One of the hallmarks of Tiki culture in the 50’s and 60’s was the cocktail done polynesian style and of those none was so famous as the Mai Tai. The name is a corruption of the tahitian word Maita’i which means really good and from the couple of these I’ve made so far the name is well earned.
A search of the net revealed no less than eleven versions of this drink. This is not surprising, once you get more than three ingredients into a beverage there is going to be a lot of flex in the production. One night someone runs out of lime juice and all of a sudden you have to scramble for something similar, bam new formula.
My own recipe comes partly from necessity and partly from laziness.
1 oz white rum (for this run I used baccardi)
1.5 oz blue Curacao
0.5 oz Orgeat Syrup
1 oz Lime Juice
1 oz Spiced Rum (Captain Morgan)
Shake everything but the spiced rum in a shaker over ice and strain into a glass. Float the Spiced rum on top, garnish with maraschino cherry.
Most of the original formulas call for orange Curacao but blue is the same product with a flashier color. Orgeat (pronounced or-ZHA) is an almond syrup with some other things like orange flower water in it.
What the various versions of this drink have in common is Rum and sweetness. The few with the closest claim to the original use two kinds of rum and the effect here is certainly worthwhile. It has inspired me to find a dark un-spiced rum as well as to finally pick up that bottle of Demerara rum I’ve been pondering.
In sweetness the variations waffle back and forth. Orgeat isn’t a common kitchen ingredient and unless you’re running a coffee cart or tiki bar it’s the kind of syrup that just hangs around because you don’t use it for non-tiki related cocktails that often. If you can’t find Orgeat look for Torani Almond. I have it on good authority that they’re the same thing, they just changed the label because they got tired of people asking what Orgeat was. Many of the other formulas call for simple syrup, rock candy syrup, amaretto or even Falernum. I haven’t had a chance to try Falernum yet but it’s showed up in a half dozen things I’ve been reading lately so it’s worth the time to hunt some down. What they all have in common is sweetness and a cherry/almond flavor which is the hallmark of the tiki in this case.
What many of the other variations have in common is citrus. Lime juice is a given, that’s going to cut your alcohol taste and let the rum flavors shine. Some people cut down on the syrups and change out for grapefruit and lemon juice. The dirty way to get around a lot of that is sweet and sour mix, which is really just lemon, lime and simple syrup.
In that same citrus category is the Curacao. Variations calling for cointreau, triple sec and even orange rum are all known but the intent is the same. There needs to be the essence of orange peel in the mix and one of these is the way to get that. Curacao and Triple sec are essentially the same animal. The peel of the bitter lahara orange steeped in some kind of alcohol and distilled. With Curacao it’s a brandy base for triple sec it’s usually a neutral spirit.
My standard drink of choice at unknown bars right now is the kamikazi. There’s really very little to screw up and you can always count on vodka and triple-sec. I’m beginning to wonder if I haven’t been cheating myself by not going with a rum and triple-sec concoction instead.
If I had this drink to do over I for sure would use better rum. I think my next version will use cointreau instead of curacao since I have some left and it’s a better product than the cheap curacao I can find locally. Also I want to get my hands on some real maraschino cherries. I’ll tell you why in another post.