The Painkiller cocktail is a delicious and refreshing cocktail packed with tropical flavors. With dark rum, pineapple, orange and coconut, this drink is practically a beach vacation in a glass! Freshly grated nutmeg and fresh fruit garnishes make this cocktail a perfect summer sipper.
This tropical drink has a pretty interesting backstory. It was developed in 1970 at a bar called the Soggy Dollar Bar in the British Virgin Islands. The bar's owner, Daphne Henderson, was locally famous for her secret Painkiller recipe (although some sources say the drink was developed by the previous owners of the bar, George and Mari Myrick).
The owner of Pusser's Rum, Charles Tobias, reverse engineered the recipe and came up with his own version. He went on to trademark the cocktail name Painkiller in multiple countries, so that on a cocktail menu, it must be made with Pusser's Rum in order to be called a Painkiller.
The trademark battle ruffled a bunch of feathers in 2011 when Pusser's forced Painkiller bar in New York City to change its name. Many bartenders now refuse to serve Pusser's in reaction to the lawsuit (read more about the lawsuit here). But despite its crazy history, this drink couldn't be more relaxing and delicious to enjoy!
Here's what you'll need to make this cocktail:
- Dark Rum - the original recipe is said to have been created using Cruzan Rum. Since Pusser's Rum has trademarked this drink, though, it has to be made with that rum if it's being sold under the name Painkiller. At home, you can use your favorite dark rum. Navy strength rum (57% alcohol rather than the more common 40 to 42%) works well in this drink if you're feeling adventurous!
- Cream of Coconut - NOT coconut cream. This is a sweetened coconut syrup. I've used Coco Real Cream of Coconut, but Coco Lopez is another well-known brand too. Be sure to shake it well, because the coconut solids tend to separate out from the syrup in the bottle.
- Pineapple juice - unless you are making fresh pineapple juice, Dole brand pineapple juice works great.
- Orange juice - either freshly squeezed or a good quality packaged OJ.
- Nutmeg - preferably whole nutmeg that you can grate on top for the best flavor. This really adds a nice aroma to the drink.
- Other garnishes - I used an orange slice and pineapple fronds to garnish this drink. This is a Tiki drink, so go ahead and get creative. A pineapple wedge, some dried or fresh coconut, or even a tiny umbrella all work!
Here are some substitutions you can make in case you don't have a specific ingredient.
- Cream of Coconut - if you don't have cream of coconut, it's possible to make your own using coconut cream and sugar. Or, use coconut water and then substitute either pineapple syrup for the pineapple juice or orange syrup for the orange juice.
- Pineapple juice - although pineapple juice is a big part of the flavor component here, you can substitute it out using more orange juice, or mango puree.
- Orange juice - likewise, if you don't have orange juice, you can substitute it with more pineapple juice or mango puree.
- Dark rum - you can use whiskey or an aged tequila if you don't have any dark rum.
Looking to change up this recipe? Here are some variations:
- Passionfruit Painkiller - add an ounce of passionfruit puree to the mix instead of the orange juice.
- Morning Painkiller - after you strain the cocktail, add in ¾ ounce of Campari liqueur. It will sink to the bottom of the glass, creating a red and yellow gradient like a sunrise.
- Virgin Painkiller (non-alcoholic) - instead of rum, use a non-alcoholic rum like Ritual rum alternative. Or, use orange-flavored seltzer or soda instead.
You'll want to have a jigger or measuring cup, a cocktail shaker, and a cocktail strainer to make this drink. If you're using whole nutmeg (definitely recommended for the best flavor) you'll also need a spice grater to grate it over top of the drink.
Depending on what garnish you want to use, you may also need a knife and cutting board to prep your garnish. Also, a cocktail pick often comes in handy when styling the garnish.
For the serving glass, I used a large Hurricane glass (tall and curvy glass, with a short stem at the bottom). You could also use a large highball glass with straight sides, or even a tumbler. As long as it holds enough liquid, it works! The drink itself is between 8 and 9 ounces, plus you'll need room for ice in the glass.
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Start out by adding orange juice and cream of coconut to your cocktail shaker.
Then, add in the pineapple juice and the rum.
Fill the shaker with ice. Then, seal up the shaker and shake everything until it is well chilled.
Add fresh ice to your serving glass, and then strain the drink into the glass. Then, take your nutmeg and sprinkle it on top of the drink. If you're using whole nutmeg, then use a spice grater to grate it over the drink.
Add your fruit garnishes just before serving. In the photos, I've used a round orange slice that I cut a slit in and twisted, and secured with a cocktail pick. I also used two pineapple fronds, which are the leaves on top of the pineapple that you can pluck out. Just wash the fronds and stick them into the top of the drink.
Hint: The pineapple juice naturally makes this drink a little foamy on top just after you shake it. This is totally normal!
Frequently Asked Questions
A Painkiller is a sweet and tropical rum cocktail. It was developed in the British Virgin Islands and has a beach vacation feel.
No, they're not the same thing. Cream of coconut actually has coconut cream as an ingredient, but it is more of a liquidy syrup. Coconut cream, on the other hand, is made from blending up the pulp of a coconut, straining out the liquid, and then skimming the creamy part off the top.
Although these drinks have similar flavors, one main difference is that the Piña Colada is made with light rum and the Painkiller is made with dark rum. Also, the Painkiller has orange juice, and it has less sugar overall. The Piña Colada often has lime juice added to it, so more sugar is needed to balance out the acidity of the lime.
This drink makes a great frozen cocktail! Just add everything, along with ice, to a blender and blend it up. You can garnish it the same way as the non-frozen version. Or, you can serve it over crushed ice instead of cubed. If you do, don't shake it more than 3 to 5 times, or you'll end up making it too watery.
- 1 pinch nutmeg
- orange slice (optional)
- pineapple wedge (optional)
- pineapple fronds (optional)
- Measure and add the orange juice, cream of coconut, pineapple juice and rum to a cocktail shaker.
- Fill the shaker with ice.
- Seal the shaker and give it 15-20 hard shakes.
- Fill the serving glass with fresh ice and strain the drink into the glass.
- Sprinkle the nutmeg over the top of the cocktail (or grate it if you're using whole nutmeg).
- Add the rest of your garnish(es) and serve.
- Pusser's Rum has trademarked the cocktail name Painkiller. At home, you can use your own favorite dark rum in this recipe. But, in the US and UK, it legally needs to be Pusser's in a bar setting where the drink is being sold.