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Why there should be only one rum in a Mai Tai

The Mai Tai is a difficult drink - no let me rephrase this: bartender are often confused, when it comes to the recipe of a Mai Tai.

The main issue is the public. Unfortunately "common customers" love the name "Mai Tai". It reminds them on the tropics - and probably their past vacation there. Different when they went on vacation and drank a "not so great bottle of wine", which they though covered with their glorification of their experience (just to find out at home, that the wine hasn't been that great), the Mai Tai remains in their glorified memory - simply, because most consumers don't make cocktails at home.

So people remembered the "romanticized" name Mai Tai - but really didn't had a recollection about it - other than it tasted exotic (and let's face it - cocktails in a vacation destination aren't usually that great or authentic).

However there always has been a Mai Tai. Let's first of all turn to the rivalry between Don "the Beachcomber" and Vic "Trader Vics" Bergeron: while it seems, that Beachcombers Mai Tai is older (however there hasn't been a documented proof" of the authenticity of the claim, Trader's Vic's recipe is classic - it is the real deal!

On Punch there has been lately an article which compared several Mai Tai recipes. It is strange, that they compared only recipes with 2 rums.

The original recipe though only used one rum: Wray Nephews 17 years old. When the Mai Tai took off (and the rum was anyway discontinued) and all stocks were depleted, Vic Bergeron settled on Wray Nephews 15 years old. And when this rum has been depleted, the chain changed to an even younger Wray Nephews - but added the second rum in: a Rhum Agricole (which supposed to mimic the doubtless far more complex nature of the previous recipes).

It is easy to understand, that in the following years and decades, people further changed the recipe - and went to dark rum and often a white rum.
The real issue is, that bartender lost the original intention of a Mai Tai. The whole idea is not about having exactly the taste of the respective drink. Vic Bergeron has been clever and wise, when he created the original Mai Tai. He intended to create a classic. A cocktail, which celebrates its main ingredient (which has been incredible good quality - but also funky, due to its origin).
All ingredients are playing a role. The orange curaçao is modifying the drink and gives it a more'ish quality, the orgeat gives it uniqueness but at the same time supports the oak aged notes. The sugar syrup is obviously given sweetness, however it supports the orgeat, as adding too much orgeat would obviously overpower the drink. The lime is the counterpoint of the sweet ingredients and balances the drink out - and also gives it the classical sour character. And the rum stands tall and proud in the center of the drink and can shine.

The Mai Tai is thus not a traditional Tiki drink!

If you are a) using less quality rums (and yes dark rums are far less quality the same are white rums) you are undermining the main purpose of the Mai Tai.

The Mai Tai should be not a cheap drink. You don't buy a Ferrari with a 4 cylinder engine, only because you want to have a cheaper Ferrari! That doesn't make sense. Hence a Mai Tai should celebrate the Rum it is made with.

The rum should be Jamaican. It should be not a dark rum - but an aged rum (if you don't know what is the difference, why don't you check out this brilliant article truly written by yours - to understand a bit better....). And it should be rather old - I suggest 15 to 20 years old. And if possible it could have a higher alcohol content than 40% abv.

A long time ago, I have created an excellent Mai Tai with Cadenhead Jamaica Long Pond Estate 18 years old - but it seems, that the rum is long gone. However I have checked and there are several new versions of 17 and 18 years old Jamaica rums available: it seems that the Hampden distillery just throws their "old" rum stock around (several brands are offering their rum of this distillery). Long Pond Estate also offers still an old rum (however no more over Cadenhead it seems)...

The question though is how dark should be the rum. This is one of the (newer heard, never voiced) mysteries: while the Merchant Hotel in Belfast won an auction of several vintage bottles of Wray Nephews 17 years old, these bottles look quite dark. This seems not really surprising - however in the original Trader Vics article from 1944 (?) he mentioned, that the rum was rather golden - this is a pretty big contradiction (and no - stored spirits don't darken with time). Were there different versions of Wray & Nephews? Who knows... However several bottles of those 17 years old (...) Jamaica rums are rather golden and are bottled at a higher strength - and that happens to work in the Mai Tai rather well...


  1. Mai Tai is a perfect tropical drink. It is great for parties! Thanks for this informative article.
    Btw if you are interested in cocktail classes then we are offering them in San Francisco. Come and Join Us here


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