Mai Tai Recipes

Table of Contents

  • The Original 1944 Mai Tai Recipe
  • Traditional Mai Tai Garnish: Lime and Mint
  • “Juice from One Lime” = 1 Ounce
  • The Ultimate Mai Tai Recipe
  • Historical and Island Mai Tai Recipes
  • Modern Recipes and Riffs
  • Mai Tai Swizzle

The Original 1944 Mai Tai Recipe

We begin by describing the original recipe by Trader Vic, including the named components. Note that many of these are no longer available, so we’ve provided a simplified version and a discussion of the key ingredients.

The most iconic version of the cocktail is the Hawaiian or “Island-style” Mai Tai, using pineapple juice and a dark rum float. Those Mai Tais can be delicious and are covered below as well.

The Original Formula by Trader Vic Bergeron, 1944
2 ounces of 17-year old J. Wray & Nephew Jamaican Rum over shaved ice
½ ounce Holland DeKuyper Orange Curacao
½ ounce French Garier Orgeat Syrup
¼ ounce Trader Vic’s Rock Candy Syrup
Add juice from one fresh Lime.

Simplified 1944 Mai Tai Recipe
2 oz Aged Rum
½ oz Orange Curacao
½ oz Orgeat
¼ oz Rock Candy/Rich Simple Syrup or Demerara Syrup
1 oz Lime juice

Orgeat and Orange Curacao

Some recipes omit the sugar syrup in lieu of more Orgeat, and some may use more or less Lime juice or of the Curacao. If you adjust the amounts of the ingredients you’ll find there are a lot of combinations, depending on your palate.

Rum(s) for a Mai Tai

The rum in good Mai Tais is typically aged and heavy, but that too could be based on your preference. Unlike many cocktails, the Mai Tai really lets the rum shine.

The original Mai Tai rum was from Jamaica, so that’s the country of origin for many Mai Tai rums you’ll find in bars and restaurants. You’ll often see Mai Tais made with Martinique Rhum, both traditional Molasses-based Rhum Industriel and also the more commonly found Rhum Agricole made from Sugar Cane Juice. The International Bartenders Association’s recipe for a Mai Tai specifically calls for Martinique Rhum made from Molasses.

The Ultimate Mai Tai rum blend is a bold blend of mostly Jamaican rums and is a boozy 52% ABV. Simply use ½ oz each in a Mai Tai, or combine equal parts of Appleton Estate Rare Casks Aged 12 Years (“Appleton 12”), Smith & Cross Traditional Jamaica Rum, Plantation OFTD, and Plantation Xaymaca into a bottle and use 2 oz when preparing your Mai Tai.

But with so many quality rums on the market, we certainly encourage you to try different rums and styles. There’s no wrong answer when it comes to the Rum used in a Mai Tai, so use your favorite rum or style, or simply use what you have on hand.

Traditional Mai Tai Garnish: Lime and Mint

The traditional garnish for a Mai Tai at Trader Vic’s is one half of the spent lime shell along with a mint sprig. These are placed into the top of the drink after mixing (never before), and they look a bit like a little island and palm tree.

“Juice from One Lime” = One Ounce

Compare bottled vs. fresh lime juice

Since the size of limes vary, the “juice of one lime” is an inexact measurement. Small limes might give you ¾ ounce or less, while large ones will give you more than 1 ½ ounces. I once had a lime give me more than two and a half ounces of juice!

So, juicing a large lime and using the “juice of one lime” might make your Mai Tais too tart.

We do have documentation on what Trader Vic considered the correct amount of lime juice in a Mai Tai, though. In his 1974 book Rum Cookery & Drinkery it is noted on page 96 that “Juice of one average Lime = 1 ounce.” So, if you’re following Vic’s standard recipe 1 ounce of lime juice is the correct measurement. 

Some bartenders omit sugar syrup from the cocktail, and then bring the lime juice down to ¾ oz. 

In terms of which kind of Lime Juice to use, always use freshly squeezed Lime Juice. Someone told us that the organic bottled lime tasted just like fresh squeezed and we did a blind taste test. I didn’t even have to taste the fresh juice Mai Tai to know the bottled version was inferior.

Watch the video: Limes in a Mai Tai

The Ultimate Mai Tai Recipe

Ultimate Mai Tai with Four Rums

Ultimate Mai Tai by Kevin Crossman 
1 oz Lime Juice
½ oz Orgeat (Latitude 29)
¼ oz Demerara Syrup (BG Reynolds)
½ oz Orange Curacao (Ferrand Dry Curacao)
½ oz Appleton 12 Rum
½ oz Smith & Cross Rum
½ oz Plantation OFTD Rum
½ oz Plantation Xaymaca Rum

Garnish with Mint Sprig and spent Lime shell

This is the house Mai Tai at Ultimate Mai Tai Headquarters. First labeled as the “Ultimate Mai Tai” when it was served as a special menu addition at The Kon-Tiki in Oakland.

The Ultimate Mai Tai Rum blend is used in other recipes such as in the Banana Mai Tai and the Ultimate Navy Grog.

More info: Mai Tai Rum

Historical and Island Mai Tai Recipes

1956 Mai Tai by Trader Vic Bergeron
1 ounce Lime Juice
¼ ounce Rock Candy Syrup
¼ ounce Curacao
¼ ounce Orgeat
1½ ounces Lightly Aged Puerto Rican Rum
¾ ounce Hamilton 114 rum (or Hamilton 1670 West Indies Blend or a combo)

Mix in 16 ounce tumbler glass with shaved ice. Drop half a spent lime shell in the glass. Stir and decorate with fresh mint.

Halekulani Mai Tai

House without a Key Mai Tai, Halekulani Hotel in Waikiki
1 ¼ oz Lime Juice
⅓ oz Orgeat
⅓ oz Rock Candy Syrup
⅓ oz Orange Curacao (Cointreau)
¾ oz Bacardi Select/Black Rum
¾ oz Bacardi Gold Rum
Float ½ oz Lemon Hart 151 Rum

This looks like a typical Island Mai Tai but is closer to an original 1944 Mai Tai, and was easily our favorite in Waikiki. (Halekulani website)

Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai, Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Waikiki
1 oz Orange Juice
1 oz unsweetened Pineapple Juice
½ oz Lime Juice
¼ oz Lemon Juice
¼ oz Orgeat
¼ oz Sugar Syrup
¼ oz Orange Curacao
1 oz Demerara Rum
1 oz Dark Jamaican Rum
1 oz Light Rum

Garnish with a Pineapple finger, Sugar Cane stick, Orchid, and Mint Sprig.

This recipe dates to 1971 according to the entry in Beachbum Berry Remixed. Note that this Mai Tai does not have the dark rum float most typically associated with Island Mai Tais. Though, I suppose, you could hold back the Dark Jamaican rum and float it.

  • The current Mai Tai served at the Royal Hawaiian is considerably different. Learn more: Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai

Island Mai Tai by Michael Thanos
1 oz Lime Juice
2 oz Pineapple Juice
½ oz Orgeat 
½ oz Orange Curacao
1½ oz  Gold or Amber Rum
½ oz Dark Rum

Combine all the ingredients, except the dark rum, in a tall glass or shaker filled with ice. Shake, then pour into a tall ice-filled glass. Add a float of dark rum. Garnish with pineapple, cherry and a paper parasol. Michael Thanos, Forbidden Island (San Jose Mercury News, March 28, 2014)

Golden Island Mai Tai by Jason Alexander
1½ oz Lime juice
½ oz Orange juice
½ oz BG Reynolds Orgeat
1 oz BG Reynolds Pineapple Molasses Syrup
2½ oz Stiggins Pineapple Rum
Zip with crushed ice and pour unstrained into your favorite mug

Jason is a noteworthy craft bar owner and mixologist who says he prefers an Island style Mai Tai to the 1944 original recipe (which he cheekily calls “pedestrian” to see if it will get a rise out of me). So, it’s not too surprising to see this “scandalous” variant that adds more juice and sweeter ingredients. (Instagram)

Chuck’s Original Steak House, Waikiki, Courtesy of Les Hong
1½ oz Sweet and Sour mix
1 to 1-½ oz Light Rum
¾ oz Orange Curacao
½ oz Falernum or Orgeat syrup
1 oz Dark Rum or Demerara Dark Rum

Garnishes: half of a fresh Lime, fresh Mint

Pour first 4 ingredients over crushed ice; stir. Top with the dark rum, garnish and serve. (Honolulu Star Bulletin, October 1, 1997)

Modern Recipes and Riffs

Mai Tai Planter’s Punch by Jason Alexander at Devil’s Reef, Tacoma WA
2 dashes Aromatic Bitters
1 dash Falernum
1 dash Grenadine
¾ oz Lime juice
½ oz Orgeat
¼ oz Don’s Spices No. 2
½ oz Ferrand Dry Curacao
1½ oz Plantation Xaymaca Rum
½ oz Plantation OFTD Rum

Flash blend for five seconds with a cup of pure single ice. Pour unstrained into a tall glass adding more pure single ice to fill and garnish with few springs of mint. (Instagram)

Mai Tai by Shannon Mustipher, Tiki: Modern Tropical Cockails
2 oz Aged Rum
½ oz Rhum Agricole Blanc
½ oz Orange Curacao
½ oz Orgeat
½ oz Lime Juice

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with cubed ice. Shake and dump into a double rocks glass. Garnish with a Mint Spring and the reserved Lime shell.

Recommended spirts: Hamilton 86 Demerara Rum, Pananubes Rum, Marie Brizard Orange Curacao.

The Reverend’s Tai – Matt Pietrek (Cocktail Wonk)
1 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
¼ oz Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao (or perhaps Clément Créole Shrubb)
½ oz Orgeat (adjust to taste, depending on sweetness)
½ oz Plantation Rum O.F.T.D. Overproof
1½ oz Plantation Rum Stiggins’s Fancy

Shake with ice. Serve over fresh crushed ice in a double old fashioned glass. Garnish with spent lime shell and other festive Tiki staples, e.g. pineapple fronds, orchids, etc. (Cocktail Wonk Blog)

Molasses Mai Tai

Molasses Mai Tai by Kevin Crossman
1 oz Lime Juice
½ oz Orgeat
¼ oz Molasses Syrup
½ oz Orange Curacao
2 oz Aged Jamaican Rum (Appleton Reserve 8)

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with crushed ice. Shake and dump into double rocks glass and garnish with Mint Sprig and reserved Lime shell. Inspired by the Pampanito cocktail at Smuggler’s Cove, which also uses the same rum and molasses syrup.

Molasses Syrup:
2 cups Granulated Sugar
2 Tbsp. Mild Molasses
1 cup Hot Water
Combine all ingredients and stir until sugar is fully dissolved. 

Banana Mai Tai by Kevin Crossman
1 oz Lime juice
½ oz Orgeat
½ oz Molasses Syrup
¾ oz Banana Liqueur
2 oz Ultimate Mai Tai Rum Blend (equal parts Appleton 12 Rum, Smith & Cross Rum, Plantation OFTD Rum,Plantation Xaymaca Rum)

Blue Hawai-Tai by Kevin Crossman
1 oz Lemon Juice
½ oz Orgeat
½ oz Simple Syrup
½ oz Blue Curacao
1 oz White Overproof Jamaican Rum
½ oz Aged White Rum

Blue Hawai-Tai

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with crushed ice. Shake and dump into a small snifter glass. Garnish with Mint and tropical fruit.

It’s like the Blue Hawaii and the Mai Tai had a baby. Featured in Issue 7 of Exotica Moderne.

Recommended spirits:

  • Any white Jamaican Overproof rum will do fine (Wray & Nephew Overproof, Rum-Bar, Rum Fire), though it is recommended to use one with 100% pot still rum.
  • For the white rum we recommend something with at least some pot-still component, such as Probitas, Denizen White, Myers’s White, or Plantation 3 Star. If you prefer something even lighter, then a rum with at least a little age such as Cruzan is recommended.

If you like it a little less sweet you can try this adjusted version that omits the sugar syrup and add lime juice.

Blue Mai Tai
½ oz Lime Juice
½ oz Lemon Juice
1 oz Orgeat
½ oz Blue Curacao
1 oz White Overproof Jamaican Rum
½ oz Aged White Rum
Garnish with Mint

Don the Beachcomber’s Mai Tai Swizzle

The Mai Tai Swizzle is a Don the Beachcomber cocktail that dates the 1950s according the cocktail historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry. Berry notes that he was told by Donn Beach’s widow that the Mai Tai Swizzle dates to 1933, but that “it was not one of his favorites.” This cocktail was not seen on documented Don the Beachcomber menus from the late 1930s (during the time when Trader Vic visited Don the Beachcomber) so the earlier date is difficult to validate and comes from a biased source.

Note the Mai Tai Swizzle is different than the Q.B. Cooler, another Don the Beachcomber cocktail that has been claimed to be a precursor to the Mai Tai.

The Mai Tai Swizzle by Don the Beachcomber

Mai Tai Swizzle by Don the Beachcomber
¾ oz Lime Juice
1 oz Grapefruit Juice
½ oz Cointreau
¼ oz Falernum
1 ½ oz Dark Jamaican Rum
1 oz Gold Cuban Rum
6 drops Pernod
1 dash Angostura Bitters
Shake well with a cup of crushed ice. Garnish with 4 Mint Sprigs.