
“Yes, it is. A guy at some hotel in San Juan invented it.”
My entire life I thought the Piña Colada was just some generic beach cocktail recipe, probably created by a Rum company somewhere. Heading to San Juan a few days later I went to investigate.
As it turned out, my informant was indeed correct. There are numerous claims to the invention of the cocktail, but some seem more plausible than others.
Theory 1: The most credible theory is that on August 15, 1954 a man named Ramon “Monchito” Marrero introduced the Piña Colada at the Caribe Hilton’s Beachcomber Bar in San Juan. The Caribe Hilton was the most famous hotel of the day in San Juan and the Hollywood Jet Set would frequent there. Management encouraged Monchito to create a new signature drink. For three months he experimented with all sorts of ingredients and a shaker and blender. At the end the Piña Colada as we know it today was born.
Theory 2: In 1963, Spaniard Ramon Portas Mingot, who had written cocktail books and worked in some of the finest bars in Buenos Aires, met the Spanish chef Pepe Barrachina, whose restaurant in San Juan (Barrachina www.barrachina.com) was known for it’s Paella, on a trip to South America. He soon hired him on as head bartender. In experimentation, Don Ramon mixed pineapple juice, coconut cream, condensed milk and ice in a blender, creating the most common recipe for the Piña Colada we know today. A plaque at Barrachina commemorates the occasion: “The House where in 1963 the Piña Colada was created by Don Ramon Portas Mingot.”
Theory 3: Ricardo Garcia, a Spaniard who had come to San Juan to work at the Caribe Hilton. There, all guests were give a drink called the Coco Loco – a mix of coconut juice, rum, and cream of coconut served in a fresh sliced coconut – as a complimentary welcome cocktail. One day in 1954, Garcia found himself without coconuts to serve the drink in, supposedly because of a union strike at the hotel, and cut off the top of a pineapple, which he had plenty of, and served the drink in that instead. The accidental mixologist noticed the pineapple flavor in the drink and began experimenting with strained pineapple, hence the name. In Spanish, Piña Colada simply means Strained Pineapple. A nice story, but I’m not sure I believe it.
Theory 4: The oldest theory of the Piña Colada back well beyond 1954 to the 1800’s. The Puerto Rican pirate Roberto Cofresí, better known in Caribbean folklore as El Pirata Cofresí, supposedly served a form of cocktail that mixed white rum, coconut milk, and pineapple, though when Cofresi died in 1825, the recipe went with him.
While you can go into any hotel bar or Old San Juan restaurant and order a Piña Colada and for the most part all will tastes the same. Outside of San Juan, in the island’s heartland, you get a wide variation of recipes. Like a Pisco Sour in Peru or Sangria in Spain, every family seems to have their own recipe, tweaked just how they like it, which has been passed down through generations. The traditional Piña Colada recipe is just a combination of white rum, coconut cream, and pineapple juice that is either blended or strained over ice. A pineapple wedge or maraschino cherries are the typical garnishes.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.