Mai Tais: or, an Examination of the Value of Quality Rums

Curse you, Rumdood!
A few days ago, I was hanging out in the Mixosoleum chat room, talking to Cocktailnerd and Rumdood. Our conversation came round to what great cocktail has become the most degraded. We settled on three contenders: The Daiquiri, the Margarita, or the Mai Tai. On further reflection, I’d have added a fourth faded beauty, the Mint Julep, but these’ll do well. Gabriel ran off and posted a poll on the Mixosoleum’s blog where you can vote for which of these great drinks have become most debased.
As we wrangled back and forth about which drink was a bigger wreck, I made a confession of a youthful indiscretion involving Tropicana Frozen Mai Tai Concentrate. Gabe and Matt, in the supportive manner of true friends, instantly banned me from the chatroom.
When they let me back in, Matt made a really good point. The true shame of all three of these drinks is that very few people have ever had a real one. I’ve ordered one in a bar twice, and neither was any good. I’d given up on this legendary name long ago.
Shortly after this, Matt went off to compose a rant on his blog about the One True Mai Tai. It’s worth a read. I read it.
Then I repaired to the Pegu Lounge to give it a whirl.
Here’s Trader Vic’s original recipe, as Matt reports it:

MAI TAI

  • 2 oz Wray & Nephew 17 Year Old Rum
  • .5 oz orgeat
  • .5 oz orange curacao
  • .25 oz simple syrup
  • Juice of one lime (approx. .75 oz lime juice)

Mix all ingredients and shake with ice. Strain into a glass over crushed ice. Garnish with lime shell and a sprig of mint.

Now, Matt notes that a bottle of the original rum for the recipe will run you in the neighborhood of $5.2 x 104, and I unaccountably had none in stock. This sometimes happens around here when it becomes convenient to display prices in scientific notation.
mountgayextraoldbottleBut this does not mean that I don’t have some nice rum on hand. I recently came in to possession of a bottle of Mount Gay Rum Extra Old, and this seemed like an auspicious occasion to break the seal. The Extra Old is a blended spirit, with constituents ranging from 12 years (old) to 17 years (um, extra old, I guess). It is a very dark mahogany, as you can see from my crummy photography, and has a complex aroma that my large but inefficient nose identified only as dinner on a Caribbean beach.
My only other ingredient issue was the Orgeat syrup. This is an almondy goop that does some fun things. Now current vogue in cocktailianna is to make your own, but this is a skill I don’t have yet. So I was forced into pulling out my giant bottle of commercial Orgeat.

Commercial Orgeat?
The kind in the giant store and pour?
Eww, that’s just Karo syrup and Almond extract!

Sorry. I’ll try to better later. Made From Scratch Orgeat is on my list for the future.

Hey!
What am I doing in your blog?

That’s a good question. You never even comment here, why are you in a post? Get out.
So, the Mai Tai is a dead simple little cocktail. How did it ever get associated with the popular idea of Tiki drinks needing eighteen ingredients and a fruit truck?
Since I doubted that the Pegu-wife would want one of these, I mixed only one up, using Cointreau for Orange Curaçao. I didn’t have mint around, so I decided to garnish with one of my fresh batch of homemade Maraschino Cherries, and am umbrella. Voila!
maitai1

You hassle me about being a Tiki blogger (when I’m not) and you have little green umbrellas just lying around on hand?

Still here? You need an umbrella for your tropical drink to keep the Sun from melting your ice.

It’s January.

And there is an ice storm going on right now. I really need to believe that the Sun is going to melt my ice.
The first impression of my first sip was not good. Honestly it seemed dull. For a second, I started to wilt. But then the full flavor of this drink began to blossom across the palate. A second sip confirmed that the Mai Tai was in fact a tragically neglected cocktail. I had tried making them in years past (badly), and I’d ordered them in tiki-themed restaurants (they stank), but…

See? No matter what they may think, most people have never actually had a Mai Tai.

I now see the wisdom of your words.
The flavor is very complex, and frankly a little indescribable. The ingredients meld wonderfully, to the point where you can hardly identify any of them, leaving a drink that tastes a bit like a… well… Mai Tai.
I wandered upstairs to give Maggi a sip, whether she wanted it or not. She gave the cocktail her usual suspicious look. After a first taste, however, she just walked away, with the Mai Tai! Refusal to relinquish the drink is a pretty good sign that I have a new regular part of the repertoire.
The next night, I went down to make more Mai Tais, and decided I’d experiment with the Rum. The Mount Gay Extra Old is 45 bucks in Ohio, and I wondered if, with all the other flavors at work, I could get away with a more, um, mainstream rum. Wandering back into the warehouse, I produced a bottle of Bacardi Gold. I whipped up two Mai Tais, one with the Bat-Beverage, one with the Mount Gay EO. There is an immediate visual difference to begin with. The color of the Gold-made Mai Tai was lighter and less exotic.
When I sipped the Gold Mai Tai, the first, split-second impression of the first sip was simlarly unimpressive as the Extra Old-made one. But the subsequent bloom is far less appealing. The flavors don’t play as well together. Many of the flavor elements are missing. And the pleasant glow of the EO Mai Tai is replaced by a more harsh burn. Looking for a second opinion, I offered both to Maggi. She made a face when drinking the Gold-made, and said it tasted like cough syrup.
The experiment went down the sink, and the level in the Extra Old bottle went down some more.
So again I say: Curse you, Rumdood! You conned me into adding another classic to my regular inventory, but one that will put a continuing dent in my pocketbook. It’ll be worth it, but don’t you know there’s a Recession on?

About the author

Doug

I am 48 years old, married with two young daughters. My interests are tennis, reading, computers, politics, and of course cocktails. I run a murder mystery party business that caters to both corporate and private events, Killing Time, murder consultants.

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