Demerara Dry Float

For Christmas, my sister-in-law expanded my cocktail library by giving me two books I’d had on my list for quite a while: Grog Log and Intoxica!, both by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry. For the uninitiated, Berry is the reigning king of tiki drinks, with an approach to researching the history of these drinks as rigorous as any living cocktail historian, Ted Haigh and David Wondrich included. The drinks Berry’s collected in these books include classics from Trader Vic and Don the Beachcomber– who pioneered the whole Polynesian/tiki thing back during the Depression years.

I’ll explore the Grog Log and Intoxica! in greater depth later, but for now, suffice it to say that I’ve spent a not inconsiderable amount of time over the last couple of months tracking down the ingredients for, and putting together, some of the most notable tiki drinks in these two books. Here’s the one I’m sampling tonight: the Demerara Dry Float.

Berry credits Don the Beachcomber with creating this one around 1941. The notable additions I had to make to my liquor cabinet to make this drink included a bottle of Lemon Hart Demerara rum–which I’d been meaning to pick up, anyway, and just needed a good excuse–and a bottle of passion fruit syrup, a common ingredient in many tropical drinks. Berry heavily recommends the syrup marketed by Trader Vic’s; but I couldn’t reconcile myself with the idea of paying more in shipping than the bottle was worth if I ordered online, and I couldn’t wait for the new Trader Vic’s to open in Bellevue, scheduled to happen next week. So, I picked up a bottle of Monin’s, which seems servicable for the time being.

The thing I like about this drink–and with many tiki drinks–is the kind of baroque complexity in the glass. Ideas of mixological structure and balance are thrown completely aside in many of these drinks, but if you keep a close eye on the proportions in your mix–I’ve found it necessary to pull back a bit on Berry’s recommended amounts of syrup and sugar, to keep the drinks from being too sweet–you can create something that’s pleasantly unexpected, a cocktail that’s not afraid to let its hair down. I’ll be exploring drinks from Berry’s books a lot more in the months to come.

Demerara Dry Float

  • 2 1/2 ounces fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 ounces passion fruit syrup*
  • 1/4 ounce sugar syrup*
  • 1 ounce Demerara rum
  • 1/4 ounce 151 Demerara rum
  • 1/4 ounce Maraschino

Shake everything except the 151 rum with ice, strain into double old-fashioned glass filled with crushed ice, and carefully float the 151. Do not stir.

* This is Berry’s recipe–I found it necessary to completely leave out the sugar syrup, and to increase the lower-proof rum to about 1 1/2 ounces to get the flavor I was looking for. It also looks like a lot of syrup, but there’s a mighty dose of citrus in this drink, which needs something for counterbalance.

8 Responses to Demerara Dry Float

  1. Demerara rum is a type of rich, dark, intensely flavorful rum from Guyana. The primary brand (as far as I know) is Lemon Hart, which puts out an 80-proof version that’s useful in a lot of tiki drink recipes, and a 151-proof wrecking ball that is excellent as a floater in many tropical drinks, as well as useful as a base for homemade liqueurs such as pimento dram.

    I’ll probably get into this in much more detail at some point, but one of the reasons I’ve found the cocktail guides from people like Beachbum Berry and Trader Vic so valuable is because they really explore the number of different types of rum. Rum is such a varied and versatile spirit, with worlds of flavor difference between the types made in, say, Jamaica and those made in Barbados or Haiti or Puerto Rico or Martinique. Some of the old Don the Beachcomber drinks that Berry’s collected may call for three (or more) types of rum in one glass–the reason being that each rum brings its own characteristic flavor to the drink. While tropical drinks such as the mai tai or the zombie or the demerara dry float have a bad rap from being mixed so terribly for so long, the original recipes (as collected by Berry & others) display a deep understanding of how these different flavors play against each other, and how additional wild-card flavors such as passion fruit, pineapple, guava and papaya can play an exciting role in the finished drink.

    While it may mean that the contents of your liquor cabinet swell exponentially, an exploration of rum is definitely a worthwhile endeavor.

  2. Thanks for the informative comment, Paul. Could you recommend a specific book from those two that would help me dive into the world of rum?

  3. The rum section is nearly identical in each of the books(it’s also pretty brief, just giving a quick rundown of the general flavor profile of rums from different places, along with a few recommended brands). If you were looking to pick up one of the books, I’d suggest starting with Grog Log, if for no other reason than that it was the first, so it has some of the best recipes Berry had collected (probably assuming there would only be one book of drink recipes, the A-list made it into the first volume). Not that Intoxica! is a slouch–both books are pretty good, and if you go to Amazon, you can probably pick up a two-book deal for a discount.

    Be forewarned, though–to make many of the drinks in the books, you’ll wind up shopping for lots of different ingredients. In addition to the rums, there’s the whole range of fruit nectars and syrups, plus hard-to-find stuff such as falernum and pimento dram (though these last two are easy enough to make on your own). Fortunately there’s a whole support network over at, composed of folks who devote a LOT of time to all things tiki.

  4. Wow, does this post bring back memories. It seems like ages ago that I blossomed my interest in the magic of tiki.

    I just got around to trying the Dry Float, and I will definitely be adding it to my list of tasty drinks. The acid and sugar are really battling in this one.

    I wonder what other rum-filled drinks play with maraschino… I’m liking what it does in here.

  5. Howdy– I just stumbled onto this site while researching rum availability. Since I picked up a bottle of Lemon Hart 151 yesterday, in order to make make bananas flambe for dessert (and wow: I’d forgotton how good that simple recipe can be), a few good drink recipes were in order as well. I’ll be sure to try the dry float soon– thanks for that.

    Speaking of the rum, many years ago I used to purchase Hudson’s Bay Company demerara up in Alaska– which I remember as being even thicker, blacker and richer than Lemon Hart’s version.

    That may simply be a nostalgically inaccurate memory, and Lemon Hart is certainly very good stuff… but I’d sure like to locate the Hudson’s Bay brand if it’s still available. Does anyone out there know whether it’s currently on the market anywhere in the world?

    Alternatively, is there anyplace one can go to find ancient bottles of no-longer-produced liquors? (At exhorbitant prices, no doubt.) Any antique liquor brokers out there?

  6. have a bottle of hudson’s bay demerara rum with a bit left in…haven’t tasted it, am trying to locate the date. any help

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