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What do you think when you hear “Painkiller”? Do you picture relaxing on a verdant green island with beaches galore, comfy hammocks, and sailboats floating idly in the background? Do you have an irresistibly smooth, tropical drink in hand?
Most people, I assume, think of Advil or Tylenol, which is a fairly normal response. Of course if you’re like me, for much of your adult life you probably thought of the Judas Priest song with the same title (see below). I love heavy metal and random obscure references, so that’s a win-win for me.
In any case, I’ve changed my tune this year. Now I’m here to sell you on the definitive definition, the essential Painkiller cocktail: something closer to the island scene I just described. Some people call this a more “sophisticated” Pina Colada. I don’t see the point in comparing. The differences here, subtle as they may be, make this drink to another whole experience of its own.
How Much Pain are You In?
The story goes that Daphne Henderson developed the Painkiller cocktail at the Soggy Dollar Bar in the British Virgin Islands. It’s a sailor’s paradise on a small Caribbean island that’s largely inaccessible without a boat. It was made as a hangover cure; the perfect hair of the dog drink for vacationers.
A mainstay of the drink is that you can “up the dosage” depending on how much “pain” you’re in, raising the original 2 oz (60 ml) pour to 3 or even 4 oz for an “extra strength” painkiller – be careful though, side effects may include dizziness or falling asleep on the beach, patio, or wherever you are!
This drink is irresistible on a summer day. With your preferred choice of aged rum, it makes for a deliciously easy, yet surprisingly complex drink. For my money, I like to use a Demarara rum like El Dorado (no affiliation, I just love the rum). It’s wonderfully toasty, with notes of burned caramel, and a deep sugar cane that feels so natural and unprocessed.
If I’m feeling particularly adventurous, I might even blend it with a bit of spiced or overproof rum. Bacardi 151 works well here, but all I had was Wray & Nephew. With notes of banana and savoury funk, it has quickly become one of my favourite rums to experiment with (in small doses).
On Coconut Cream
It’s hard to get fresh coconut cream, at least where I live in Canada. The canned stuff has a lot of chemicals. You can also try getting creamed coconut in a box that has all the moisture taken out of it. It’s a thick, oily mass; you just add hot water and stir to get it to a liquid cream.
It’s best to use fresh as the oils separate out over time, so it’s harder to mix if it’s been in the fridge for a day. However, you can get an amazing froth that looks like an egg white cocktail.
One question I’ve asked myself a lot is “can you substitute the cream for coconut milk?” It’s easier to find, cheaper, and used in a lot more recipes. Well, I’ve certainly tried, with poor results. I’m not an expert in chemistry, but to me coconut milk seems to separate the oils and fats of the coconut from the water much faster than cream.
The image here shows one of my earlier takes using coconut milk. If you look closely, you can see the whole drink getting speckled or dotted, and there is a thin dark layer at the bottom where the rest of the liquid stays on the bottom, while the coconut floats to the top.
If you look closely, you can see the coconut milk separating from the drink. This is literally one minute after shaking the drink, immediately after I started taking photos!
So, while I definitely recommend coconut cream for its richer flavour and consistency, I think you will have a delicious drink regardless. Don’t stress too much if you can’t get it. Check out the recipe below and you’ll be making Painkillers in no time!
- Cocktail shaker
- Hawthorne strainer
- Rocks glass
- Ice cubes
- Hand grater, if using fresh nutmeg
- 2 oz (60 ml) dark, aged rum
- 4 oz (120 ml) pineapple juice
- 1 oz (30 ml) orange juice freshly squeezed if possible
- 1 oz (30 ml) coconut cream substitute coconut milk if you can't get it
- nutmeg freshly grated if possible, but don't strain yourself over it (pun intended)
- Optional: mint and/or pineapple leaves, for garnish
- Shake all liquids vigorously for 15+ seconds. The coconut cream has a thicker consistency, so don't hold back!
- Fill serving glass partially with cracked or cubed ice. Place the strainer over the shaker cup and pour contents into your glass.
- Grate nutmeg over top the drink if you are using a fresh piece, or sprinkle if you are using powdered.
- Garnish with pineapple leaves if you have them. If not, mint is a great substitute! It's not in the original recipe, but feel free to add a chunk of pineapple as well.
Have you ever felt in need of a painkiller? Let me know if you’ve enjoyed one with a comment below. Tag me on Instagram @the.phil.osopher with your photos. I’d also love to hear thoughts on what other recipes and stories you’d like to see.
Thanks for stopping by! If you like this kind of article, why not check out some of my other cocktail recipes as well?