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How The Painkiller Cocktail Got Its Name

The Painkiller

A cocktail going by the name “the Painkiller” can give you all sorts of ideas, one being that it will cure all your pain with just a sip. However, the painkiller cocktail does not eliminate your pain, but it could help to ease your mind. It has been compared to a more grown-up version of a Piña Colada, and its popularity has many patrons wondering about its origins. So, here are details about how the Painkiller got its name.

Painkiller Gets Its Name

In the 1970s, Daphne Henderson owned a bar on the White Bay of Jost Van Dyke island, one of British Virgin Islands. It was a six-seater, but the small bar gained a reputation of having a cocktail that appealed to all boaters who came from afar to sample it. There was no dock on the island. Thus, boaters had to swim to the bar and arrived with wet dollars. As a result, the bar was appropriately named the Soggy Dollar Bar. According to Got Rum?, Henderson was sympathetic to the plight of her customers swimming ashore. Hence, she made the drink strong enough to help them forget their pain. For this reason, the cocktail was dubbed “The Painkiller,” and the recipe remained a close-guarded secret for years.

Secret Recipe Discovered

One of Soggy Dollar Bar’s patrons was Charles Tobias. He had his own bar in Tortola and had heard about Henderson’s unique cocktail. Therefore, he befriended her hoping to get the recipe, but Henderson refused to divulge the recipe. For two years, Tobias did not have any luck in getting the recipe, thus taking matters into his own hands. According to Pussers, Tobias went to Soggy Dollar Bar one Sunday afternoon and spent several hours “painkilling.” He then took some Painkiller cocktail with him, swimming on his back until he got to his boat, which was coincidentally named "Painkiller." Tobias then went to Tortola and into his kitchen, determined to find out the ingredients of the Painkiller cocktail. He tried matching the flavor of Henderson’s drink as much as possible. After several attempts, he concluded that the Painkiller comprised four parts pineapple, one part orange juice, one part coconut cream, and Pusser’s Rum. Excited, Tobias returned to Soggy Dollar bar the following Sunday and announced to Henderson that he finally knew her recipe. However, he wanted Henderson to confirm that he was right, but she was adamant Tobias would never come close no matter how hard he tried. To prove her wrong, he went ahead and concocted his version, but upon tasting it against Henderson’s, Tobias discovered a slight difference. His cocktail was not as sweet as Henderson’s, but he still felt his drink was better and was willing to bet $100. The ten patrons at the bar were treated to a round of Henderson’s painkiller cocktail and another of Tobias’ version. The ten customers unanimously agreed that Tobias’ cocktail was better, much to the disappointment of Henderson, who said that her opponent had paid off the patrons. But Tobias had won fair and square.

Commercialization of the Painkiller

Seeing that his version was better, Tobias decided to commercialize it. However, according to an interview with Cocktail Wonk, he asked Henderson’s permission to trademark it. She did not have a problem with Tobias’ intentions so long as he credited her with creating the recipe. The green light was all that Tobias needed to get started. He trademarked it as Pusser’s Painkiller and kept his word by adding a byline crediting Henderson for the inspiration. He strategized his marketing by promoting the cocktail in boat shows where he showcased the history of Pusser’s Rum. Tobias gave people tickets for Rum, Coke, and Painkiller and hired 15 ex-US Navy men. The Ex-Us Navy would promote the brand every weekend, and Tobias paid them $50. His hard work paid off, and Tobias proudly said that in 2019 the Painkiller ranked #22 in the World’s Most Famous Cocktail list. The entrepreneur is acclaimed as the founder of Pusser’s Rum, Royal Navy rum, but the story of how he got the license to trademark it is interesting. The Painkiller would not exist without Pusser’s Rum, and Pusser’s Rum would not exist without Great Britain Royal Naval, so let’s go back to the beginning.

History of Pusser’s Rum

In 1540, King Henry VIII founded the Royal Navy and appointed a Purser to protect the ship’s supplies. A Purser was also tasked with buying and distributing clothing, gear, and other items needed by the crew. After a while, the name changed from Purser to Pusser. Any of the goods the officer was in charge of were Pusser’s. Since the crew could not afford most of what was availed to them by the Pusser, they opined that Pusser’s goods were high quality. One of the goods the Pusser’s was in charge of was beer, and every man in the Navy was issued with a gallon of beer every day. However, in 1655, rum replaced beer after the beer went sour due to being in the sea for so long. The rum became known as Pusser’s Rum since the officer was in charge of issuing a pint daily to every man on the ship. However, in 1970, the tradition of issuing Pusser’s Rum stopped after Admiral of The Fleet Sir Michael Le Fanu issued an order. During this time, Tobias had set sail on a yacht, but his boat broke down in Gibraltar. He visited a navy ship whose captain gifted Tobias with a flagon containing the original Navy rum otherwise known as Pusser’s Rum. Tobias’ uncle had served in the Canadian Navy during the Second World War; he stole the Royal Navy rum and got his nephew drunk when Tobias was only 11. Therefore, tasting the rum revived memories and inspired Tobias to recreate the Pusser’s Rum. He got permission from the British Royal Navy to use their rum blend, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Lily Wordsmith

Written by Lily Wordsmith

Lily Wordsmith is a freelance writer who has had a love affair with the written word for decades. You can find her writing blog posts and articles while sitting under a tree at the local park watching her kids play, or typing away on her tablet in line at the DMV. In addition to her freelance career, she is pursuing ebook writing with an ever-growing repertoire of witty ebooks to her name. Her diversity is boundless, and she has written about everything from astrobotany to zookeepers. Her real passions are her family, baking desserts and all things luxe.

Read more posts by Lily Wordsmith

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