I have been “investigating” the Mai Tai for a couple of months. It is an elusive beast. The most elusive part is the gathering of ingredients. Atlanta has a number of very good liquor stores, but getting the desired/optimal pieces for this relatively simple drink has been a pain in the butt.
As stated, the mai tai is a simple drink. It has a storied history and many different interpretations. Beachbum Berry and Martin Cate go over the details in their exceptionally fine tiki drink books. The original 1944 Trader Vic recipe is just rum, lime juice, curacao, simple syrup and orgeat syrup ( an almond based syrup ).
My main procurement issues were looking for specific rums and trying to find a decent orgeat ( no high fructose corn syrup was my primary requirement ). I should have broken down and just made the orgeat ( or ordered from amazon ). It is not that difficult and I have the tools to do it pretty easily, but I kept seeing different types of orgeat during my rum quests and would try them. I am not sure if I have solved this problem yet, but I have tried a couple that have done well ( Gifford and Luxardo ).
The rums needed for the drink can be complicated. The original one ( Wray & Nephew 17 yr ) has been discontinued for a while. The mixology historians above have done a good job in tracing the the various rums used in the drinks over the years. After the Wray & Nephew went away, Trader Vic decided on a mix of two different rums, a darker aged Jamaican rum and a Martinique Rhum Agricole. It is a real complex story, but this is the basic gist. In Martin Cate’s book, he classifies rums by distillation method and aging. This gives the ability to simplify the recipes and the rum requirements for the many tiki drinks.
I already had El Dorado 12 on hand as it was the favorite rum brand of my old boss and is very tasty. That was on the list for the Blended Aged (to fulfill the aged Jamaican rum requirement ). The Rhum Agricole was pretty easy to find as Clement Single Barrel is in most of the bigger liquor stores here. This allowed me to try out these and other rums in my early Mai Tai attempts.
The main issue I had with the basic ingredients was the inability to find the overproof rum for the 151 floater that, while not canon, is an optional accessory. Bacardi 151 and J Wray & Nephew Overproof are pretty standard at the stores, but they are unaged and not appropriate for the style. Lemon Hart and Hamilton are desired rums for this task. And I could not find them anywhere. I was able to find Smith and Cross in the Navy Strength and I used that to make some flames, but not really a 151. I sent friends in the suburbs looking at their local stores for me, but still nothing. Finally, after a few months of searching, I found a stash of Hamilton ( 86 and 151 ) at Tower Package on Piedmont, I believe. The bottle of 151 is going to last for a long time.
Then, as with everything else, I wanted to optimize. Inspired by the Facebook Tiki Recipes group, I dove into more internet research. This lead to trying to find the prefered Appleton Estate Dark. Appleton Estate is a very popular high end rum. I was on Team El Dorado, so I didn’t have much experience with them. Their bottles are all the same distinctive shape and color with just changes to the name on the label. All similar names with no real gradation until you get to the years old stage. Names like Signature Blend, Reserve Blend, Rare Blend 12 yr Old, 21 yr Old and 50 yr old. Not to mention V/X, which I think was renamed to Signature. But no Dark anywhere! Turns out Dark is actually the Rare Blend ( thanks tiki recipes facebook group! ) and not hard to find. And this produced a very tasty Mai Tai…
Then I found out about Denizen’s Merchant Reserve! This is a rum that Martin Cate worked on with Denizen’s to try and reproduce the original mixture of rums.
And not in my nearest local stores. But, I was able to get back to Tower and found it there. As I was making Mai Tai gift bags for several Christmas presents for friends, I proceeded to buy most of their stock.
It also makes a very tasty Mai Tai.
Mai Tai Obsession Recipe #1
( based on the 1944 Trader Vic recipe in Beachbum Berry’s Grog Log )
Even with my desire to find the optimal ingredients, I don’t follow the recipe very well. I add more of both syrups than called for ( I like it a little sweeter, but it is not a sweet drink ) and more of the curacao. The lime juice I like to have between 3/4 – 1 oz, but this is dependant on the amount of juice produced by the lime. Sometimes half a lime will make 3/4 oz and others a whole lime is used to get closer to 1 oz.
So, like every other recipe, it only works until you get punched in the face.
- 2 oz Denizen’s Merchant reserve ( or equal parts Clement SB and Appleton Rare )
- 1 oz Pierre Ferrand Curaçao ( it is worth it, but other curaçaos, Cointreau or G. Marnier will work )
- 3/4 oz of lime juice
- 1/2 oz orgeat syrup
- 1/2 oz simple syrup
- mint, for garnish
Shake with crushed ice and strain into a glass filled with finely crushed ice.
Garnish with spent lime shell and SPANKED MINT!
— Alternate finish
Turn your spent lime shell upside down and fill with Hamilton 151. catch on fire. don’t burn your mint leaves! Or burn your house down.
Use flames responsibly. This blog is not responsible for any accidents.