If you had the opportunity to check-in to Hilton Kuala Lumpur in the late-70s, when it was located along Jalan Sultan Ismail, you might have savoured the Jungle Bird at the Aviary Bar, while the receptionist got your room sorted for you.
Concocted by Jeffrey Ong Swee Teik on July 6, 1978, the Jungle Bird was created as a tiki welcome drink for the hotel guests made from primary ingredients of pineapple juice, rum, Campari, lime and syrup.
It was no big deal back then; after all, it was just a welcome drink at the hotel. However, it gained international stardom when it was listed in the 1989 edition of John P. Poister’s The New American Bartender’s Guide, among the other 2,300+ drink mixing recipes.
At the turn of the century, various speakeasy bars that were popping up around town, as well as overseas, were emulating the original Jungle Bird – finally, a cocktail drink Malaysia can call its own!
Even though Hilton Kuala Lumpur has stepped out of its former address and relocated to the Sentral business district in 2004, and the creator himself, Jeffrey, passed away early last year at the age of 71 in Penang, the iconic bird lives on – especially after the hotel renamed its Chamber Bar to the olden Aviary Bar last year.
Having already set up home for the Jungle Bird, the current bartenders decided to bring it into the next generation with the Jungle Bird series, featuring four new experimentations with the original drink.
A sip of the Original Jungle Bird transports us back to the Aviary Bar of yore, with its empowering sweet pineapple taste minced with slight bitterness from the lime squeeze, within the Jamaican dark rum and Campari concoction.
The Jackfruit Jungle Bird, on the other hand, presents a more sweetened note on the palate, with addition of donut syrup and pineapple puree, alongside the jackfruit and thyme-infused Campari. It is like summertime amplified, with its stronger sweetness and herbaceous taste, not to mention a creamier texture that derives from the puree and syrup.
From here on out, things get more experimental with the American Jungle Bird, consisting of the usual lime squeeze and fresh pineapple juice, but built upon the base of Makers Mark whisky and aperol. The bitter aperol aperitif assists on the lime squeeze, while the beaten egg white contributes to the smoothened creaminess.
However, we are not sure where this concoction stands with the crowd: it has a sweetened tinge to the usual whisky on the rocks, if that is what you’d go for with such a masculine drink; but in another perspective, if you have never been a fan of whisky, it does overshadow the signature fruity taste.
We won’t judge if you are someone who prefers alcohol with their coffee in the mornings, but the Morning Bird may just be your cup of tea – or rather, drink. Spearheaded by the rather unorthodox coffee bean infused Campari and curry leaf, the complex flavouring does awaken the senses together with the Jamaican dark rum, mixed with fresh pineapple juice and grapefruit juice.
The caffeinated notes are rather out of place at first, but eventually, the taste buds do get used to them, harmonising with the spicy curry leaf aftertaste when you reach the bottom of the glass.
The last drink from Hilton Kuala Lumpur’s Jungle Bird series brings the menu full circle with the Mexican Jungle Bird, what we think is the closest to the original Jungle Bird, despite the complexity of its substituting ingredients of grapefruit juice, agave syrup, aperol and tequila.
With the Olmeca Gold tequila as the foundation, this particular bird manages to sing a sweet fruity song accented by the distilled spirit, before flying off with an aftertaste from the lingering grapefruit.