What's up with the cocktail umbrella?

Professional bartending24 January 2018Ivar de Lange

What's up with the cocktail umbrella?

If I would show you a paper umbrella, there is a big chance you would immediately think of cocktails. Somehow the paper umbrella has become synonymous for cocktails. The origin of the cocktail umbrella is not a 100% clear and as with many cocktail stories there are several versions.

An exotic approach

We do know that decorative paper umbrellas have been used in Chinese art and culture for centuries (21 AD). From there it gradually spread throughout Asia, though in the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh sculptures depicting the use of umbrella’s have also been found. The word umbrella comes from the Latin word 'Umbra', meaning shade. So, we do know where it was used for in those days.

It is quite possible that soldiers stationed in the South Pacific brought the paper umbrella to the United States in the 20th century. Paper parasols were used in the South Pacific by the locals to protect them from the sun and warmth. This exotic approach was then brought to the states and used for the exotic drink that gained more and more popularity, the tiki-cocktail.

How did the umbrella make its way to the cocktail?

In a Bon Appétit magazine interview Jeff ‘Beachbum’ Berry, Tiki expert and author of many cocktail books on Tiki, credits Harry Yee from the Hilton Waikiki with being the first to use the umbrella as a cocktail garnish in 1959. He used it to garnish his Tapa Punch.

Others credit Don the Beachcomber with starting the whole umbrella trend in his restaurants around 1932. One them is Joe Beregeron, the son of Victor ‘trader Vic’ Bergeron, who bought all of Don the Beachcomber’s Tiki stuff and restaurant. Joe said that amongst the stuff they bought from the Beachcomber, they found many umbrellas.

But why put an umbrella on your cocktail?

I think it has to do with the people in the South Pacific protecting themselves from the sun with an umbrella. How can we protect the ice in our exotic Tiki drinks from melting? Right, put an umbrella on it. It looks cool too!

Obviously, there is no science backing this theory. No paper umbrella will keep your ice from melting. We drink too fast for that anyway. But it does make your drink look good and it is a nice story to tell your friends when sipping on a Piña Colada.

Share this article
Ivar de Lange

Ivar de Lange

Ivar de Lange is our Master Bartender and manager of the Bols Academy. He has over 21 years of bartending experience and loves to write about anything cocktail.

Stories you might also like


Foam it up! Egg whites vs. Aquafaba

Professional bartending

So, you like cocktails with a nice, thick foam layer on top? Who doesn’t. But should you use classic egg whites or aquafaba? Tyron tells all!

Read more

Great cocktails with only three ingredients

Home bartending

Read all about Ivar's favorite cocktail recipes with only three ingredients. Easy to make at home or in your bar.

Read more

The hottest cocktail trends for 2018

Professional bartending

Looking for the hottest cocktail trends for you bar? Our trendwatcher Tyron is here to help. Read about the cocktail trend for 2018 now!

Read more
See all our blog posts