Mai Tai

The Mai Tai is not a red drink.  I repeat, if you order a Mai Tai in a restaurant or bar, and if they bring you something red, it is not a Mai Tai.  It is the color of rum, luxuriant amber.  All other ingredients do not change the color, only slightly clouding it.

Tiara (from said it well:

“A Mai Tai is a Mai Tai and a twist of it is another drink – like a cousin and a cousin needs a slightly different name. When making a twist, stick to the original recipe as your foundation and don`t change it so much that it´s not based on a Mai Tai anymore.  In my opinion you can NOT add amaretto, grenadine, pineapple or/and orange juice and call it a Mai Tai – call them something + Mai Tai or give the drink an entirely new name.”

Some believe a Mai Tai can only have a lime shell and mint for garnish, making a pineapple spear a savage practice, or at least offensive (As you see in the images below I haven’t garnished with mint for either of these because my mint isn’t tall enough yet in my garden.  But this hot weather will change that soon enough).  However I am not going to get into any argument.  That’s why I’m offering two Mai Tai recipes.  For those of you who are not familiar with Mai Tais, or have not read anything about them, or talked with someone who feels passionately about the topic of Mai Tai authenticity, you may not be aware of the family feud going on right under your nose, what might be considered the most controversially argued of all cocktail recipes.  Some feel strongly about who invented the drink.  On the other hand, there are others who just want to get along, sharing what they know, and only arguing in a constructive style of precise measurements in attempts to find the perfect work of art.  Authenticity is important.  It is like history.  Truth, it seems, can also shine as a spectrum, not necessarily rendered less authentic by examining the different levels, but what learned colors offer the purest form of light.  Opinion is not a truth.  If a person learns all there is about the facts, yet still feels one drink is better than the other, that is their opinion.  It can be disturbing for two groups of people to identify an object by a name, when that object is not one, but two.  So if both groups thinks their object is the only way life can exist, and both feel their voice is stronger, the shouting contest gets louder.

I admit, I feel strongly about the Mai Tai.  Regardless, are there different ways to make it?  Yes:  Two ways.  I could even suppose there are as many ways to make the Mai Tai as there are ingredients – just as long as you respect the originals.

Don the Beachcomber did not like his Mai Tai, at least not enough to keep it on the menu in his restaurants.  Also, Donn’s Mai Tai doesn’t taste anything like Vic’s.  Even though the two men’s drinks share a name, it’s the difference in ingredients that set them apart (obviously), and uniquely lift each to fame.  I’m not going to say what key ingredients make the difference, since every flavor does this.  But for me the major difference is between falernum and orgeat, both profiling their drink’s individualities, as well as how a small amount provides so much extravagance.  As far as rum, in Donn’s, either mixing Appleton Estate & Pusser’s, or instead of the navy-style rum – using demerara rum.  Either way, mixing these two kinds of rums offers great character.  One last thing about Donn’s Mai Tai, I add quarter ounce of simple syrup as a preference.

Don the Beachcomber's Mai Tai Swizzle (1933)
1 1/2 oz Appleton Estate rum
1 oz British navy-style rum 
3/4 oz fresh lime juice
1 oz fresh grapefruit juice
1/4 oz falernum
1/2 oz Cointreau
6 drops of Absinthe (or Pernod)
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Shake with crushed ice, pour unstrained into chilled double old fashioned glass.  Garnish with mint and a pineapple spear.

Trader Vic‘s original was made with 17 year old Wray & Nephew rum, which a while back stopped production, and in effect caused a regeneration of the recipe.  The outcome was joining two specific flavors to call back what the extinct Wray & Nephew conjured – Jamaican and Martinique rums.  The Jamaican style of rum mixed with the agricole style causes a new flavor in its own, congratulating each other’s strengths.  Kind of radical in my opinion, but with the curaçao (koor-uh-sou) and orgeat (ȯr-zhä{t} – I’ve heard with and without the “t” sound…if anyone knows for sure, please let me know) smoothing them with sweetness, and the lime countering in favor of the rum – the distinct balance proves how worthy this drink deserves its reputation.

Trader Vic's Mai Tai (1944)
1 oz gold Martinique rum (Clément)
1 oz dark Jamaican rum (Smith & Cross)
1/2 oz curaçao
1/4 oz simple syrup
1 oz lime juice
1/4 oz orgeat
2 cups crushed ice

Shake all ingredients, pour unstrained into chilled double old fashioned glass.  Garnish with spent lime shell and a sprig of mint.

Bottom line, why choose when you can have both?  And if you do like one better, give the other a chance, if not to win your affection, then at least your respect.  After all, both drinks are so refreshing.  Cheers.

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