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Why the Jungle Bird deserves to be a cocktail you mix up this summer

Put this on your list of summertime go-to drinks

Jungle Bird cocktail
James Yardley / Shutterstock

The beauty of the Jungle Bird cocktail is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s like a musical chord: When in tune or balanced, it’s one sound or note with much depth and complexity. The Jungle Bird is exactly that: A perfect harmony of rum, lime juice, pineapple juice, Demerara syrup, and bitter Campari.

Tiki cocktail expert Jeff “Beachbum” Berry first discovered the recipe. Berry published it in his book Intoxica, citing John J. Poister’s The New American Bartender’s Guide in 1989 as the original source. The cocktail was created in 1978 in the former KL Hilton’s Aviary Bar in Malaysia, and was later brought back into vogue by ex-New York City Giuseppe Gonzalez. Now, the Jungle Bird has established itself as a modern classic that deserves to be drunk for the whole summer.

Of course, there are more reasons why this bitter tiki cocktail is worthy of your time to mix it up this summer. We also included a recipe in case you’re craving a cold, refreshing glass of Jungle Bird right now.

Easy to make, yet complex

Jungle bird cocktail
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Tiki, or tropical, cocktails are exciting to drink because of their fruit juices, alcoholic strength, and visual appeal (who doesn’t love a drink on fire?), but most of them involve seven or more ingredients and special ice, which makes them difficult to recreate at home.

“It’s the perfect summer libation because of its approachability,” Christian Suzuki-Orellana, a San Francisco-based bartender and finalist at Bombay Sapphire’s Most Imaginative Bartender competition, said. “It’s appealing for those who may be looking for a sweet, or bitter, or funky cocktail.”

The Jungle Bird cocktail maintains the complexity of the tropical drink genre, but it uses simple ingredients that are all easy to purchase at your local grocery store. It’s sophisticated and affordable.

You can put your own spin on it

Jungle Bird cocktail
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Rum is an incredibly diverse spirit category, so the Jungle Bird can taste completely different when using one style, or brand, versus another. “I’ve used [Plantation] Stiggin’s Fancy pineapple rum, or Hamilton Demerara rum in my Jungle Birds,” Suzuki-Orellana said. In addition to those rums, he explains how splitting those bases with a small dose of another rum can also augment the flavor of the cocktail.

In Berry’s Intoxica, he recorded the original recipe with Jamaican rum, but Gonzalez’s updated version uses a richer, blackstrap rum. Aside from employing different rums, new riffs on the cocktail include infusions like coffee-infused Campari, or other bitter liqueurs to change the flavor profile completely, while still maintaining the classic template.

“The traditional spec leaves an opportunity for original cocktail development,” Connor Dineen, former bartender at The Amsterdam in Rhinebeck, New York, said, “particularly when diving into more complex flavor techniques and uncommon ingredients.”

That’s all to say that you can really get creative and swap out one similar ingredient for another (i.e., lime juice for lemon juice, or Campari for Averna) and make this refreshing cocktail your own.

You can batch it for convenience

Jungle Bird cocktail
Image used with permission by copyright holder

At small gatherings or outings where you have to BYOB, batching cocktails is an absolute lifesaver. It is a nuisance to constantly be shaking cocktails when you want to spend time with friends and family, so making a large batch of the Jungle Bird beforehand will save you the headache of mixing, while still reaping the benefits of a complex drink.

Just transpose the recipe below into cups instead of ounces, and add it to a large pitcher with ice, and then pour into your glass to serve — it’s that simple. While you won’t get the frothy texture that the shaken pineapple juice provides, if you are using fresh juices, there won’t be one complaint about the quality of the drink.

Jungle Bird recipe

Jungle Bird cocktail
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Ingredients: 

  • 1 1/5 ounces Jamaican rum
  • 3/4 ounce Campari
  • 1 ounce pineapple juice, preferably fresh
  • 1/2 ounce lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce Demerara syrup (1:1 sugar to water)
  • Pineapple wedge and frond (for garnish)

Method:

  1. Add ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice; shake vigorously for 7 seconds.
  2. Strain into a double rocks glass over ice and garnish.

Suzu’s Jungle Bird variation

Jungle Bird cocktail variation
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 ounces Plantation Stiggin’s Fancy pineapple rum
  • 1/2 ounce Campari
  • 1/2 ounce clarified lime juice*
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup (1:1)
  • 2 ounces Topo Chico mineral water
  • 5 mint leaves
  • Mint sprig (for garnish)

Method:

  1. Fill a tall glass with crushed ice.
  2. Add all ingredients to a shaker (except the Topo Chico), add ice, and shake vigorously for 7 seconds; then add the Topo Chico into the shaker to mix.
  3. Strain the mix over crushed ice and garnish to serve.

*Clarified lime juice (at-home version): Squeeze lime juice and let it rest for a couple of hours to allow the pulp to separate, then strain through a coffee filter to clarify.

Tips when making your own Jungle Bird cocktail

Blackstrap rum is a dark rum with a strong molasses flavor, which is traditional for the Jungle Bird, as mentioned. But if you don’t have blackstrap rum, you can substitute another dark rum. Demerara syrup, which is part of the recipe, is a type of simple syrup made with demerara sugar, which has a slightly richer flavor than regular white sugar. Simple syrup will work in a pinch, but demerara syrup adds a touch of complexity to the drink. And finally, if you find the drink too tart, you can add a little more simple syrup to taste.

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Tyler Zielinski
Tyler is a New York-based freelance cocktail and spirits journalist, competitive bartender, and bar consultant. He is an…
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