When you think of Tiki cocktails, there's no way not to talk about the Mai Tai. It's one of the most famous Rum & Tiki cocktails and a favorite of many.
But the Mai Tai had its issues in the past and still has some today. In an effort to be creative, the fruity Rum cocktail often got mixed with cheap bottled juice. That ruined the initial objective of this drink, which was to highlight the Rum.
So let's see how you can make an original Mai Tai that showcases the Rum and be as fruity as it is delicious.
Ingredients of the Mai Tai
The iconic Mai Tai is made with a base of white and dark Rum blended with Orange Curaçao, lime juice, and orgeat.
To make it perfect, you need to keep some things in mind. Also, if you don't know what orgeat is or are more familiar with Blue Curaçao and not so much with its orange counterpart... we've got you covered.
The best Rum for a Mai Tai
The original recipe by Trader Vic asked for Jamaican Rum. To be precise, J. Wray & Nephew Rum ought to be used. (If Trader Vic means nothing to you, scroll down to read more about the Tiki culture icon.)
However, at some point, Victor ran out of it and had to get creative. He began to blend different Rums to create something that had a similar flavor profile to J. Wray & Nephew.
The never-ending search for the perfect Rum base
This experimental blending is still a common practice when mixing a Mai Tai. Bartenders all around the globe experiment with different Rums and Rum combinations to find the one that makes the drink perfect.
A typical approach is the blend of dark overproof Rum with white Rum. And following Trader Vic's example, there are many experiments with Jamaican Rums, too.
The important part is that there is not only one feasible solution. You can create a beautiful Mai Tai in many ways. So, blended, non-blended, aged, or unaged Rum, all options have great-Mai Tai potential.
Still, I personally prefer a split base of dark and white Rum. It adds some complexity which a great Mai Tai definitely can handle.
My preferred choice is Havana Club 3 years for the white Rum and Plantation O.F.T.D. Overproof Rum for the dark Rum. They truly deliver amazing value for money.
Unfortunately, the Cuban Rum is hard to get in the US. So when you look for a Rum to mix up a Mai Tai, ensure it is well-balanced. For instance, there's a Puerto Rican Havana Club version I can recommend.
Orange Curaçao in a Mai Tai
Curaçao is a liqueur flavored with peels of premature oranges. And it's a key ingredient in various tropical cocktail creations - mainly known for the Blue ones such as the Blue Lagoon or the Swimming Pool.
The main difference between Orange Curaçao and Blue Curaçao is, in fact, the color. Sometimes the orange version can be slightly drier. But in the end, that depends on the brand and the product.
However, visuals are not to be disregarded in mixology. So think twice before substituting Orange Curaçao with a blue version you have left on your shelf.
Instead, you can consider using Triple Sec as a substitute if you don't have Orange Curaçao on hand.
Orgeat - the almond syrup
The milky white syrup adds a lot of flavor to your Mai Tai. And it is not only imperative for a classic Mai Tai but also for many other Tiki cocktails.
There's only one thing to say about the lime juice: It needs to be freshly squeezed! Store-bought lime juice is an effective way to ruin your drink - and that is not only true for the Mai Tai but for cocktails in general.
Mai Tai garnish and crushed ice
Crushed ice and Mai Tai are a winning combination. Also, it makes the drink look better. However, the garnish part is a bit trickier.
Most cocktails have one or two standard ways to be garnished. A Mai Tai, in turn, offers a lot more possibilities. There are very classy approaches using only a sprig of mint and optionally a lime wheel.
Others get creative with slices of pineapple, cocktail cherries, or combinations of the above.
History of the Mai Tai
As with other famous drinks, many people claim the invention of the Mai Tai for themselves. The most told and one of the more credible stories is that the tropical drink is a creation of Tiki legend Victor Bergeron alias Trader Vic.
Allegedly, he invented the cocktail in the 1940s in his Bar Trader Vic in San Francisco.
But even if the first appearance was indeed at Trader Vic, it was a guy named Donn Beach who probably created the base for this cocktail.
Donn Beach is another legend in the western Tiki culture business and Trader Vic's biggest rival. Apparently, he served a quite similar drink during the 1930s in his Beachcomber bar in Hollywood.
- 1.5 oz White Rum
- 0.75 oz Orange Curacao
- 0.75 oz Lime juice
- 0.5 oz Orgeat
- 0.5 oz Dark, aged Rum
- Put all ingredients except the aged Rum into a cocktail shaker with crushed ice.
- Shake it gently for 2-5 seconds.
- Pour it into a double old fashioned glass.
- Add your garnish, and your Mai Tai is ready to be served.
Want to try a special version of this classic? Try our spooky Halloween version, the Black 'N Bloody Mai Tai. Or, if you are looking for more Tiki Cocktails, the Rum Runner and the Planter's Punch are great options, too.