With the Hawaiian surf scene in full swing, and as they often do this time of year, our minds turn to the classic tropical cocktail, the Mai Tai.
The Mai Tai holds two places of meaning in our collective hearts: As mentioned above with Hawaii and that oh so special connection to a sunset Mai Tai, or three, at the Turtle Bay pool bar (we think it’s called The Point or some other such nonsense), and with the Newport Beach mainstay, Billy’s at the Beach.
Given the proximity to our office, Billy’s has served up a fair share of these babies to the staff and we can report first hand that they know how to mix ‘um up right
But before we get into the ‘fixins, a little history.
The cocktail was reportedly invented in 1944 by Victor Bergeron, who later became the famous restauranteur, “Trader Vic.” The drink was so popular it actually depleted world rum supplies in the 40s and ’50s, or so the legend goes. However, there is some disagreement as to who actually created the original recipe.
We like Vic’s story.
In the early 1950s the shipping company, Matson Steamship Line, hired Vic to oversee the drink making for the legendary bars of the Royal Hawaiian and Moana Surfrider hotels in Waikiki. When Bergeron added fresh orange and pineapple juice to his recipe for a more tourist-friendly cocktail, the modern-day Mai Tai was born.
The Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai quickly became synonymous with tropical paradise.
In 2007, the Bar at the Merchant Hotel in Belfast, Northern Ireland, achieved notoriety for selling the most expensive cocktail ever offered: a $1,475 Trader Vic’s original recipe Mai Tai, featuring the 17-year-old Wray and Nephew rum that was used in the 40s. And they sold a lot of them!
It’s easy to fuck up a Mai Tai (We’ll get into that below) and as with many drinks it often comes down to the details like the quality of the booze, the garnishes, etc. Also, it should be noted that this drink does need a bit of a disclaimer prior to imbibing: It’s a sugar bomb that kicks like a mule the next day. Moderation is your friend. Trust us on this.
The modern Mai Tai:
3 oz. light rum
3 oz. dark rum
1 oz. orange curacao (or Grand Marnier)
2 oz. pineapple juice (fresh is amazing if you can do it)
2 oz. guava juice
2 oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 oz. orgeat syrup (almond syrup with orange or rose, you can get it in the mixer section)
1 oz. simple syrup or rock candy syrup
crushed mint leaves to garnish (very important)
pineapple wedges for garnish
lime wedge to garnish
Put all liquid ingredients in cocktail shaker.
Fill two high ball glasses with shaved ice.
Strain into two glasses.
Crush the mint leaves between your fingers and float on the top of the drink. It is important to really mash up the mint leaves because they help blend all the flavors together. Try not to skip the fresh mint as it really is a big part of the drink.
Garnish with a lime wedge. Pineapple wedge is optional. Billy’s drops in a cherry.
A few items of note:
Fresh juices are critical. When squeezing, don’t smash too hard. Simply extract the juice, not the bitter pith.
Historically, there was no “dark rum” float. At the San Francisco Trader Vic’s there was a regular customer who liked his with a float of 151 rum. The staff called it “Old Way,” and not because it was an older recipe, but literally because the patron was an old fart!
Trader Vic’s does not use umbrellas. Vic didn’t like ‘um, and they were never in his Mai Tais.
The Mai Tai is simply garnished with half of a spent lime shell and a fresh mint sprig, designed to look like a small island and palm tree floating across the sea.
If you really want to do it right, go old school and look for some Appleton Estate Reserve Blend or Denizen Merchant’s Reserve rum and follow this link for an original recipe version.
The drink is not blended. It’s shaken, but do not shake with the lime in the shaker — it extracts too many oils and bitterness into the drink, and the peel should not be sunk. It’s meant to be rested on top.
Crushed ice is key. Not cubes.
Of course, always drink responsibly and never operate a motor vehicle after drinking alcoholic beverages.