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The name "boat drinks" comes from the song "Boat Drinks" by Jimmy Buffett from the album Volcano. Boat drinks are also known as umbrella drinks but are more commonly referred to as tiki drinks or exotic cocktails. These types of drinks are a class of cocktail generally containing rum and one or more fruit juices. They are usually garnished with Maraschino cherries or other fruit and often further ornamented with cocktail umbrellas. The quintessential boat drink is the mai tai. Outside of "Jimmy Buffett" culture and within the resurgent Tiki culture of today, these types of drinks are never referred to as "boat drinks". Instead, these types of cocktails are called "tiki drinks" or "exotic cocktails". The term "boat drinks" was not used to describe these cocktails until it was made popular by Jimmy Buffett.
Boat drinks usually have a higher fraction of alcoholic ingredients than a highball, but less than a cocktail such as a martini or a manhattan. Typically, they contain at least one "hard" liquor (usually rum) one or more sweeter liquors (such as triple sec) with the balance made of fruit juices. Often there are additional flavorings such as Angostura bitters. Garnishes are often lavish.
Many famous exotic cocktails that can be referred to as "Boat drinks" are:.
Beverages similar to boat drinks are described by travelers to the Caribbean at least as early as 1920. Ralph Stock, while sailing around the world, alludes to drinks called swizzles during his stop in Barbados. These drinks were often a variation of rum, sugar and lime juice, and did not have the same complexity of cocktails that were later served in "tiki" restaurants and bars of the 1950s and 1960s.
Boat drinks were created from and rose to prominence in the late 1940s through the early 1970s as part of the Tiki culture. US servicemen returning from service in the South Pacific during World War II brought with them a taste for drinks made with exotic fruit juices. In addition, the often indifferent quality of the liquor available at this time could be hidden.
Donn Beach, founder of Don The Beachcomber restaurants is credited for having invented the exotic cocktail in the late 1940s when he began mixing fruit jucies and flavored syrups with rum alcohol. Donn Beach called his cocktails Rhum Rhapsodies.
Boat drinks have enjoyed a revival in recent times, again in parallel with a renewed interest in Tiki culture. Boat drinks frequently appear in movies from the 1950s until the present, either to evoke an escapist/tropical atmosphere, or to mock such an atmosphere.