How the Bushwacker Cocktail Migrated to Florida

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Drink

The Pensacola favorite gave rise to festivals and even a federal trademark case.

Peter Suderman |

Top of a Bushwacker cocktail | Photo: Peter Suderman

(Photo: Peter Suderman)

Strictly speaking, the Bushwacker cocktail—a creamy, boozy combination of coffee, chocolate, and orange liqueurs, plus milk, cream of coconut, and rum or vodka—is not a Florida creation. The drink was invented in the U.S. Virgin Islands in the 1970s, when bartender Angie Conigliaro of the Ship’s Store in St. Thomas threw a bunch of stuff in a blender in an attempt to make a sort of tropical version of a White Russian. Later, according to the definitive history of the drink written by journalist Aaron Goldfarb for Punch, bar manager Tom Brokamp, who claims he originally suggested the idea for the drink to Conigliaro, would sell it to tourists as a maximalist piña colada. The drink wouldn’t get its unique moniker until a pair of flight attendants became enamored with it; the pair owned a dog named Bushwack, which Conigliaro used for the name.

Eventually, the Bushwacker would migrate to Florida, after a woman named Linda Murphy tried it on vacation. Murphy worked the bar at the Sandshaker Lounge in Pensacola Beach, and she decided to put her own version of the drink on the menu. Murphy’s updated Bushwacker used rum instead of vodka, and added chocolate sauce and whipped cream, giving the drink even more of a milkshakelike feel.

The drink was a runaway success, helping make the Sandshaker a beach-town bar destination. By the late 1980s, it was so popular on the Gulf Coast that there were multiple Bushwacker festivals named in honor of the drink, one hosted by the Sandshaker, the other by Quietwater Entertainment, which owned several local bars. In 2004, however, Murphy was arrested in a massive cocaine bust. By then she owned the Sandshaker, but she lost the restaurant as a result of the arrest.

Not long after, Hurricane Ivan destroyed much of the Pensacola coastline, including some of Quietwater’s bars. Intending to fend off competitors who might try to take advantage of the chaos to appropriate the Bushwacker festival name, the group’s owner trademarked the word Bushwacker—and informed the Sandshaker’s new owner that its Bushwacker festival could no longer operate.

The case went to court. Years later, a federal judge ruled that the trademark could stand but the drink name Bushwacker “appears to be generic for a type of drink sold locally and at multiple locations throughout Pensacola Beach.”

During the early ’00s, I worked for several summers at Fudpucker’s, a big beach shack–themed restaurant in Destin, Florida. The menu contained a drink called the Fudwacker. I can’t tell you what was in it, but I’m pretty sure it tasted an awful lot like a Bushwacker.

The good news? If you make it at home, you can call it whatever you want.

Peter Suderman’s Bushwacker Cocktail Recipe

  • 2 ½ ounces dark aged rum, preferably El Dorado 8
  • 1 ½ ounces coffee liqueur, preferably Kahlúa
  • 1 ounce crème de cacao, preferably Tempus Fugit
  • 1 teaspoon orange liqueur, preferably Grand Marnier
  • 2 ounces whole milk
  • 1 ½ ounce coconut cream, preferably Coco Lopez
  • 1 cup crushed ice
  • Fresh nutmeg, to grate on top
  • Maraschino cherry, preferably Luxardo, to garnish

Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients, except nutmeg and cherry, in a blender.
  2. Blend on high until smooth, about 20–30 seconds.
  3. Pour into a glass, then grate nutmeg over top.
  4. Garnish with a maraschino cherry. Drink through a straw.

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