How the Rocket Fuel Became the Signature Cocktail of Fire Island

When on Fire Island, toast with Rocket Fuels.

When my husband and I were much younger, we spent many of our summer weekends hanging out on Fire Island. Like many adults that reach a legal drinking age and have nary a worry in sight, there was nothing better than spending a lazy day sitting on the beach with friends and swimming in the ocean. Without children to worry about, we would then spend our evenings eating in town and having a few ice-cold drinks.

It was on one of our weekend adventures that I was first introduced to a Rocket Fuel. We were at Flynn’s enjoying a beer and watching the sunset when the bartender asked us if we wanted to try one. We had never heard of the drink before, so we gave it a go. Reminiscent of a Piña Colada, this Fire Island staple is delightfully sweet and loaded to the brim with alcohol.

“On a hot summer’s day, it’s a beautiful drink,” says Luke LaPenna, a Fire Island local and long-time employee of Flynn’s in Ocean Beach. “It’s a gigantic frozen cocktail that’s strong, sweet and delicious. I mean, what’s not to like? It has all of the pieces.”

Although the recipe differs slightly from bar to bar, the underlying ingredients are always the same: coconut milk, pineapple juice, and amaretto. But, the key to this signature drink is the rum and it must be 151 proof.

Like James Thurber used to say about martinis, “One is all right. Two are too many, and three are not enough,” wiser words have never been spoken about Rocket Fuels. “I’ve been bartending for over 25 years and have been making Rocket Fuels for just as long,” says Jimmy Engle, Bar Manager at CJs. “You can’t drink too many Rocket Fuels because they really sneak up on you.”

Legend has it that John “Giovanni” Palermo, the original owner of CJs in Ocean Beach, made the Rocket Fuel famous. Almost immediately, this slushy frozen cocktail became their most popular drink earning the bar the moniker “the home of the Rocket Fuel.”

“Whenever you go on vacation, there’s a signature drink. Barbados has the Painkiller. Mexico has the Margarita. Fire Island has the Rocket Fuel,” Engle says. “It’s part of the folklore now. People feel like that have to have one or they’ll be missing out.”

No matter which town you’re visiting on Fire Island, chances are that if a hundred people get off the ferry, at least half of them will order a Rocket Fuel before the day is over.

“When people come to Fire Island, it’s such a different place. The island setting is like being in the Caribbean or on a tropical vacation somewhere,” LaPenna says. “And when you step into a bar, you’ll see that two-thirds of the crowd will have a Rocket Fuel in their hands and you’ll want one too.”

Every bar and restaurant on Fire Island puts their own spin on this tropical local cocktail. But whether the Rum 151 is blended into the drink or floated on top, one thing always remains the same. The Rocket Fuel craze isn’t going to die down anytime soon.

The Original Rocket Fuel Recipe, courtesy of Jimmy Engle of CJs

Ingredients:

  • 2 parts Cocoa Lopez
  • 2 parts 151 Rum
  • 4 parts Dole Pineapple Juice
  • 1 part Amaretto

Blend the first 3 ingredients together with ice. Then float Amaretto on top. Serve ice cold in a 16-ounce cup.

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