The Mai Tai is in the royalty of the Tiki cocktails. As I mentioned I have a pretty serious Tiki obsession. You may find ordering a Mai Tai out in the real world at a non Tiki bar or a craft cocktail bar can take some courage the first time or two. Although, if you are looking to catch the eye of that person at the bar by saying “I don’t conform.” This will do it. Order one and it is almost a guarantee the crowd will follow. This is a cocktail that whisks you and the bar to the exotic islands. It really helps that is one of the best cocktails there is.
There are just too many Mai Tai recipes out there, this is the classic. I like to make these because they let them me show off my Tiki skills. This Mai Tai is from a Mai Tai master and goof frind Mike. H recommends the Denizen 8 year rum as it carries all the weight of a Jamaican Rum, and the elegance of Rhum Agricole
If you are not familiar a Mai Tai is a legendary drink from the 1930’s Tiki movement. A Mai Tai is Rums, Rons, Rhums, and more Rums, Rons and Rhums with orange curacao, a magical substance called Orgeat, and juices. Mai Tai’s usually come all pretty with umbrellas, and fruit, with mint and a straw. Embrace the exotica but take your time with a Mai Tai it can be delicious trouble in a beautiful glass. One more positive note, one may find holding a Mai Tai in many situations makes you the center of attention, as it should.
Classic Mai Tai
Rum. Orgeat. Orange Curacao. Lime.
How to make a classic Mai Tai
Mai Tai usually come all pretty with umbrellas, and fruit, with mint and a straw. worth the work, embrace the exotica.
- 2 oz Denizen 8 year rum
- 1/2 oz Orange Curacao
- 1/4 oz Simple Syrup
- 1/4 oz Orgeat Syrup
- Garnish Lime wedge, mint sprig, umbrella, pineapple frond.
Add all to a cocktail shaker.
Shake well with crushed ice.
Dump all into a old fashioned glass.
Top with ice.
Garnish Lime wedge, mint sprig, umbrella, pineapple frond.
The Gods of Tiki
Here is where I need to apologize. Real Tiki drinks are not simple, they are not the “life hack” internet easy so common today. If you find a post that maybe says, “5 simple Tiki drinks”, they probably loosely based on the original concept. I am not saying are bad. In all likelihood they are great drinks, just not true to form Tiki cocktails. After making so many traditional Tiki cocktails, I will proclaim making them worth the effort. But make no mistake there is effort.
Rhums, Rums, Rons and What the Heck is Donns Mix?
Many Tiki drinks use 3 and up to 5 different rums. The call is oddly specific, so having all the rums is a real expensive pain. You can sub in other rums, but a black strap rum, sadly is not replaceable with a captain Morgan spiced. Also you will either have to buy or make things like Donns Mix, Orgeat, Allspice Dram, Fashionola, or Pearl Driver Mix. I’m a bit of a purist, but I cheat on this stuff too, so I’ll try to offer recommendations if there a riff or substitution. The difference in Rum, Ron or Rhum is the country of origin. It turns out in the rum world the flavor of a rum has almost nothing to do with the color, but nearly everything to do with where it is produced.
Luckily TIKI and tropical drinks are strong and the flavor profile is very forgiving, if you don’t have an ingredient and substitute, usually you will be okay. A substitute will usually taste great, and it will still suggest the flavor of the original. I riff Tiki drinks nine ways to Sunday, and within the reasonable bounds of the cocktail they are always good, usually fantastic.
Tale of Two Bartenders
This is not my story, but it is well researched. In fact there are several cocktail books that do a fantastic job of explaining the story of Donn Beach (born Ernest Gantt) and Trader Vic (Victor Bergeron Jr.). The basic gist is these two very successful bar owners were also fierce competitors, and exceptional showmen in their own right. Each bar, Don the Beachcomber, and Trader Vic’s are iconic and legendary bars that created the Tiki culture. While they shared a style, they did not share recipes. Quite the opposite. Unlike today where a recipe is plastered all over the internet, (guilty as charged here) their recipes were fiercely guarded. But guarding a recipe can only take you so far.
In addition they had secret ingredients in their drinks. Little mixes and concoctions that had special names, and ingredients only a trusted few knew. These ingredients are not complex, but important. I will share how to make many, but some you may want to buy.
Why bother with these shenanigans? In the 1950’s a bartender with the knowledge to make their wildly popular yet proprietary drinks could make a lot of money elsewhere. Sadly these recipes were lost until a research author Jeff “Beach Bum” Berry spent years meticulously uncovering them. Only recently have all these ingredients been known.
This level of secrecy has its benefits, but it has its downsides too. As the actual ingredients were a secret, bartenders all over the world just made their version of the cocktails with the same name and passed them off as the real thing. Think about unless you have been to the actual bars, how would you really know.
Navy Grog, Mai Tai, & the Zombie
The most popular Tiki drink is probably the Mai Tai. Until I started making my own I thought a Mai Tai was just a rum punch. Basically, fruit juice and strong rum. It is also so much more. Once I had a real Mai Tai, I was hooked, the other big drinks were the Navy Grog and the Zombie. A zombie is my absolute favorite Tiki drink, if you were wondering. These three are the trinity of Tiki. There are many more but this is the holy three. You will find these secret elixirs from the past are amazingly delicious.