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Saturday Morning Inspiration: A Time for Choosing [WeirdDave] | Main | Open Thread to Get Your Hate On [Y-not]
May 10, 2014

Food Thread: Special Addition -- The Mai Tai [Top.Man]

Please welcome Moron Top.Man back from his generation-long quest for the perfect tropical drink. He has spent years in an open boat, lashed by the wind and the waves, fighting off sharks with just a drink umbrella, traveling from beach-side bar to beach-side bar, seeking the best in the world. [CBD]


Mai Tai. The name translates to "the best" and, for those of a certain age, conjures images of tropical shores, scantily-clad wahines, and the music of Martin Denny.

maitai finished drink.JPG

So, how do we make one? Start by gathering whatever juices you have in the fridge - orange, grapefruit, pineapple, whatever. Now pour all that crap down the sink. None of it has any business in a proper Mai Tai.

The Mai Tai was invented by Vic "Trader Vic" Bergeron in or around 1944. Other parties claimed to have invented it, but Vic received an out-of-court settlement related to the authorship of the drink, so we'll go with that. I refer you to Remixed by Jeff "Beachbum" Berry for the definitive history. (His books are must-haves for any Tiki drink enthusiast.)

The original Vic's recipe is simple:

1 oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice
2 oz. J Wray & Nephew 17-year rum
1/2 oz. Garnier Curacao
1/4 oz. orgeat
1/4 oz. rock candy syrup

Shake with 1 cup shaved ice, pour into a double highball glass, garnish with a generous sprig of mint.

Unfortunately, we'll never know how Vic's original tasted because the rum and the Curacao he used are no longer available. However, we can whip up a damned tasty drink with what we can find on the shelf at the local store in the spirit of the original recipe.

We'll get to the rums in a minute, but first we need to talk about the other ingredients.

Lime Juice

Fresh-squeezed only. No substitutes! Be picky when you shop for limes - smooth peel = juicier, bumpy peel = not so juicy. Put them in the fridge as soon as you get them home, they'll only keep for about a week at room temperature.

Squeeze your limes by hand, you want to get some of the oils from the peel into the juice - this is important! Use some sort of mechanical squeezer to get all the juice you can.

Squeeze only what you will use immediately. The juice will only keep for a couple of hours at room temperature before naughty things start growing in it. You can keep it in the fridge for about a day in a covered container, or for about a month if you freeze it.

These days it may be more cost-effective to use Key Limes thanks to The Great Lime Shortage of 2014. That's ok, you'll just have to squeeze a lot more of them to get the same amount of juice.

Rock Candy Syrup

This is a straight sugar syrup, saturated to the point that the sugar almost starts to precipitate into rock candy crystals. However, this is a pain in the ass to make, so we'll go with Rich Simple Syrup instead - 2 parts sugar to 1 part water. Combine in a saucepan over low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Don't let it boil! Let cool in the pan, then transfer to a handy container for pouring. It will keep about a month in the fridge. You'll know it has gone bad when you see mold growing on the surface.

I use organic sugar because I think the slight molasses flavor works well in rum drinks, but plain old white sugar is OK.

Orgeat (pronounced or-ZHAW, it's French dontcha know!)

Orgeat is an almond syrup to which a very slight amount of floral water has been added. Monin and Torani are widely available; I prefer Monin because I find Torani to be too sweet and too strong. Just scale back a bit on the amounts of orgeat and simple syrup if you can only get Torani.

Add about 1/4 teaspoon of orange blossom water to the bottle if you go with either of these syrups. Shake the bottle a few times, then sniff. You should get subtle floral hints. Add a bit more orange blossom water if necessary. I prefer Cortas brand orange blossom water because it contains no alcohol. You can find it in middle-eastern markets or on Amazon (hit Ace's link!).


That said, you really should just make your own orgeat. There's a labor-intensive way that produces a great result, or there's an easy way which produces a really good result. I don't bother with store-bought syrups anymore, it's that easy.

Orange Curacao

Curacao is an orange liqueur, usually 60 proof, usually based on either a brandy or a neutral spirit. I use Senior brand which actually comes from the island of Curacao, but it can be hard to find. Bols is the best of the commodity brands - avoid Hiram Walker and De Kuyper, you're better off substituting something like Cointreau if those are the only brands you can find.

There's no flavor difference between clear, orange and blue curacao, it's just dye. That said, you don't want to use blue in a Mai Tai, that's just wrong....

A quick word about spirits

Always use quality spirits in your cocktails. Don't be fooled by marketing - there's a certain best-selling white rum that's little better than vodka. You do NOT want it in your Mai Tai. Or your bar. Or even in your neighborhood.

This doesn't mean that you must use expensive spirits. There are some very affordable, very good spirits out there, it just takes a bit of research to find them. When in doubt, ask!

Garnish - slap your mint!

If you're lucky enough to have fresh spearmint in your garden then that's what you want to use. However, if you have fresh mint in your garden then every waking moment is probably spent trying to keep it from taking over the entire yard, a process that usually involves explosives and a flamethrower.

You can use the mint you find in blister packs in the grocery store, but you have to do a bit of prep work: rinse it in cold water, then wrap it in a wet paper towel. Place that in a plastic bag and refrigerate for a day. This will rehydrate the mint.

Select a generous sprig to garnish your Mai Tai, but slap it between your hands a couple of times before you place it into the glass. This releases the mint oils which you want to smell as you sip your drink.

Now that we're all juiced- and syruped-up we're ready to get shaking. We'll start with an "economy" Mai Tai that's very good and uses one commonly available rum:

The Budget Mai Tai


1 oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice
2 oz. Appleton V/X
1/2 oz. Bols curacao (not blue!)
1/4 oz. orgeat
1/4 oz. rich simple syrup.

Shake 10 seconds with 1 cup (8 oz.) crushed ice, pour into a double highball glass, garnish with mint (slap the mint!). Add a bit more simple syrup or lime juice if it tastes too tart or too sweet - limes vary.

Appleton V/X is a very nice amber Jamaican rum that isn't very expensive (and frequently goes on sale). It's a good rum to have on-hand because it works well in many recipes.

The Trader Vic Tribute Mai Tai

This is where we channel our inner Tiki. It's also where we take a serious hit to the bank balance. It's also not for everyone due to the Martinique rum.


1 oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 oz. El Dorado 12 OR Appleton Extra (12-year)
1 oz. Rhum Clement VSOP
1/2 oz. Senior Curacao
1/4 oz. Emergency Orgeat
1/4 oz. rich simple syrup

Shake 10 seconds with 1 cup (8 oz.) crushed ice, pour into a double highball glass, garnish with mint (slap the mint!). Adjust lime/sugar if necessary.

Vic ran out of the original Wray & Nephew so the recipe transitioned to 1 oz. dark Jamaican rum and 1 oz. gold Martinique rum. There are plenty of good choices out there nowadays, so here are a couple of suggestions. El Dorado 12 is a demerara rum from Guyana that is very rich and very mixable, and is reasonably easy to find. Appleton Extra is a 12-year-old dark Jamaican rum that is equally good but hard to find currently due to a change in distributors. Either is excellent in this recipe. Both rums are spendy.

Rhum Clement is an aged Martinique agricole rum. It's made from sugar cane pressings, rather than the molasses base which is used for just about every other rum. This technique gives the rum a distinct grassy aftertaste which is kind of funky. I'm not a fan - yet. I usually substitute Appleton V/X when I'm not in the mood for funk.



That's all there is to it! Feel free to experiment with the rums - the general rule of thumb is to use one dark rum and one amber rum. If you're not sure then open the bottles, put both together under your nose and sniff. If it smells good, do it!


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posted by Open Blogger at 11:42 AM

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