By Noelle Khalila Nicolls
December 30, 2014
Credit: Johnny Miller

The Bahamas has a bit of a fetish when it comes to naming tropical drinks after musical elements. Three of my top five cocktails in the Bahamas, including the Goombay Smash, tell this story. Goombay is a folk music form in the Bahamas, defined by its percussion: rich African rhythms that are beat from goatskin drums. A local cocktail called the Yellow Bird traces its origin to a song; and then there is the Bahama Mama—not the drink, the woman, and the queen of Junkanoo. The songstress Maureen Duvalier with her theatrical energy and storytelling musical style was one of the first modern Bahamian feminists. Born in 1926, she grew up to defy the staid image of women as housewives and church ladies by performing at night clubs, and being the first woman to dance on Bay Street in the annual masquerade. A psychoanalyst would probably enjoy dissecting the meaning behind the Bahamas' tradition of rumtastic musical tributes, but all you need to do is take pleasure in the history, sip up and enjoy these top five cocktails.

Sky Juice

The Bahamas’ most popular any-occasion cocktail is Sky Juice, also known as Gully Wash: a combination of gin, coconut water and sweet condensed milk. This local favorite comes in degrees of sweet and extremely sweet, and with coconut chunks (the equivalent of pulp) or without. True Gully Wash always comes fully loaded with gin. Be careful with this Bahamian concoction: it is a creeper.

Bahama Mama

Tucked away in my suitcase when I came of drinking age and headed across continents to attend university was a bottle of Nassau Royale, a vanilla-infused liqueur with a sweet blend of secret ingredients. This is one of the four must-have alcoholic infusions used in the fruity rum punch known as the Bahama Mama.

Goombay Smash

Many people think they know the Goombay Smash, but the recipes that abound are only imitations of the original, which is still made from a secret family recipe at the Little Blue Bee Bar in Abaco, Bahamas. The tradition of the cocktail's creator, Emily Cooper, continues today with her daughter Miss Violet, who still runs the rustic watering hole. She says the secret is all in the family shake, something her mother put her entire body into: the strong tropical punch is finished inside a one gallon plastic bottle where it is shaken to produce natural foam.

Yellow Bird

From its melancholy beginnings as a lovers’ requiem, the Yellow Bird travelled a long and winding path to become a renowned Bahamian cocktail. It started as a beautiful 1883 Haitian Creole poem about a woman named Choucoune, only to be turned into a song with the same name in the early '50s. Shortly after, an English songwriter took the catchy calypso rhythm, paired it with new lyrics and created the now ubiquitous version of “Yellow Bird.” Today, the refreshing drink, named for the well-known song, blends citrus fruits with a mixture of rums.

Pineapple Upside-Down Martini

I make no assertions about the origin of this fun and flavorful cocktail, but I do lay claim to it for the Bahamas—it sips as smooth as vanilla icing on a rum-soaked pound cake, and at the same time pays tribute to the country’s famous start in the pineapple trade (we supplied Dole their first crop of pineapples). A dash of grenadine sinks to form the bottom layer for this liquid "cake," while a frothy mix of pineapple juice and vanilla vodka creates the yellow-tinted top.