The beverage director of Brooklyn Caribbean restaurant Glady’s, a self-described “spiritual advisor” and the author of the new book “Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails,” Shannon Mustipher, talks about noncanonical Tiki drinks and reinventing the cocktail book formula.
How did you get into bartending?
I’m a South Carolina native. My family is big on cooking, mostly from scratch. I’d spend the summers at my grandparents’ house after my parents moved to Atlanta. We’d have people cooking and grilling, 30 to 40 people. That’s where my love for cooking was born.
The first five years I lived in New York, I worked as a styling and photo assistant. I decided it wasn’t what I wanted and went to work full-time at a restaurant. They added a bar program, and I just clamored to get in there. I’d made Manhattans and Martinis at home but had never been behind the bar.
I’ve been with Glady’s for five years. At first, it was a New American concept, then they changed it to fit the neighborhood and asked me to become the beverage director. I thought of working in kitchens, but I saw what that was like. I prefer the bar; I like to be face-to-face with people.
Why a book on Tiki drinks?
[Tiki] chose me. Glady’s is a rum bar. I’ve been the beverage director there for the last five years. I wanted to show the range of Caribbean rums and that there’s a higher level of quality. I wanted to challenge the notion that rum is overly sweet, that it’s good for more than just a Cuba Libre.
The real turning point was when I went to Tiki by the Sea [a festival held in Wildwood, N.J.]. It was the first one. I met [Boston Tiki expert and musician] Brother Cleve. His seminar really inspired me and opened me up to Tiki. I saw it was more sophisticated than I really thought. Over that weekend, it became apparent that I was well set up to do Tiki drinks. I had the best collection of rum in the city for making Tiki cocktails. I had 50 to 60 rums at Glady’s at that point. The bar currently carries 75 rums by the glass. I put Brother Cleve’s playlist and Fog Cutter recipe in the book.
How is your book different from other Tiki books?
The main thrust of the book is to demystify Tiki by focusing on ingredients and flavors. I want the reader to gain confidence in their knowledge of the ingredients and how to apply them in a cocktail.
The headnotes have a lot of detail and focus on the ingredients and technique. I hadn’t seen that. Most cocktail books tend to focus on the inspiration for the drink or its history.
If you want to read about that, “Smuggler’s Cove” or the Jeff “Beachbum” Berry books are already out there. In this book, I wanted to highlight the ingredients and techniques, some of which weren’t available at the beginning of Tiki—techniques like fat-washing and using avocados in cocktails. It’s not canonical Tiki; it’s a culinary approach to how you create a cocktail.
The photos are beautiful too.
We spent two years concepting out the imagery. We wanted you to be transported through the imagery. When you’re thinking Tiki, you’re thinking of another place.
What are some of your favorite drinks from the book?
The Parasol—it’s a banana and pineapple Daiquiri. It was one of the first originals
I made at Glady’s that I felt like I owned. The Kingston Soundsystem, made with soursop, a Jamaican fruit, Suze and Jamaican rum. It’s a Jungle Bird riff, a weird reverse engineering of a tropical Daiquiri. The Strangers in Paradise has a mezcal base and brings in Fernet-Vallet. I won one of my first cocktail competitions with this drink. The One Love—I wanted to make vodka interesting, so I fat-washed it with coconut oil. We put it on the menu at Glady’s, and people were ordering two or three. It was gratifying that the hunch paid off.
What else do you want people to know about this book?
I want people to know that tradition is a great point of departure but you should be open to reinvention. Working at a Tiki bar with a rum-focused program was definitely a reinvention for me. It wasn’t something I would have gone toward. With this book, I want the reader to have confidence in flavors. I want the reader to feel inventive.