In the Spirit

Mai Tai

Just another reason to drink rum

By Tony Cross

I’ve got way too many bottles of rum in my closet. Yes, my liquor “cabinet” is a closet — judge if you must. All that rum got me thinking about the drinks I’ll be whipping up this summer, and that got me thinking about the classic Mai Tai. (A mind is a terrible thing to waste.)

Jeff “Beachbum” Berry explains in his book Beachbum Berry Remixed — A Gallery of Tiki Drinks how the origin of the Mai Tai cocktail has been debated over time: “The Mai Tai war has raged for over half a century, and it ain’t over yet,” Berry writes. “Bandleader Harry Owens claimed he introduced the Mai Tai to the world in 1954. Trader Vic claimed he invented the Mai Tai in 1944, and in 1970 won a court case to prove it. That verdict aside, Donn Beach’s widow, Phoebe Beach, insists that Donn invented the Mai Tai in 1933.”

Berry goes on to explain the battle that Victor Bergeron (Trader Vic) pursued and won in court. He also explains Phoebe Beach’s claims, but ultimately settles on Trader Vic being the first to put it on his menu. Berry says that although Donn Beach may have created it, there’s no proof of the Mai Tai popping up on any menu in the 1930s.

So, what’s in a Mai Tai, anyway? There are several recipes below, but the main ingredients are the same: Jamaican and Martinique rums, lime juice (and wedge), orange curaçao, mint and orgeat. The last ingredient, orgeat (pronounced “or-zha”), is a syrup made from almonds. It’s great in a ton of tiki drinks and is also a key ingredient in the classic Japanese Cocktail.


Mai Tai

(Trader Vic recipe)

1 ounce fresh lime juice

1/2 ounce orange curaçao

1/4 ounce orgeat

1/4 ounce sugar syrup

1 ounce dark Jamaican rum

1 ounce amber Martinique rum

Shake well with plenty of crushed ice. Pour unstrained into a double old-fashioned glass. Sink your spent lime shell into the drink. Garnish with a mint sprig.


Mai Tai

(From Shannon Mustipher’s book
Tiki — Modern Tropical Cocktails)

2 ounces aged rum

1/2 ounce rhum agricole blanc 100 proof

1/2 ounce orange curaçao

1/2 ounce orgeat

1/2 ounce lime juice, lime shell reserved

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with cubed ice. Shake and dump into a double rocks glass. Garnish with a mint sprig and the reserved lime shell.


Mai Tai

(From Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails)

1 lime wedge

1 ounce El Dorado 15-year rum

1 ounce Appleton Estate V/X rum

1/4 ounce La Favorite Rhum Agricole Blanc

1/2 ounce Rhum Clément Créole Shrubb

3/4 ounce orgeat

1 dash Angostura bitters

Squeeze a lime wedge into a shaker and drop it in. Add the remaining ingredients and short shake with 3 ice cubes. Strain into a snifter filled with crushed ice. Garnish with the mint bouquet and serve with a straw.

There will always be variations on the classics. In the Trader Vic recipe, there’s only 1/4 ounce of orgeat (adding another 1/4 of simple syrup), yet the Death & Co Mai Tai uses 3/4 of an ounce. The use of different rums (even though they are still from Jamaica and Martinique) make for subtle changes on the palate as well.

Last, but not least, the orgeat. Here is Death & Co’s recipe, but feel free to look online or at other great cocktail books and try another. With D&C, your finished product will keep for one month refrigerated.



12 ounces toasted almond milk (see below)

16 ounces superfine sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons Pierre Ferrand Ambre Cognac (substitute
if necessary)

2 1/2 teaspoons Lazzarone Amaretto (substitute if necessary)

1/4 teaspoon rose water

In a saucepan, combine the almond milk and sugar. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally and without bringing to a boil, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in the Cognac, amaretto, and rose water. Store in the refrigerator.


Toasted Almond Milk

1 cup blanched sliced almonds

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons warm water

In a large, dry saucepan, toast the almonds over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until golden brown. Transfer to a blender and add the water. Pulse until the almonds are finely chopped, then blend for 2 minutes. Strain through a cheesecloth-lined sieve (a nut milk bag will do the job and save you a lot of mess).   PS

Tony Cross is a bartender (well, ex-bartender) who runs cocktail catering company Reverie Cocktails in Southern Pines.

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