Polynesian Pearl Diver

The Polynesian pearl diver is a classic tiki cocktail originated at Don’s Beachcomber in Los Angeles, California. This pearlescent drink features dark rum, citrus juice, velvet falernum and gardenia mix – a special blend of simple syrups, honey and melted butter – to create decadent flavor with creamy, smooth finish.

A pearl diver cocktail garnished with a small orchid and mint leaves.

Why you’ll love this Polynesian Pearl Diver

  • If you’re into tiki drinks, this is a classic cocktail is one that you must try. It has a complex flavor and texture that is really unique.
  • While the gardenia mix is a little complicated, the cocktail itself isn’t hard to make at all.
  • Adding a bottle of velvet falernum to your home bar will allow you to make other fun cocktails like the chartreuse swizzle or the zombie cocktail.
A pearl diver cocktail garnished with a small orchid and mint leaves.

Ingredients & Substitutions

  • Don’s gardenia mix – This can’t really be substituted, but you can make variations of the ingredients. For the bare minimum, I’d suggest honey, butter and a cinnamon simple syrup.
  • Rum – Dark or white rum can be used here. Traditionally a demerara rum is used, but I find it really hard to find and usually use whatever dark rum I have in my bar.
  • Velvet falernum – There isn’t a great substitute for this since it’s flavor is really hard to replicate. You can try orange liqueur or orgeat, but I haven’t tried them in this drink, so I can’t recommend it personally.
A profile shot of a pearl diver cocktail garnished with a small orchid and mint leaves.

How to make a Polynesian pearl diver

Make Don’s gardenia mix. This is the most complicated step for this cocktail process. First, you’ll need to make simple syrup and infuse it with cinnamon and vanilla. You can make them separate (and use the leftovers for other cocktails), or you can make one. It’s totally up to you.

When you have your simple syrups made, combine them with the ingredients listed for the gardenia mix. I like to melt my butter right in a large mixing cup or bowl. Then I add the honey and remaining ingredients to the warm butter and mix them until smooth.

If you’re making this ahead of time, you’ll probably want to store it in the fridge until you’re ready to use it. Then, pop it into the microwave for a few seconds at a time until the butter melts again.

Mix the pearl diver. In a a large cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine the rum, juices and velvet falernum. Then add the gardenia mix and shake until cold.

Garnish and serve. Pour the drink into a cocktail glass filled with crushed ice and garnish with an edible flower and a sprig of mint.

You could also use the traditional pineapple leaf, but since we don’t use pineapple in our cocktail, I skipped it to save on ingredients.

A hand pouring a pearl diver cocktail from a cocktail shaker.

Frequently asked questions: Polynesian pearl diver

What can you mix Gardenia with?

Though gardenia cocktail mix can be a little more tricky to whip up, it brings a depth of flavor to cocktails that is unmatched. It was a secret recipe for many years, but thanks to a copycat recipe this rich cocktail mix has been gaining popularity.
You can use this thick and creamy cocktail mix in a variety of cocktails such as the zombie cocktail, year of the rat cocktail, dos gardenias, and the classic tom and jerry cocktail.

How long does gardenia mix last?

You can store this mix at room temperature or in fridge. Storing gardenia in the refrigerator will result in a thicker, richer textured cocktail.

A close up overhead shot of a polynesian pearl diver cocktail garnished with a small orchid and mint leaves.

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A pearl diver cocktail garnished with a small orchid and mint leaves.
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Polynesian Pearl Diver

The Polynesian pearl diver is a classic tiki cocktail originated at Don’s Beachcomber in Los Angeles, California. This pearlescent drink features dark rum, citrus juice, velvet falernum and gardenia mix – a special blend of simple syrups, honey and melted butter – to create decadent flavor with creamy, smooth finish.

  • Author: Melissa Belanger
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 1 cocktail 1x
  • Category: Rum
  • Method: Shaken
  • Cuisine: American

Ingredients

Scale

Pearl diver cocktail:

  • 2 1/2 ounces rum
  • 1 ounce orange juice
  • 3/4 ounce lime juice
  • 1/4 ounce velvet falernum
  • 3/4 ounce gardenia mix
  • For garnish: edible flower, fresh mint

Gardenia mix:

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon simple syrup (see notes)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla simple syrup (see notes)
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice dram

Instructions

To make the gardenia mix:

  1. Place butter in a microwave safe bowl. Heat for 30 seconds in the microwave for 30 seconds.
  2. Add honey, simple syrups and all spice dram. Stir until combined. All the gardenia mix to cool before using. If the mix separates, shake or stir to combine.

To make the pearl diver:

  1. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add rum, orange juice, lime juice, velvet falernum and gardenia mix. Shake until cold, about 30 seconds.
  2. Pour the drink into a cocktail glass with crushed ice.
  3. Garnish with an edible flower and mint sprig.

Notes

To make simple syrups: mix 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water in a small saucepan over medium. Heat until sugar has dissolved. Divide the syrup between two mason jars. Add two cinnamon sticks to one jar and a split vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract) to the other. Allow the syrup to cool to room temperature and let the flavors infuse into the syrups.

Nutrition

  • Serving Size:
  • Calories: 410
  • Sugar: 25.5 g
  • Sodium: 291.3 mg
  • Fat: 7.5 g
  • Saturated Fat: 3.4 g
  • Carbohydrates: 44.1 g
  • Fiber: 0.4 g
  • Protein: 2 g
  • Cholesterol: 10.2 mg

Keywords: polynesian pearl diver, pearl diver, pearl diver cocktail

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