Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Mai Tai

History and Context

This world famous drink was invented right here in the east bay*. Victor Bergeron, known to the world as ‘Trader Vic’, created the first Mai Tai in at his Emeryville restaurant at 65th & San Pablo Avenue.

“In 1944, after success with several exotic rum drinks, I felt a new drink was needed. I thought about all the really successful drinks; martinis, manhattans, daiquiris .... All basically simple drinks.

I was at the service bar in my Oakland restaurant. I took down a bottle of 17-year old rum. It was J. Wray Nephew from Jamaica; surprisingly golden in color, medium bodied, but with the rich pungent flavor particular to the Jamaican blends.

The flavor of this great rum wasn’t meant to be overpowered with heavy additions of fruit juices and flavorings. I took a fresh lime, added some orange curacao from Holland, a dash of Rock Candy Syrup, and a dollop of French Orgeat, for its subtle almond flavor. A generous amount of shaved ice and vigorous shaking by hand produced the marriage I was after.

I gave two of them to Ham and Carrie Guild, friends from Tahiti, who were there that night. Carrie took one sip and said, "Mai Tai - Roa Ae". In Tahitian this means "Out of This World - The Best." Well, that was that. I named the drink "Mai Tai."

Our Opinion

You can have a Mai Tai almost anywhere. Most of them are terrible.

When Trader Vic (and Don Beach) started out, their recipes were their trade secrets, closely guarded even from their bar staff. So if you went to Terry's Tiki Tower in 1946 and asked for a Mai Tai, the bartender there would ask you what it tasted like, and make a guess as to what to use. If you liked the drink, then that might become the house Mai Tai recipe, although it might have nothing in common with the original recipe. Thus, the drink that launched 10,000 recipes. After the Tiki craze died down, the folks at Trader Vic's published their recipe - that's how we got it (its on their website). However, the damage was already done.

So our experience is that many people have tasted this drink, but few have had a well made one. With the right ingredients it truly is ‘out of this world”, and its an education in rum.

In addition to being easy to make, this drink is a 'crowd pleaser'. And you can add that extra touch with the story about how "this is the real recipe ...."

Bartending Notes

OK, this drink is rum, curacao, lime, sugar (simple syrup) plus orgeat (almond). So its a Rum Margarita with almond. How exotic is that?

I think one of the things about the Mai Tai is that it highlights the strengths and wide varieties of Rum. So you want to use the specific kinds (Jamaican, Demerara) that are recommended, even use the specific bottlings we suggest - they aren't that expensive.

• 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice (2 to 3 halved limes)
• 3/4 ounce Cointreau
• 3/4 ounce Orgeat syrup (we had been using Torani, now we make our own!)
• 1 ounce Coruba Dark Jamaican rum
• 1 ounce dark Lemon Hart & Son Demerara Rum from Guyana

We've been happily making it with a mix of Jamaican Coruba Rum and Lemon Hart Demerara rum for years.

One of the things we recommend when one is studying cocktails is to taste each ingredient separately, and then imagine how that might fit into the whole. If you've never had 'real' dark rum, the first time you smell Coruba, you are in for a treat. And then the Demerara rums are a whole different experience. My previous experience of rum was limited to the most famous brand, a wonderful product from Puerto Rico that might be described as 'rum flavored vodka' that comes in two colors. So trying Coruba was an eye opening experience.

As Tiki drinks go, Mai Tais are easy - the only fruit juice you need is lime juice, orgeat syrup is relatively easy to find. So its easy to experiment - what happens if we use Myers Dark Rum? Or Goslings? Or 12 year old El Dorado Demerara Rum?

As it happens, our latest experiment is to use 3 rums, which makes for a drier drink:
.75 Coruba
.75 Lemon Hart
.75 El Dorado 12 year
.75 Curacao (Cointreau)
.5 Orgeat**
.25 Simple Syrup
.75 Lime

I find that you must be somewhat cautious about dilution, so if you shake this drink for 20 seconds, I'd fill the glasses with ice cubes, not crushed ice***. Try it both ways ....

At Trader Vics, here is what they now call "the original" Mai Tai:
• 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice (2 to 3 halved limes)
• 3/4 ounce Leroux Orange Curacao
• 3/4 ounce Trader Vic Formula Orgeat syrup
• 1 ounce Coruba Dark Jamaican rum
• 1 ounce dark Lemon Hart & Son Demerara Rum from Guyana
• and pineapple chunk, maraschino cherry and mint for garnish.

Fill a wide-mouthed glass with crushed ice. Squeeze the juice from the lime halves. Reserve one squeezed lime half. Pour in the lime juice, Leroux Orange Curacao and the orgeat syrup. Pour in the Jamaican rum, followed by the Guyana rum. Dump the contents of the glass into a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously for 30 seconds. Pour everything back into the glass, and garnish with a chunk of pineapple and a maraschino cherry skewered on a swizzle stick. Drop in the squeezed lime half and add a sprig of mint. The hand-squeezed lime is crucial to the flavor. The mint doesn't affect the flavor as much as the bouquet, which is part of the Mai Tai experience.

*There is a historical dispute between Donn the Beachcomber and Trader Vic as to who invented the Mai Tai. Who invented the Mai Tai? I don't know. The story I've repeated above is a great story, which doesn't mean its true. The one Donn Beach recipe I've seen for a Mai Tai is for a completely different drink - its in the Little Hawaiian Tropical Drink book. I look forward to being edified on this topic.

** I'm quite surprised (and, honestly, pleased) how much difference homemade ("housemade") orgeat makes - see Homemade Orgeat Syrup for the 'how to.'

***If you are really curious about shaking and dilution, read this post about The Science of Shaking

1 comment:

Learn2Serve Alcohol Seller Certification said...

I think the story will be kept repetitively and will never be solved. Either way, they produced a real rich history of one of the best cocktail drinks today.

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