New Site Feature: The (De)Evolution of the Hawaiian Mai Tai

An important piece of cocktail journalism is launching this week with my article in the latest issue of Exotica Moderne, available today at the Tiki Caliente weekend event in Palm Springs.

The article describes how the Hawaiian Mai Tai evolved from 1953 to present day and also explodes several myths.

  • The Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai was born with Pineapple Juice in 1953.
  • Nobody knew the ingredients for a Mai Tai, so they made due with whatever they had.
  • Trader Vic kept the recipe for a Mai Tai secret until 1970.

All of the above are not true.

Just this week I saw two fresh articles that stated that Trader Vic himself added pineapple juice when he brought the Mai Tai to Hawaii in 1953. This is clearly not correct based on my research, and the Royal Hawaiian isn’t documented to have added pineapple juice until 1972!

So, we’ll be doing our best to get the word out about this. As a starting point, you can catch my appearance on the Pod Tiki Podcast episode from last week. 

Read the Article Online

Since the article was submitted for print publication, we’ve uncovered additional details on the history of this iconic cocktail. Those added items are now included on the version of the article now available on this website:

Experience the Presentation at Tiki Kon

We’ll have even more historical details and context in my presentation at Tiki Kon in July. Come join us if you’re attending and weekend passes for Tiki Kon are still available.

I’m always on the hunt for more historical details. Leave a comment or send me a message if you have any details or breadcrumbs for us to follow.

Exotica Moderne Issue 15

The new issue featuring cover art by Shag is launching tomorrow at Tiki Caliente. If you’re attending, be sure to pick up a copy! The issue ia now available for mail order as per the usual release process via www.houseoftabu.com.

Issue 15 is maybe the best one yet, featuring some great articles about Shag’s Palm Springs house, the tiki revival, Modernism Week, Frankie’s Tiki Room, plus the usual great content from regular contributors Tiki with Ray and Tiki Lindy. The issue also includes great music reviews and original cocktails from the likes of Marie King and Rory Snyder. Plus a great *centerfold* in this issue that is not to be missed. And so much more.

You can also read my article about the (De)Evolution of the Hawaiian Mai Tai, which I think is an important piece of cocktail journalism. Having the article published in Exotica Moderne adds to the legitimacy and value of the research and we are grateful to Ken Holewczynski for providing space in the issue as well as his design/layout expertise to bring the text to life.

Don’t miss Issue 15 of Exotica Moderne.

Appleton 17 Legend Jamaican Rum

Biiiig news, Mai Tai fans. Appleton Estate is coming out with a new rum expression aged 17 years, intended as a “re-creation of the legendary rum crafted by J. Wray & Nephew in the 1940s” that “inspired the bartending world.” No specific mention of Trader Vic Bergeron or his most famous creation, the 1944 Mai Tai, but we all know what they’re hinting at.

Take my money!

I’ve often wondered why Appleton didn’t try to tap into the nostalgia of Mai Tai fans worldwide and release a 17 year expression to match the Wray & Nephew rum used in the original Mai Tai. After rebranding their standard issue product line in 2020 and issuing mainstream and widely available 15 year and 21 year old expressions last year, plans for the 17 year expression are now public. Thanks to Cocktail Wonk Matt Pietrek for sharing the TTB filing.

A few facts:

  • Minimum aged 17 years in the tropics
  • 49% ABV
  • 1500 bottles total

Since this is a 750ml bottle, this is most likely the allocation for the United States. No specific details are shown regarding the blend, and “100% Pot Still” is not indicated on the bottle as you’d expect if it were so.

But, surely the pot still component is greater in this expression than it is for Appleton’s mainstream rum products, if this is to be a “faithful re-creation of the original.” Having tried the very limited release of the 25 year old Appleton 1995 that’s 100% Pot Still I can tell you that those Appleton pot stills are quite effective at producing amazing distillate, and makes an amazing Mai Tai

Stay tuned for further developments.

 

Paranubes Anejo Aguardiente de Caña

I received a gift card to Bitters & Bottles and picked up this aged cane spirit from Mexico. 

Such interesting flavors. You can taste the Olive-like cane juice source in this rum, but the spiced aging notes from new American oak barrels gives this a bit of a Scotch-like taste. You can definitely savor this spirit, bottled at 53.8% ABV.

1958 Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai

In 1958, a syndicated news story published in newspapers nationwide provided a Mai Tai recipe that was attributed as coming from a bartender at the Royal Hawaiian.

1 oz Lemon Juice
½ oz Fresh Lime Juice
⅓ oz Rock Candy Syrup
⅓ oz Orgeat
⅓ oz Orange Curacao
1 oz Light Puerto Rican Rum (Cruzan Aged)
1 oz Dark Jamaican Rum (Hamilton Florida Rum Society blend)

Decorate the glass with a stalk of Sugar Cane, a sprig or two of Mint, and a Pineapple stick or two.

The ⅓ ounce measures for the Rock Candy, Orgeat, and Orange Curacao are most likely due to those ingredients being batched so that the bartender can more easily measure 1 ounce of sweetener.

In practice, this cocktail is significantly too tart. Most 1944 style Mai Tais feature an equal or slightly more sweeteners compared to the citrus. Adding additional sugar made this taste better to me, but didn’t taste as rummy as I like. Only using 1 oz of citrus would have been better.

The glass was a limited edition release from our friends at Skull & Crown Trading Company, the best tiki bar between San Francisco and Tokyo. We’re going to be visiting O’ahu in June and will be making a pilgrimage to Skull & Crown where we expect to have a properly balanced Mai Tai like we did back in 2019.

Chartreuse Swizzle

I’m not normally a big fan of cocktails with pineapple juice but this one is pretty damn good. Tart but still refreshing, and easy to drink.

Chartreuse Swizzle by Marcovaldo Dionysos
1 oz Pineapple juice
¾ oz Lime juice
½ oz Falernum
1½ oz Green Chartreuse

Add all ingredients to a Collins glass and fill with crushed ice. Swizzle the mixture with a barspoon until frost appears on the outside of the glass. Top with more crushed ice and garnish with mint sprig and nutmeg.

I gave this a heavy pour of the John D. Taylor Velvet Falernum but if I was going to make it over I’d either use a full ounce or use a non-alcoholic Falernum syrup.

The Cure for a Case of the Mondays: Dr. Funk

Was pleased to take a trip to downtown San Jose to meet up with Stephen Curran and his wife Heidi at Dr. Funk. It was their first time to visit Dr. Funk and though food isn’t served on Mondays, we had a great time. I’ve been watching Stephen’s many appearances on the Tiki with Ray YouTube show and we briefly met at the Aloha OA event a few weeks ago. It’s always nice to meet new tiki people and learn about their lives and travels. We’ll be seeing the Curran’s at Tiki Kon in July and made plans to check out their home bar near Tacoma in the days thereafter.

Mondays aren’t the busiest nights at Dr. Funk so there was plenty of space to stretch out and our service was quite fast. Even more importantly, the drinks were really great once again. I revisited two favorites, the Planters Punch and the Mai Tai – and man that Mai Tai was next level last night. I mean, so great. Stephen and Heidi recommended the nearby Hotel De Anza for out-of-towners, just one block away.

It looks like the city of San Jose is going to permanently close San Pedro St. to cars between Santa Clara and St. John St, which bodes well for Dr. Funk and all the other cool restaurants and bars on the street. Party in the streets this summer! We continue to enjoy fairly easy trips to downtown, even at commute time. And the parking garage across the street is fantastic.

Off-Menu Mai Tai at Golden Pineapple Craft Lounge

This restaurant and craft cocktail bar was recommended from a friend, and we decided to pop over for dinner last weekend at Arizona Tiki Oasis. Located past Tempe’s vibrant downtown, The Golden Pineapple would be easy to miss on a suburban boulevard, but definitely has the goods on the inside. We really enjoyed the food, including Navajo Fried Bread. My delicious Aloha Burger was made with a brisket patty and topped with coleslaw and teriyaki aioli.

There’s a large menu of craft cocktail options here, including many with rums you don’t normally see. Mrs. Mai Tai ordered the Surfer on Acid that has Mexican and Barbados Rums, Amaro Montenegro, Kalani Coconut Liqueur, Pineapple, Lime, and Angostura Bitters. A great combination of flavors and it is topped with a fun Jägermeister Jello mold. Very memorable.

Seeing that the venue has an extensive rum selection, I took a chance and asked the waitress to ask the bartender if they could make a 1944 Mai Tai. When she asked what was in it, I said to just ask the bartender if and they know then that’s what I’d like and if they didn’t then that was fine and I offered an on-menu substitute.

I’m sure that Mrs. Mai Tai is sick of these menu subs, but this was one those occasions where it truly was worth it, because the off-menu Mai Tai was fantastic! The bartender chose a bold Jamaican rum for the cocktail, which I found out later when the bill game was the Holmes Cay Jamaica Wedderburn 2011 Single Cask. This cask-strength rum comes from the Clarendon Distillery and is aged in Jamaica for three years, and then an additional seven in the U.K. It is great stuff, and was an excellent choice by the bartender to use a bold, flavorful Jamaican rum. And not much of an upcharge for the premium rum either.

Thank you Golden Pineapple for an amazing Mai Tai. Definitely one of the Top 10 Mai Tais so far in 2022.

Central California Tiki

Ran into Wayne Stonecipher at Arizona Tiki Oasis and he gifted me this cool Central California Tiki bottle opener. Wayne is the head honcho for the Central California Tiki Facebook group, and has been doing a great job helping to plan events up and down the Central Valley.

The group has done meet-ups at Bakersfield’s amazing world-class Tiki-Ko and the Sinking Ship, along with vendor events, meetups at home tiki bars, parties with guest bartenders like Skipper Christian and B-Rex, and more. It is really cool to see the folks coming together including those new to tiki along with veterans. If you’re in the area and aren’t already connected then be sure to look for the Central California Tiki group in Facebook and on Instagram.

Bartender in a Box Mai Tai with Rum

I was pleased to sample this in the Jeff Granito suite at Arizona Tiki Oasis, since Jeff did the graphic design for the box. It is what it says: a ready to drink Mai Tai that includes rum and comes in a box. Bartender in a Box also makes available a Mai Tai and a Margarita product that comes without rum (so you can add your own). This seems like a great delivery vehicle for camping or picnic, where people can pour as much as they want rather than having to have their own can or bottle. The box including rum is available in a few SoCal Costco stores. Check www.bartenderinabox.com for details.

And the taste? Well, I’ve definitely had worse. It definitely leans in the fruity direction, and I mostly taste pineapple – though the product emphasizes there is almond flavor there too. There’s no annoying aftertaste that you get with some of these ready to drink cocktails.

And, for sure, this is the best looking packaging on any RTD Mai Tai. We love Granito’s design style.