You’ll find dozens of variants to the Mai Tai recipe. Some are great while others are not, but don’t be surprised to see others calling for the addition of amaretto, falernum, bitters, grenadine, orange juice, and more. We’ve added our two favourites below!
Mai Tai’s are one of the few drinks where you can’t be too ostentatious with the garnish. Over-the-top is expected. Pineapple, lime, mint, cherries – go with whatever floats your boat.
Blending, or picking rums
The original Trader Vic’s recipe featured Jamaica’s J. Wray & Nephew Rum, which is what we've gone with above. Most modern recipes call for blending rums due to the fact that when Bergeron (AKA, Trader Vic) ran out of his supply, he too moved to blending rums in an attempt to create a similar flavour profile. If you can't get hold of an overproof Jamaican Rum, it's a good way to build the depth of flavour.
If you are going to do it and blend your own (or use a recipe that calls for multiple rums), consider their respective ABV's, the production methods (pot or column), the kind of maturation (age) and the raw materials (molasses or Agricole) used. Getting it spot-on is an endless quest so have fun and keep experimenting!
AN ABRIDGED, INEBRIATED HISTORY:
Victor J. Bergeron invented the Mai Tai in 1944 at his restaurant, Trader Vic's, in Oakland, California (one of the key bars that propelled the Tiki cocktail scene). The are numerous records that recounts the time he made a drink for his friend Carrie Guild and upon sipping it she said, "Mai Tai-Roa Aé.". In Tahitian this means "Out of this world - the best." Based off this - he named the drink "Mai Tai".
As with most cocktails in history, the Mai Tai’s Origins aren’t as straight forward as they first seem though. Trader Vic's forerunner, Donn Beach (of Don the Beachcomber's Bar) claims to have instead first created it in the 30’s, and that Vic copied his drink. There’s some merit in the claim that Bergeron was trying to recreate Beach’s drink, especially given how similar Trader Vic’s entire bar concept was to the Beachcomber. That said, the recipes are be different, the ingredients are different and the end result - while similar - is clearly a novel piece of work.
In our opinion, there can be no doubt that Trader Vic made something different and that he and Carrie Guild were the ones who named it the Mai Tai. This is accepted fact, to the point that Trader Vic won a lawsuit against Don for releasing a rival Don The Beachcomber's Mai Tai Mix (that had a claim on the label that he was the drink's originator).
Below are some variations on the classic recipe. The first is more akin to the Beachcomber drink referred to above, the latter is how we make it when there is no Uncle Wray in the house and need to blend rums.