Last week, we started our month of Tiki drinks with one of our own creations, but today we’re going back to basics: the Classic Mai Tai. The Mai Tai is the consummate Tiki drink: layers of different rums and citrus and nutty sweetness. It’s simpler to make at home than its reputation suggests. And it’s so, so good. – Andrew
Illustration by Shauna Lynn for Oh So Beautiful Paper
The Mai Tai
Combine all the ingredients in a shaker with just a bit of ice. Shake lightly and strain into a lowball glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with a bunch of mint, a lime wheel, and any tropical fruit that tickles your fancy. Enjoy!
Like so many drinks, the Mai Tai’s true origins are almost certainly lost to history. Two of the great fathers of Tiki laid claim to it, both Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic, sometime in the 1930s or 1940s. Even worse, the original recipe is lost too. I tried to dig up the closest I could find to the original, classic recipe, to cut through all of the unnecessary innovations that Tiki recipes accumulated in the dark days of the 1970s through 1990s, but I came up empty. There are versions with pineapple juice and orange juice, versions with rock candy syrup and grenadine, all kinds of a mess.
But the oldest recipes were consistent in a few ways: they combined light and dark rums, lime, orange liqueur, and almond-flavored orgeat. So that’s what I went with. Three kinds of rum, lime, orgeat, and dry curaçao – a recently resurrected, archaic orange liqueur that’s perfect for Tiki. I also threw in some Angostura bitters which, made in Trinidad, have a tropical spiciness that’s also perfectly suited for Tiki drinks.
This Mai Tai is beautifully layered and complex, sweet and tart and rich. It’s smooth, but all that rum and citrus leaves a hint of a rough edge. A Mai Tai looks pretty complicated, with all those moving parts, but it’s basically a fancy Daiquiri: rum, lime, and sugar. Easier than it looks.
(Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram, where we’ve been posting our experiments before they make their way onto this column!)
Glassware by Liquorary
Photo Credits: Nole Garey for Oh So Beautiful Paper