Don the Beachcombers Forgotten Recipes
Immediately after prohibition had been repealed by the 21st amendment Donn Beach opened Don the Beachcomber in Hollywood California. Donn single handedly created the first Tiki bar and with it tiki culture. but like most innovators Donn was worried about others coping his Hollywood style Polynesian themed bar and profiting off his ideas. Donn would show up a few hours before the bar opened and mix large batches of his spice mixes and mixers, and give them non descriptive labels like Donn’s spice mix #1, #2, #3, or Donn’s Zombie Mix, Grog Mix, Gardenia mix. This was all done to hide the recipes. Donn never told the other bartenders, or published a recipe, and while he did open other bars his recipes never got out. Thus Donn’s original recipes died with him in 1989. So keep that in mind anytime you see a Don the Beachcomber cocktail that it is never an original recipe but another bartender best guess as to what it was. And some guesses are better than others. For a little over a decade Tiki was kinda a lawless free for all with no continuity between drinks of the same name. There is still a lot of that today. How many Mai Tai recipes have you seen even though we know the original canon recipe for it?
In the late 90s a Tiki cocktail enthusiast named Jeff Berry came along with the intent of preserving the old recipes and Tiki culture and helped revitalize the publics interest in it. Jeff interviewed old bartenders of Donn the Beachcombers and set out to recreate Donn secret recipes to the best of knowledge. Gathering whatever information he could and testing recipes against people who remembered what the old drinks tasted like, he is credited with having saved recipes that would otherwise be lost to time. Keep in mind though that these are not Donn’s original recipe but Jeff’s best attempts at recreating them and that Jeff Beachbum Berry is probably the closest one to getting it right.
What Does Q.B Mean
If you are former Air Force you probably already know the answer to this but the Q.B. in the Q.B. Cooler stands for Quite Birdmen. Donn Beach served in the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) from 1942 – 1945. The Quite Birdmen is an invite only club of former military aviators that formed at the end of WWI in France. Originally a drinking club named The American Flying Club they eventually earned the name Quite Birdmen as a joke since they were often very loud and drunk. As former Lieutenant Colonel of the Army Air Forces if seems fitting to name a drink after the Air Forces drinking club. (Originally arial warfare was apart of the Army as the Army Air Corps till 1941, then Army Air Forces in 1942, It wouldn’t become a separate branch till 1947 when the US Air Force was formed)
Inspiration for the Mai Tai
There is a common story that Victor Bergeron (Trader Vic) was inspired by Donn Beach’s Q.B. Cooler and in an attempt to imitate it made the Mai Tai. But I don’t really buy that. 1). The Mai Tai and Q.B. Cooler are almost completely different drinks. It doesn’t help that there are countless recipes of the two but the more or less agreed upon canon recipes are very different. If Victor Bergeron was trying to copy the Q.B. Cooler than he completely missed the mark. 2). Victor Bergeron did not hide when he was inspired by Donn Beach. He was very open that he started tiki because he loved what Donn had invented. Also he sited the cocktails he did try and mimic from Donn as cocktails inspired by and originally from Don the Beachcomber. Why would he suddenly act differently with this one drink? 3). From what I gather this story was started by a bartender of Donn’s and not Donn himself. Donn did not hide his frustration with others trying to copy his work and it was not the Mai Tai trying to copy his Q.B Cooler that he took issue with but Victor Bergeron’s Mai Tai trying to copy his own Mai Tai recipe that pissed him off. Which leads to my final point. 4). Victor Bergeron and Donn Beach actually went to court to argue who’s Mai Tai was the original. Victor sold a pre-made “Original” Mai Tai mixer and in the 1970s when Donn Beach began selling a pre-made “Original” Mai Tai mixer too the two went to court to argues who was actually the original. Victor Bergeron won and Donn removed “Original” from the label. I personally believe if Victor Bergeron tried to copy the Q.B. Cooler he would have just made drink called the Q.B Cooler and credit Donn Beach with having invented it.
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