Classic: Mai Tai

Sometimes I just feel the urge for a Tiki cocktail, even in winter. Thankfully, the weather is heating up, so my Tiki mugs and umbrella garnish don’t look so out of place. I feel like Tiki drinks are greatly underappreciated and I hope to highlight a few as the summer goes on. Today, I’m starting with the classic Mai Tai.

Photos by ADV Photography

Unfortunately, this classic cocktail has been slaughtered so many times that most people don’t recognize a proper one. Most have been conditioned to expect some funky colorful drink using a combination of pre-made mixes, cheap rum, and canned pineapple juice. Blasphemy! This iconic drink is meant to highlight rum with a balance of sweet and sour.

Books have been written on the origins, and I don’t pretend to be an expert, but it is widely believed that it was invented in 1944 by Victor J. Bergeron, owner of Californian restaurant Trader Vic’s. This recipe is directly from Trader Vic’s original tiki book – a must own for any real enthusiast.


1 oz amber Rhum Agricole*
1 oz dark Jamaican rum
1 oz fresh lime juice
½ oz orgeat syrup
½ oz of Cointreau
Garnish with mint, lime, or pineapple

*If you can’t find rhum agricole, feel free to substitute a premium aged rum of your choice.

In a shaker, add all of the ingredients with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a highball glass filled with crushed ice.

Orgeat Syrup

2 ½ cups cane sugar
1 ½ cups almond milk
2 teaspoons cognac
1 teaspoon amaretto
¼ teaspoon orange bitters

Combine the sugar and almond milk in a saucepan. Heat over medium heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved, which should happen just before the syrup simmers. Add the cognac, amaretto, and orange bitters. Let cool, and store in a refrigerator in a tightly closed container for up to 5 weeks.


The Mai Tai was the gateway cocktail that introduced me to the wonderful world of tiki drinks, and hopefully it can be the same for you.

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