Image courtesy: RP & Associates
Tiki culture is fascinating, and probably deserving of an article dedicated to exploring it. Associated with rum, tiki is essentially a theme, created in a bar by tiki legend Donn Beach and taken up by friend and rival Victor Jules Bergeron for his chain, Trader Vic's.
These bars were inspired by Polynesian culture but comprised everything from lobster pots to anchors and all sorts of un-Polynesian things now intrinsically linked to it through tiki. There are many components of tiki culture, but one of the most iconic has to be the tiki mug.
Image courtesy: Emeryville Eye
The Origins of Tiki Mugs
The origin of the tiki mugs that we know today is debatable. These things often are. Tiki mugs have grown into quite the sensation and collectors items for avid tiki enthusiasts. However, much like the culture itself, they are a relatively recent fabrication. Some of the earliest tiki mugs were ceramic bowls in the shape of skulls or mugs with hula girls on the side. Some other early tiki mugs as we knew them were created in the late 1940s by a New Zealand firm called Crown Lynn.
Oddly, Donn Beach, Godfather of Tiki, didn’t originally use tiki mugs. An old menu of his reveals most of his drinks were served in glassware, and a later menu again shows glassware or hollowed out fruit, like pineapples or coconuts.
It seems tiki mugs are first mentioned in the Trader Vic's 1947 Bartenders Guide. Although most drinks are pictured with glassware, there are four depictions of ceramic vessels, including a ceramic skull mug for hot buttered rum, a scorpion bowl, kava bowl, and tall fog cutter mug, “all depicting island scenes with native women.”1
From this point tiki mugs started to emerge as a trend, often displaying the bar’s name on them. Joseph Stephenson (Steve) Crane, American actor, founder of the Luau and Kon-Tiki chain, is credited for making tiki design mugs a staple in his restaurants, and you will now find that they are featured in many tiki bars around the world.
The most common designs take inspiration from the skulls of Easter Island, though over the years they have evolved into all sorts of wonderful shapes and sizes.
A huge part of their popularity is due to their souvenir nature, with many bars featuring them as take home tokens of a night out, particularly popular with holidaymakers visiting the sunny coasts that are home to many a tiki bar.
In more recent years they have evolved in the ways of popular culture, with all sorts of sets available from Star Wars to Game of Thrones, from Rik and Morty, to Pennywise the clown.
Image courtesy: Starwars.com
If you’re a tiki mug collector, or you’re suddenly inspired to start collecting, we’ve got some tiki mug options for you. How about a 450ml Duece tiki mug with a face full of character in a blue design? Or, if pink’s more your thing, we have a lovely pink 300ml ceramic mug in a more contemporary design.
If you prefer something a little more kitsch then we have a delightful pineapple, symbol of a warm welcome for many years. We’ve got these and many more in all sorts of lively designs from monkeys, to flamingoes, to Day of the Dead skulls.
Tiki mugs are great fun, and—some say—the only way to enjoy a tiki drink. With spring around the corner, and summer just after that, now’s a great time to get collecting. Then, when the sun shines bright, you can load that mug with ice and make some incredible tiki cocktails! Just kick back, close your eyes, and imagine you’re on a beautiful beach in lands far, far away....
About the Author: Bernadette Pamplin
After landing a job in a gin bar, Bernadette became obsessed with gin and sought extensive training to learn all she could about the juniper spirit. Later, she merged her passion for gin and her passion for words becoming a drinks writer. She now pens articles for publications like Gin Magazine, content for Your Drink Box and her own blog, Under The Ginfluence.
She has also served as Brand Ambassador for a large UK Gin Festival and helps organise the Craft Distilling Expo as well as speaking on its panels.
Bernadette has four years experience judging events like Gin of the Year, World Gin Awards, Spirits Business Awards, American Distilling Institute Judging of Craft Spirits, IWSC, and Gin Guide Awards. She loves trying gins, learning to distinguish flavours and how the botanicals and distillation processes create the final result. Very much "under the ginfluence," Bernadette is driven by the spirit's history, flavour and story. While gin is her speciality, she has affection for all spirits.