World-Class Mai Tai

No cocktail inspires more heated discussion about its origins, or allows a more perfect (albeit momentary) escape, than the Mai Tai.

Aficionados agree that Trader Vic invented this world-class cocktail, and we know that in 1953, Vic brought the Mai Tai to Honolulu when he came with the Matson Steamship Lines to create drinks for the bars at the Royal Hawaiian and Moana Surfrider.

“Any old kamaaina can tell you about this drink and of its rapid spread throughout the Islands,” Vic writes in his bartender’s guide.

But not “any old kamaaina” can make a great Mai Tai. We went to Francesco Lafronconi, an authority on the history of cocktails in America, for our recipe.

“The benchmark is undoubtedly the 1944 original Mai Tai by Trader Vic,” says Lafronconi. “This is a classic cocktail. It is fantastic.”

In the original Mai Tai, the marriage of fresh lime juice, high-quality rum, mint leaves, orange Curacao and orgeat syrup is a magical one. But somewhere between 1953 and Hawaii’s statehood in 1959, the Mai Tai turned into a simple, sugary imitation of its former self. “It became a minestrone soup made by bartenders,” says Lafronconi.

To re-create a classic, follow these simple instructions. But beware: This is no cocktail for beach babies. In fact, order this at RumFire in Waikiki, and it might even come with a warning.

Mai tai-roa ae!

The Original Mai Tai


* 1 lime

* 1/2 ounce orange Curacao

* 1/4 ounce rock candy syrup

* 1/4 ounce orgeat syrup

* 2 ounces rum (or 1 ounce dark Jamaica rum and 1 ounce Martinique rum)

Cut lime in half; squeeze juice over shaved ice in a Mai Tai (double old-fashioned) glass. Save one spent lime shell. Add remaining ingredients and enough shaved ice to fill glass. Hand-shake. Decorate with spent lime shell, fresh mint and fruit stick.

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