Few cocktails are so famous and beloved that they have a song named after them, but the piña colada is part of that rare and exclusive company.
Whilst Robert Holmes’ 1979 hit song Escape (The Piña Colada Song) only became the signature song of the frozen mix of rum, coconut cream and strained pineapple largely by accident, it remains an incredibly popular sweet and frozen part of a mixologist’s repertoire.
As with so many highly popular cocktails, the piña colada has a fascinating origin that dates much further back than Guardians of the Galaxy mixtapes, soft rock songs about cheating and a golden age of exotic drinks.
In fact, there are two stories about the drink’s origin, one a relatively modern celebration of heritage, the other a gift from one of the last great pirates of the Age of Sail with tall tales to match.
The two stories span two centuries but share a single nation: Puerto Rico.
The Drink Of The Terror Of The Seas
The mythology of the pirate as the swashbuckling anti-hero many people think of today was shaped in no small part by the stories and traditions surrounding Roberto Confresí, who depending on the story being told was either a supernatural being of evil or a Robin Hood-style liberator of wealth.
The man known as “El Pirata” was the son of an aristocrat although that wealth quickly disappeared in the midst of independence wars and bad fortune. He became a pirate in 1818 and enacted a seven-year campaign where he became a hero to Cabo Rojo and a cutthroat to basically everyone else.
During this time, he managed to keep a crew of local sailors motivated in part by a powerful personality but also allegedly thanks to a drink mix consisting of pineapple, coconut and white rum, three ingredients commonly found in Puerto Rico.
This would be the first-ever piña colada ever made but exactly how it was prepared is uncertain, and given that Mr Confresí was killed by firing squad in 1825, the secret of his drink died with him.
It is also uncertain whether this actually happened, given the lack of reliable sources surrounding almost anything else relating to the “pirate lord”, but given the many different stories around the drink’s modern origin, this seems almost fitting.
Who Revived The Piña Colada?
Over a century later, the piña colada was either invented or revived, depending on whether you believe that a legendary pirate first mixed it or not. However, exactly when and who invented it is not entirely clear.
The Puerto Rican restaurant Barrachina claims that it was created by Spanish bartender Don Ramon Portas Mingot as late as 1963.
This seems exceptionally unlikely, given that a 1950 article in the New York Times discusses the “pina colada”, although for whatever reason it claims that it originated in Cuba rather than Puerto Rico.
The most likely origin point for the modern recipe for the piña colada probably arrived in 1954, when bartender Ramón “Monchito” Marrero settled on the recipe for a drink that he believed embodied the country of Puerto Rico whilst working at the Caribe Hilton.
By 1978 it became the official drink of the nation, and a year later would receive a Robert Holmes anthem that has forever become associated with it.