Walk into just about any bar or restaurant in the Bahamas and give the drinks menu a quick once-over, and I’ll bet you spot something called Goombay Smash. From the big, flashy resorts on down to the itty bitty beach shacks, you can sip on one practically anywhere in this island nation.
It makes sense, really, because the rum-based drink seems to have first been created here, on Green Turtle Cay, by Emily Cooper — called Miss Emily — proprietor at Miss Emily’s Blue Bee Bar. The recipe is top-secret and has stayed in the family since its creation in the 1960’s. It’s now quite popular not only throughout the Bahamas, but also up into the Florida Keys and Miami, where many Bahamian Americans live.
Yet, beyond that, it gets a little bit harder to find on drinks menus, not to mention nail down the recipe.
“As far as classic cocktails go, it’s definitely a cool one,” said Josh King, general manager at Chicago’s Coconutz and former Caribbean local. “It’s one of the few where it’s nearly impossible to get the original recipe. It’s different on everybody’s menu. She was famous for making it in this big gallon jug, so even if you ordered it at the bar, you’d never be able to see how to make it.”
The fact that bartenders can mix up a large batch ahead of time — and some would say should, after all, it was good enough for Miss Emily — has made it a longtime mainstay on the menu at the Tap & Grille at The National Hotel on Block Island in Rhode Island, where it’s been served for over 18 years.
So what’s in it? There is a general consensus about a few ingredients, but after that, many establishments create riffs all their own.
According to master mixologist Dale DeGroff, a mixture of dark rum, coconut rum, apricot brandy and pineapple and orange juices, garnished with a pineapple wedge and an orange slice is as close to the original as he can approximate. Though not on their menu, King says Coconutz uses many of the same or similar ingredients. At Coconutz however, the coconut flavor in the drink comes from coconut water rather than coconut rum, the apricot comes from apricot juice rather than apricot brandy, and all juices are made in-house.
Sunset Pier, in Key West, uses a mix of dark and light rums, coconut rum and pineapple juice that their bartender has been using for the past 28 years. No apricot brandy there. Island Dogs Bar, also in Key West, similarly uses pineapple juice and coconut rum, but they also add a spiced rum and orange juice.
“It’s a tasty drink, but it’s really strong,” said John Dalton, co-owner of Dive Bar in Chicago, which also does not have the drink on its menu. “It’s kind of like the Long Island of the rum category.”
It seems the farther away from the sandy, tropical Bahamian islands you move, the less likely you are to find it on menus and the less attention is paid to it — once the vacation is over, the Goombay Smash-drinking ends.
“I think because it’s so tropical. With the coconut and the pineapple juice, it’s very refreshing, but it’s still rum so it’s got a kick to it. It’s vacation-y,” said Liz Podlucky, general manager at Island Dogs Bar.
Curiously enough, the Goombay Smash also has a very loyal following in the vacation town of Killington, Vermont. A tropical drink isn’t necessarily what you’d typically associate with a city known for its A-plus skiing. And it is a tropical drink, not a tiki one, as some (including me, initially) might assume, not really understanding the difference.
“[P]eople commonly make the mistake of calling it a Tiki drink. Rather, it’s a fairly modern Caribbean tropical drink,” said Jeff Berry, tiki expert.
As Dalton explained to me, and it made total sense after I thought about it, tropical drinks are fruit-forward, while tiki drinks often have a more complex, spicy or herbaceous flavor profile. Still, Killington seems an interesting place for a tropical drink to take hold.
“The ski industry way back in the day was very, very popular,” said Norm Corbin, a former bartender at Chalet Killington. “There was a huge influx of people and this was his mainstay,” he says, referring to the bar’s former lead bartender, Bernie Pierce. “I just remember hearing stories of him premaking all the juice and people lining up and then making 24 at a time. He was just slinging them.”
As it turns out, the ski slopes are just as good as a poolside lounge chair when it comes to discovering a new favorite drink.