The Putney Farm crew recently returned from a delightful trip to Kauai. All good, nothing to complain about…but, maybe…um…there was one little thing. And it has to do with the classic Tiki drink, the Mai Tai.
You see, the problem was that while we were served a number of “Mai-Tais” on the trip, the only real Mai Tai we had was at home (of course we stocked a decent bar in Kauai!). Not to say there was anything wrong with the many fruity-dark rum floater-bamboo cup-multiple garnish
catastrophes “creations” we drank. Hey, its rum, lime, pineapple and a bunch of other stuff- how bad can it be? And usually it isn’t all that bad. However…
A real Mai Tai, made with the right ingredients and in the right way, is just so much better. There is a reason everyone thinks “tiki” when they hear the word Mai Tai, it is a damn fine drink. Sweet, tart, funky with a nutty “I-know-not-what” at the finish, the Mai Tai is a perfect example of what makes cocktails so special. It is way more than the sum of its parts.
So what about those “parts”? The other good thing about the Mai Tai is that the only truly esoteric ingredient is Orgeat (pronounced or-zhay) syrup, basically almond (and sometime apricot kernels) flavored syrup with some orange flower water. You can find Orgeat in many liquor stores or make your own. We have done both. Here is a well-known recipe to make it yourself. Small Hands makes a natural version that is very tasty, but the artificially (gasp!) flavored versions from Trader Vic and Fees taste just fine.
Otherwise you need just a few other ingredients; fresh lime juice, triple sec, sugar syrup, a light grassy rum (rhum agricole is good), a dark funky rum, a sprig of mint and some crushed ice…..and a few extra minutes to make the drink.
As for the rum, experts like Beachbum Berry and Rumdood all suggest an equal combination of Appleton 12 year (for the dark, funky notes) and Rhum Clement VSOP (aged, but still bright and a bit grassy) as the “standard”. And we agree. But we also like to play around and find other dark rums like El Dorado 8, 12 and 15 are all good (inexpensive) subs for the Appleton 12. We also think you can sub rhum Barbancourt (3 or 5 star) for the Clement, if the Clement is hard to find.
Triple sec? We like Cointreau, but many suggest Clement Creole Shrub. Use what you like. Crushed ice? Trust us, it looks better and dilutes the drink properly. Mint Spring? Adds a bright note to the aroma of the drink, and it looks good. So does the lime shell. Got it? Good!
Finally, one note on the history of the Mai Tai. While cocktail
geeks historians quibble about the details, Trader Vic Bergeron made this version of the drink famous (even if Don the beachcomber made something else with the same name earlier). And Vic was a Bay Area guy, so we will stick with our man and tip our caps to Vic for this delightful sip. Now go make one before the summer is over!
- 1 oz. dark(er), funky rum (Appleton 12 or El Dorado 8, 12, 15)
- 1 oz. light(er) rum (Clement VSOP, rhum Barbancourt)
- 3/4 oz. lime juice
- 1/2 oz. orgeat syrup
- 1/2 oz. triple sec
- 1/4 oz. simple syrup
- Mint sprig, for garnish
- Using a blender, ice crusher or lewis bag, crush a bunch of ice.
- Add all the liquid ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice. Reserve the lime shell. Shake until well chilled.
- In a lowball glass, add the crushed ice and the lime shell. Stain the cocktail into the glass and garnish with the mint spring. Enjoy. Repeat.