If you like Pina Coladas

Summer 2021 is here, and with it, a collective wave of gratitude, optimism, deep frustration, and an exceptionally large dollop of wanderlust, seems to be washing over most of us.

The current COVID outlook – and approach to it – may vary greatly around the world, but with increased vaccinations, some markets are opening up and life is beginning to look something close to normal. International travel however is, broadly, not.

Brands have begun in earnest to tap into this befuddling sense of both new found freedom (social events, nightclubs even, and meeting with groups of friends and family are back on) and a frustrated desire for a holiday. Products and marketing campaigns that channel an exoticized idea of travel are emerging steadily, alongside flavours and serves evocative of palm fringed shores and exotic climes. And perhaps there’s no cocktail quite so suggestive of a summer holiday than stalwart serve, the Piña Colada.

Humble to elevated

This humble cocktail may have been considered fairly low brow during the first wave of the cocktail renaissance, when reputable bars were flexing their molecular mixology muscle, or reverting to earlier classics, abandoning – nay distancing themselves from – the brightly coloured disco cocktails such as Sex on the Beach and their ilk.

But since its advent in 1954 in Puerto Rico there have been many both trashy and elevated versions of this prolific holiday staple. In fact, some would argue that the trashier holiday-bought Piña Coladas are in fact the best. So loved is the drink, that there’s now even a National Piña Colada Day (10th July).

However, over the last few years the serve has been reinvented, revered and reimagined by some of the world’s leading bars. London’s Coupette serves the Champagne Piña Colada made with coconut sorbet. Also in London, the Lobby Bar at the London Edition Hotel, makes the Clearer Colada, a clarified version served in a martini glass. And where it’s not listed by many high-end bars, it still emerges as one of the biggest selling off-menu items. According to Punch magazine, that’s certainly true of bars such as Leyenda in Brooklyn, New York.

Mainstream celebration

However, for summer 2021, the cocktail has again been embraced by the mainstream. To sate our building wanderlust, Piña Colada has become a leading flavour choice for special edition launches, and across products and categories that don’t seem at first, an obvious fit.

Take cider brand Friels. Its Pina Colada cider blends sweet pineapple with creamy coconut, and a tart apple cider. The brand even recommends adding a dash of white rum to truly capture the spirit of Puerto Rico.

Beer wise, a number of craft brands across the US including WeldWorks in Colorado, make Piña Colada flavour beers. The Fruity Bits Pina Colada is a New England–style IPA, brewed with real fruit and Mosaic and Citra hops, which impart tropical notes, and finished with pineapple and raw and toasted coconut.

In Ireland, Dublin’s Rascal Brewing makes a Piña Colada Pale Ale made with Magnum, Pacifica, Enigma, Vic Secret, Amarillo hops, and the addition of pineapple, coconut, and lactose. And in the UK, Camden Town Brewery makes a Pina Lager, brewed with Sabro and Sultana hops, which are said to give coconut, lime and juicy pineapple flavours.

Fun and frivolity

Perhaps the most surprising Piña Colada launch however comes from Diageo. Irish cream liqueur brand Baileys, has been combined with the flavours of creamy coconut, and sweet and juicy pineapple, to create a drink that is said by the brand to be sippable straight from the fridge. And referencing those holiday vibes once again, the product is being marketed with the stapline: “Baileys Colada is the best way to vacation this summer.”

The Piña Colada trend is just one specific aspect of a broader emerging trend for tropical flavours, which are dominating summer launches and bringing fun and frivolity to consumers certainly in much in need of it. Diageo also recently – in a surprise move – added to its Smirnoff Ice RTD line in the UK with a Tropical flavour. Bacardi launched a limited edition Tropical flavour in the US, which includes the addition of natural coconut, guava and pineapple to its white rum base. And Pernod Ricard has launched its first flavour under its Havana Club brand with Cuban Spiced. Designed specifically to widen the brand’s appeal to millennial and Gen Z consumers, the spirit drink (35% ABV) combines the Cuban rum with spices, vanilla, ripe guava, toasted coconut and fresh pineapple.

For as long as the good weather – and the steps towards meaningful progress against COVID-19 holds – expect more products to launch channelling the fun, and flavours, of an exotic break.