Cocktail Recipes/Mai Tai

Mai Tai

The Mai Tai is arguably one of the most famous drinks in the world. Sipped on by beachgoers and wannabe vacationers alike, its tropical ingredients pull the drinker back to warm sandy beaches and palm fronds.

The Mai Tais that line the bars in your average restaurant bear little resemblance to the original though, which is stout in its appropriation of alcohol, and garishly colored only by its display of sweet fresh fruit.

Perfect for parties, vacations, and staycations, the original Mai Tai recipe is endlessly customizable, hopelessly refreshing, and packs an unexpected punch that newcomers to the drink typically aren’t expecting.

What Is a Mai Tai?

The Mai Tai is a rum cocktail, shaken and served over crushed ice. The traditional Mai Tai recipe is made with two different types of rum, dark and light, and is incredibly strong compared to the watered down drinks that adorn the modern casual bar.

Mai Tai Recipe

Serving size: 1 drink

Drink strength:  26 % ABV

Prep time: <15 minutes

Equipment needed:

  • A lowball glass
  • Cocktail shaker

Ingredients:

  • 4 oz white rum 
  • 2 oz dark rum
  • 1 ½ oz orange curacao
  • 1 ½ oz orgeat syrup
  • 1 oz fresh lime juice
  • Crushed ice
  • Optional: cherry, mint sprig, and umbrella for garnish

Directions:

  1. Blend white rum, orange curacao, orgeat syrup, and fresh lime juice in a shaker without the ice for a few seconds.
  2. Pour the mixture over a lowball glass filled with crushed ice.
  3. Pour the dark rum over the top without mixing.
  4. Garnish and serve.

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The History of the Mai Tai Cocktail

The name Mai Tai comes from the Tahitian word for “excellence”, maita'i.

Like most cocktails, the inventor of the Mai Tai has been disputed. Most pay credit to Victor Bergeron, also known as “Trader Vic”, owner of Trader Vic’s bar in Oakland, California. Trader Vic claims to have invented the cocktail at his bar in 1944, though Don Beach, aka Don the Beachcomber, claims to have invented at the very least a very similar cocktail in 1933, which he claims was the original Mai Tai.

In any case, like so many excellent cocktails, the Mai Tai seems to have been the result of running out of supplies to make something similar. Trader Vic claimed that once he ran out of his supply of a particular type of rum, that he began mixing other rums together to get a similar taste, and the Mai Tai was born.

Whatever the case may be, the birthplace of the Mai Tai seems to have settled on sunny California, and we feel the drink’s homestate is pretty fitting of this cocktail’s beach bum vibe.

Mai Tai Ingredients

The Mai Tai is a complicated cocktail as it includes two different types of rum, one typically dark, and the other lighter and aged. It also includes a few mixers that send most people running to the store to find, and they’re not always available in your typical bar aisle. Orange curacao is a liqueur made from the bitter rind of a citrus fruit from the island of Curaçao. This isn’t quite the same thing as your typical orange liqueur — swapping curacao for triple sec isn’t advisable.

The Mai Tai also includes orgeat syrup, a drink sweetener made from almonds and rosewater. Fresh lime juice sets it all off, and an extra wedge is usually kept on hand to accompany a cherry or sprig of mint in the garnishings on this drink.

What Is the Best Rum for a Mai Tai Drink?

Mai Tais are traditionally made with a blend of two different rums, usually one that’s dark with an intense and mildly sweet flavor, and one anejo, or aged rum, typically golden or silver in color. 

The interest and complexity of a Mai Tai lies largely in the balance between these two rums, and it’s here where you’ll find your preferences get to play a little. While even this traditional Mai Tai recipe has some countenance of sweetness and flavoring, it’s worth noting that this recipe may be far more spartan than the colorful drinks you’re used to having.

Choose a duo of rums that are smooth and pleasant enough to drink on their own, and balance the intense flavor of the darker rum with a mild, less overpowering one in the aged rum.

Over and over again, the crowd favorite for Mai Tai rum combinations is Appleton Estate 12-year Aged Rum and Clement VSOP Rhum. In case you’ve ever wondered about the meaning of VSOP, it stands for “Very Superior (or “Special”) Old Pale” and has been aged for more than 4 years.

Mai Tai Recipe Variations You Can Try

Mai Tais are endlessly customized with tropical fruit flavors and heaping garnishes. There are a few variations on the staple Mai Tai recipe though that have earned themselves a lot of fanfare:

Trader Vic Mai Tai recipe: The original Trader Vic Mai Tai recipe to which this famous drink’s origins are credited includes 2 ounces of 17-year old J. Wray Nephew Jamaican Rum, and ¼ oz rock candy syrup, in addition to its other ingredients.

Hawaiian Mai Tai recipe: This classic tiki-style Mai Tai recipe is made much like Trader Vic’s, with a ½ oz of sugar cane juice in place of the rock candy syrup, an ounce of pineapple juice, a splash of vanilla simple syrup, and garnished with a heavy wedge of fresh pineapple.

Virgin Mai Tai recipe: Since the majority of a Mai Tai is alcohol, the virgin version of the recipe is mostly juice as a replacement. You’ll need two cups of pineapple juice, one cup of orange juice, one cup of club soda, and ¼ cup of coconut cream for this non-alcoholic Mai Tai recipe. Serve over crushed ice with plenty of fruit for garnish.

Pineapple Mai Tai recipe: The pineapple version of the Mai Tai cocktail recipe includes four ounces each of orange and pineapple juices, and just one ounce of each rum, with a splash of cherry grenadine, and an ounce of orange liqueur.

Bali Hai Mai Tai recipe: The Bali Hai Mai Tai is notoriously strong and bears the closest resemblance to the original Trader Vic Mai Tai recipe. The one exception would be the addition of the splash of sweet and sour mix in place of the lime juice, and tendency for enthusiastic bartenders to free-pour the rum into the concoction.

How to Make Mai Tais

Tracking down the right ingredients is probably the hardest part about making a mixologist-quality Mai Tai. The orange curacao can be hard to come by, and the orgeat syrup is absolutely essential to the flavor of the Mai Tai.

Once you’re able to track your ingredients down, it’s simply a matter of figuring out how many you can make before you start to run out of curacao.

To get started, you’ll need:

  • A lowball glass
  • Cocktail shaker
  • 4 oz white rum 
  • 2 oz dark rum
  • 1 ½ oz orange curacao
  • 1 ½ oz orgeat syrup
  • 1 oz fresh lime juice
  • Crushed ice
  • Optional: cherry, mint sprig, and umbrella for garnish
    1. Fill a lowball glass to the brim with crushed ice and set aside.
    2. Blend white rum, orange curacao, orgeat syrup, and fresh lime juice in a shaker without the ice for a few seconds.
    3. Pour the shaker into your lowball glass. Then pour the dark rum over the top without mixing.
    4. Adorn the drink with your favorite garnishes, nestling them on top of the ice.

Enjoy promptly.

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If you like this drink, try:

Long Island Iced Tea recipe

Cosmopolitan recipe

Margarita recipe

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