It’s Friday … Have a Drink: Mai Tai

It’s Friday … Have a Drink: Mai Tai
Our weekly recommendation.

Before we talk about this cocktail, let’s talk about orgeat. I’ve used it in this column before, specifically in the Alligator cocktail, but this application is perhaps the best-known in the cocktail world. Orgeat (pronounced or-zhah or or-zhaht if you want to offend the French) is an almond-based syrup most often associated with the Caribbean.

The Mai Tai, a quintessential Tiki Drink, is a great use of orgeat. It’s tangy and delicious, with lots of flavor from the mix of rum and some optional bitters. Supposedly, it was invented by the famous Tiki bartender and restaurateur Trader Vic and served to a couple of Tahitian friends. Their excited exclamation about the drink’s taste – “Maita’i roa ae!” (“Out of this world! The best!”) – formed the basis of the cocktail’s name.

You can make a Mai Tai with amaretto in a pinch, but orgeat’s not expensive, easily found online, and brings a bunch of subtle flavors that really give the drink a different taste. Combined with fresh lime juice, curacao, and some lively rums, it’s just delicious.

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker over ice and shake thoroughly. Stain into a chilled, ice-filled rocks glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.

This article is a modified and enhanced version of a post that ran on my nightly cocktail blog, DrinkShouts. Liquors in parentheses are what I used when I made this recipe, and are included as suggestions.

Christopher Buecheler is a novelist, a web developer, an award-winning amateur mixologist, a brewer, a guitarist, a drummer, and an NBA enthusiast. He lives a semi-nomadic life with his wife and two cats, currently residing in Providence, RI. You can learn more at his website, cwbuecheler.com.

  • Alex Black

    Usually I’m pretty impressed with the recipes on this site, not this time, couldn’t be further from the mark.
    – Don’t use any Patron ever, not to mix, not to shoot, just don’t. It has been a shadow of what a tequila should be since it left the Siete Leguas distillery. I look to Pierre Ferrand’s dry curacao for my Mai Tai, not as sweet at what was originally used but neither are today’s palates.
    – Fee’s isn’t a true orgeat, do yourselves a favour and pick up BG Reynolds or Giffards if you can’t get BG. The drink isn’t worth making if you’re going to use Fees
    – Abuelo & Billy Boy are fine rums, but Jamaican style they are not, you’re going to want to go with Appelton 21 for this guy, or something similar. Vic made his with Wray & Nephew 17 (if you find a bottle of this I will make you rich.)
    – Ameretto is made with apricott pits. As you can imagine, the taste is not even close to orgeat

    • http://cwbuecheler.com/ Christopher Buecheler

      Sorry, but I have to disagree with all four of your points. I also want to point out that everything in the parentheses is a suggestion, not necessarily the single best bet for a given recipe.

      – Patron Citronge doesn’t use a tequila base. Like every other curacao, it’s made from neutral spirits. Pierre Ferrand, on the other hand, is made with cognac, so while *extremely* delicious, it’s closer to Grand Marnier than a standard curacao. I’ve tested Patron Citronge against other curacaos (Bols, Marie Brizzard, Dekuper (which is horrible), and several others) and it holds up fine. It’s a perfectly good orange liqueur at a very reasonable price.

      – “Isn’t worth making” seems hyperbolic. Fee’s isn’t the world’s greatest orgeat by any means, but it’s widely available where BG and Giffard are not (though Giffard is starting to show up in a lot more liquor stores). Part of the point of these articles is to introduce people who are new to cocktails to stuff they can readily find nearby.

      – Man, wasting a $115 bottle of Appleton 21 in a Mai Tai is insane. That stuff’s for sipping. :) It’s also not in keeping with the theme of this website, which is for 20-somethings just out of college and looking to upgrade their lives without breaking the bank. Vic was not making his mai tais with the equivalent of $100 rums, at least not the ones he served to his regular customers. I try to keep my recipes to bottles that are under $25 ($35 for whiskies).

      – Apricots are directly related to almonds, and their pits are used in a wide variety of almond-flavored foods and drinks. In fact, in many cases apricot pits yield a flavor, when macerated, closer to what people perceive as “almond” than actual chopped up almonds do. Amaretto does not taste like orgeat, I agree completely, but it’s a handy substitute in a pinch and makes a great drink.

      • http://twitter.com/AlexWBlack Alex Black

        I’ll gladly split the difference with you on the Pierre Ferrand point, it most certainly is not even close to Grand Marnier and it is the truest classic curacao on the market, but as I said, not what Vic would have used. Patron definitely ranks at or above the liqueur’s you’ve listed. Fee’s isn’t even orgeat, and in my area Giffard is everywhere, Fee’s is the harder to come by. Using the word “wasting” when talking about quality alcohol and claiming that a premium spirit like Appleton 21 should be used only for sipping and not for mixing is an archaic argument I thought we had long moved past in the world of cocktails. Whistler couldn’t paint his mother with barn paint, and a quality bartender (home or otherwise) cannot be expected to create the best cocktail possible without being willing to utilise those premium ingredients. I will congratulate you on your consistency of keeping the recipe prices low, but some drinks just simply should not be made on discount budgets. Saying apricots are related to almonds as it pertains to Ameretto vs Orgeat is like saying Lemons are related to Limes as it pertains to Lemonade vs Lime Cordial. They’re two vastly different products, they may yield a slightly similar taste when compared side-by-side, but once mixed in a cocktail they will create a vastly different drink (higher/lower alcohol burn, more/less viscous etc. even the way they react with ice as it pertains to dilution and chilling).

        As I said, most times I’m impressed with the content you put out, definitely a step up from similar bloggers posting on Primer’s competitor sites. Keep up the good work and when the chance presents itself the first round is on me.

        • http://cwbuecheler.com/ Christopher Buecheler

          The Fee’s and almond/apricot thing I still disagree with but don’t feel strongly about. Afraid I do disagree strongly with “some drinks simply should not be made on discount budgets” — I’ve had enjoyable cocktails made with everything from top-shelf to well liquors, including plenty of Mai Tais. Not everything needs to be Death and Co. quality to be enjoyable.

          Here’s the thing with “wasting”: past about $35/bottle, what you’re buying isn’t “quality” exactly. It’s nuance and subtlety (well, much of the time you’re mostly just buying a label and a way to feel good about yourself, but that’s a whole other argument). By dropping lime and orgeat atop it, you’re inherently muting those qualities.

          I agree entirely that you should use quality liquors when mixing. I wouldn’t make a Manhattan with a bad bourbon or rye, but I wouldn’t make one with a $105 bottle of Michter’s 10 Year Single Barrel either. What I want at that price range is subtlety and nuance.

          Now, if I could afford to just buy $100 bottles whenever? Sure, absolutely, but that’s not realistic for the vast majority of people, let alone this site’s readers. I’m in my mid-30s and make good money, and $100 is still more than I can swing for a single bottle of booze, 99% of the time (I’ve gone over that twice, I think). When I was 22, the idea of spending $100 for a bottle of rum was a pipe dream, regardless of what I was going to do for it.

          I made the Mai Tai in the above article/photo exactly as specified in the recipe. It was delicious!

          Oh, and thanks for the compliment and I hope no hard feelings — I appreciate anyone who cares about their cocktails, and there’s nothing wrong with not agreeing on everything. If ever we meet, I’ll be happy to accept your drink and pick up round two.