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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Drink of the Week: The Take 9

Today’s Drink of the Week is not named the Take 9 because mixologist Jesse Card tried eight variations before settling on his final project. In fact, it is named for the rather tasty spiced rum that his employers at Cruzan Rum, yet another Jim Beam brand, were kind enough to send me to play with. To be specific, Cruzan 9 Spiced Rum brings the following to the flavor party: allspice, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, juniper berry, mace, nutmeg, pepper and, my favorite, vanilla. For the record, the spice mace has no relationship to the teargas but is actually a more delicate variation on nutmeg. And, yes, I had to look that up.

I’m happy to say that these spices do socialize well together in Cruzan 9, which tastes pretty good all on its own and would perhaps work nicely with Coke or your favorite ginger ale, though I haven’t had the chance to experiment in that way yet. Still, thanks to Cruzan and Card I do have a pretty decent little cocktail — not maybe a classic in the making, I think, but not bad — to bring you this week.

The Take 9

1 1/2 ounces Cruzan 9 Spiced Rum
3/4 ounce dry vermouth
1/4 ounce Curacao
1/2 teaspoon grenadine
orange twist (garnish, and optional in my opinion)

Combine your rum, vermouth, and Curacao. The original recipe calls for you to stir the mixture for thirty seconds but, as usual, you have my full permission to shake.

Whichever method of mixing you select, strain into our old buddy, the chilled cocktail glass. Sip and contemplate the special blend of nine herbs and spices and why Cruzan Rum is so much more transparent about their blend than either KFC or the late Colonel Harlan Sanders.

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I don’t have any other spiced rums on hand, so it’s not so easy for me to try this drink with other brands. However, as usual, I promise no one will bring legal action against you if experiment with other rums, even non-spiced ones. Also, you have my permission to leave out the orange rind twist garnish. I’m actually not convinced it presents a major improvement. It’s possible that the Take 9 is just one of those mixed drinks that does better sans garnish.

  

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