Mai Tai Makeover

The Secret Strength of the Original Tiki Drink


Don't let the ukuleles fool you. The Tiki trappings may be whimsical, but the Mai Tai -- a dark & light rum concoction that's the quintessential vacation-in-a-glass -- is one serious cocktail.

Created by Trader Vic Bergeron in the mid-1940s (and possibly first attempted by Don the Beachcomber in the 1930s), the true Mai Tai has spent decades being supplanted by lightweight imposters spiked with pineapple juice and colorful, sugary mixers. Now, slowly but surely, dedicated mixologists are returning the Polynesian king to its original form: The color of a polished bar, the aroma of great rum (Vic used a now-defunct 17-year-old rum from J. Wray & Nephew), and the power to knock you out in your hammock.

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  • Snooth User: Mark Angelillo
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    2 5,324

    Didn't know there was ever Orgeat in this!

    Jun 09, 2010 at 6:18 PM

  • Snooth User: Chris Carpita
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    33093 5,546

    Is orgeat standard, or a bit of flare in this recipe? I wouldn't have made the connection either.

    Jun 10, 2010 at 10:19 AM

  • Snooth User: nvansicklen
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    211788 552

    Trader Vic has now developed a restaurant chain. Somewhat tacky, but the Mai Tai's are special. I prefer making my Mai tai with shaved ice

    Jun 10, 2010 at 10:25 AM

  • Snooth User: Carly Wray
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    196958 864

    The orgeat comes straight from Vic's original back in the 1940s. Most modern incarnations include at least some element of almond flavor (I've had a few lately that sub creme de almond, to varying degrees of success).

    Jun 10, 2010 at 10:47 AM

  • Snooth User: Nicki Gig
    Hand of Snooth
    178306 4,217

    sounds tasty Carly. The first time I ever experienced a Mai Tai was when on vacation in Hawaii several years ago....amazing!

    Jun 11, 2010 at 10:55 AM

  • Snooth User: outthere
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    324443 4,227

    Likewise on the Orgeat. Simple syrup has been my staple and I float mine with a splash of dark rum. And how did you get the red color in the photo without Grenadine? Hmmm...

    Jun 15, 2010 at 7:01 PM

  • I work in thailand and here the most popular version of the mai tai contains huge amounts of grenadine, and not even orgeat or any almond flavor. any kind of juice goes in it... orange, pineapple... they're completely off the right recipe. sad.

    no grenadine is needed! and almond must be there... whether it's syrup, orgeat or amaretto.

    you need a nice float of dark spiced rum on top and you need nice crushed ice to keep that float beautiful

    and don't forget the mint sprig in the garnish! that's essential...

    Jun 26, 2010 at 12:03 AM

  • Snooth User: courgette
    124481 158

    Wow... I hope all you folks who never knew about orgeat in Mai-Tais run out and get some!

    I hadn't had a Mai-Tai for years, as I'd worked in too many places where the bartender just rolled his eyes, dumped every juice in the place into the glass with some rum, and tossed a cherry in at the end. A few years ago I was gripped with vintage cocktail fever, and started looking into some of the less-standard ingredients. I think it was a couple of intriguing recipes for homemade orgeat that got me thinking about Mai-Tais again.

    Looking into different brands (haven't made my own... yet), I wanted to avoid HFCS. Finally decided to get hold of some Routin 1883-- my first bottle was from an online coffee supplier: Then I discovered that a coffee supply co. here in Minneapolis carried it, and was willing to sell me a few bottles (I've also bought, from them, Routin's INCREDIBLE pomegranate syrup-- I would never use any lame grenadine again! This stuff makes you want to drink it straight out of the bottle).

    Anyhow, the orgeat MAKES it a Mai-Tai! I can't imagine using just simple syrup when you could get the mysterious flavor of orgeat in there. If I'd just been handed the drink and told to analyze it, I doubt I'd recognize it as "almond"-- it's a mysterious alchemy of rum, lime and orgeat that makes a truly unique flavor.

    And when the Mai-Tai season passes, you'll have orgeat to mix with hot milk for an excellent change from hot cocoa!

    Jul 01, 2010 at 7:18 PM

  • The Almond flavor is what set this drink apart, yet so suttle but its the most important item if you want a true Mai Tai!

    Sep 29, 2010 at 10:48 AM

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