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  • Writer's pictureBamboo Sam

Port Light

A look at a Trader Vic standard

Port Light

I had always related the Port Light to Trader Vic's as they have a set of Port Light glasses that the sell and the fact that the drink was on their menus over the years. I knew it was a bourbon based drink and given Mrs. Bamboo Sam's preference for bourbon, I decided it was high time we had a high time so I started looking at making one. So, here is how this normally goes. I start with Beachbum Berry and then I work the appendices of every other book I have looking for every reference he mentions. Sometimes they all agree, sometimes you end up end up. The Port Light would seem to fall in the later category.

Port Light Tumbler
Trader Vic's Port Light tumbler

Despite the Port Light's glasses and Trader Vic association, I can't find anything close to it that predates the recipe the Bum found from Sandro Conti of the Kahiki. That recipe dates to 1961 from the famous Polynesian supper club formerly of Columbus, Ohio. (It's now a Walgreens) Trader Vic has a similar recipe for a drink called the Port Light (in the famous glasses) in his 1972 Bartenders Guide though he adds honey and egg white to our Conti recipe. Trader Vic's 1947 edition of the Bartender's Guide has a Port Light Highball but it's a gut wrenching 3 ounces of red crème de menthe over ice in a highball glass topped with seltzer. So, no.

However, The Minimalist Tiki by Matt Pietrek & Carrie Smith includes the Port Light as one of their Classic 30 Tiki drinks. However, they don't credit it to anyone in particular. However, Martin Cate lists an almost identical recipe from Trader Vic's 1972 Bartender's Guide in his Smuggler's Cove book. In his entry he labels it a Trader Vic original (as does the 1972 Guide). Cate was a bartender at Trader Vic's Washington DC location so he should know. I suppose it's possible that Vic cam up with it before Conti in 1961 but didn't publish it until 1972. Either way, I'm still going with the Conti version of the Port Light. But that's mostly down to not wanting to have to fool with eggs.

You'll also notice that this recipe has a lot of lemon juice in it. While I like lemon juice, I do find some mixes that do not include any lime juice to be too lemony. What I like about the Port Light is that the grenadine and passion fruit syrups provide the sweet with flavors that simultaneously cut the lemon flavor of the sour without getting too sweet. Besides, I find bourbon works much better with lemon and orange juices than lime.

The need for passion fruit syrup aside, this is an easy drink to make. I prefer it blended in a spindle mixer but aggressive stirring works well if you are sans spindle mixer.

Port Light

Port Light (Conti 1961 version)

Source - Beachbum Berry Remixed, Jeff "Beachbum" Berry

  • 1 ounce lemon juice

  • 1/2 ounce passion fruit syrup*

  • 1/4 ounce grenadine*

  • 1 1/2 ounce Bourbon*

Put everything in a mixing tin with 8 ounces of crushed ice. Blend in a spindle mixer for about 5 seconds. Serve in a Port Light glass (or other Collins style glass) and top with more crushed ice. Garnish on Kahiki's menu appears to be a mint sprig with a lemon wedge and cherry on a pic laid across the top of the glass.

*Bamboo Sam's customizations: I use BG Reynolds passion fruit syrup but I suggest making your own Grenadine. Just make a simple 1:1 sugar syrup using pomegranate juice instead of water. I tend to use Maker's Mark for mixed drinks calling for Bourbon.

Port Light (Smuggler's Cove version)

Source - Smuggler's Cove, Martin & Rebecca Cate

  • 1 ounce egg white

  • 1 ounce lemon juice

  • 1/2 ounce passion fruit syrup*

  • 3/4 ounce honey syrup*

  • 2 ounces Bourbon*

Put egg white and bourbon in a mixing tin and dry flash mix (with a spindle mixer - no ice) for about 10 seconds. Add everything else to the mixing tin with 12 ounces of crushed ice. Blend all in the spindle mixer for about 5 seconds. Gated pour into Port Light glass or footed pilsner. Garnish is a swizzle stick.

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