2 fluid ounces of a gold or dark Jamaican rum or a blend of gold or dark Jamaican rums or a blend of one or more gold or dark Jamaican rums and an aged Martinican rhum agricole or a blend of one or more gold or dark Jamaican rums and a Martinican rhum grand arôme
(recommended: 1∶1 blend of Appleton Estate Rare Blend 12 Year Old of Jamaica and Clément V.S.O.P. Rhum Agricole Vieux of Martinique¹)
½ fluid ounce of orange curaçao
(pictured: Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao)
1 fluid ounce of fresh lime juice
¼ fluid ounce (1½ teaspoons) of orgeat syrup
(pictured: Liber & Co. Almond Orgeat)
¼ fluid ounce (1½ teaspoons) of demerara gum syrup
(pictured: Liber & Co. Demerara Gum Syrup)
Shake all of the ingredients with ice (preferably crushed) and pour (without straining) into a larger-sized lowball glass or double old fashioned glass. Garnish with the shell of a juiced lime and a sprig of mint.
Floating ½ fluid ounce of a 151-proof Demerara rum is a popular addition to the Mai Tai. While not part of the original recipe, it can add even more flavor (and alcohol).
This is the original Mai Tai recipe Trader Vic created in 1944. Initially, the drink called for 17-year-old J. Wray & Nephew Jamaican rum. However, as those supplies dried up, Vic search for a replacement. He settled on a blend of aged Jamaican pot still rums and a Martinican rum.
Martinican rums are French-style and therefore generally speaking, rhum agricole (rum produced from sugarcane juice). There is a point of contention, however, over whether Trader Vic was actually referring to a rhum agricole.
Martin Cate believes that Trader Vic may have been referring to a molasses-based rhum grand arôme. This is in contrast to Beachbum Berry’s recommended blend, above, which calls for a rhum agricole vieux. Both Martin Cate and Beachbum Berry are knowledgeable figures; I don’t feel qualified to weigh in beyond making a note.
To try out a blend of rums following Cate’s competing theory, you would have to find a rhum grand arôme to pair with Jamaican rum. Alternatively, Denizen Merchant’s Reserve 8 Year is a rum blend created just for this purpose, and may be used as the singular rum in a Mai Tai.
Trader Vic’s original goal with the Mai Tai was to showcase a “great rum”, not cover the flavor up. Although any of the above blends may be close to Vic’s own substitutions, a Mai Tai is a great drink to show off many different rums and blends.
Tiki lesson: The Mai Tai
If you look closely at the recipe, you’ll see it follows a similar formula to a 2∶1∶1 “daisy” (e.g. the Sidecar or Margarita). The difference is that the orange liqueur modifier (sweetener component) is split into 3 different sweeteners (itself, fractally, a 2∶1∶1 split between curaçao, orgeat, and demerara syrup) and the spirit base also may be split to make a more complex rum blend. A lot of tiki drinks are like this; they appear on the surface to be a random barrage of ingredients but are actually classic drink structures heavily subdivided into blended pieces in order to add flavor complexity.