NO DRINK has ever swept the world faster than the Pina Colada -- a frothy, refreshing cocktail made from rum, pineapple juice and coconut cream which , in the past four years, has soared to the top 10 in bar sales.
Good reason, it would seem, for bartender Ramon Marrero to feel pleased with himself since he has been recognized for some time as the creator of the popular drink. Not so. Last winter, a stirring controversy erupted in Puerto Rico, dubbed "The Great Pina Colada War" when the proprietor of a popular tourist restaurant in Old San Juan, La Barrachina, erected a three foot square marble plaque at the entrance to his establishment stating in English and Spanish that the Pina Colada had been created by his bartender, Don Ramon Portas Mingot, in 1963.
Indignant replies exploded from Hector Torres, chief bartender at the Caribe Hilton. "Not only was the real Pina Colada created by Ramon ['Monchito'] Marrero at the Caribe, 25 years ago, but our formula is different from the concoction La Barrachina uses."
The formula, though, was never patented by Marrera, so no one, actually, has a legal claim to the drink. La Barrachina's proprietor adamantly refused to remove the plaque that launched the Great Pina Colada War. He claimed "it cost me several hundred dollars and, anyway, during the tourist season, we sell more Pina Coladas than anyone else, at least 2,000 a week."
"He's wrong, again!" countered the Hilton folk, with facts to substantiate the figtures. "We sell at least 300 a day."
Just as the controversy was beginning to subside, still another bartender at an out-island restaurant called Las Vegas, near the El Yungue rain forest, claimed that he, not Marrero or Mingot was the creator of the now famous drink.
It was suggested that the manufacturers of Coco Lopez, the coconut cream most used in the Pina Coladas, help clarify -- once and for all -- the matter of who, actually, created the drink.
Without making a definitive statement, the company did confirm that it presented Marrero in 1978 with a color television set on the day he sold his three-millionth Pina Colada. Marrero recalls the time, proudly, as he adds, "The Caribe Hilton have me a party, I was awarded a medal and a diploma. And the officials from the government declared my Pina Colada the national drink of Puerto Rico!"
It all began in 1953 or '54, when Marrero, starting his bartending career at the Caribe Hilton, worried about vacationers who would start their days with a hefty drink at his Terrace Bar early each day. "I realized," said Marrero, "that many people are not really big drinkers but often just like to sit at the bar and watch the lovely Caribbean scene before them. It is natural to hold a glass and sip something cool while enjoying this tropical setting but, before long, most folks start to feel the effects of their drinks and the rest of the day is ruined for them."
Resourceful Marrero began thinking about the kind of drink people could enjoy which would stop short of creating a mid-day hangover.
The bartender experimented with different combinations of various ingredients, but always using, naturally, Puerto Rican rum. "I started in 1950," continued Marrero, "blending quantities of rum, fruit juices and a then-new product, coconut cream." After several months of mixing, tasting and discarding hundreds of combinations, Marrero felt he had found the right blend.
Immediately, I called my brother on the telephone," recalled Marrero, "for he had taught me how to be a bartender." When his brother tried the drink and liked it, he knew he had the right formula.
At first, sales were slow, about 10 daily, but in 1954, Marrero served the drink he named a "Pina Colada" (pronounced PEA-nyah coh-LAH-dah) to a group of government officials who were visiting the hotel. "Suddenly," remembers Hector Torres, "the drink became the talk of the whole island. Everyone began asking for it. Bartenders from other hotels wanted to know the recipe and, of course, Ramon gave it to them."
By the 1960s, the drink's fame continued to spread. A cult of Pina Colada fans asked bartenders around the world for the tropical drink.In recent years, the Pina Colada has soared in popularity to become one of the most requested drinks in bar sales. It has been called one of "the world's great classic drinks," further delighting native Puerto Ricans who take great pride in their gastronmical achievements. nA puerto Rican distiller, La Famosa, makes a Pina Colada mix, bottles the drink in cans and manufactures special Pina Colada kits which include everything one needs to make the drink.
Born in the island town of Corozal in 1917, Marrero has been a bartender for the past 34 years and is a well-known figure to locals and tourists alike.
In 1976, Marrero took his wife and three children to the U.S. where he spent four months at the New York Hilton teaching bartenders how to make his unique drink. Each November, he supervises a Bartender Contest in which bartenders from Puerto Rico's leading hotels compete to make the drink which shook the world in the 1970s.
Marrero is particularly pleased that "people do not get drunk on my drink. And it is really very easy to make." Although some folks may change the ingredients slightly, here is the recipe he always uses: PINA COLADA (Pineapple Shake) 2 ounces light rum 1 ounce coconut cream 1 ounce heavy cream 6 ounces pineapple juice
Pour ingredients in blender with a handful of crushed ice. Blend for about 15 seconds. Pour into a 12-ounce glass. Garnish with a stick of pineapple or marschino cherry.
The Pina Colada can be served without the rum, although that might be considered heresy in Puerto Rico. Randy and Bill Wallach, of Washington, say the drink "is delicious even if there's no rum in it. Sometimes, when we entertain, we add vanilla ice cream to a batch in a punch bowl -- and everyone agrees it's a marvelous-tasting punch!"
Another variation is the Chi Chi, a Pina Colada made with vodka instead of rum.
A song published last year as part of an album, entitled "Escape" became known as the Pina Colada song.
In honor of the 30th anniversary of the Caribe Hilton in Puerto Rico last December, Marrero created a new drink. He calls the somewhat more potent potion the Caribe Punch. CARIBE PUNCH 2 ounces white rum 1 ounce gin 1 ounce Galliano liqueur 1/4 ounce apricot liqueur 4 ounces pineapple juice
Pour all ingredients in a 12 ounce glass and shake by hand. Drink slowly -- for the punch is subtle but sure.