Mixologists and tiki bums can argue endlessly over the origins and history of the controversial Mai Tai. With two contending claims for invention, and nearly a century of tinkering (and bastardization), it’s hard to define the right way to make one.
Most people hear Mai Tai and think of a cheap, disgusting Kool-Aid version that dominates hotel bars and beaches around the world. The drink, done well, actually has a very powerful range of flavor, and should be quite strong. Think of sailors on shore leave, looking for trouble. A memorable bar on Oahu will not serve more than two rounds, for liability reasons.
The commonly agreed “original” recipe by Trader Vic (from 1944) is a very simple combination of rum, lime, orgeat, and sugar syrup, designed to showcase a rare, special rum. It has no pineapple or orange, and with fewer flavors it is a very delicate balance of sour/sweet/boozy. I myself have a hard time striking the right vibe with Trader Vic’s recipe, and only very staunch mixologists will adhere religiously to this approach. Even Trader Vic’s restaurants now use pre-bottled mixes that veer away from this purist’s pursuit.
Another camp believe that Don the Beachcomber invented it in 1933, and his ingredients are much more varied (and obscure.. Falernum anyone?). It’s a more complex drink, and a little impractical for the amateur bartender.
My introduction to the Mai Tai happened at the Royal Hawaiian on Waikiki a few years back, and many memorable evenings at their beachfront Mai Tai bar have positioned their recipe as a personal favorite. So after much (joyful) experimentation, I’ve come up with my go-to, crowd-pleasing recipe, which is more or less my split between the two (and in my opinion, most similar to the Royal Hawaiian’s recipe). Still strong, still sour, but the extra juice broadens the flavors (and nullifies the addition of extra sugar syrup). Please forgive me, purist craft bartenders. I like what I like.
Note: I am currently in the process of experimenting with different rums, because I know I can do better than Bacardi and Meyers.. however these rums are easy to get and they work very well in this recipe. I’d love to hear any comments about stepping up my rums.
Corianton’s Mai Tai
1oz. Bacardi or any light rum
1 oz. gold rum (Mount Gay or Bacardi Gold, but not spiced)
1 oz. pineapple juice
1 oz. fresh lime juice
1 oz. fresh orange juice
1 tbsp. orange liquer (Orange curacao, Triple sec, etc.)
1 tsp. Orgeat
Garnish with cherry (hopefully bing!), mint, and pineapple wedge.
Float one more oz. Meyers dark rum on top and “Okole maluna,” or, “Bottoms up!”