Drink of the Week: The Mai Tai

Mai TaiAs I begin writing, the winner of the U.S. presidential election is not yet known for at least another 12 hours, and people across the political spectrum are going a little insane. Well, I’m happy to say that, wherever you fall on the political spectrum, we have a drink that will help take the edge off a loss and intensify the joy of a win — at least assuming your spiritual beliefs allow you to drink alcohol. It’s also the first of the post-WWII Tiki-inspired cocktail classics I’ve dared to take on here. Wish me luck.

I owe part of this week’s column to the good people at Cruzan Rum. Along with the tasty spiced rum we featured last week, they were kind enough to send me a bottle of their Cruzan Black Strap Rum to play with. My search for an appropriate cocktail led me directly to cocktail historian David Wondrich, whose all-dark rum-based version of this ultimate South Seas inspired classic seemed a perfect vehicle for the stuff.

I also, however, deemed it necessary to try another brand of dark rum. I went with my usual reasonably priced but tasty fall back, Whaler’s. I think this recipe, which is borrowed pretty heavily from Wondrich, minus an Esquire-mag typo or two, works pretty well with both rums — but with significant differences. More about that after the recipe.

The Mai Tai

2 ounces dark rum
1 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
1/2 ounce orange curacao
1/2 ounce almond syrup (aka orgeat)
1/8-1/4 ounce simple syrup
1 mint sprig (highly advisable garnish)

Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with lots of ice. Shake like crazy and pour the whole thing, ice and all, into a well chiled Tom Collins or large rocks glass. Enjoy with or without a lovely tropical breeze. Toss in a sprig of fresh mint, if you’ve got it, and maybe one of your spent lime wedges, too.

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The Mai Tai was not, we are told, invented anywhere really close to Tahiti but in the not-so-very tropical land of Oakland, California at the original Trader Vic’s and presumably by Mr. Vic’s himself. As presented here, it’s a lovely concoction but I can also say that your choice of dark rum will yield a considerable difference.

To be specific, Whaler’s Dark Rum is quite sweet — not quite like a liqueur but not far from something like Old Tom gin. A mai tai made with it is a lovely thing that will make you popular with a large crowd and will go down your own gullet very, very easily. On the other hand, Cruzan Black Strap Rum has a lovely molasses flavor and bouquet, but is much less sweet. The result is a more sophisticated and complex mai tai. It’s very nice, indeed, but sometimes a little sophistication goes a long way, so I’d consider upping the simple syrup quotient, though lord knows this thing has enough calories.

One more experiment you can try is toss in a very small amount of vanilla extract. The original mai tai was made with something called rock candy syrup, which was basically regular simple syrup with a tiny amount of vanilla flavor in it.

Oh, and as I finish this post, I know how the election turned out. It’s enough to drive an old bleeding heart like me not to drink, but I think I’ll have another mai tai anyway.

  

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