We’ve done an original recipe for a Mai Tai in the past, as well as this tropical rum drink with Grand Marnier orange liqueur; but today, Chris is showing you how to make two versions: the official cocktail of Trader Vic fame and a slightly more modern version of this exotic cocktail.
Make sure to check out our other recipe for this tiki drink, too!
A good Mai Tai is not just a great deal at happy hour on Maui; it’s truly a delicious drink loved by cocktail enthusiasts and deserving of its stellar reputation, so let’s dive in and check out Chris’ versions of this classic cocktail.
BRIEF HISTORY OF THE MAI TAI
Legend has it that the name of this tropical concoction originated when its alleged creator, Victor J. Bergeron (AKA Trader Vic) served the super fun cocktail to a Tahitian friend. The friend tried this tropical rum drink and exclaimed, “Maita’i roa a’e,” which roughly translates to “out of this world!” The abbreviated name, “Mai Tai,” apparently stuck.
Of course, there’s usually some discrepancy when it comes to classic cocktails, and the Mai Tai is no exception. Apparently Victor Bergeron got his inspiration for a tiki-themed bar from Donn Beach and his original tiki bar from the 1930s, Don the Beachcomber.
So in 1944, when Vic Bergeron supposedly created the Mai Tai at Trader Vic’s, there was some dispute from Donn Beach about whether or not he actually created this complex cocktail. Well, the courts decided that the credit should go to Bergeron– so that’s the story, and we’re sticking to it!
For the record, the cocktail that Donn Beach was claiming to have originated is actually the Q.B. Cooler, which is remarkably similar. This might explain the confusion about how a Mai Tai “should” be made…
HOW TO MAKE A MAI TAI
Again, there are so many different versions of the Mai Tai, and we’re just bringing you two recipes today. Check out the video to see Chris make this excellent drink, two ways.
With all these tropical flavors, you’ll soon feel like your under a palm tree or in your own personal tiki bar!
MAI TAI INGREDIENTS
As with any classic cocktails, the fresher and less processed your ingredients are, the better it’s going to taste. As far as we’re concerned, fresher is always better, so try to use fresh squeezed lime juice and freshly-made syrups.
Notice that this isn’t a simple drink; there are a lot of ingredients to this complex rum cocktail, but these versions we’re sharing today are actually a little less complicated than many we’ve seen.
CHOOSING YOUR RUM
While the original recipe required 17-year-old rum (specifically J. Wray and Nephew Jamaican), I don’t think you have to get quite THAT specific when making this classic cocktail recipe. But a Jamaican rum would definitely be preferable if possible. And while the rum will be mixed with a variety of other ingredients, you should still use a good-quality rum, although it doesn’t need to be top-shelf.
Note that we’re using two types of rum today– This refreshing cocktail is a little strong! Our recipe calls for both white or light rum and dark rum blends, although we’re only using 1 ounce of each, plus 3/4 to 1 ounce orange liqueur. But while that’s already a lot of rum flavor, we’ve seen this recipe call for two ounces of each type of rum, making this popular cocktail a one-and-done drink.
Pronounced “or-zhot,” this fancy almond syrup has a nutty flavor profile and is usually found in the Mai Tai, although there are definitely recipes out there without it. This syrup adds a rich almond flavor that brings a lot of complexity to the drink.
Cocktails with orgeat syrup aren’t super common, so only buy a small bottle so that it doesn’t just sit in your liquor cabinet waiting for your next round of Mai Tais.
Even though neither of our recipe calls for simple syrup today, the Mai Tai is often made with a rich Demerara syrup – which is a sugar syrup made with a 2:1 ratio of Demerara sugar to water. However, we know it can sometimes be hard to find Demerara sugar in “normal” grocery stores.
But if your favorite Mai Tai recipe calls for it, the good news is you can make a reasonably good “fake” Demerara syrup by using brown sugar. Just follow the same ratio: Dissolve 2 parts brown sugar to 1 part hot water. (Be sure to cool it before using in cocktails.)
Of course, you can also use regular simple syrup with cane sugar, but it won’t bring as much body to this tropical drink.
MAI TAI VARIATIONS
As we’ve mentioned, there seem to be a million different ways to make a Mai Tai– and of course, these are only two options. There are others that really highlight the citrus flavors, especially the orange flavor when using orange juice. Others strongly feature passion fruit. Below are some common versions:
- Include pineapple juice and a fresh pineapple slice for garnish (see our alternate recipe below).
- We like orgeat syrup to balance the sugar in this sweet cocktail and really gives the classic flavor that you expect from a Mai Tai; it also produces a more complex flavor. BUT you can definitely eliminate it, especially if using a fruit purée. While your final cocktail won’t have the same almond notes, it will be richer and thicker with a purée, even without the syrup.
- If you do eliminate the almond orgeat, consider adding a couple drops of almond extract instead to get that authentic flavor.
- Garnishing this classic tiki cocktail with fresh mint leaves is very common, but you can get creative with your garnish! See how we even use an edible flower in one of ours today, emulating a Hawaiian lei.
- Infuse your simple syrup— Typically a rich syrup like Demerara is used (if any syrup at all), but you could also make a rosemary syrup or something else with a fun flavor profile that will play off the fruit juices.
- If you want to use less liquor, eliminate the orange liqueur (typically Cointreau), but add orange juice instead.
- The addition of cranberry juice will bring out more of a tart taste and balance of flavor for the sweetness.
- Sometimes you’ll see orange Curaçao called for in this tropical cocktail recipe as well.
- Use POG juice (passion orange guava).
- Add pineapple juice, orange juice, and grenadine. This will make it a much sweeter drink than Trader Vic’s classic rum cocktail.
- Use passionate fruit purée (or juice for a thinner mouthfeel and shorter prep time), either alone or with orange juice and/or grenadine.
- Make it a coconut version and use your favorite coconut rum instead of the traditional white rum.
Our Favorite Version of the Mai Tai: The Modern Mai Tai
Here at A Bar Above, we of course have big opinions about cocktails. And while the classic recipe is wonderful, our other recipe is the one that our resident bartender and head of education, Rob, served at his own wedding. So you know it’s gotta be good because Rob is picky about cocktails!
This one is a little more tropical because of the pineapple juice, which plays beautifully off the almond syrup.
- 1 ounce White Rum
- 1 ounce Cointreau
- 3/4 ounce Pineapple Juice
- 3/4 ounce Fresh Lime Juice
- 1/4 ounce Orgeat Syrup
- 1 ounce Dark Rum (for float)
- Fresh Mint Leaves (for garnish)
- Add the first 5 ingredients to your cocktail shaker with ice, and shake for about 10 seconds.
- Fine strain (double strain) into your double old-fashioned glass with crushed ice.
- Add your dark rum on top with a bar spoon for a dark rum float over the ice.
- Garnish with a lime wheel, a sprig of mint, and/or edible flowers.
OK, ready to enjoy this delicious drink? Grab your cocktail shaker, watch the video, and check out this excellent cocktail recipe below to make your own classic version or the recipe above for a more modern Mai Tai.
- 1 oz White Rum
- 3/4 oz Cointreau
- 3/4 oz Fresh Lime Juice
- 1/2 oz Orgeat
- 1 oz Dark Rum to float
- Combine the first 4 ingredients into smaller cocktail shaker with ice, and shake until properly mixed - about 10 secs.
- Double-strain with a Hawthorne cocktail strainer and fine mesh strainer into a Hurricane glass or double rocks glass/Old Fashioned glass over fresh pebble ice.
- Use your bar spoon to add the dark rum as a rum float across the top of the cocktail.
- Garnish with fresh mint sprig, orange slice, cocktail cherry, and/or lime wedge.