Don the Beachcomber’s Forgotten Recipes.
Immediately after the 21st amendment had repealed prohibition, Donn Beach opened Don the Beachcomber in Hollywood, California.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 copying his Hollywood-style Polynesian-themed bar and profiting off his ideas. Donn would show up a few hours before the bar opened, mix large batches of his spice mixes and mixers, and give them nondescriptive 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; it is never an original recipe, just the best guess. And some guesses are better than others. Tiki was a lawless free for all for a little over a decade 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 helping revitalize the public interest in it. Jeff interviewed old bartenders of Donn the Beachcombers and set out to recreate Donn’s secret recipes to the best of their 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. Remember 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 get it right.
What Does Q.B Mean?
If you are a former Air Force, you probably already know the answer to this, but the Q.B. in the Q.B. Cooler stands for Quiet Birdmen. Donn Beach served in the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) from 1942 to 1945. The Quite Birdmen is an invite-only club of former military aviators 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 loud and drunk. As a former Lieutenant Colonel of the Army Air Forces, it seems fitting to name a drink after the Air Forces drinking club. (Originally, aerial warfare was a part 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)
Did The Q.B Cooler Inspire the Mai Tai?
There is a typical story that Donn Beach’s Q.B. Cooler inspired Victor Bergeron (Trader Vic) and made the Mai Tai in an attempt to imitate it. But I don’t buy that. 1). The Mai Tai and Q.B. Cooler are almost entirely different drinks. It doesn’t help that there are countless recipes for the two, but the more or less agreed-upon canon recipes are very different from each other. If Victor Bergeron was trying to copy the Q.B. Cooler, he completely missed the mark. 2). Victor Bergeron did not hide when Donn Beach inspired him. He was public about how Don the Beachcomber inspired him to open a tiki bar. Also, he cited 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). 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 he did not sue Victor Bergeron for copying his Q.B Cooler. Victor sued him. This leads to my final point. 4). Victor Bergeron and Donn Beach 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, Donn Beach began selling a pre-made “Original” Mai Tai mixer. The two went to court to argue who invented the original. Victor Bergeron won, and Donn removed “Original” from the label. I believe if Victor Bergeron tried to copy the Q.B. Cooler, he would have just made a drink called the Q.B Cooler and credited Donn Beach with having invented it.
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