Painkiller Cocktail Recipe | Wine Enthusiast
Wine bottle illustration Displaying 0 results for
Suggested Searches
Articles & Content

If You Like Piña Coladas—Try Its Cousin, the Painkiller

Piña coladas may get all the attention (and song mentions), but its less-famous cousin the Painkiller has star power all its own. It’s also a bit of a bartender darling—and deserves a spot in your summer cocktail rotation.

While both the piña colada and Painiller are tropical classics that feature rum, pineapple and coconut, the latter features dark rum, rather than light (although some piña coladas also feature dark rum or a mix of the two). More importantly, the Painkiller calls on orange juice, which leads the drink in a more citrusy direction, and is topped off with freshly grated nutmeg. 

 “The sweet citrus notes and spices set Painkillers apart from a regular piña colada,” says Panji Wisrawan, head mixologist at Pinstripe Bar, at Viceroy Bali. “The combination of orange juice and nutmeg adds layers of flavor to a Painkiller, ideal for those who prefer a more complex taste.”

The Painkiller was invented in the 1970s at the Soggy Dollar Bar, in the British Virgin Islands. The original concoction’s precise proportions are lost to time, but are said to have been two to four parts rum, four parts pineapple juice, one part cream of coconut and one part orange juice, with freshly grated Grenadian nutmeg on top. Named after the Noni fruit plant found in the South Pacific islands, which is known as a pain reliever, the rum cocktail is ubiquitous at beachside bars around the world, as well as bars channeling the vibe of a tropical escape.

“It’s a drink for the beach vacations from the disco era that can easily be a backyard crusher,” says Travis Gauvin, bar manager at Sur Lie, in Portland, Maine. “You’d be hard pressed to find a cocktail with such a calling card today for obvious reasons; you can’t sell, distribute or regard alcohol in a way that ‘kills your pain,’ or cures what ails you. But it’s also a cocktail that has transcended from a time when not many drinks became well-known and loved.” 

As of 2015, Soggy Dollar Bar had served four million Painkillers. Pusser’s Rum, a version of the high-proof “Navy Rum” issued to sailors earlier in the century, trademarked the cocktail in 1980, but of course, you can make it at home with any dark rum you like—as long as it brings rich spice notes to the party. 

But be warned: In 2011 Pusser’s Rum sent a cease-and-desist order to a New York City bar called Painkiller, which had to change its name because it didn’t make its Painkillers with Pusser’s. This triggered a bartenders boycott of Pusser’s. (Other trademarked cocktails include the Dark ‘n’ Stormy and the Sazerac, which mandate the use of certain name brand liquors in order to be represented with those names on a menu.) 

Rum Ratios and Technique

Recipes dating back to the 1970s call for anywhere between two to four ounces of rum, leaving a fair amount of room for home bartenders to experiment and choose the amount they like best. 

“The interesting part of a Painkiller is the discrepancy in the amount of rum,” says Gauvin. “Two to four ounces is quite the pendulum swing. But this is tiki we’re talking about, and the high-proof navy strength is offset with nearly an equal amount of tart and fresh pineapple juice, acidic and fruity orange juice and the mouthfeel of cream of coconut.”

Bartenders often like to use a blend of rums. At Brother Wolf, in Knoxville, Tennessee, owner Jessica King uses Plantation O.F.T.D. as the stronger, primary rum and then Appleton Estate 8 Year Reserve as a secondary rum. Gauvin likes an overproof rum—like Navy Strength, Smith & Cross or Pusser’s—since the cocktail needs “the right caramel, leather and spiced notes of the rum to really create a baking spice profile in the drink.”

The Painkiller is traditionally served in a hurricane glass over crushed ice. And you need to be thoughtful about your shake. 

“Because you’re pouring over crushed ice, it’s important not to over dilute the drink with a longer shake,” says Gauvin. “A nice, hard quick shake is enough here. Then strain over the ice.” 

Emphasis on the “hard.” If you like your Painkillers frothy, a vigorous shake is key. “Fresh pineapple juice and orange juice gets super frothy when shaken really well,” says Ben Lieppman, beverage director at RPM Restaurants. “The frothy top gives the cocktail a ton of texture as you drink it.”

Painkillers are wonderful frozen as well. To make a frozen Painkiller, simply throw all your ingredients into a blender with a cup and a half of ice. And don’t forget the umbrellas. 

Painkiller Variations to Try

Like many other modern classics, the Painkiller is great fun to riff on. Many people like to add lime juice to the cocktail to cut the sweetness, or even a bit of salt. 

Engracio Clemena, beverage manager at La Société in San Francisco, does a Filipino riff called Masaki at Masarap (which means “painful and delicious” in Tagalog), using a mix of Dr. Bird Navy Strength Pineapple Rum and Tanduay Double Rum, a Filipino spirit, plus some calamansi syrup. 

“It’s a vacation in a glass,” he says. “The combination of rum, pineapple and coconut is always a good time.”

While the Painkiller evokes powerful summer energy, it’s tweakable for all seasons. This pumpkin Painkiller plays off the warmth of spiced rum and uses a luscious pumpkin coconut cream. 

“Using different types of rum, like spiced or coconut-flavored rum, adds new layers of flavor,” says Sayora Khamidova of JIMMY in New York City. “Another creative variation is to replace the pineapple juice with other tropical fruits like mango or passion fruit.”

Painkiller riffs also work with some untraditional spirits. At Brother Wolf, King often substitutes an ounce of rum for a lower-proof amaro, such as Vecchio Amaro del Capo, finding that the “light, nutty digestivo” is a great complement to the coconut and citrus. “I also love to swap out the traditional nutmeg for some freshly grated cinnamon,” she says. 

Above all else, make sure your ingredients are high quality: “The mixers and garnish should be as fresh as possible: freshly squeezed orange juice, freshly pressed pineapple juice and grated nutmeg,” says King. She mixes her own cream of coconut out of Aroy-D coconut cream, gomme syrup and a pinch of salt. 

How to Make a Painkiller Cocktail

Adapted from Soggy Dollar Bar

  • 2 ounces dark rum, such as Pusser’s
  • 4 ounces pineapple juice
  • 1 ounce orange juice
  • 1 ounce cream of coconut
  • Pineapple wedge, to garnish
  • Freshly grated nutmeg, to garnish

Step 1

making a Pain Killer Cocktail
Add the rum, pineapple juice, orange juice and cream of coconut to a shaker and give it a quick hard shake.

Step 2

making a Pain Killer Cocktail
Strain over crushed ice into a Hurricane glass.

Step 3

making a Pain Killer Cocktail

Top with a pineapple wedge and grated nutmeg.

More Cocktail Coverage

In the Shop

Dial-a-Recipe Cocktail Shaker and Bar Tools Set

In Stock | $19.99