Classic Cocktails in History: the Mai Tai

Most popular cocktails series - Mai Tai

Most popular cocktails series - Mai Tai

Temperatures are dropping--unless you’re in L.A, enjoying a Mai Tai at Trader Vic’s, like I was over Thanksgiving a couple of weeks ago.

It’s easy to imagine this tropical cocktail originating in Hawaii (or maybe a college dorm), but the story behind the Mai Tai actually originates in...Oakland! Who knew? Legend has it that Trader Vic’s very own Victor J. Bergeron whipped up the concoction for some friends visiting from Tahiti in 1944. Upon tasting it, one of the friends, Carrie Guild, cried out “Maita'i roa ae!”, which translates to “out of this world!”

Of course, as is the case with any legend, there are rivaling stories. Don the Beachcomber, the founding father of Tiki restaurants, has his stake on the Mai Tai as well. The DTB version of the Mai Tai varies quite a bit than the Trader Vic’s cocktail. It calls for Falernum - Caribbean liqueur flavored with cloves, almonds and limes - instead of Orgeat - an orange-almond syrup. Additionally, it’s made with bitters and grapefruit juice. It’s an all over more ingredient intensive drink. Plus, Don’s Mai Tai dates back to 1933, over a cool decade prior to the invention of the latter.

So why does Trader Vic’s get the glory? Well, the sad truth is that there are no longer any Don the Beachcomber restaurants, while Trader Vic’s thrives. Case in point: I was at the Beverly Hills branch of TV over the weekend. Gathered around a small fire, surrounded by a crisp temperature of 67 degrees, I knew I had to get the Mai Tai.

Upon ordering the drink, I was met with uproarious laughter. This, more than the Mai Tai’s potency, frightened me. I wasn’t sure if the server was saying “oh, tourist” or “yeah, like you’re old enough to drink,” but no other tropical drink orders got the same attention.

Maybe the server was just happy for me, because the drink was delicious, and it wasn’t as lethal as I’d been warned against. What was I expecting? Sticky sweet jungle juice. What I actually got was a complex, layered drink that did, in fact, tasted pretty alcoholic. This wasn’t a sugar bomb at all.

Don’t wait for the summer to roll around. Escape to the tropics anytime and make yourself a Mai Tai!

Mai Tai

  • 2 oz/60 ml dark rum, such as Cruzan Aged Dark

  • 1 oz/30 ml light rum, such as Caliche

  • .5 oz/15 ml Orange Curaçao

  • .5 oz/15 ml Orgeat syrup

  • .25/7 ml oz Lime juice

Pineapple wedge and Maraschino cherries for garnish

Shake all the ingredients except the dark rum with ice. Strain into highball glass, and float the dark rum on top using a bar spoon to distribute. Garnish with pineapple wedge and cherries and serve with a straw. Celebratory flowers optional.