Pearl Diver – Classic Don the Beachcomber Cocktail Recipe

How Does a Pearl Diver Taste

The Pearl Diver is a very unique cocktail. Even in the tiki world its inclusion of Creamed spiced honey butter is unique. What the Gardenia mix adds is a creamy texture and hot buttered rum flavor to a tropical drink. Pretty consistently I have found that people who don’t like hot buttered rum also don’t like this. I have also noticed that people who do like hot buttered rum also like this. It taste kinda taste like a citrus-y cold buttered rum and I absolutely love it.

Don the Beachcomber’s 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Immediately after prohibition had been repealed by the 21st amendment Donn Beach opened Don the Beachcomber in Hollywood California.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. Check out Jeff Beachbum Berry’s post here on the Pearl Diver

What is Gardenia Mix and How to Make It

The secret Gardenia mix recipe Jeff Berry eventually settled on was:

  • 1 oz Honey
  • 1 oz unsalted butter
  • 1/2 tsp Vanilla Syrup
  • 1 tsp Cinnamon Syrup
  • 1/2 tsp Allspice Dram.

The stuff taste and smells amazing. Although not everyone has vanilla or cinnamon syrup around, so I wrote a recipe that is a bit more accessible. Here is my specific article on gardenia mix and how to make it.

The Most Important Part Of This Cocktail

The most important part of the pearl diver is how you mix it. Butter is mostly milk fat and protein and it does not stay emulsified in water. So you have two options. 1). Use a blender and turn it into a slushy. 2). Use an emulsifier like gum syrup or something to evenly mix the gardenia mix while you are making it and it is still warm . If you don’t blend it or use an emulsifier then the butter oddly sits at the top and it looks pretty gross.

The first option of using a blender is the more common one. There will still be very small particles of butter but the speed of a blender helps to evenly mix them and the slushy ice prevents them from forming together. If slushies are not your style then try option #2.

The second option is to use an emulsifier while you are making the gardenia mix and it is still warm. That way you’re not fighting the fat when the cocktail is cold. I’m not the most versed in that method but there are guides online that talk about how to do it that way.


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Pearl Diver – Classic Don the Beachcomber Cocktail Recipe

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Course: DrinksCuisine: American






Total time



Learn how to make the Pearl Diver.


  • 1/2 oz Lime Juice

  • 1 oz Orange Juice

  • 1/2 oz Simple Syrup

  • 1 oz Gardenia Mix

  • 1/3 oz Falernum

  • 1.5 oz Gold Rum

  • 1 oz Anejo Rum


  • Combine all ingredients into a blender with a single scoop of ice cubes.
  • Blend on low for 10 seconds or till the ice is mostly pulverized.
  • Now blend on high for 5-10 seconds to completely crush the ice and turn the drink into a slushy texture.
  • Pour into serving glass. Garnish with an orchid flower.

Recipe Video