The Mai Tai is a classic cocktail from the tropical Tiki canon. Incorporating the key components of a good dose of rum, citrus, and exotic fruit flavours in the form of orgeat and orange curaçao, it’s a timeless combination which has gone from strength to strength since its creation in 1944 at Trader Vic’s bar in Oakland, California.
According to the legend, Victor Bergeron knocked together this cocktail following a request from friends to create something from a bottle of Wray & Nephew 17-Year-Old rum. Upon tasting his creation, his friends from Tahiti pronounced, ‘Maita’i roa a’e’ – ‘out of this world!’ – and the cocktail was thus christened the Mai Tai.
This original recipe was altered once supplies of the discontinued Wray & Nephew 17-Year-Old ran out, with Bergeron favouring a blend of different rums to replicate the original ingredient. A favourite combination today is aged Jamaican pot-still rum with Martinique rhum agricole, giving a grassy, herbal quality which balances the heavy pot-still funk of the Jamaican portion.
How to make a Mai Tai
- 2oz / 60ml rum (aged Jamaican rum; or a blend including aged Jamaican rum and rhum agricole)
- 1oz / 30ml Lime juice
- 0.5oz / 15ml Orgeat (almond syrup)
- 0.5oz / 15ml orange curaçao (eg Grand Marnier or Ferrand Dry Curacao)
Mix all ingredients together and shake with crushed ice. Pour into a glass packed with more crushed ice and garnish with a quarter of the juiced lime and a sprig of mint.
This recipe later changed to a blend of aged dark Jamaican rum and aged Martinique rhum. It’s safe to say that the key to a good Mai Tai is the use of aged Jamaican rum, and below are some of our top recommendations.
Best rums for a Mai Tai
Plantation Xaymaca Special Dry
Owned by Cognac house Maison Ferrand, Plantation produces some exciting rums which are tropical-aged in ex-Bourbon casks before transferring to France for further ageing in ex-Cognac casks. This superb blend of 100% pot-still Jamaican rums from Clarendon and Long Pond is full of caramelised orange peel, cigar and nut aromas, with crisp citrus overtones on the palate accompanying fruity banoffee pie and pineapple flavours. Very dry and with great acidity. 43%
Hampden Estate 46
A funky Jamaican pot-still rum made by the famed Hampden Estate, whose rums have previously been found in blends or picked up by independent bottlers. This is the first ‘estate bottling’, made in collaboration with Velier. A tropical fruit and spice aroma leads to a palate with a clove attack followed by mashed banana, mango, apple, fenugreek seed and cinnamon. Oily and creamy, with a long finish. 46%
Appleton Estate Signature
A smooth rum with none of that Jamaican funk but with nutty, spicy oak notes and rich flavours of caramelised nuts, vanilla, clove, ginger and brown sugar. 40%
Black Tot Finest Caribbean
This blend recalls the traditional Navy rum, combining elegant Barbados rum with rich Guyanan rum and funky Jamaican rum. The result is a delicious, complex spirit capable of holding its own as well as giving backbone to cocktails. Its funky, juicy tropical notes are accompanied by rich coffee bean, spice and chocolate. 46.2%
Trois Rivieres Cuvee de L’Ocean
A white rhum agricole made from freshly squeezed sugarcane juice grown in the south of the island of Martinique, this is slightly grassy with sea-salt notes and a touch of creaminess. It has excellent balance and lends plenty of saline bite to cut through rich flavours, working especially well with the lime juice. Also an excellent choice for a daquiri. 42%