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SETTING THE MAI MAI STRAIGHT – A Mai Tai Rant

Aloooha everyone! –  it´s Mai Tai time…or rather – it´s Mai Tai rant time…

How many times does this need to be said??? – a Mai Tai is rum, orange curacao, lime, orgeat, simple or rock candy syrup and mint! and sometimes a spent lime shell in the shaker and glass. NOTHING MORE! really!!! PERIOD.

That said – it doesn`t mean you cannot make variations of it with say a Brazilian nut orgeat and call it a Brazilian Mai Tai – for example – but that`s the difference – a Mai Tai is a Mai Tai and a twist of it is another drink – like a cousin and a cousin needs a slightly different name. When making a twist, stick to the original recipe as your foundation and don`t change it so much that it´s not based on a Mai Tai anymore.

In my opinion you can NOT add amaretto, grenadine, pineapple or/ and orange juice and call it a Mai Tai – call them something + Mai Tai or give the drink an entirely new name.

And i`m not saying that you cannot add a piece of pineapple or cherry in the garnish either – i like cherries…But if you wanna be really a purist, it´s only mint and a spent lime shell – but NEVER go astray from the original recipe if you wanna call it a Mai Tai.

There`s the Trader Vic´s Mai Tai and there`s Donn the Beachcomber`s Mai Tai which is a quite different drink to Vic´s containing grapefruit juice, falernum, pernod and angostura bitters. I`m not gonna go into the never ending debate about Vic`s versus Donn`s and there´s an excellent article on that topic in Beachbum Berry´s Remixed. But my conclusion is that Vic´s recipe is THE Mai Tai.

It`s clear that too many bars still serves various crap they call a Mai Tai, on the upside is that over the past years there´s many good bars now that actually serves the traditional Trader Vic´s Mai Tai. But the battle is still  on!

Just look at this parody on a Mai Tai…looking like strawberry lemonade fully dressed with sparkling fireworks – it´s a friend of mine, John Gibbons over at Cocktailcloister (thanks for the picture) who was served this one in Istanbul while desperatly searching for decent cocktails…

This is NOT how a Mai Tai should be…and if you read the menu you`ll see they have no clue what a Mai Tai is…


Wanna read the history of the Mai Tai? go here. Wanna read about rum combos? go here. And wanna read about even more rum combos? go here. Wanna read what Jeff says? go here. Not enough yet? well go here…:-)

THE ORIGINAL TRADER VIC`S MAI TAI (as it used to be)

2 oz. Wray & nephew 17-year-old Jamaican rum
0.5 oz. French Garnier Orgeat
0.5 oz. Holland DeKuyper orange Curacao
0.25 oz. Rock Candy Syrup
Juice from one fresh lime

Shake everything with ice and strain into a double old-fashioned glass full of crushed ice. Garnish with half the spent lime shell inside the drink and a sprig of fresh mint at the edge of the glass. Place a straw or two near the mint – short straws..we want some mint fragrance up the nose don´t we? and don´t forget to spank the mint first to release the fragrance like perfume..

We all know there´s no 17 yo Jwray available anymore so instead we use different rum combos, and one common combo is 1 oz. Appleton Extra and 1 oz. Clemént VSOP or St. James Hors d`age. Equal parts jamaican and martinique rums approximates the character and flavor of the long-gone 17-year old Wray & Nephew.

Another combo i like to use is with demerara rum, either a demerara and a jamaican or only demerara, to me that is heaven in a glass and the Silver Seal 15 yo makes the ultimate Mai Tai i think.

The goal here is not to try to get as close as you can to the 17 yo Jwray & Nephew but to punch it up a notch with that distinctive smoky and heavy demerara flavor. El Dorado 12 and 15 yo are perfect examples of good demerara rum.

Yet another perfectly tasty combo is the “made for Mai Tai`s” Jamaican rum Smith and Cross…paired with Rhum JM VSOP. Also Coruba dark works well.

As for the orange curacao i`d recommend orange curacao from curacao or if you can´t get the original curacao use cointreau and cut it just a little bit since it´s stronger and will easily mess up the Mai Tai if too much is used. It`s not an original Mai Tai with cointreau though so try get the orange curacao if you can.

Trader Vic first used DuKuyper but did actually change to Bols because he liked it better, but the original recipe always had orange curacao. More sweet and less dry and bitter and also cheap is Triple sec, but that´s not what i prefer. Also Clement Creole Shrubb works well.

MAI TAI


1 oz Smith & Cross

1 oz Clemènt VSOP

0.05 oz. orgeat

0.5 oz. orange curacao

0.25 oz. simple syrup

1 oz fresh lime juice

Mint sprig and lime shell for garnish. And in my case a cherry too since i love to snack on them when the drink is finished…preferably fresh brandied cherries that is – not the red abominations you find in a jar.

That`s it – Mai Tai. This drink is a bullet proof drink, even people who doesn´t like rum usually like this because it´s balanced, simple  and good – you can’t improve on perfection…

DON THE BEACHCOMER

Don Beach or Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt did invent a drink that he called Mai Tai but it never reached that fame and shortly disappeared from his menu.

Don Beach is the man who invented many of the classsic tikidrinks like the Zombie, the Navy Grog and Missionary`s downfall, (one of my fav tiki drinks) as well as the whole concept of exotic polynesian style restaurants, known as tiki bars.

DON THE BEACHCOMBER`S MAI TAI

1.5 oz Myer’s plantation rum (you may sub Appleton)

1 oz Cuban rum ( sub British navy-style rum)

0.75 oz fresh lime juice

1 oz fresh grapefruit juice

0.25 oz falernum

0.5 oz cointreau

2 dashes angostura bitters

1 dash pernod

Shell of squeezed lime

1 cup of cracked ice

Shake for 1 minute. Serve in a double old-fashioned glass. Garnish with four sprigs of mint. Add a spear of pineapple. Sip slowly through mint sprigs until desired effect results.

I find this drink just a tad sour so i add 1/4 oz simple syrup to it, but that can also have something to do with how tart your grapefruits and limes are.

But among the two Mai Tais i really prefer Vic`s Mai Tai, there is a reason why it was the one that gained such popularity and now is one of the classics. It has such a balance and yet is very simple. That doesn`t mean that i consider Don Beach Mai Tai a bad drink, oh no, its tasty too.

I close this topic now and move on to another… in my next post i will make a few Mai Tai twists that you can make without ruining the drink by transforming it into a cloingly sweet and/or slushy “tropical” abomination.

My dream job? judging a Mai Tai contest…

Sugarcane bar

 

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12 comments to SETTING THE MAI MAI STRAIGHT – A Mai Tai Rant

  • I’m with you! The Trader Vic’s Mai Tai is the original and the best. To me pineapple juice, grenadine, and/or orange juice make it a Hawaiian Mai Tai. Those can still be tasty, if made right, but they are not an original Mai Tai. They should have the clarification on the name. The “Mai Tai” with the fireworks made me laugh. It just goes to show you never know what you are going to get. It is really exciting that quality cocktails are making a come back so hopefully more and more of those concoctions giving the mai tai a bad name will disappear. Great post!

  • Thanks for the rant. Around here in Aloha Land folks are apt to call anything that’s orange with rum and a float of dark rum on top a Mai Tai. Someone said they had a great Mai Tai the other night with basil in it. Ouch.

  • paleiko

    @ Tiare

    0,5 oz Fresh Lime Juice in your Mai-Tai-Receipe (the one with the Smith & Cross) is a litte less, don´t you think? Is this a typo? I think 1 oz to 1,25 oz is more suitable.

  • You said it all. A Mai Tai isn’t a Mai Tai unless it’s made (as close to) the original way. Too many times I’ve tried ordering one, only to get pineapple juice and Bacardi garnished with a chunk of pineapple.

    The worst I ever had seemed to be Hawaiian Punch and some cheap rum. The best, however, has been at the Mai Kai in Fort Lauderdale. With a perfect balance along with a fresh mint sprig and an orchid as garnish, I think it would be pretty difficult to find a better, more original-tasting Mai Tai anywhere today.

    Great article buddy…it needed to be said!

  • Tiare, and you know I’m a big fan, allow me to defer to Berry at the link you provided. In his book (and other quotations) Berry states:

    “[i]Don The Beachcomber invented a drink he called the Mai Tai Swizzle in 1933, but it seems to have disappeared from his menu sometime before 1937.

    Strong evidence suggests that Trader Vic developed his own Mai Tai, without any knowledge of Donn’s, in 1944.

    Equally strong evidence suggests that Vic was aware of Donn’s; for the whole tangled history, check out pages 64 through 72 of our latest book…[/i]”

    Fine and dandy. A complete reading makes clear that the original (meaning first) Mai Tai was indeed that of Donn Beach in 1933. It was not until 11 years later that Trader Vic (who admits he copied Beach’s Tiki style, praised Beach highly, and was aware of Beach’s Mai Tai) modified it to suit his own taste.

    The fact that Beach removed it from his menu some years before, while Vic kept it on his to this day is likely the main reason why Vic’s modification became the icon.

    Berry himself makes clear that while Donn Beach invented the Mai Tai, he prefers Vic’s later version as the better recipe. According to Wayne Curtis (“And a Bottle of Rum”) a newspaperman who was having drinks with both Beach and Bergeron around 1970, stated that in this company, Vic admitted that Donn was indeed the inventor of the Mai Tai.

    Your witness, lol…

  • Well, Jimbo..here we go again lol..WHO made the Mai Tai:-)well, my opinion is that Vic made THE Mai Tai in the sense that his drink is the one that survived so to speak and became the quintessential Mai Tai, and also it is much better. Both of them made their own Mai Tais and one of them became popular enough to survive until today as the original Mai Tai. But we still refer to “Trader Vic´s Mai Tai” or “Donn Beach Mai Tai”

    Anyway, the point in this post and also the topic isn`t who made it but HOW to make it right!;-D

  • Damon – this thing that “you never know what you`ll get” is really a terrible thing! when you order a classic cocktail you really should know exactly what to expect…

    Jill Marie Landis – I hope one day that anything that’s orange with rum and a float of dark rum on top will NOT be called a Mai Tai…that`s why i wrote this post, we need to keep telling people how it should be done in order to make a change.Seems like it cannot be said too often..

    paleiko – yes it was a typo of course, thank you!

    Tiki Chris Pinto – it`s so nice to hear about bars that makes it right!

  • Michael

    Great article and I agree with every word. However there is one small but important Mai Tai detail I feel needs to be pointed out:

    If using *homemade* orgeat, serious consideration should be given to dropping the sugar syrup in favour of 0.75 oz orgeat. I think the idea of using only 0.5 oz of orgeat comes from bartenders using powerful almond-heavy commercial orgeat syrup. Homemade is so much better and makes a heavenly Mai Tai (particularly with 2 oz of Banks 10 year or El Dorado 12 year). However to get the full flavour slightly more definitely needs to be used.

  • A fine rant. I like the Trader Tiki orgeat in the Trader Vic but tend to pull back the lime just a bit if the fruit’s large so I can taste everything. Anybody know what orgeat they use in the Trade Vic’s restaurants Stateside? Delicious Mai Tai (I drank three in Portland) but heavily almond-scented.

  • Hey Towen,
    I suspect the orgeat used in your Trader Vic’s Mai Tai is there own brand, since they sell it. I used it for many years until I learned to make my own.

  • Jack – that sounds just very logic, and especially if it has a very strong almond flavor..
    I prefer to make my own or use our good friend Blair`s aka TraderTiki aka B:G Reynolds..

  • [...] somos mineiros), e vamos aproveitar o Mixology Monday desse mês para hastear a bandeira do Mai Tai original no carnaval! E, de quebra, apresentar nossa versão (sem groselha, é claro) inspirada no [...]

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