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Tiki Central Forums » » Tiki Drinks and Food » » How to Make the Perfect Mai Tai

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How to Make the Perfect Mai Tai
The Gnomon
Tiki Socialite

Joined: May 01, 2007
Posts: 1293
From: MD-DC-VA
Posted: 2013-10-20 10:36 am   Permalink

When I make a Mai Tai I like to take the following account into consideration:


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. Half the lime shell went in for color ... I stuck in a branch of fresh mint and 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".

Victor Jules Bergeron, Jr.


This account used to be posted on the official Trader Vic's website but years ago they removed it and since that time have continually butchered the site. Now there's hardly anything on it.

Anyway, Vic had to adjust the formula a few times. The 17 year old Jamaican rum he used was becoming scarce, so he had to find substitutes that would mimic the original flavor. The DeKuyper Orange Curaçao he was using became inconsistent in quality so he changed brands. The changes he made over the years could have been improvements, so was the perfect Mai Tai the very original, the one he was making at the end of his mixology career, or one of the adjustments in between? The various adjustments Vic made turned out all "authentic" Mai Tais. I would say for a Mai Tai to be (approach) perfection, it has to be authentic.

The "original" Mai Tai might be extinct, but many of us do what we can to preserve as much of the original as possible. Knowing that Vic made adjustments when necessary that rendered authentic Mai Tais, it gives us license to do the same. I make my own rock candy syrup and my own orgeat. When it comes to rum, I use what I can get and afford at the time. The lowest in quality I'll settle for to do the concoction justice is a combination of Appleton Estate VX with Coruba and Appleton Estate Extra. If I can't, at least, have the AE Extra on hand, I won't bother making the Mai Tai. In fact, once you get into the really cheap rums, I'm not sure it should even be called a Mai Tai. The Mai Tai is a showcase for the best quality rum one can find, not the cheapest.

Even the original proportions of ingredients are also a bit of a mystery. How big is a dollop? It can be pretty big. Orgeat at room temperature is too liquefied to make a dollop so you have to chill it. When you do, sometimes you can get a dollop the size of a snowball. It's more practical to just pour in a certain amount. Some use ¼ oz., others (like me) use ½ oz. (sometimes more). I still try the chilled orgeat/dollop method once in a while to see if there was a legitimate reason for it in the original recipe. I haven't found a good reason yet.

The old TV site had Vic's Mai Tai recipe on it and it called for the juice of one lime. I use Key limes rather than Persian limes. The juice of one Key lime is enough. The juice of one Persian lime is way too much. I would guess that Vic used Persian limes, but it is never mentioned. Of course, when he says to use the juice of one lime he does not say to use all of its juice.

He also calls for shaved ice, not crushed ice. Shaved ice dissolves quickly when it's shaken, whereas crushed ice does not. Most Mai Tai recipes you find these days call for crushed ice, probably because it is more readily available. Most blenders will render crushed ice and there are inexpensive ice crushers available. There are inexpensive "so called" ice shavers with blades that chip away at ice cubes, but they don't really give you shaved ice, only coarse or fine crushed ice depending on the setting. A cheap way to get shaved ice is to use a Magic Bullet with an Ice Shaver Blade. The old ones could shave ice but they'd break because the gear that turns the blade was plastic. The new ones have a metal gear that holds up to the beating it takes, chopping ice cubes into snowy powder. If you have an old Magic Bullet, you can buy an Ice Shaver Blade by itself. It fits the old bullet as well.

Making the Mai Tai requires some reasoning and some guesswork, but eventually, one gets a feel for it. As long as the mixologist takes that quote from VJB, Jr shown above into consideration, they'll probably come up with something that comes close to practical perfection.

But if someone is fiddling around with it for the first time, they might try it the way
The Bum does. In addition, Martiki knows his way around a Mai Tai and there has been a link to his video posted here earlier. Between the two or with either one alone they'll be on the right track.

Crap! Had to fix something. In my defense, English is just my native language.

[ This Message was edited by: The Gnomon 2013-10-20 10:40 ]

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