Thursday, September 13, 2012
Gettin' Tiki With It: The Original Mai Tai
While people identify the tiki drink movement with Hawaii, it was born in California, based on a romanticized mid-twentieth century view of Polynesia. Don the Beachcomber in Hollywood was the original tiki bar, but Trader Vic's, in the San Francisco Bay Area, was the most famous. Both Don's and Vic's claim to have invented the Mai Tai, but the recipe I'll use today comes from Trader Vic.
Unfortunately, if you order a Mai Tai today, you're likely to get a rum drink drenched in orange, pineapple or other tropical juices, which is really more like a Zombie. The actual drink is quite simple and much more interesting than a screwdriver with rum.
The only hard to find ingredient in a Mai Tai is orgeat. A non-alcoholic almond and orange flower water flavored syrup, orgeat is now fairly available in specialty liquor stores. I used the version from Berkeley based Small Hand Foods which is available at K&L for $16 for an 8.5 oz container. I know some people are tempted to use something like Monin almond syrup in lieu of orgeat, but I wouldn't recommend it. The orgeat has a much more subtle, milky, almond flavor than the sweet, amaretto-like flavor of a syrup. Save the Monin for your almond mochas.
The recipe also calls for orange curacao. I used Grand Marnier which is an orange curacao, but Cointreau or triple sec will work as well.
The traditional recipe (via drinkboy) is:
1 oz. light rum
1 oz. dark rum
3/4 oz. lime juice
1/2 oz. orange curacao
1/2 oz. orgeat
Shake well with ice and pour (with ice) into a rocks glass. Garnish with an umbrella, pineapple, cherry and assorted other tiki kitsch. You can also float a bit of rum on top.
I'm not a big fan of light rum, so I like to use two ounces of a good dark rum or even mix in some rhum agricole.
This is a great, refreshing drink, and if you're used to the syrupy sweet concoctions that most bars pass off as a Mai Tai, you owe it to yourself to try the original recipe.