That heavenly blend you’re fancying likely tastes a lot like a Bushwacker.
The Bushwacker, a novelty milky-sweet cocktail, is a rich, chocolaty concoction that closely resemble another tropical favorite, the piña colada. However, instead of citrusy notes from coconut and pineapple, Bushwackers often steer to the chocolate and coffee side of flavor profiles. It’s decadent—and it’s dangerously potent.
In 1975, the owner of the Sandshaker Bar, a famous beachside bar in Pensacola, Florida, visited Sapphire Beach Village on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. There, she discovered the magical Bushwacker and brought it back to her bar in the panhandle of Florida.
Today, Bushwackers are synonymous with the sugar white sands and crystal-clear blue waters of the Gulf, as many seaside bars and dives have blended up their own version of the famous drink.
If you ask what’s in a Bushwacker, be prepared for the runaround—and a long list of ingredients. Every blend is proprietary and closely guarded.
Kahlua and rum are mainstays, but some bartenders mix things up with vodka, even bourbon. Irish cream, crème de cacao, cream of coconut, and triple sec make appearances in some Bushwackers. Ice cream may be used in place of ice cubes and milk or half and half. Most are whirred up in a blender and finished with whipped cream and a sprinkle of nutmeg. Maraschino cherries even make an appearance from time to time.
“The Bushwacker is an incredibly delightful, creamy concoction of several kinds of liquors, liqueurs, and milk,” says Pat McClellan, owner of Flora-Bama in Pensacola, Florida. McClellan “bootlegged” his own Bushwacker recipe after many years as a regular at The Sandshaker Bar. “A Sunday regular, I’d often be there until closing when the owner would prepare her ‘secret’ recipe in Pony Kegs for the next week.”
McClellan’s Flora-Bama has one of the most popular Bushwackers on the Gulf coast. It’s so popular, in fact, people come to his waterfront restaurant and bar just for the boozy beverage.
“It became so popular that when we ran out of milk, we’d buy out the entire milk inventory at the supermarkets on both sides of the line, Alabama and Florida, on busy weekends such as Fourth of July,” he said.
Some bars and restaurants serve their Bushwackers thick and spoonable, like a Wendy’s Frosty or blended ice cream. For others, the consistency is closer to a milky slushy and entirely sippable.
There are as many variations on the Bushwacker as there are bars, and they’re as unique as the creative minds who put them together.
Even hundreds of miles from the nearest coast, Bushwackers have earned their spot on many bar and restaurant menus. In Nashville, for example, the drink has become a popular pick.
“The Bushwacker has been a mainstay of the Nashville bar scene for about a decade now,” says Austin Smith, owner of Nashville’s popular hot chicken restaurant, Party Fowl. “As a restaurant that’s known for hot chicken and cold drinks, it seemed like a no-brainer to include it on our menu.”
Because of their seriously sweet flavor, it’s easy to sip on Bushwackers without noticing how potent the cocktail can be.
Get the Recipe: Bushwacker
“They make you feel all cool and fuzzy inside,” says Phillip Moseley, one of the chefs and co-owners of Blue Oak BBQ in New Orleans.
Indeed, many Bushwacker first-timers quickly discover why locals and bartenders warn them to sip carefully, lest they get “bushwacked” on their first go.