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. The point I try to make is, there´s for example the Sazerac, if you added pineapple juice to it, or vanilla syrup, would it still be a Sazerac?

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…:-)


2 oz. Wray & nephew 17-year-old Jamaican rum
0.25 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.


1 oz Smith & Cross

1 oz Clemènt VSOP

0.25 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 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.


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


27 Replies to “SETTING THE MAI MAI STRAIGHT – A Mai Tai Rant”

  1. Tiare, I’m glad and relieved to hear that you, as a tiki expert, prefer Demerara rum in your Mai Tais.

    I just made/had my first Mai Tai this week – having sought out Appleton Estate 12 and Clement VSOP and Clement Creole Shrub per Rumdood’s recommendation and made my own Orgeat Syrup using the Erik Ellestad recipe that he suggested – and it was… fine. It was enjoyable, certainly, but not really worth the effort of tracking down those rums and straining the mountain of crushed almonds that Erik’s orgeat recipe calls for.

    But then I made another one using:
    1 oz El Dorado 15
    0.5 oz Appleton Estate 12
    0.5 oz Clement VSOP
    and this one was a lot better, maybe enough to justify all the effort. 🙂

    I’m now excited to try the other combinations with El Dorado that you suggested. Though next time I need to make Orgeat, I’m going to use a different recipe or just buy BG Reynolds – Erik’s recipe is too much work. 🙂

  2. Thank you for your research on all the tiki cocktails (my favorites). Whoever said that Martinique rhum and Guyana rums need to be used is not adhering to the 1972 original mai tai cocktail thinking. TV’s 1972 Bartenders Guide specifies 17 YO J. Wray & Nephew rum from Jamaica. Here’s my solution (and it works really well and is authentic): use 2 oz. Appleton 21 YO or Appleton 12 YO, or mix the two 1/2 & 1/2 to get 16.5 YO! So simple. But all the blogs incorrectly suggest using ED 12 plus S&C mix, that in my opinion is not authentic and doesn’t taste really special. Sure, you can add/delete/change anything you like, but it doesn’t come close to the “original” formula. If you want to taste the original, then try the following.
    This recipe is identical to yours (except for the blog rums) and identical to Trader Vic’s “original”:

    MAI TAI – TRADER VIC’s “1944” 26% ABV
    Jamaican aged rum, Holland curaçao, French orgeat, lime juice, rock candy syrup
    Truly balanced taste sensation, rum shines thru at finish. Wray & Nephew 17 YO rum is no longer available.
    Appleton 12 YO substituted.
    X1 or… @ $130 bottle 2 oz. Appleton 21. OMG, what a vastly unique and beautifully delicious cocktail! 25% ABV
    2 Appleton Rare (Jamaica 86 proof) $43
    ½ Bols orange curaçao (Holland 60 proof)
    1 fresh lime juice
    ¼ Giffards orgeat (France)
    ¼ rock candy syrup (Trader Vic’s)
    Shake 17 times with clear ice, pour all into mai tai glass, ½ lime shell atop, mint branch

  3. I have to agree as the Trader’s Vic is the better of the two. I use Appleton Signature, and Meyers as my two rums. Mix exactly as your recipe states, however, I have used .5 oz of Ginger Brandy, just to give it a little kick, Ginger Syrup but .25oz, can also be used. Try it, again always garnish with mint, pineapple quarter and cherry. CHEERS

  4. Hello I noticed on you original mia tai recipe you noted 0.05 oz orgeat and my guess is thats a typoh, did you mean 0.5 oz or 0.25? Because i keep seeing both measurements in mai tai recipes

  5. Hi MrCase, yeah it´s my rant anyway 🙂 just wanted in that post to set the Trader Vic`s recipe straight as the classic Mai Tai from all other versions with pineapple juice, amaretto and what not since the drink has been so bastardized and that still call themselves “Mai Tai”. My point is not that you cannot make versions, of course you can but that the versions should add something more to the name, for example “Hawaiian Mai Tai” or “Bitter mai Tai” etc.

    Don`s version which in Jeff Berry`s Tiki app is called Mai Tai Swizzle, says 1 oz (30 ml) of gold Cuban rum and 1.5 oz (45 ml) dark Jamaican rum.That recipe is the original drink by Donn Beach probably dating back to 1950s. The recipe is originally from the book “Hawaii Tropical Drinks and Cuisine by Don the Beachcomber”by Phoebe Beach and Arnold Bitner.

    The text in the app further states that the popularity of Trader Vic`s forced the Beachcomber to put a Mai Tai on the menu (which did not offer one until several years after Vic`s did) But that on the other hand his widow Phoebe Beach told them that he invented the Mai Tai swizzle in 1933 but that “it” was not one of his favorites.

    When I wrote that post back in 2012 I should have added the source for the DB recipe on my page but it`s almost identical to the 1950s recipe except for the ratios of Angostura bitters (2 dashes in my recipe and 1 dash in the 1950s) and pernod, (6 drops in the 1950s recipe and a dash in mine)


  6. Okay. So this is called a rant…?

    For Don’s version, should it not be 4,5 cl (f*** non metric systems) of Navy Style rum and 3 cl of gold Cuban rum?

    And if so, in what strength the Navy style rum? 68%?

  7. I sort of agree LC, it`s nice as long as the lime itself is not too sour…but I think the original 0.75 is just as good! but 1 oz is exactly what I get when I juice one lime 🙂

  8. Thanks for your comment Tom! I agree, the Denizen Merchant’s Reserve is a good rum! and so is Smith and Cross and Hamilton…I really like to use demerara rum in my Mai Tai´s 🙂

  9. The somewhat new Denizen Merchant’s Reserve rum is a blend of Jamican andMartinique (molasses not agricole) rums and lends itself perfectly to a Mai-Tai. I like my drinks to be rum forward so I sometimes cut the Denizen from 2oz to 1.5 and add Smith and Cross or a Demerara. If I’m really looking to amp it up I might add .5oz of Hamilton’s Overproof Demerara as the kicker. Love your blogs!!

  10. So sick of people putting pineapple juice into a bunch of rum and calling it a Mai Tai. Just had a “Mai Tai” at The Beach House in Kauai and was sorely disappointed in it. Again, one of those rum punch pineapple juice things that people call a Mai Tai. Never found a decent one on Maui and so far have not found one on Kauai. Will try Gaylord’s tomorrow. I heard theirs is the Trader Vic’s recipe. Good thing I can make a great one at home, in case we fail our quest.

  11. I had a Brazilian Mai Tai at The Yard House and it was on of the most perfect drinks I’ve ever had (except a well crafted Old Fashion). Soo I am in search of their recipe but will try myself to reproduce that wonderful memorable flavor from htte Yard House.

  12. 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..

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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!

  17. Well, 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

  18. 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…

  19. 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!

  20. @ 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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!

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