Trader Vic’s Mai Tai Tai Tai

To continue with the Tiki theme that began with our exploration of the Zombie, I turn to Trader Vic’s signature drink, the Mai Tai. What made me turn to Tiki drinks in the first place? It was my acquiring of a copy of Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide, but I will have another post about that.

Donn Beach also claims to have invented the Mai Tai, but Trader Vic’s version has become the accepted one. For tonight, we go for Trader Vic’s version, but there is still one problem: what in the world is rock candy syrup? Trader Vic’s recipe calls for it, but what is it? Well, it’s basically double-saturated simple syrup. So heat your water, add twice the sugar, and you have rock candy syrup. Weird, I know. But why use it at all? Me, I like Dale DeGroff’s recipe, and Dale is my guru for all things cocktail because, well, his drinks are good!

Here is his version:

  • 1 1/2 oz. rum
  • 1/2 oz. orange curacao
  • 1/2 oz. lime juice
  • 1/2 oz. orgeat
  • 1/2 oz. 151 rum to float on top
  • garnish with lime

I like this version, and what I really like about it is that it gets stronger as you drink it. The 151 begins to saturate the drink and by the end, it’s really strong. The rock candy syrup is not needed at all, unless you like your drinks really sugary, and me, I think the orgeat is sweet enough.

Let me describe the taste of the Mai Tai, and those of you who drink them can tell me whether I am right or wrong. We will be going through a few different versions over the next week, but let’s talk about this one right here.

It’s a sweet sour. I mean, notice the ingredients: spirit, additive (curacao), lime juice, and a sweetener (orgeat). It tastes like a sweet and sour. But then the orgeat gives it a totally different flavor, more complex than the two-dimensional sweet and sour, which is named appropriately for its two dimensions. And then the building of the drink to its strong 151 finish is unlike any other drink.

I won’t diss the simplicity of the sweet and sour, however. Sometimes, I don’t want complexity. Sometimes I want ease of drinking and familiarity. The only question with the sweet and sour is whether it has orange juice and an egg white. With the Mai Tai, you never really know what you’re getting. Heck, check out the many different versions here.

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