Mai Tais

Mai Tais

Gecko Tiki Ku Ali'i Edition

Gecko Tiki Ku Ali’i Edition

Long before The Vintage Cocktail Project and our interest in classic cocktails, D and I were infatuated with tiki drinks and culture. The first cocktail book we ever purchased was Beachbum Berry Remixed and we have an ever-increasing collection of tiki mugs.

Tiki Mug Collection

Tiki Mug Collection

Recently our focus on prohibition-era drinks has relegated tropical cocktails to the back-burner, but thanks to a recent heat wave D and I spent the weekend revisiting the Polynesian pop culture prevalent in 1950s America.

We decided to start with the most iconic drink of the era, the Mai Tai, but which one? Multiple individuals have claimed authorship over the Mai Tai and dozens of recipes exist for the bevvy. The two most likely creators are Victor Jules Bergeron Jr. aka Trader Vic and Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt aka Don the Beachcomber. The question of authorship is highly contested and seems to divide the world of tiki enthusiasts into factions. Not wanting to take a side, D and I figured we’d better test both recipes.

Trader Vic’s Mai Tai calls for orgeat, a sweet and gently floral almond syrup, whilst Don the Beachcomber’s Mai Tai Swizzle calls for falernum, a spicy syrup made with lime, almonds, ginger, and clove. Both syrups are available commercially but most aficionados agree that these products are of mediocre quality, lacking nuance and invariably excessively sweet. With this in mind we took a day to make our own orgeat and falernum with fantastic results.

We invited several guests over to sample the fruits of our labor. We started with Trader Vic’s Mai Tai, which was met with rave reviews.

Trader Vic's Mai Tai

Trader Vic’s Mai Tai

Our friend A declared it “the best cocktail I ever had!” Unlike the Mai Tais found in places like Hawaii this drink is shaken, not built, and is thus uniform in color. When I handed D his bevvy he looked disappointed and requested a 151 floater. In the spirit of fidelity to the recipe he was denied. But once he tasted the drink his faith was restored. The bevy is a delight, sweet but tart with orange undertones and an almost creamy texture from the orgeat.

Next up was Don the Beachcomber’s Mai Tai Swizzle. Despite the names and the fact that both drinks contain rum and lime, the two concoctions are not at all similar. The Mai Tai Swizzle is much spicier, thanks to the delectable falernum, and packs a much stronger punch. D was immediately won over, preferring the assertive flavors of this version.

Don the Beachcomber’s Mai Tai Swizzle

Don the Beachcomber’s Mai Tai Swizzle

Our guests were divided, with half the votes going to Trader Vic and half to Don the Beachcomber. The origins of the Mai Tai remain up there with such mysteries as who killed Kennedy, but by golly, with drinks this good we are simply happy that they exist!

I had one more recipe to try before the night was done, a contemporary spin on the Mai Tai by Brooklyn bartender Jeremy Oertel, using Campari as the predominant spirit. I had been excitedly anticipating this Bitter Mai Tai for several weeks and felt somewhat deflated by the results. The Campari dominates and refuses to marry with the other flavors.

Bitter Mai Tai

Bitter Mai Tai

D was also underwhelmed but suggested that it might have been better when not served directly opposite two stunning versions of the Mai Tai. Only one of our guests was enamored with this drink, preferring it because it is not at all sweet. She also loved the color, equating it to raspberry, whereas all I could conjure was Pepto Bismol. I feel I will need to give this drink a second chance on a fresh palate as it was not at all the masterpiece I had hoped it would be.

Trader Vic’s Mai Tai:

  • 1 ounce fresh lime juice
  • .5 ounce orange Curacao (we used Pierre Ferrand)
  • .25 ounce orgeat
  • .25 ounce simple syrup
  • 1 ounce dark Jamaican Rum (we used Myers’s Plantation Punch)
  • 1 ounce amber Martinique Rum (we had to substitute Angostura 1919)
Angostura 1919

Angostura 1919

Shake over crushed ice. Pour contents, including ice, into a double old-fashioned glass. Garnish with mint.

Don the Beachcomber’s Mai Tai Swizzle:

  • 1 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
  • .75 ounce fresh lime juice
  • .5 ounce Cointreau
  • .25 ounce falernum
  • 1.5 ounce Myers’ Plantation Rum
  • 1 ounce Cuban rum (we used Havana Club 7 year)
  • 6 drops Pernod (we used an eyedropper and measure 1ml)
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters
Myers’s Plantation Punch

Myers’s Plantation Punch

Shake over crushed ice. Pour contents, including ice, into a double old-fashioned glass. Garnish with mint.

Bitter Mai Tai:

  • 1.5 ounces Campari
  • .75 ounce Jamaican rum (we used Myers’s Plantation Punch)
  • .5 orange Curacao (we used Pierre Ferrand)
  • 1 ounce fresh lime juice
  • .75 ounce orgeat
Oragne Curacao

Orange Curacao

Shake over ice. Strain into a double old-fashioned glass. Fill with crushed ice.

Tiki nights we can't remember with friends we can't forget

Tiki nights we can’t remember with friends we can’t forget


Beachbum Berry Remixed: A Gallery of Tiki Drinks’s

3 thoughts on “Mai Tais

  1. Pingback: Homemade Falernum | Vintage Cocktail Project

  2. Pingback: Homemade Orgeat | Vintage Cocktail Project

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