This is shaping up to be a memorable summer in the Midwest. It is the hottest and muggiest in decades; in some areas the rains are breaking records, and in others it is the worst drought in a generation. The upside of it all is that this hot summer has led me farther afield than usual in a search for cold drinks, and I have found two marvelous refreshers that had escaped me before: the rarely encountered Punch family (particularly Philadelphia Fish House Punch), and the famous (some might say “infamous”) Hurricane.

It’s taken me a long time to come around to the Hurricane. I’ve never ordered one in a bar; they just never seemed appetizing. You know the ones I mean—gaudy, red and slushy, they always look pretty dodgy. For starters, there’s nothing in a proper Hurricane that could turn it red; it has chem lab written all over it. No, it should look like a drink made with rum. Lots of rum.

According to Jeff Berry (Beachbum Berry Remixed, 2010), “lots of rum” was exactly what the Hurricane’s inventor had. As Berry tells it, the drink was invented at Pat O’Brien’s in New Orleans, sometime in the 1940s. The supply of good American whiskey and gin had been severely squeezed during wartime, as the distillers had been diverted to making alcohol for the military, but there was plenty of rum coming in from the Caribbean—lots of rum. Distributors strong-armed bar owners into buying huge quantities of it before they’d fill orders for whiskey, so bartenders had to come up with imaginative ways to deal with their lopsided inventory.

Hurricane Cocktail, photo copyright © 2012 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.
The Hurricane

In order to stay in business, Pat O’Brien became the owner of lots of rum, so he (some say his head bartender Louis Culligan) came up with a simple, obvious and delicious solution to the problem: he poured a flavorful mix of fruit juice mixed with lots of rum. For a little marketing flair, he served it up in a hurricane-lamp-shaped glass, and it caught on famously.

Here’s the way Berry describes O’Brien’s original recipe:

The Hurricane Cocktail (original)

  • 4 oz dark Jamaican rum
  • 2 oz passion fruit syrup
  • 2 oz fresh lemon juice

Shake all ingredients together with ice; pour, ice and all, into a Hurricane glass or large tiki mug, and top up with more ice as needed. Serve with a straw.

Very simple, and very delicious—if you like your drinks sweet. Passion Fruit Syrup is like fruit candy, and two ounces of it will turn any drink into dessert in an instant. There are a couple ways to deal with the problem. The most obvious is to just cut back the syrup; if you have a very strongly flavored syrup, that works well.

Another approach is to adjust the recipe with other fruit juices, and to revise the proportions a bit. Trader Vic experimented with this approach in his “Hurricane Punch,” which was the same as O’Brien’s original recipe, but with an ounce each of lemon and lime juice, instead of all lemon (Bartender’s Guide, 1947.)

It is also the approach taken by Chuck Taggart with his version of the Hurricane, which has gained considerable respect as an alternative to the original. Taggart dispenses with the lemon altogether, and substitutes lime and orange, and a bit lighter load of rum.

Though the Hurricane, by all accounts, was meant to be a sweet drink, Taggart’s version is still too much for my taste; here’s my take on it, with the original rum portion restored, and reduced passion fruit syrup to balance the sweetness:

The Hurricane Cocktail
(based on Taggart’s variation)

  • 2 oz Dark Jamaican Rum (Smith & Cross, Myer’s, Appleton 12)
  • 2 oz Light Rum (Matusalem Platino, Mount Gay Eclipse Silver)
  • 1 oz orange juice
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • 1–1½ oz Passion Fruit Syrup (B. G. Reynolds)
  • splash Lemon Hart 151 (optional)

Shake all ingredients with ice until well chilled, and pour without straining into a pint glass, tumbler or Hurricane glass; add ice as necessary. Top with a splash of Lemon Hart 151. Serve with a straw, and with fruit garnish if you’re in the mood for that kind of thing.

I had to order passion fruit syrup online. The Reynolds syrup has a good reputation, and I was pleased with the results; its flavor is strong but natural, very sweet, and very pleasant as a drink ingredient.

Hurricane Cocktail (detail), photo copyright © Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.As an alternative, you may be able to find passion fruit puree in local markets, especially those that specialize in Caribbean or Mexican foods. It is quite tart, but a healthy dose of sugar will counteract its sharpness—perhaps a half to a full ounce of simple syrup for two ounces of puree.

Even more available is passion fruit juice (Ceres brand in my local grocery). These juices are often mostly grape juice with a little bit of passion fruit, but it is better than not making the drink at all. Here you will need a full two ounces to get even a faint passion fruit flavor into the drink; add a bit of sugar.

My favorite of the Jamaican rums is Smith & Cross, but it has a funkiness to it that is not to everyone’s tastes. The Appleton 12 Year makes a delicious Hurricane with a bit less of the funky aspect, as does Myers’s Dark.

I hate the summer heat, and I absolutely hate humidity, but between the Punches and the Hurricane, this is shaping up to be a good summer after all.