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Hundred Proof’s Pearl Diver is the Perfect End of Summer Cocktail

New menu at University Heights bar resurrects seldom-seen classics


Hundred Proof’s innovative Pearl Diver cocktail | Photo by Stephen Kurpinsky

Unless you’re at a legit tiki bar, it’s rare to see a Pearl Diver on a cocktail menu. Invented in the 1930s by Don the Beachcomber, the godfather of tiki, the Pearl Diver’s secret ingredient is Don’s Gardenia Mix, a concoction that sounds like it belongs in the realm of baked goods: unsalted butter, honey, cinnamon, allspice, vanilla.

Using those ingredients in a cold drink is challenging, which is why this cocktail’s so tough to find. In a piece on Gardenia Mix for Punch, Roger Kamholz writes that tiki historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry—who saved the mix from oblivion—“lovingly calls the stuff ‘a pain in the ass.’”

So what to do if you really want to serve a great Pearl Diver but don’t want to deal with the hassle? Reverse engineer it. For their latest menu, bartenders at Hundred Proof came up with a way to replicate the flavors and mouthfeel of the Gardenia Mix minus the headache: they fat-washed a three-rum blend with brown butter and condensed milk and incorporated the baking spices into a housemade falernum (basically, a spiced syrup).  

Hundred Proof beverage manager Stephen Kurpinsky said he’s been wanting to put a Pearl Diver on a menu for years, ever since he tried Berry’s version at revered New Orleans’ bar, Latitude 29. Berry’s Ponchartrain Pearl Diver includes passion fruit, which Kurpinsky says put the cocktail over the top.

The result (which Hundred Proof serves in a traditional Pearl Diver glass) is rich, exotic, and perfectly balanced. With summer coming to an end, make it a point to head over to Hundred Proof and try their Pearl Diver.

The rest of the new menu’s also worth a visit. It’s half classics, half modern takes on classics. Standouts include Lovers and Madmen, which features Hendricks awesome new Midsummer Solstice Gin, passion fruit, almond syrup, housemade mineral water, and prosecco.  Mezcal fans should try the Strawbarely Legal (El Silencio Mezcal Joven, lemon, strawberry, red bell pepper, and chili de arbol). And the classics include one of my favorites, the Bijou (gin, green Chartreuse, sweet vermouth, and orange bitters), another cocktail that rarely makes an appearance on menus.

Kurpinksy said they included rarities partly for selfish reasons, but also to introduce patrons to worthy classics.

“We picked cocktails that we like to drink or don’t get the love they should,” he says.

Got a suggestion for a future post? Email me.

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