This is a drink with a great story that explains its unusual name and it all began in 1944 at Trader Vic's original location in Oakland, California. Victor Bergeron, one of the founders of the tiki cocktail culture, was very well known for his amazing rum cocktails and the mai tai is one of his creations. This recipe is a close adaptation of Bergeron's "original" recipe sourced from Beachbum Berry, a great resource for tiki cocktail history.
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Gather the ingredients.
Pour everything (do not strain) into an old-fashioned glass.
Garnish with a lime shell sunk into the ice and a sprig of fresh mint.
Serve and enjoy!
- The lime shell is a unique citrus garnish that can be found in a few tiki cocktails. It is, quite simply, a half of a lime that has been partially hollowed out with a reamer to create a bowl that floats in the drink.
- Some tiki drinks will fill the shell with overproof rum and light it on fire as well. It is a fun trick and should be executed with care.
The History of the Mai Tai
According to the story, one day at Trader Vic's Bergeron mixed up a new drink using "...17-year old Jamaican J. Wray Nephew rum, added fresh lime, some Orange Curacao from Holland, a dash of Rock Candy syrup, and a dollop of French Orgeat..." . He garnished it with lime and mint and served it to a friend visiting from Tahiti. After the first drink, the Tahitian phrase "Mai Tai - Roa Ae" ("Out of this world - The best!") was exclaimed and Bergeron had a name for his drink.
The rum that Bergeron used is no longer produced. Beachbum Berry has fantastic recommendations for both the light and dark rums: Rhum Clément VSOP Martinique Rum and Appleton Estate Extra Dark Jamaican Rum. If you cannot find those, there are many suitable alternatives.
Bergeron and other tiki bartenders were notorious for guarding their recipes against competitors. Over the years, their secrets slowly came out. However, just like every other story in the bar, there's a good possibility that even these so-called original recipes have been tweaked a few times.
Many interpretations on the mai tai pile layers of tropical fruit on top of rum. They range in color from a brilliant red to bright blue. It seems that, at one time, every bar in the tropics created their own rum cocktail and simply gave it the mai tai name.
This is not to say that any of the new mai tais are bad. In fact, many are quite delicious and just as appealing as the Bahama mama and blue Hawaiian. However, they are not the mai tai as it was originally intended and this is an important point to keep in mind. Many bar arguments have been started by questioning the real mai tai and, quite honestly, no one can really win that debate.
- One popular version of the mai tai is very similar to Bergeron's. To make it, shake 1 ounce of light rum with 1/2 ounce each of fresh lime juice, orange curaçao, and orgeat syrup. Strain into an old-fashioned glass with fresh ice and float 1 ounce dark rum on top, garnishing it with a cherry.
- Among the fruitier, "definitely-not-original" mai tai recipes, this version is a great drink that's worth mixing up: Shake 1 ounce of light rum, 1/2 ounce of triple sec, 1/4 ounce of lime juice, 1 1/2 ounces each of pineapple juice and orange juice, and a dash of grenadine with ice. Strain into an old-fashioned glass half-filled with ice, then float 1/2 ounce dark rum on top. Garnish it with a cherry.
How Strong Is a Mai Tai?
Beyond a couple of rums, the other thing most mai tai recipes have in common is that they're rather potent drinks. Generally, they mix up to about 20 percent ABV (40 proof) when made with 80 proof rum. Though they can get much stronger, some of the fruitiest recipes will be slightly lighter. This can be deceptive because the sweet fruit juice taste can trick you into drinking more than you might like. When you're enjoying the sun on a hot beach, that can be dangerous, so be sure to drink plenty of water along with any mai tai.