As the king of Tiki cocktails, the Mai Tai is a truly delicious drink filled with the strong, rich flavours of rum and the sweetness of fruit. Short for ‘Mai Tai-roe-aé’ which means ‘out of this world’ it’s no wonder why it’s remained so popular for years as it promises to bring a slice of paradise no matter where in the world you are.
There have been hundreds of variations of the Mai Tai over the years, to the point where, nowadays, you’ll likely find a different version in every bar you order it. Some would go as far as to say the original cocktail has been lost to modernisation. But, many cocktail-enthusiasts are beginning to bring back the classic flavours and in this guide, we’ll explore the interesting history behind the Mai Tai as well its original ingredients and some of the most popular variations to try.
The History of the Mai Tai
When it comes to the Mai Tai’s origins, there are two stories that lay claim to creating the popular cocktail. The most popular theory is the story of Victor J. Bergeron, or Trader Vic as he was better known. In 1934, Bergeron, who came from a very food-oriented family, opened his first restaurant in Oakland, San Francisco where he served delicious Polynesian food and iconic rum cocktails. He was well-known as one of the first to start the Tiki era, where Americans fell in love with the culture of the tropics as a way to momentarily escape the depression era.
Around ten years later, in 1944, Victor created a new drink for some friends visiting from Tahiti. He wanted to craft something that could showcase the strong flavour of a 17-year-old bottle of rum and added a touch of lime, orgeat, orange curaçao, and simple syrup before shaking it up with ice. One friend enjoyed it so much they exclaimed ‘‘Mai Tai-roe-aé!’ And so, Victor named the new invention the Mai Tai and added it to his menu.
Apparently, the cocktail was so popular and in high demand, that during the rest of the 1940s and ‘50s, it managed to deplete the world’s rum supplies!
Of course, there’s some dispute over whether Victor Bergeron’s tale is true. Donn Beach, or ‘Don the Beachcomber’, was another pioneer in the Tiki culture and claims that Victor’s recipe was inspired by his own punch which he invented in 1933. According to Donn, Victor was a regular at his restaurant and loved the flavour profile of the punch so much that he reworked it for his Mai Tai. However, Victor strongly refutes this claim and said in his book, Trader Vic's Bartender's Guide, “anyone who says I didn’t create this drink is a dirty stinker."
How to Make a Mai Tai
While it may seem simple, a Mai Tai can be quite tricky to get right as it involves several ingredients which need to be measured perfectly to get the right balance. The ingredients you need to make the classic drink are as follows:
- 15 ml orange curacao
- 7 ml rock candy syrup
- 7 ml orgeat syrup
- 60ml rum
- 1 lime
Pour the rum, orange curacao, rock candy syrup and orgeat syrup in a shaker full of ice and shake vigorously to mix and chill the ingredients. Then, cut the lime in half and squeeze the juice over ice in a lowball glass before pouring the rest of the mixture.
Our ready-to-drink Mai Tai cocktail combines rich notes from Ron Colon Rum with zesty, fresh flavours from lime and Cointreau and warm, earthy spices from Orgeat Liqueur, taking out all of the work and leaving you with a full-bodied, fruity drink to enjoy over ice with friends in the comfort of your own home.
Different Variations of the Mai Tai Cocktail
As mentioned earlier there are hundreds of Mai Tai variations as it seems to be an easy drink to experiment with and explore different flavours. While we love the original recipe, here are some of our favourite variations to try:
Mango Mai Tai
If you’re wanting something a little sweeter and even more tropical, adding a small amount of fresh mango puree to the original ingredients will add a fresh twist.
Sunset Mai Tai
Looking to make your cocktail more Instagram-worthy? Adding a dash of grenadine will do the trick! If poured slowly and carefully, you’ll be able to give the drink a beautiful colour gradient.
Bitter Mai Tai
If you prefer your drinks to be slightly spicier, replace the rum with Campari for a wonderfully bitter drink that would make a fantastic aperitivo cocktail choice.
Want to learn about more rum cocktails? Read our guide on the history and variants of the classic Daiquiri.
Also, take a look at all of the wonderfully refreshing, premixed rum-based cocktails we have available.