Origin of the Pina Colada
Updated: Mar 29
The infamous Pina Colada - when asked what 3 words come into your mind when this cocktail is mentioned we think of "Ian Burrell & Réal". Regardless of that here the story in a nutshell!
As the story goes, in 1954, bartender Ramón “Monchito” Marrero of the Caribe Hilton in San Juan created a new cocktail that mixed rum, coconut cream, and pineapple juice—and the Piña Colada was born. The cocktail was served by its creator during his 35 year tenure at the bar, and in 1978, the Piña Colada was declared the official drink of Puerto Rico.
Over the decades, many different restaurants and bars have claimed to be the inventor of the Piña Colada—a few in Puerto Rico, a few not. There are even references to a similar drink from a couple decades prior, with some attributing its creation to Cuba.
Regardless, it’s easy to see how complementary ingredients such as rum, pineapple, and coconut would be naturally mixed together, especially on island locales. And the drink proliferated after the invention of Coco Lopez (which, perhaps coincidentally, also dates back to 1954).
Caribe Hilton bartender Ramón “Monchito” Marrero
It seems the Caribe Hilton has the most street cred to make this claim. In 2004, the hotel was presented with a proclamation signed by Puerto Rico’s Governor as part of the Piña Colada’s 50th anniversary celebration that supported the Caribe Hilton as the cocktail’s birthplace. That could just be a helping of hometown support, but given the backstory and timing, we’re inclined to believe it.
Original Piña Colada Recipe (according to the Caribe Hilton) - 60 ml Don Q Cristal - 30 ml Coconut cream (Coco Lopez to be authentic) - 30 ml Heavy cream - 180 ml Fresh pineapple juice - 120 ml Crushed ice There are two other different places in Puerto Rico that claim to have invented the Piña Colada. Ricardo Garcia, who also worked at the Caribe Hilton at the time. Garcia had developed a cocktail that included the Coco Lopez and rum, but he used coconut juice and served it in a sliced coconut. When they had run out of coconuts, and he was forced to use what he had on hand at the time: pineapples. He served the drink in a hollowed out pineapple, and thus the Piña Colada was created. There is even a plaque at the Caribe Hilton to say they invented it. The Barrachina also has a plaque stating they are the official birthplace of the cocktail. Ramón Portas Mingot was hired to be the head bartender there, and also experimented with Coco Lopez and rum mixtures. He hit upon a similar recipe to Ramón Marrero, and thus they created the Piña Colada! Even the dates claimed vary. Marrero’s cocktail has been dated anywhere from 1952 to 1957, with 1954 being the most common year. Mingot’s recipe is dated to 1963. It is possible that he was the first to call the drink a Piña Colada, but the recipe came from Marrero. Whatever the true origin, Puerto Rico adopted it as its national cocktail in 1978.
If 1978 was a high point for the cocktail, 1979 became a low point. It was that year, in late September, that Rupert Holmes released the song “Escape”. It was going to be the last number one song of the 1970s, and established Holmes in the musical landscape. However, he ended up hating the song that he felt detracted from his more serious work. To give the song more visibility, he ended up renaming the song “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” to include the refrain that became wildly popular - "If you like Piña Coladas/And getting caught in the rain..." He was not pleased by that decision, or by the cocktail itself, which he once stated tasted "like Kaopectate." (Editor's note: though no comment on his true feelings about Champagne or making love after midnight.) Considering the time frame he was drinking them in, he may have been right. The 1980s treated the Piña Colada like it treated all other drinks; filling it with artificial, foul tasting syrups and average liquor. That cocktail became one of the poster children for all that was wrong with drinking in the era before fresh came back to the scene.