Mai Tai Myth: a 1944 Mai Tai Must be Made with Jamaican Rum

Leading up to Mai Tai Day (August 30), we are sharing five Mai Tai myths.

The original Mai Tai was made in 1944 by Trader Vic Bergeron with 17 year Jamaican rum from J. Wray & Nephew. Subsequent to that, the Trader Vic’s chain has used various Jamaican rums, rum blends that included Virgin Island rum, rums from Martinique, and currently are using Trader Vic’s Royal Amber rum distilled in Puerto Rico.

Nonetheless, some people think that a “1944 Mai Tai” must only include Jamaican rum.

The logic behind this seems a little twisted. The original Mai Tai had Jamaican rum, so it must only ever be made with Jamaican rum. As if today’s Myers’s or Coruba unaged blended rums with caramel color would be comparable to the original full pot-still rum aged for 17 years.

Additional perspectives indicate that the term “1944 Mai Tai” means the original recipe (thus, Jamaican rum). My perspective is that the term “1944 Mai Tai” is most typically meant to refer to a recipe featuring lime, curaçao, orgeat, sugar, and rum – in other words, NOT an Island Mai Tai. Some folks have said that this should be called a “Trader Vic’s Mai Tai” to mean this recipe using any kind of rum, and to those folks I remind them that Trader Vic’s themselves have recently had a 1944 Mai Tai on their menu using non-Jamaican rums.

If using rums made outside of Jamaica is good enough for Trader Vic’s, it should be good enough for you. The Mai Tai does not have a geographical origin, like the Ti Punch or Daiquiri, so use whatever rum is your favorite. I do love Jamaican rum, but you should use whatever rum you like. Then enjoy. Cheers.

Want to learn more? Check our website for additional historical notes and essays. Or join us in Emeryville at Trader Vic’s Mai Tai Day event on August 28 for a special seminar on the Hawaiian Mai Tai.

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