Mai Tai

Mai Tai cocktail in a double old-fashioned tiki glass

Shake with a spent lime hull and four one-inch ice cubes (or equivalent). Pour unstrained into a double old-fashioned glass and top with an additional 8 oz of crushed ice. (Alternatively shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.) Garnish with a mint bouquet.

The Mai Tai was created by Trader Vic in 1944 in Emeryville, California. Apparently he had just acquired an entire distillery's worth of aged Jamaican rum and needed to come up with a really nice drink to put it to good use.

He succeeded!

In the 1950s he took the drink to Hawaii where they seem to have totally misunderstood the recipe. If you order one there it will come with pineapple juice and grenadine which is just not right.

While the Mai Tai is hailed as the king of Tiki drinks it is really just a simple rum sour with the sugar syrup replaced by orange curaçao liqueur and orgeat (almond) syrup. Trader Vic originally used 17 year-old Jamaican rum. We tried Denizen Merchant Reserve 8 year rum, developed at Smuggler's Cove as a close approximation to Trader Vic's original, but we didn't appreciate the Jamaican funkiness in the cocktail. Then we came across Lost Lake's version which still has the Jamaican funk but is not so overpowering. The recipe above is adapted from that but if you don't want to bother with all of the rums two oz of gold rum will make a fine drink.

We did notice a big difference when we used high quality orange curaçao. We recommend Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao which claims to be based on an original 19th century recipe. The taste of bitter orange really comes through with this liqueur. Regarding the type of lime to use, in a recent test of two Mai Tais side-by-side, one made with fresh Persian lime juice and one with fresh Key lime juice, we were unable to taste the difference.

Trader Vic served his Mai Tais over crushed ice in a double old-fashioned glass as shown above. This is indeed the traditional serving style. However, we feel this adds a little more dilution than we like and the recipe above also works very well shaken with ice and served straight up.