You wouldn't trust a skinny chef, and I'm drunk as hell

Cocktail Dissection: Mai Tai

The Mai Tai is a great cocktail that has been destroyed with everything except the kitchen sink being put in it, and when I say this, I’m INCLUDING pineapple juice/grenadine/other garbage.

The Mai Tai was invented (probably) by Victor Jules Bergeron aka Trader Vic in 1944, however it is said that Don the Beachcomber was serving them as early as 10 years before (1933)

Trader Vic was once quoted saying “Anybody who says I didn’t create this drink is a dirty stinker!” Language that I don’t care to argue with! I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Seeing as we’re talking about a quintisentially tiki drink, I think it’s nice to give a bit of history first. Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt AKA Don the beachcomber found himself in Southern California in December 1932 after travelling around the south pacific. Don managed to get a hold of a tailor shop which he promptly converted into a polynesian style restaurant, fully of quirky items that he had picked up on his travels, fishing nets and such.

News of this quirky place which he had named Don the Beachcomber quickly spread and it soon became a hangout for all things Hollywood. This was the first tiki hangout, and it was to spark a craze that still continues to this day.. somewhat.

A man was to visit this place, and it was this visit that created the inspiration to open his own tiki themed place. His name? Victor Bergeron, and thus Trader Vics was born. Palm trees for columns, tiny statues and tiki torches were all the rage.

These tiki bars all tried to outdo each other with more and more outrageous drinks with such names as “Tonga Surfrider” and “Sidewinder’s Fang” but one evening in 1944 Trader Vics created a delicious, suprisingly well balanced cocktail – The Mai Tai.

Fun fact: A Mai Tai was the first thing asked for by Patty Hearst, the Symbionese Liberation Army kidnapee turned co-conspirator, upon her release on bail in 1976.

The name by the way comes from a Tahiti couple who, upon tasting it, exclaimed “Mai Tai-Roa Ae” which in Tahitian means “Out of this world – the best!”

Quote from Vic in 1970, I’m going to paraphrase quite heavily cause its quite long. “I took down a bottle of [Dark 17 yr old Wray and Nephew – no longer in existance] … I took a fresh lime, added some orange Curacao from Holland, a dash of Rock Candy Syrup, and a dollop of French Orgeat”

Thats it, no more fancy bells and whistles other than that. I like to use 3 types of rum, because I find you get a real deapth of flavour that you can’t get by using just one type. I also like to add a dash of angostura to bring all of the flavours together.

For me, tiki drinks are all about lots of rums, lots of garnishes and lots of big awesome flavours working in harmony together, hopefully I’ve accomplished that here.

So without further adue, here is my recipe:

Mai Tai (Vic’s Recipe, My Formula)

20ml White Rum (A rhum agricole works well, but el dorado 3 or havana blanco just as well. Sub in some overproof for an even bigger punch.)
20ml Gold Rum (Preferably a demerara rum, but havana especial or appleton v/x work well)
20ml Orange Curacao (Any brand’ll do, I used cartron)
20ml Lime Juice
10ml Orgeat (monin is fine here)
Sugar syrup to taste (sometimes none, sometimes 10ml)
1 Dash angostura

Dark Rum Float (about 10ml) (Myers is nice here, or if you can afford it, one of the more expensive ones, zacapa 23 or diplomatico make it really special)

Shake and strain all but dark rum, float dark rum, serve on rocks, preferably in a tiki mug, but in whatever really.

This may seem a little sweet to the classic drinkers out there (don’t get me wrong, a 2-1-1 side car is delicious) but trust me, it balances fantastically. Feel free to play around with the formulas.

Garnish with a lime and any other tiki ornaments you like, pineapple and (real!) cherries are nice.

That’s it for todays cocktail dissection, hope that Mai Tai was suitably nice for your expectations. See you on Thursday for part 2 of What to Drink: Vermouth!

Thanks to Diffords Guide #9 By Simon Difford
And a Bottle of rum by Wayne Curtis


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