Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai

The iconic Mai Tai at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki was introduced by Trader Vic Bergeron in 1953. During the 1950s the reputation for this cocktail built such a following that it was described as the “top tourist tantalizer” in 1959. But the Mai Tai you get today at the Royal Hawaiian differs considerably, since it uses the Pineapple Juice and Orange Juice commonly seen in Island-style Mai Tais.

Mai Tais being served at the Royal Hawaiian, June 2022

1956 Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai

The earliest known recipe for the Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai comes via a letter written to a customer by Trader Vic himself. This is still substantially similar to the original 1944 recipe, though with different proportion of sweeteners and notably using both a Dark Jamaican rum and also a light rum. It is light and refreshing and a good dark Jamaican rum does punch through in this recipe. Try Worthy Park 109.

1956 Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai
Juice of One Lime
Dash of Rock Candy Syrup
Dash of Curacao
Dash of Orgeat
1½ ounces Trader Vic’s Puerto Rican Rum
¾ ounce Myers’s Plantation Punch Rum
Stir and decorate with fresh mint

1972 Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai – Classic Recipe

The use of Pineapple Juice became common in Mai Tais in Hawaii starting in the 1960s, but The Royal Hawaiian seems to be a late convert. There’s a published recipe from their sister hotel The Moana Surfrider in 1968 that’s substantially similar to the 1956 version. However, there must have been pressure to include Pineapple Juice from many tourists.

This recipe comes from Drinks of Hawaii, 2nd Ed. 1972, by Paul B. Dick. The entry describes this is “now being used by the Sheraton” implying a recent change. The recipe included in the book did not specify an exact amount of Pineapple or Orange Juice except to say that they should be used in equal parts. The recipe is notable in that it describes using 3 ounces of rum, including two flavorful dark rums. But a rum float is not specified.

This recipe was later used in many books by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, who designated 1 oz each for the Pineapple and Orange Juice. This seems like the correct choice, keeping the balance with the other ingredients.

1972 Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai
½ oz Lime Juice
¼ oz Lemon Juice
1 oz Orange Juice
1 oz unsweetened Pineapple Juice
¼ oz Sugar Syrup
¼ oz Orgeat
¼ oz Orange Curacao
1 oz Demerara Rum
1 oz Dark Jamaican Rum
1 oz Light Rum

2010s Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai: Headscratcher

This devolved “secret recipe” was published on the Royal Hawaiian’s website, and includes some curious ingredients. The use of almond-flavored Amaretto liqueur in place of Orgeat syrup is sadly not uncommon in Mai Tais. Amaretto is fine elsewhere but doesn’t add the right flavors or body to the cocktail like Orgeat does. The use of Cherry Vanilla Puree, even in a small amount, is also a noteworthy head-scratcher.

2010s Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai
Build in shaker with ice:
1 oz Bacardi Rum
1 tsp Cherry Vanilla Puree
½ oz Amaretto di Saronno
½ oz Cointreau
1 oz Fresh Govinda Orange Juice
2 oz Fresh Govinda Pineapple Juice
½ oz Whaler’s Dark Rum Float

Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai, 2019

2022 Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai Returns to Normalcy

In mid-2022, the Royal Hawaiian updated their website to include this updated “secret recipe” and thankfully it’s much more of a standard Island Mai Tai. It is nice to see Orgeat coming back, though I don’t find Old Lahaina rum to be particularly good. Nonetheless, I did very much enjoy the cocktail in June 2022 when I sat looking out at Diamond Head.

2022 Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai
2 oz Pineapple Juice
1 oz Orange Juice
½ oz Orgeat
½ oz Orange Curacao
1 oz Old Lahaina Light Rum
1 oz Old Lahaina Dark Rum (float)
Shake all ingredients except the Dark Rum with ice. Pour in a large “bucket” glass. Float the Dark Rum, garnish with a parasol with cherry, pineapple and lime wedge.

The Portable Pub by Londonaire with Holland House Mai Tai Mix

Found this at an antiques store in Coos Bay, OR and had to have it. It seems to be vintage from the 1960s, including some powdered Mai Tai mixes. I could see how this would have been really cool back in the day, though obviously I’m not going to try and use the shaker or the Mai Tai Mix now.

It smells just as old as you might think, and it’s great!

New Issue of Exotica Moderne

Another fabulous issue of everyone’s favorite tiki magazine is now available from House of Tabu.

Some great features including all kinds of eye candy, music reviews, and some thoughtful commentary about cultural appropriation by Jason Craig Plus the usual tiki bar column from Tiki with Ray  and recipes from Tiki Lindy.

The cocktail recipes page has a little something for everyone and be sure to try my Innovation Cocktail with Gin, Passion Fruit, Orgeat, and Blue Curacao.

Innovation Cocktail by Kevin Crossman
1 ounce Passionfruit Syrup
½ ounce Orgeat
½ ounce Blue Curacao Liqueur
2 ounces London Dry Gin (I used Beefeater)

1956 Mai Tai Recipe

This recipe differs significantly from the classic 1944 Mai Tai recipe, and Bergeron indicates this is the recipe that’s served both in the stateside Trader Vic’s restaurants but also the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Honolulu. This recipe seems to predate the widespread use of pineapple juice in the Hawaiian style Mai Tai. 

1956 Mai Tai – Adjusted for 2020
1 ounce Lime Juice
¼ ounce Rock Candy Syrup
¼ ounce Curacao
¼ ounce Orgeat
1½ ounces Lightly Aged Puerto Rican Rum
½ ounce Hamilton Pot Still Black Rum
¼ ounce Coruba Dark Rum 

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

Learn more: 1956 Mai Tai

50th Anniversary of Black Tot Day

Today we remember Black Tot Day, the day in 1970 when the British Navy provided the last daily rum ration to sailors.

To celebrate, I made my own Navy Rum blend. This is generally accurate though the actual blend was a state secret and few on the planet know the actual recipe (which in any case changed over the years due to supply and demand). I made this out some rums I had in stock at home using rums from the traditional supply countries.

Ultimate Navy Rum Blend
2 oz Skipper Rum (45% ABV Guyana)
3 oz Wood’s Navy Rum (57% ABV Guyana)
4 oz Pussers Gunpowder Proof (54.5% ABV Guyana)
2 oz Denizen White (40% ABV – Trinidad and small Jamaican portion)
1 oz Real McCoy 5 (40% ABV – Barbados)
.5 oz Pussers 15 year (40% ABV – Guyana) because it is a special occasion

If I’ve done my math correct this is just about 50% ABV, so just below typical “Navy Strength,” but still boozy. This is a complex and bold rum blend.

I’m sure we could have had some really cool celebrations today in person, but due to COVID it’s all online. Nonetheless, I’d like to thank and salute all my rum friends on Black Tot Day.

The Black Tot Toast
There are tall ships,
And there are small ships,
And there are ships that sail the sea,
But the best ships, are friendships,
So here’s to you and me!

Original Home of Trader Vic’s – 2020 Update

The original home of Trader Vic’s

We swung by 65th and San Pablo Ave in Oakland on our way to Trader Vic’s the other day to go check out what’s happening. And like the past few years, there isn’t much. But starting in 1934, this was the home of the original Trader Vic’s location and where the Mai Tai was created in 1944.

Two palm trees used to flank the entrance, but sadly only one remains. The last time I visited in October 2017 one of the trees was still standing, though without fronds. It seems to have been cut down in the meantime. Someone is still maintaining the grounds here, though, as there aren’t tall weeds growing anymore and the graffiti is painted over.

The lot is still for sale. If you’ve got $500,000-750,000 burning a whole in your pocket you might still be able to buy it.

Historical photo of Trader Vic’s in Oakland

Trader Vic’s Mai Tai Concentrate

Available for the first time ever from the Trader Vic’s online store, I had to get this. Back in 1998 I had a bottle of this gifted to me, and I loved Mai Tais made with it.  Opening it today, the fragrance of this mix is the same as I remembered. The Concentrate basically replaces the Orange Curacao, Orgeat, and Rock Candy syrup in a 1944 Mai Tai. So, you supply the 1 ounce of Lime Juice and 2 ounces of Rum. Note that this is very different from the Mai Tai mix you normally find in retail stores.

In year’s past this was what made the standard “Trader Vic’s Mai Tai” at the Emeryville location, and is still used for large batches and at high volume events. It is also used in other cocktails such as the Mai Tai variants Menehune Juice and Pinky Gonzales, Tiki Grog, and the Drum of Ku.

My Mai Tai is made with Hamilton New York Blend, a blend with rums from Jamaican and Guyana. This was my last pour of this very nice rum (now known as the 1670 West Indies Blend). The Mai Tai with the Trader Vic’s Mai Tai Concentrate is pretty good. The recipe calls for ¾ oz, but I’d up it to a full ounce next time. The cocktail isn’t as good as a scratch Mai Tai, but this is an affordable value for those who don’t normally get to try Mai Tais made with this at the Trader Vic’s restaurants. It definitely would be great to use in a Mai Tai punch for a party.

Trader Vic’s is running a 20% off sale this weekend, just use promo code “MAY20” at checkout.

Thank you Trader Vic’s for making this available for purchase for the first time outside of an industry setting.

Trader Vic’s Mai Tai Concentrate Mai Tai

Book Review: Easy Tiki by Chloe Frechette

While this book doesn’t break any new ground, it’s a quite accessible resource for people getting started. The book covers in light detail the history of tiki, basics of rum, and then presents fairly straightforward and simple recipes. No strange or unusual ingredients, like you sometimes find in these recipe books. It’s kind of like if 2019’s Minimalistic Tiki and Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails books got together and had a baby.

Too often when things are simplified in these books it ends up creating inaccuracies or the topics are so simplified as to be not understandable. Thankfully, Easy Tiki avoids these problems very well.

There are some good recipes here, including the Mai Sha Roa Na (from False Idol) and a very intriguing Breakfast Mai Tai. There is the Quarantine Order, Staycation, Carrot Colada, and a bunch of other interesting recipes.

The book is available now from your favorite booksellers. I bought my in Apple Books and the presentation in the app is pretty good. There are some very nice photographs too.

While this won’t replace the deep coverage you find the Smuggler’s Cove, Sippin’ Safari, or Minimalist Tiki books, Easy Tiki is a good resource and potentially helpful option for tiki newbies.

Sea Wynde Rum

The Old Way Mai Tai

This term has been the matter of some debate amongst tiki nerds. It has been used most recently to refer to a Mai Tai made with a 151 float, a practice developed at the now-shuttered Trader Vic’s location in San Francisco. The story goes that a long-time customer liked his Mai Tais this way and the name was adapted based on the patron’s age.

But as recently as the 1990s, the Old Way Mai Tai was how Trader Vic’s referred to the cocktail made with the original ingredients and not using the Mai Tai mix that was used in place of the orgeat and curaçao. You can see this on some press materials distributed through the late 1990s, and Trader Vic’s grandson Peter Seely used that term in an interview in 1998. Today, the “1944 Mai Tai” is the most commonly used term to designate a Mai Tai made according to the original formula and with scratch ingredients.

The Old Way Mai Tai recipe shown here is also notable in its use of the St. James Rhum from Martinique. This agricole-style rhum made from sugar cane juice differs from the Jamaican rum that is made from molasses and was used in the original Mai Tai in 1944. During yesterday’s Zoom webinar organized by Trader Vic’s, cocktail historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry theorized that the use of St. James dated back to the 1960s at Trader Vic’s locations. Eve Bergeron of Trader Vic’s noted that the Trader Vic’s Mai Tai Rum sold in the late 1960s-1980s contained 70% Jamaican Rum, 20% from Martinique, and 10% Virgin Islands.