The appeal of the Tiki lifestyle is hardly mysterious. In a world that incessantly flogs us for productivity, the embrace of Island Time and soothing pastels is a potent counterpoint. It’s easy to understand why so many people gravitate toward it during leisure time. And that’s why Tiki is not to be trusted.
The reality is that Tiki doesn’t merely offer respite from the chaos of reality, it seduces you away from it. It starts with the odd cocktail that favors a marginally sweeter coconut rum to mix things up. Shortly thereafter you come to realize that a floral-print aloha shirt is a viable option for Casual Friday at the office. It does have a collar after all. Next thing you know you’re enjoying Jimmy Buffet without any sense of irony, stringing lights with kitchy parrot-bulbs around your patio, and wearing sandals. For the love of God, SANDALS, people!*
Needless to say I have a reflexive disdain for most things Tiki. It’s just so bright and happy, two dimensions I habitually reject. So when I heard that the folks at Kilowatt Brewing, arguably the brightest and happiest in the SD beer game, were opening Forbidden Cove, I was naturally skeptical. Still, it was described as a speakeasy, and I can’t resist the allure of having access to something that others may not get. “Whale” culture dies hard, y’all.
The interior of Forbidden Cove resembles the contents of a lei’s fever dream, as every surface explodes with the vibrancy of blacklight luminescence. Goth up your wardrobe as much as you like, this joint will still find a way to make some sliver of you shimmer.
From the infinity mirrors installation, to massive globe lights, to the looming shrine for an angry Tiki god, nary a fixture of Forbidden Cove is not purpose built to immerse you. It is Tiki amplified to the realm of psychedelia. And like any other shroom-fueled misadventure, attempting to resist is only going to result in a bad trip. You have no choice – succumb to Forbidden Cove.
Despite all the figurative and literal shine I’ve ascribed to the surroundings, the crowning achievement of this experience is a fully realized Tiki drink menu in a context where actual booze is, like coves, forbidden. While existing Kilowatt Brewing beers like Wilson the Coconut (an IPA with toasted coconut) are prêt-à-porter in tiki environs, the real potential of this space is revealed by its exclusive offerings.
Many of the signature drinks in Forbidden Cove are thoughtfully fruited and spiced versions of existing beers, such as the Pineapple Coconut Blonde. Their sour Berliner Weiss base similarly finds suitable company with guava, mango, and ginger in Enchanted Garden. Selections like these are all reasonable approximations for tiki fare, but their beer-y roots are unmistakable on the palate. The real triumphs on the menu use Kilowatt Brewing’s fruited hard seltzers and signature undistilled spirits.
Hard seltzer, for better or worse, needs no introduction these days. However, the borderline oxymoronic ”undistilled spirit” probably warrants a bit more exposition. It is simply a harder-than-hard seltzer, a sugar water that’s been whipped into fighting shape by R. Lee Ermey-tier yeasts capable of driving the ABV north of 16 percent. It’s not much to speak of on its own, tasting vaguely of rice paper with an indistinct fruitiness and a bone-dry, warming finish. However, it is a powerhouse addition to the tiki drink menu, providing a neutral, boozy backbone to heap flavor upon. Future iterations will play with molasses-based fermentations to hopefully offer a more rum-tinged flavor profile.
The best way to experience this creation is a side-by-side comparison of Lono’s Delight, a fruited hard seltzer, and it’s far more spirited 15.3% ABV brother, Lono’s Extra Delight. Despite the shared fruit profiles of orange, pineapple, lime, passionfruit, lime, and cherry, these siblings only bear a passing resemblance to each other. The Extra version somehow drums the cherry out of existence, while the pineapple emerges as vibrant and juicier.
My favorite of the hardened options was Washed Out To Sea. Bright passionfruit and guava are countered by the subtle nip of ginger and the “spirit” lending it a sparing heat. It feels the most like a cocktail to me, versus a beer-based facsimile of the same. However, those that prefer a bit more chew to their tiki drinks will likely enjoy the silky and sweet coconut cream-laden Lava Flow.
While there are many mysterious elements of Forbidden Cove, from its semi-cloaked entry point to the secret ordering window within, perhaps the most exciting aspect of it is its ephemeral nature. This speakeasy, along with the brewery proper, are due for demolition in roughly 15 months. Brewery operations will migrate elsewhere, but Forbidden Cove will sadly be sacrificed to the gods.
Unlike the beer columnist presently drafting this article, Forbidden Cove will never have a chance to fade into obscurity. If this diverting collision of craft beer and Tiki piques your curiosity, I’d recommend you get a reservation at ForbiddenCoveSD.com before a well-placed wrecking ball takes the last one. Anything that can convince someone like me to begrudgingly don an aloha shirt is probably worth investigating further.
*It may not be fair to shame everyone that makes their leg-hands visible, but I just think it’s reasonable to posit that, on aggregate, the calories people exert on personal maintenance drop off exponentially the farther south they get. Sandals are a fashion statement that screams to the world, “You’re gonna love my feet!” That assertion falls short more often than not. I believe we, as a species, can do better.