While some Mai Tai variants call for pineapple juice, this adapted 1944 Trader Vic recipe omits it in favor of the more classic recipe favored by Martin Cate’s award-winning Tiki bar Smuggler’s Cove. Cate, a former Trader Vic’s bartender, brings some interesting perspective to the concept of Mai Tais as a whole, which he details alongside the recipe on page 261 of his book, “Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki.” Here are a few of his personal pointers:
- Contrary to popular belief, a classic Mai Tai is all about simplicity. According to Cate, it’s “really just a nutty rum Margarita.”
- To juice your limes, see if you can find an original Sunkist hand squeezer, which has long been the preferred Mai Tai juicing tool behind the bar at Trader Vic’s. Cate recommends searching for one of these on eBay—the major difference in using this kind of juicer instead of a modern-style hand juicer is that the lime half is hollowed out while maintaining its shape, whereas the hinge-style hand juicers of today will flip the shell inside-out. The idea here is to render a nice half-shell suitable for garnishing.
- Don’t shake the lime shell with the drink as it will impart unwanted bitterness to the mixture.
- Cate advises bartenders to experiment with their rums when it comes to making Mai Tais—in his words, this drink is “the perfect foil for a huge variety of rums.” He also notes in the book that the Trader Vic’s original recipe called for 100% pot still rum with significant age, so bear that in mind when developing your own interpretation.
- Trader Vic never served a Mai Tai with a rum float—in fact, this style was added somewhere over the course of the drink’s evolution between 1944 and now. Cate notes that a Mai Tai served with a float of overproof Demerara rum is referred to as the “Old Way,” a moniker stemming from an elderly Trader Vic’s regular who preferred his Mai Tais this way.
Try your hand at making a Trader Vic’s Mai Tai at home, and if you’re interested in picking up the book, you can order a personalized and signed copy from Cate’s website.
- 3/4 ounce lime juice, freshly squeezed
- 1/4 ounce rock candy syrup (2 parts sugar, 1 part water)
- 1/4 ounce orgeat
- 1/2 ounce orange curaçao
- 2 ounce premium aged rum (such as Appleton Estate 12-year-old or El Dorado 12- year-old)
- Garnish: mint sprig
Add all ingredients into a shaker with crushed ice and shake vigorously until the shaker is well-chilled and frosty on the outside.
Pour (unstrained) into a double Old Fashioned glass.
Garnish with a fresh mint sprig.