We missed the big all-day Mai Tai Day celebration at Trader Vic’s this past weekend since we were in Hawaii. So we had to go to dinner on Wednesday to celebrate since Mai Tai Day is officially August 30th, chosen based on the proclamation by the city of Oakland in 2009.
It was just Mrs. Mai Tai and me after friends had to cancel at the last minute. But we always enjoy our dinners, especially when we hit a bunch of Trader Vic’s favorites such as Crab Rangoon, Peanut Butter Crackers, Trader Vic’s Salad, Island Fried Rice, and Mac Nut Mahi Mahi. Always so good!
The Mai Tai was made with my favorite rum, Appleton 12, and was quite nice as a toast to the ol’ Trader himself who invented the cocktail 79 years ago.
But the Trader Vic’s team are not living in the past, as witnessed by some fine cocktails that Mrs. Mai Tai had. She started with the delightful Koko-Nana Delight, simply coconut, banana, and rum – served in the cute Ramu mug. Even better was her second, the Pondo Punch. This rich cocktail contains a blend of rums, along with spiced citrus, guava, peach, and mango – and is served in the Angoram mug. A couple of really fine modern cocktails.
We were able to pick up one of the souvenir glasses from the Mai Tai Day celebration. As we exited the restaurant, the sun was setting over Emeryville’s picturesque harbor and we knew that Mai Tai Day 2023 was over.
Today is Mai Tai Day, celebrating the birth of the Mai Tai in 1944. It was the day selected when Oakland recognized the cocktail and declared Mai Tai Day in 2009.
To celebrate, here’s the series of Mai Tai Myths articles that ran last year. They provide historical perspective on the cocktail and sadly we continue to see misinformation being spread.
Mai Tai Myth: Hawaiian Mai Tais have Always had Pineapple Juice First up is the myth that when Trader Vic introduced the Mai Tai to Hawaii in 1953 that it was created with pineapple juice. Pineapple juice is certainly the ingredient that changes a 1944 style Mai Tai to an “Island Mai Tai” and these are common in Hawaii and other tourist destinations. But pineapple juice wasn’t commonly used in Hawaiian Mai Tais until the 1960s.
Mai Tai Myth: Nobody knew the Mai Tai Ingredients Until 1970 Trader Vic Bergeron issued a press release in 1970 describing how he original developed the Mai Tai and he also included the original recipe. We’ve seen speculation that this means that body knew what was actually in a Mai Tai. There are numerous 1950s-1960s published recipes in newspapers and books that provided Mai Tai recipes featuring the original ingredients: lime, rock candy syrup, orgeat, orange curaçao, and rum. This isn’t like the Zombie where nobody knew about Don’s Mix or even what was in it.
Mai Tai Myth: Trader Vic Kept the Recipe a Secret While there was a great deal of secrecy around cocktail recipes at Don the Beachcomber locations, there was a different practice with Trader Vic’s. A customer wrote to Bergeron in 1956 requesting the recipe for the Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai and Trader Vic himself signed the letter sent back to the customer.
Mai Tai Myth: The Mai Tai Created a Worldwide Rum Shortage Trader Vic Bergeron stated “The success of the Mai Tai and its acceptance soon caused the 17-year-old rum to become unavailable, so it was substituted with the same fine rum with 15 years aging.” This is where the myth originates, with people doing a shorthand to say that “rum” had a shortage due to the Mai Tai.
Mai Tai Myth: a 1944 Mai Tai Must be Made with Jamaican Rum In this case we’re using the term “1944 Mai Tai” to mean a recipe along the lines or the original and to differentiate from an Island Mai Tai. 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.
Mrs. Mai Tai and I had a great time at the second and half annual Tiki in Waikiki weekender this past weekend. This was our first time at the event, which is produced by Angelina Khan and Noa Laporga of Skull & Crown Trading Co. fame. There were quite a few volunteers who helped with the event, including Adrian Eustaquio who served as MC for most of the events. Sylvia Flores was also omnipresent and also gave us some great tips for things to do in the city.
Friday recap: opening ceremony and tiki vendors at the International Market Place, followed by delicious cocktails from Skull & Crown in the Don the Beachcomber treehouse. First time in decades to have exotic drinks in the treehouse! There was an off-premise event in Chinatown, but we enjoyed the room party thrown by Michael and Holly at the host hotel White Sands.
Saturday recap: fab seminars from Adrian covering the Tiki Ti and Martin Cate’s about Hawaiian tourism, followed by a pool party at the White Sands. Then a bus ride up to Kō Hana rum distillery for a tour and a luau party. We enjoyed the Hawaiian food and especially the musical acts including Thomas Mackay and Vibra Cubana. But we were truly impressed by local favorite Starr Kalahiki who’s really a fabulous singer and entertainer.
Sunday recap: truly incredible seminar from DeSoto Brown, then bartender competition in the International Market Place courtyard. We then were bussed to a theater to see a test screening of the Donn of Tiki documentary. We thought this film about Don the Beachcomber was outstanding. Then we finished the evening with another catered evening in the patio behind Skull & Crown including cocktails from Skull & Crown and also Doc Parks. Sunday also featured a silent auction to raise money for Maui, organized by Chase Samson. I won the tickets to Tiki Oasis 2024!
What a magical weekend! Thanks again to Noa, Angelina, and all the support team.
First stop after landing in Waikiki was the Mai Tai bar at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel for a cocktail and some eye candy. We love the tables at the edge of this bar that are adjacent to the beach with great views of Diamond Head.
The Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai remains a competent island-style Mai Tai, with Pineapple and Orange Juice but also with real Orgeat and Orange Curacao. Mrs. Mai Tai enjoyed the Pink Palace, which is a Pina Colada with Grenadine added for color.
We have less positive things to say about the $40 Ali’i Mai Tai, which features Kō Hana Koho barrel aged rum, El Dorado 15, Ferrand Dry Curacao, orgeat, and fresh lime. Sounds good? There’s also “freshly muddled pineapple” which to my taste didn’t seem that fresh, along with a generous toping of Coco-Loco foam. The fruity topping tastes good on its own but doesn’t really work with the rest of the cocktail, and then completely overpowers the flavor once it gets incorporated into the cocktail. The color and notably also implies a great deal of pineapple juice, otherwise the two aged rums would turn this darker. I couldn’t really taste the rums in this, poor since it is supposed to feature them considering the price.
So, word of advice – skip the $40 Mai Tai and just go with the standard. There’s plenty of to enjoy here, including live musicians playing most days. Seating is open, so keep a look out for the tables right next to the beach.
While Mrs. Mai Tai spent some quality time with the retail stores, I took another opportunity to relax at Margaritaville. Having tried a Margarita the day before I thought it would be an opportune time to try a rum cocktail. I remembered seeing the Rum Runner on the menu the day before so I ordered it without ever looking at the menu.
The bartender seemed to be far from relaxed but made the cocktail. It was served over ice and incorporated the berry and banana flavors the cocktail is famous for, and it was actually pretty good. The rums used were not very assertive but at the same time this wasn’t too sweet either.
I looked at the menu finally and couldn’t find the Rum Runner in the Boat Drinks section. I finally spotted it in the Frozen drink section – which reminded me that this was a cocktail that was originally served blended. And then I saw that this cocktail is supposed to be made with Myers’s Jamaica Rum and Cruzan 134. So, rums that are quite a bit more assertive! I asked the Bartender for another served frozen according to the description.
It’s always interesting to see a bartender in scramble mode, and this was most certainly the case here – looking here and there and up and down for the rums. I guess they don’t make them according to the menu, or this guy was a newbie. But soon enough a blended Rum Runner appeared.
The frozen version actually wasn’t quite a flavor bomb, though was more so after I mixed in the Cruzan 134 float. Frozen drinks often aren’t quite as sweet, the same as solid vs. melted ice cream. Nonetheless, it was quite reasonable and got the job done. I appreciated that the banana flavor came through quite nicely.