The Pearl Diver is a tiki cocktail made with rum, lime, orange, and a sweet, spiced “secret” ingredient. Like so many classic tiki drinks, this recipe was almost lost to history.
Fortunately, tiki historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry was able to recover the recipe for the Pearl Diver and its key ingredient: Don’s Gardenia Mix.
If you’re intimidated by having to create a special ingredient, don’t be! I provide instructions for the authentic recipe, as well as my simplified version, which doesn’t take long to throw together. The extra effort it takes to make the Gardenia Mix is well worth the incredible texture, creaminess, and layers of spice flavor that it adds to the Pearl Diver.
It’s also worth noting that Gardenia Mix could be added to any frozen rum drink to add new layers of flavor and depth to the character of the rum!
History of the almost forgotten cocktail
The original Pearl Diver cocktail was called Pearl Diver’s Punch and it was created in the late 1930s by tiki’s founding father, Don the Beachcomber (Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt). By the 1950s, Beach had simplified the drink a bit and it was known simply as the Pearl Diver.
An interesting note about the Pearl Diver is that there’s a specific glass made just for the drink. The Pearl Diver glass is unique, beautiful piece of glassware that features a ribbed body and a coupe-like top.
When I first wrote this post, it was only available from Cocktail Kingdom and they were always out of stock. Fortunately, the glass is now fairly easy to find, even on Amazon. The glass pictured above is the Viski Pacific Pearl Diver Glass.
You can serve the drink in any glass you like, but it sure is beautiful in the classic pearl diver glass. During the tiki bar heyday, a variety of tropical drinks were served in these unusual vessels.
Because I wasn’t able to find the Pearl Diver glass when I first wrote this post, I decided to use a dramatic, oversized snifter from Hospitality Brands for my Pearl Diver. But to be clear, you could also use a tiki mug or any highball glass in the area of 12 oz and the drink will still be delicious!
Pearl Diver ingredients:
- Gold rum
- Demerara rum
- Freshly squeezed orange and lime juices
- Don’s Gardenia Mix
- Angostura bitters
Why the recipe uses two different rums
Demerara rum refers to rums from Guyana. Two examples specifically suggested for the Pearl Diver (in Beachbum Berry’s trusty Total Tiki app) are Hamilton 86 Proof or El Dorado 8 year.
Demerara rums are often called for in tiki cocktails because they add a lot of depth and complexity. This style of rum can be described as having funky flavors, sometimes smoky or bittersweet.
Puerto Rican or Cuban gold rum is the primary type of rum suggested by Berry for the Pearl Diver. I am not a rum expert by any means, but I believe you could also substitute a Dominican gold rum here too, as they’re similar in style.
About rum and making substitutions
There is an incredibly diverse world of rum out there, but not every rum is readily available to every cocktail enthusiast. I experience this firsthand living in a control state (we only have state-run liquor stores in New Hampshire, and every store carries the same, mostly uninspired inventory).
The tiki cocktail genre gets very specific about rums because so many of the drinks rely on blends of different types of rums to create multi-dimensional, layered flavors. For example, while white rum, demerara rum, and rhum agricole are all types of rum, they have very different flavors.
However, if you only have one bottle of quality aged rum – use it!
While substituting different types of rum will obviously make the final cocktail taste different than the original, it will probably still be quite delicious. One of the things that is so fun about making drinks at home and experimenting with recipes is that you get to create your own unique spin on classics.
Don’t think that you can’t make tiki cocktails at home if your rum options are limited. It took me years to begin to explore the tiki cocktail genre because I didn’t know enough about rum, and I knew I couldn’t easily get many of the specific bottles called for in classic recipes.
Eventually I picked up the book Smuggler’s Cove, which has a great section on types of rum. This helped me better understand what drinks I could make with the rums I had on hand.
But it wasn’t until I read the fantastic article The Six Essential Tiki Rum Categories by blogger and Minimalist Tiki author Matt Pietrek that I really began to understand what my rum options were and how different types of rum work in different drinks.
I highly recommend checking out these resources if any of this rum talk sounds like Greek to you. Tiki can be accessible to a new or novice home bartender!
What is Gardenia Mix?
Don’s Gardenia Mix is a blend of butter, honey, spiced syrups, and allspice dram liqueur. This delightful take on hot buttered rum batter makes for a very rich and luxurious iced cocktail, and it’s not difficult to throw together.
To make the Gardenia Mix, combine 1 ounce of unsalted butter with 1 oz honey, 1 tsp cinnamon simple syrup, ½ tsp vanilla bean simple syrup, and ½ tsp allspice dram.
My simplified take on Gardenia Mix
My unconventional (but easier) approach to the spice components: Make one simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar, say one cup of each) and infuse it with a few broken cinnamon sticks, one sliced vanilla bean, and a tablespoon or so of allspice berries.
Heat the mixture on medium low for 10-15 minutes or so to draw out all of the delicious spice flavors. Then use 2 teaspoons of this streamlined spiced syrup in place of the cinnamon syrup, vanilla syrup, and allspice liqueur.
While this version of the mix isn’t exactly the same as the original, the flavor is spot on. And all you need is a few spices from the grocery store, instead of having to make two flavored syrups and also buy a bottle of allspice dram.
However, the reason the original recipe was structured the way it was is because it was made in tiki bars that had all of the ingredients readily available for many of the drinks on the menu. So which version of Gardenia Mix you make is really up to how well-stocked your home bar is.
No pineapple juice needed
Although some Pearl Diver recipes on the internet use pineapple juice, it’s not an ingredient in the original recipe, and it’s not needed with the full range of flavors in this great classic.
How to prepare the cocktail
The method for preparing the Pearl Diver is a bit different from the average cocktail. Instead of shaking the drink with ice or blending it smooth with crushed ice, you’re going to blend the ingredients, strain them into your glass, and then top the cocktail with crushed ice.
This method adds dilution and strains out any funky solidified butter bits while retaining a smooth and silky texture. The end result is an amazing mix of rum, refreshing citrus, creamy vanilla and spices.
How to garnish the Pearl Diver
The classic garnish for the Pearl Diver is a banana leaf or pineapple leaf. However, because those garnishes don’t add flavor or aroma to the drink, you can make your garnish as simple as an orange wedge, or as fancy as an edible tropical flower.
I’m a huge fan of edible flowers for all kinds of beverages. For tropical cocktails like the Pearl Diver, I like to buy orchids and other beautiful blooms from Gourmet Sweet Botanicals. Learn more about edible flowers in my edible flower guide.
You might also enjoy these other rum cocktails:
- Cobra’s Fang
- Fassionola Daiquiri
- Missionary’s Downfall
- Offbeat Tiki Cocktails to Sip on This Summer
- Beach Blossom (Rum & Guava Cocktail)
Pearl Diver Cocktail (With Simplified Gardenia Mix)
- 1 ½ oz gold rum
- ½ oz Demerara rum
- ½ oz Don's Gardenia Mix (see Notes below)
- ½ oz fresh lime juice
- ½ oz fresh orange juice
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
- Combine all ingredients in a blender with ½ cup crushed ice. Blend on high until very smooth.
- Strain the liquid (using a fine mesh strainer) into a glass or tiki mug. Top with crushed ice.
- Garnish abundantly!
Don’s Gardenia MixIngredients:
- 1 oz unsalted butter, softened
- 1 oz honey
- 1 tsp cinnamon simple syrup
- 1/2 tsp vanilla simple syrup
- 1/2 tsp allspice dram
My Simplified Gardenia MixNote: if you don’t have allspice dram and don’t want to make the two separate simple syrups, you can create one spiced syrup to stand in for the last three ingredients listed above. Follow the instructions below and use 2 teaspoons of the spiced syrup in place of the cinnamon syrup, vanilla syrup, and allspice dram in Don’s original mix. Ingredients: 1 oz unsalted butter, softened
1 oz honey
2 tsp spiced simple syrup* *Spiced Simple Syrup Combine 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of water, 3 broken cinnamon sticks, 1 sliced vanilla bean, and 1 tbsp allspice berries in a small saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring periodically, for 10-15 minutes or until flavorful. Allow the syrup to cool, then strain out the solids. Store leftover syrup in a covered container in the refrigerator.