I was one day old in 2021 when I discovered that the Piña Colada hails from my parent’s birthplace, Puerto Rico. Thanks to the Gentleman of Salsa (El Caballero de la Salsa) singer Gilberto Santa Rosa for mentioning this important fun fact on his recent YouTube Christmas Special, I went into a deep historical Google dive to find out more about this strained (colada) pineapple (piña) drink.
The most popular and basic version of the Piña Colada is made with pineapple, crushed ice, and cream of coconut or coconut milk, and light rum blended until smooth. This uber-sweet high-calorie libation usually served with a maraschino cherry and a wedge of pineapple on top as a garnish became the official drink of Puerto Rico in 1978.
It started in 1954, when a bartender by the name of Ramón “Monchito” Marrero, who worked at the Caribe Hilton Hotel, decided to create a drink that would give tourists a taste of his homeland, also known as the Island of Enchantment, but best known as Puerto Rico. It isn’t clear if the idea came from his heart or his marketing brain or his jefe’s marketing brain. Did he create the drink to capture the uniqueness and beauty of his Island, or did he create a drink to attract more tourists to the Caribe Hilton Hotel? Whatever the intent, the drink became an international hit, and it drew many famous people to this San Juan location.
It’s important to note that there were two versions of this drink. Originally the Pina Colada was non-alcoholic and poured on the rocks. But it was Marrero who came up with the idea of making it into a smoothie, adding the crushed ice, rum, and garnishes. This concoction eventually inspired other bartenders, and it made way for more blended drinks like the daiquiri and margarita.
If Instagram was a thing in 1954, I imagine Marrero being an influencer of sorts. Imagine the sponsorship opportunities to be had! For starters, there’s Coco Lopez, Rums of Puerto Rico, Dole Pineapple, etc. Think of all the celebrities who would stop by to grab a photo-op.
While Marrero gets most of the credit, others say the drink was their idea. Ricardo García, who worked as a bartender in the same hotel, maintained (in the same year) that it was he who invented the drink due to the coconut shortage that forced him to modify the recipe. The third bartender, Ramón Portas Mignot, who worked at the Barrachina in Old San Juan in 1963, also claimed he was the inventor. The fourth source is told by locals who say that the Puerto Rican pirate, Roberto Cofresí, was the first to serve this drink to his crew in the 1800s. Whoever the rightful owner is, we may never know, but one thing is for sure, Puerto Rico is the birthplace of this popular cocktail.