The credit for this iconic 1940s drink—whose name is a nod to the Tahitian, “Maita’i,” which means “good”—is usually given to venerable Los Angeles tiki bar Trader Vic’s. Buoyed by the rise of tiki culture and some big celebrity endorsements (think Elvis in Blue Hawaii), this rum-based umbrella drink became cemented in the public imagination as a tropical must-have. The classic components of tiki are all here: lots of rum, a citrus component and a hint of exotica via the addition of orgeat, a syrup made from almonds. But don’t look to this drink for kitsch factor alone: when done up right—no orange juice or syrupy prefab Mai Tai mix—this is one of the greats. This version—a recipe interpreted by tiki bartender Brian Miller—is based on Trader Vic’s 1944 original. (It’s pictured in a Mai Tai glass from Alan Smart’s Los Angeles home tiki bar, HaleKahiki.)
The tiki classic, à la Trader Vic.
- 1/2 ounce white rum, agricole (preferably Neisson L’Esprit rhum)
- 1/2 ounce gold rum (preferably Hamilton Jamaican gold)
- 1/2 ounce aged rum (preferably El Dorado 15 year)
- 1/2 ounce aged rum (preferably Appleton 12yr rum or Plantation Jamaica 2001)
- 1/2 ounce Clement Creole Shrubb (or an orange curaçao like Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao)
- 1 ounce lime juice
- 3/4 ounce orgeat (preferably Orgeat Works or Small Hand Foods)
Garnish: umbrella, lime wheel and a sprig of mint (optional)
- Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker.
- Add ice and shake until chilled.
- Strain over crushed ice into a rocks glass.
- Garnish with an umbrella, a lime wheel or spent lime shell and a sprig of mint (optional).
Using good orgeat is key to any decent Mai Tai. Beware anything with weird ingredients. We fully endorse Small Hand Foods' version (see ingredient list).