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The Mai Tai – a classic rum cocktail
Popular in the 1950s, the Mai Tai is a classic rum cocktail made with orgeat (a kind of sweet almond syrup), Orange Curacao and lime juice. Victor J. Bergeron claimed to have invented the Mai Tai in 1944 at his restaurant, Trader Vic’s, in Oakland, California. Intended to showcase J. Wray and Nephew rum, it was created to ensure that the cocktail didn’t hide the flavours of the spirit. Trader Vic’s served a mixture of Polynesian fusion food and the story goes that when Bergeron first made the cocktail and served it to two friends from Tahiti, one of them exclaimed “Mai Tai-Roe Aé!” which translates to something along the lines of “out of this world.”
With a bottle of Navy Island Navy Strength rum on my shelf ready to be tried, it was an obvious choice. Of course, it’s a great rum to enjoy straight or to pour over ice and sip slowly. But, the extra alcohol means that it works exceptionally well in a cocktail like the Mai Tai. Navy Island Navy Strength rum is 100% pure pot still rum. It’s blended from 11 carefully selected small-batch distilled rums of various ages. It won an IWSC silver award in 2018 and another in the ISC for 2018. Sipping the rich amber rum, you get an explosion of flavours. It’s intensely aromatic with ripe fruits, banana and vanilla notes. At 57% ABV, it will make the ultimate chocolate rum truffle too – if there’s any left a bit later in the year.
Making the Mai Tai for me involved laying my hands on two new ingredients. Although a Mai Tai is a classic rum cocktail, my first attempt at buying Orgeat failed – it’s not the easiest ingredient to track down. Headily sweet with the scent of almonds, I’m surprised I’ve never seen it before. Curaçao is something you see on almost all professional bars – but I’ve never had a bottle at home before. If you didn’t want to buy curaçao, you could use triple sec or Cointreau – but I was keen to try something approaching the real thing. Curaçao Liqueur should be made with the Laraha Orange which is only found on the Caribbean island of Curaçao. In fact, it’s unclear whether the Bols Dry Orange Curaçao I used really does use the Laraha orange, which appears to be green rather than orange in colour! The drink was invented by the Dutch in the 17th century and included a whole range of herbs together with essential oils from the Lahara orange.
Without further ado, here’s how to make a Mai Tai. Just remember you’ll need a good quality dark rum like Navy Island, orgeat syrup, lime juice and dry orange curaçao. You’ll also need plenty of ice, a sprig of mint and a citrus garnish (you can even use the spent half of one of the limes if that works for you). And, a cocktail shaker. Then just hope for plenty of sunshine – this is the kind of drink which really does seem perfect for a warm summer’s evening.
Classic Mai Tai Cocktail made with Navy Strength rum
- 50 ml Navy Island Navy Strength Rum
- 20 ml freshly squeezed lime juice
- 7 ml dry orange curacao you can substitute triple sec or cointreau
- 10 ml orgeat syrup
- sprig of mint
- citrus slice or spent shell to garnish
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice
Add the rum, lime juice, curacao and orgeat
Shake well until you can see a clear frosting line on the outside of the cocktail shaker
Fill a Tiki glass or highball with crushed ice
Strain the Mai Tai cocktail into the glass
Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint and a citrus garnish of your choice.
Navy Island makes two rums – there’s a lighter XO reserve which is 40% ABV so easy to sip and retails for around £38 as well as the Navy Strength rum I’ve been using here which costs around £48. Both are award-winning craft rums and are available from plenty of online stockists including Master of Malts .
If you’d like to try this classic rum cocktail, the Mai Tai, why not pin this post for later.