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How to Make the Perfect Mai Tai

Mai Tai is a strong rum cocktail that is so well known, pretty much all bars serve it. It is also one of those cocktails that has a plethora of variations. So much so, that no two Mai Tai that you drink in different places will taste the same. So, which is the best recipe for the Mai Tai? We will try to answer this question while detailing all things related to this classic cocktail.

Original Mai Tai Recipe from 1934

It took a while for Trader Vic to publicly announce his Mai Tai’s recipe. It finally appeared in 1972. However, the Jamaican rum Wray & Nephew 17 years as used by Trader Vic has been out of production since several decades.

If you carefully examine the original Mai Tai, you will notice that Trader Vic based this cocktail on the basic structure of a Sour cocktail. He took an alcohol and added to it sweet components and citrus juice in an approximate ratio of 2:1:1. This is a ratio where liqueurs and citrus juices only serve to lift and highlight the aromas of the rum.

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This is what Trader Vic had to say about his creation and his choice of rum.

The flavor of this great rum wasn’t meant to be overpowered with heavy additions of fruit juices and flavorings.

Victor Jules Bergeron Jr. aka Trader Vic; circa 1934

In other words, all that is needed to make the perfect Mai Tai is a suitable rum mixed with citrus juice and sweet syrup in the correct proportion. It is all about balancing the sweet and the sour in this cocktail!

Story behind Mai Tai

The Mai Tai was created in 1944 by Victor Bergeron, or so he said. Also known as “Trader Vic”, he was a famous bartender in San Francisco. In the original recipe used the 17 years old Jamaican rum brand Wray & Nephew. There were also no fruit juices in it.

Since the original rum is no longer available today, people try to achieve the same result with a mix of Jamaica and Martinique rums.

There was a legal dispute over the name Mai Tai because a man named “Don the Beachcomber” (the real original father of the Tiki cocktail movement) had a very similar drink called Mai Tai Swizzle. His recipe also contained Falernum liquor and grapefruit juice.

Good Mai Tai VS Bad Mai Tai

As with many rum cocktails, there are countless variations of the Mai Tai cocktail. Most amateur recipes water it down with lots of fruit juice thereby making it popular for parties. But at its heart, the Mai Tai is classic sour cocktail!

Since the original rum is not produced any more, the following recipe uses a mix of rums to achieve the perfect Mai Tai. The recipe is brilliant, but also quite expensive. The Trader Vic variant, on the other hand, is less complicated.

Best Mai Tai Recipe

mai tai cocktail with pineapple wedge lime and mint garnish
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5 from 1 vote

The Perfect Mai Tai

Mai Tai is essentially a sour cocktail where the sweet and sour elements in it contribute to highlight the flavor of the rum.
Prep Time6 mins
Total Time6 mins
Servings: 1 person

Ingredients

  • 30 ml fresh lime juice
  • 30 ml white rhum agricole e.g. Clément VSOP Martinique Rhum
  • 30 ml Dark Jamaican Rum e.g. Appleton Estate Extra Dark Rum
  • 15 ml orange curacao
  • 15 ml orgeat
  • 7.5 ml sugar syrup

Instructions

  • Shake at least 2 cups of crushed ice together with the ingredients in a shaker for 10 seconds.
  • Pour into a double tumbler without straining.
  • Garnish with sprig of mint and lime zest.

Best Rums for Mai Tai

As mentioned before, Mai Tai is all about finding a balance between rum(s) and the sweet-sour ingredients in this cocktail. You would have to try out an armada of rum combinations to be able to mimic the flavors in the original rum that was used. But that is impossible task.

Instead, you can follow the advise of cocktail experts from around the world. It is generally accepted that a combination of dark Jamaican rum and Martinique rum in 1:1 ratio creates a fantastic Mai Tai. In most cases rum from Martinique is a rhum agricole made from sugar cane juice instead of molasses.

Additionally, we do not recommend using Bacardi white or gold, Captain Morgan or similar rums for this Mai Tai recipe.

Recommended Jamaican + Martinique rum combo

Jamaican Rum

The 12-year-old Appleton dark Jamaican rum works extremely well in the Mai Tai. If you want a lesser expensive rum, then Appleton’s Signature Blend is the perfect alternative.

Martinique rum

Combine the above Jamaican rum with the matured Rhum Agricole from Clement or from Trois-Rivières. Both of these mix superbly in the Mai Tai.

Recommended Guyana + Jamaican + Martinique rum combo

Some famous tiki-centric bars even tend to use 3 different rums to form the alcohol base for this drink. An example here would be using Guyana rum, Jamaican rum and Martinique rum in 4:4:1 proportion.

Guyana Rum

The El Dorado 15 years old rum comes from Guyana and brings a strong flavor profile into a Mai Tai in addition to a striking sweetness.

Jamaican Rum

The Compagnie des Indes Jamaica 5 years old rum brings a handful of ester flavors into a Mai Tai. It thus provides a fruity and complex component to the drink.

Martinique rum

Combine the above rums with the matured Clément Rhum agricole blanc from Martinique. A rhum agricole gives the Mai Tai a beauty that elevates it from being merely good to being excellent. In other words, more refined and complex.

The recommended Triple Sec (Orange Liqueur)

Cointreau

Cointreau is the first orange liqueur that comes to mind. But since its use in the cocktail is very limited, it doesn’t make a world-changing difference as long as you don’t use bad quality one. You shouldn’t overdose it anyway. Otherwise the highlight of this Mai Tai recipe will be the orange liqueur instead of the rum.

A Bols Triple Sec is a significantly cheaper alternative.

High end Dry Curacaos and Triple Secs may enrich the cocktail and adjust it enough to further improve this drink. An example is the Ferrand Triple Sec.

Remaining ingredients

Orgeat syrup

Orgeat is a syrup with intense almond aroma. If you want an extraordinary Mai Tai, then you MUST use proper orgeat, for example from Monins.

As far as measures of sugar and limes are concerned, you are heavily dependent on the rums you use. Different rum combinations in the Mai Tai need a different interplay of sweetness and acidity. Unfortunately, perfectionists have to fine-tune themselves, unless they use our recipes precisely. But even then, the amount of lime juice still depends on the acidity in the lime. Therefore your measure of juice can also vary widely.

As for the garnish, a sprig of mint gives the Mai Tai an immense freshness. But lime zest or lime wedges look good too.

Recommended Tiki Cocktails

Zombie

Before the Mai Tai, Zombie was the most popular Tiki cocktail in the world. A delicious mix of different rums, fruit juices and bitters, this drink is “dangerously” tasty.

>> Best Zombie Recipes

1 thought on “How to Make the Perfect Mai Tai”

  1. 5 stars
    Thanks a lot for the great insight. I am a big fan of Mai Tai and found it real tough to get the right way to mix it up. Tried with two types of Havana club rums which also did a good job
    Super excited to try the 3 rum recipe. Cheers!

    Reply

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