The Mai Tai is the quintessential torch bearer of Tiki, and its flagship drink. It made its flowery foray into American culture between the 1930s and 1950s, thanks to tropical-minded entrepreneurs like Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt (a.k.a. Donn Beach) and Victor Jules Bergeron (a.k.a. Trader Vic). Then, it suffered some ill use in the 1980s and 1990s, which saw its once pristine amalgamation of rums, orange liqueur, lime juice, orgeat and simple syrup befouled by the inclusion of fruit juices and artificial sweeteners. Luckily, the later part of the 2000s saw a Tiki revival that restored the cocktail to its once noble heights.
This classic recipe comes from Tiki historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, the owner of New Orleans’ ode to Tikidom, Latitude 29. The recipe isn’t so much a variation on the drink as it is a faithful recreation of an original recipe—but what is specified are the rums used in Berry’s version. While both popular brands, it is possible to be in a market where you can’t find the Coruba dark Jamaican rum or the Rhum Clément V.S.O.P. In this case, the best move is to find a close approximation of each, like another dark Jamaican rum to fill in for the Coruba.
Rhum agricole, the Rhum Clément in Berry’s recipe, is a type of rum that is made with sugar cane rather than molasses. This gives the spirit bright, floral and sometimes grassy or vegetal notes. The vieux in the name refers to the fact that the rum is aged for at least three years, so if you are going for a different rhum agricole, make sure it’s an aged one to best replicate the Latitude 29 Mai Tai.
Another aspect of this particular version of the timeless drink is the use of the Latitude 29 Formula orgeat. This orgeat is made by Orgeat Works, a company specializing in bar syrups for Tiki craft. Founder Adam Kolesar worked with Berry to craft an orgeat that was specifically designed for Latitude’s Mai Tais, and is a close approximation of the syrup Trader Vic would have been using in 1944. It’s available for sale online for all your Mai Tai needs.
Add the dark Jamaican rum, Rhum Clément, orange curaçao, lime juice, orgeat and simple syrup to a shaker with 2 scoops of crushed ice, and shake well for 10 seconds.
Pour unstrained into a double Old Fashioned glass.
Sink the spent lime shell into the drink.
Garnish with a mint sprig.