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Sweet, tropical, and refreshing, the piña colada is a gift to the world from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Which made it worth a weeklong vacation business trip to the island to track down its origins. There are several stories: the drink is the result of a competition at the Caribe Hilton‘s Beachcomber Bar in 1954, that a different bartender there came up with it, and that another bar, Barrachina, is the original home of the piña colada. The name, at least, is even older than those claims.
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Before the piña colada became the piña colada, the phrase, which translates to “strained pineapple,” was used in Cuba to indicate a nonalcoholic drink of strained, sweetened pineapple juice, optionally with coconut water. The Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails even notes that there were piña colada stands in the U.S. in the 1930s. “At least one American journalist suggested the obvious, that the standard pineapple-coconut drink might easily be turned into a ‘grand rum cocktail’ (this was in 1944) … but not until the late 1960s did the alcoholic version become the default one, and then it came as a Puerto Rican import,” Curtis writes.
In 1978, Puerto Rico named the piña colada as its official drink, and a year after that, “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” made its glorious debut. Was I the only one who thought that was a Jimmy Buffett song? It’s by Rupert Holmes. Anyway, in more recent years, the Puerto Rican government has formally recognized Marrero as the inventor and the Caribe Hilton as the laboratory of its creation.