Jet Pilot (+ Test Pilot).

Puncheous pilot.

Jet Pilot.

When it comes to Tiki it’s safe to say that almost all the best drinks were created by three big names; Don the Beachcomber Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt, and Donn Beach. They were actually all the same guy but when you’ve dabbled in prohibition era rum smuggling it’s probably wise to have more than one name. Whatever you want to call him – let’s just go with DB – he was the undisputed godfather of Tiki, actually inventing whole new genres in both cocktails and dining. He might have been a great cocktail innovator but he was a far from brilliant businessman and many of his many copy-cat competitors did much better than he did – Trader Vic (creator of the Mai Tai) being the most notable. Today we’re going to look at an imitation Beachcomber drink [gasp] which comes from one of Steve Crane’s lavish Tiki restaurants, the Beverly Hills Luau, and dates from the late 50s.

Don’s many competitors were desperate to serve drinks as good as his in their own faux-Polynesian restaurants (there is, after all, no copyright on cocktails) but DB was shrewd and kept his recipes a closely guarded secret. Competitors tried to get around this by stealing his bartenders only to discover that even they didn’t know the complete recipes as Don put key ingredients in plain bottles with enigmatic labels such as Don’s Mix and Spices #2*. The vast majority of their attempts were pale versions of DB’s rich complex “rum rhapsodies” but there is one marked exception that, in my humble opinion, rises above the original. The Jet Pilot is an attempted copy of DB’s 1941 Test Pilot** which was a pretty decent drink but by no means one of his best. The reason the Jet Pilot succeeded while so many other copies failed is that the recipe shows a similar attention to detail that you see in original DB drinks, the considered mix of rums, drops of absinthe and dash of Angostura bitters being typical Beachcomber touches. We don’t know exactly who created the Jet Pilot for the Luau but I’d bet my last bottle of red label Lemon Hart 151 that he was trained by the Beachcomber himself.

The Jet Pilot bears more than a passing similarity to DB’s most famous creation, the Zombie, which we’ll have to address sooner or later. The problem is that you could write a book about the Zombie and all its variations. In fact someone has. My preferred Zombie recipe is a complex one so the Jet Pilot makes a better starting point for the Tiki newcomer. While you could consider it a Zombie Light, do be aware that it still packs quite a punch.


Jet Pilot

1oz /30ml dark Jamaican rum (eg. Myers’s or Coruba).

0.75oz /22ml overproof Demerara rum (Plantation OFTD is probably your best bet here***).

0.75oz /22ml gold rum (take your pick but I like Coruba NPU in this).

0.5oz /15ml fresh lime juice.

0.5oz /15ml white grapefruit juice.

0.5oz /15ml cinnamon syrup.

0.5oz /15ml falernum.

6 drops of absinthe.

1 dash of Angostura bitters.

Briefly blend (a few short pulses) with a cupful of crushed ice. If lacking a blender add an ounce of soda water and shake hard with the crushed ice.

Pour unstrained into a DoF glass and garnish with something that looks vaguely like a jet plane.

Toast Steve Crane, whose Luau restaurant pulled off the best imitation Beachcomber recipe ever.


Yes, yes, alright. I know you want the original Beachcomber version too:

Test Pilot

1.5oz/45ml dark Jamaican rum (eg. Myers’s or Coruba).

0.75oz/22ml white Spanish style rum (eg. Havana Club 3, Brugal).

0.5oz/15ml fresh lime juice.

0.5oz/15ml Cointreau.

0.5oz/15ml falernum.

6 drops of absinthe.

1 dash of Angostura bitters.

Mix as Jet Pilot.


*Most of his recipes remained secret until the late 1990s when they were painstakingly decrypted by Tiki archaeologist Jeff “Beachbum” Berry. As I’ve said many times before his book Beachbum Berry Remixed should be your Tiki starting point. The Jet Pilot appears in his follow-up Sippin’ Safari which goes into more detail on the history of Tiki.

**Not all Tiki drinks have tropical names. Those of the 1940s often have aviation related names followed by a space era fad in the 1950-60s.

***Originally Lemon Hart 151 but that can be very difficult to find. Hamilton 151 is a good substitution but is almost as difficult to find. If you’re in the UK Woods 100 navy rum will get you pretty close.

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