Mai Tai

Mai Tai cocktail in a Nick & Nora glass

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime wheel or a sprig of mint and a boat load of fruit if you want to go totally Tiki.

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. Accept no substitute for the recipe above.

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 2 oz of gold rum will make a fine drink. Also, Trader Vic served his Mai Tais over shaved ice but we like ours chilled and served straight up.

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.

For the longest time the Mai Tai was the gold standard against which we compared other drinks. However, after some recent discoveries, it now has to share this place with at least the Bennett Cocktail and the Lumière.