Trader Vic’s Original Mai Tai
- 2 ounces Jamaican rum
- 1/2 ounce orgeat (almond syrup)
- 1/2 ounce orange curacao
- Juice of one fresh lime
- 1/4 ounce rock candy syrup (a simple syrup works well)
- Lime slice & sprig of mint for garnish
Shake ingredients and pour into an ice-packed glass. Garnish with lime and a sprig of mint. Makes 1 serving.
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History of the Mai Tai
There is no cocktail that so brings to mind balmy tropical breezes, Hawaiian shirts, flaming tiki torches by a long bamboo bar, and Pu Pu platters, than the Mai Tai. With the resurgence of the “Tiki Culture,” the Mai Tai is now an absolute must fixture of the repertoire of the amateur mixologist. But what were the origins of this delightfully refreshing, yet powerful, concoction of rums and syrups?
Enter Victor Jules Bergeron Jr. who in 1934, established a small bar and restaurant called Hinky Dink’s across from his parents’ grocery store in Oakland, California. Though a childhood accident left him with only one leg, Victor was fortunate enough to be able to travel extensively throughout the South Pacific, becoming enthralled by the local culture wherever he went. When he returned in 1936, gone was Victor Bergeron and Hinky Dink’s, and the iconic Trader Vic’s was launched. Besides stories of his adventures, Trader Vic brought artifacts aplenty to decorate his restaurant and lounge in Oakland, as well as the new concept of Polynesian “Island-Style Cooking.” Trader Vic’s would go on to launch 25 restaurants worldwide, becoming one of the very first themed restaurant franchises.
Of course, most folks do acknowledge the original purveyor of all things tiki, Ernest Raymond Beaumont-Gantt, a young man from Louisiana who, like Victor, sailed extensively through the South Pacific. At some point upon his return to the states, the well traveled Ernie changed his name to Donn Beach and launched the legendary Don The Beachcomber Restaurant in Hollywood in 1934. Donn was the first to mix rum with fresh fruit juices and flavored syrups and almost single-handedly created the “tropical drink.” Originally known as Rhum Rhapsodies, these concoctions were a hit with movie stars and studio bigwigs, but we know them by such colorful names as Scorpions and Zombies. But I digress…
Now, In Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” the lycanthrope in question was “…sipping Pina Coladas at Trader Vic’s.” Ok, that’s a start. But it would be more exotic rum cocktails that would propel Trader Vic’s into the institution it would become. In his South Seas travels, Vic learned a great appreciation for exotic rums and soon built his cocktail menu around these and all of the local fruit juices he encountered. Since he opened Trader Vic’s a couple years after Don The Beachcomber opened down beach, it is certainly possible that Vic got, uh, shall we say, “some inspiration” from Donn Beach. Though Donn also claimed its creation, it is clear, in this imbiber’s opinion, that Trader Vic Bergeron was the founder of the Mai Tai.
The story goes that in 1944, Carrie and Ham Guild, friends of Vic’s who came from Tahiti, tried a new concoction that Vic had whipped up using aged rum (in this case, 17 year old J. Wray Nephew rum from Jamaica), orange curacao, fresh lime, rock candy syrup, and orgeat, an almond syrup. As soon as they tasted it, Carrie exclaimed “Mai Tai Roa Ae” which in Tahitian meant, “Out of this world, the best”. And the rest, as they say…
Be careful with these. They go down real easy and if you’re not careful, you’ll go down real hard.
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