Top Mai Tais of 2021: Number 4, SF Mai Tai at Trader Vic’s

Each year we celebrate the 10 best Mai Tais that we had the pleasure of tasting in the last 12 months.

Number 4: San Francisco Mai Tai at Trader Vic’s (Emeryville, CA)

The SF Mai Tai is a standard Vic’s Mai Tai with a float of 151 rum. I love the flavors of the Trader Vic’s Mai Tai, including the freshly squeezed lime on top, but the the 151 rum adds additional complexity and flavor to the cocktail, besides being extra boozy. So while I do enjoy the standard 1944 Mai Tai, the SF Mai Tai is now my go-to. 

We had a lot of great Mai Tais at Vic’s this year, including some specially prepared with some exotic rums from the well-stocked back bar. Bartenders are friendly and never balk at the rum substitution. 

Vic’s hosted several special events this year including merchandise partnerships with Shag and Sven Kirsten.

Top Mai Tais of 2021: Number 6, Premium Mai Tai by Doc Parks

Each year we celebrate the 10 best Mai Tais that we had the pleasure of tasting in the last 12 months.

Number 6: Premium Mai Tai by Doc Parks at Trader Vic’s Mai Tai Day (Emeryville, CA)

The annual Mai Tai Day celebration was held in the parking lot and featured several cocktail stations. My favorite of the day was the “Premium Mai Tai” made by Daniel “Doc” Parks and Adrián Castañeda using Appleton 12, Clement VSOP, and Doctor Bird. So flavorful, as you’d expect when you use three high-quality aged rums. The funky Doctor Bird can add so much to a Mai Tai even when used in small proportions.


Mai Tai Monday: Wright & Brown Distilling

Made a fab Mai Tai for Trader Vic’s birthday using a rum made in Oakland, the city where the Mai Tai was first made in 1944. 

Oakland’s Wright & Brown is distilling rum as well as a variety of whiskeys. The rum I used is pot still distillate made from Black Strap Molasses and is aged for a couple years. Quite wild and full of flavor, so it works great in a Mai Tai.

For my Mai Tai I used 1½ oz Wright & Brown and ½ oz Coruba just to add a little additional richness.

Happy Birthday Trader Vic Bergeron

Everyone’s favorite Mai Tai inventor was born on this day in 1902. Victor Jules Bergeron had a difficult childhood, losing a leg to tuberculosis when just six year old. Early adulthood was no better until he scrapped some money together to open a small restaurant and bar at 65th and San Pablo in Oakland in 1934. That bar was named Hinky Dinks but just a couple years later was rethemed and renamed to Trader Vic’s. Thereafter, nobody thought much of “Hinky Dinks” or “Victor Jules.” Trader Vic’s stuck.

The small original Trader Vic’s location closed in the early 1970s, replaced by the still operating Trader Vic’s in Emeryville. The building at 65th and San Pablo is long gone but you can still visit the location where one of the original two palm trees is still standing. The lot is for sale, if you have money in your pocket you want to burn.

So, let’s raise a glass of rum or brandy, or maybe a famous Trader Vic’s cocktail such as the Fogcutter, Eastern Sour, or a Mai Tai. Cheers and happy birthday to Trader Vic.

Mai Tai Monday: Previous Era Trader Vic’s Rum Blend

I wanted to switch it up a little at Trader Vic’s, so I tried to replicate the old rum blend of aged Jamaican rum and Martinique rum. At various points starting in the late 1950s all the way to the early 2000s, Trader Vic’s called for the use of Rhum St. James to be paired with a long-aged Jamaican rum. 

I didn’t see St. James on the shelf, but Clement VSOP seemed like a great substitute. For the Jamaican I used the old standby, Appleton 12.

Definitely not the standard-issue Vic’s Mai Tai. The agricole made this taste a bit more dry, and a tad lighter on the tongue. Pretty different but still great.

The Modernist Mug and Book by Sven Kirsten

Trader Vic’s held a release event for the first in a series of mugs and books from Sven Kirsten in collaboration with Tiki Farm and Eve Bergeron from Trader Vic’s.

The event last night was very well run, with early arrivals given a numbered ticket for their place in line. So, rather than sit in a long line outdoors for over an hour, we got to enjoy the Trader Vic’s lounge. Much better for everyone.

I’ll be honest, when I first saw this mug I was not in love. The primitive and impressionist design for the mug was based on an early tiki that framed the entrance to the San Francisco Trader Vic’s location. The book goes into some detail about this style of artwork, and as always Kirsten puts the artwork in context of the time. Though the book is only 50 pages, there are lots of great photos and it’s a perfect size to learn more about the art that inspired the mug.

The mug was available in two glazes. I chose Sven’s glaze, but the darker Trader Vic’s glaze was very nice as well. In addition to the mug and the book, a drink ticket for a cocktail was provided. Attendees could choose Sven’s recommendation, the Tortuga, or a Mai Tai or Navy Grog. I went with Sven’s recommendation and boy that Tortuga does pack a punch.

My understanding is that Sven will be selling mugs/books at some upcoming events in Southern California. Check his Facebook for updates.

Trader Vic’s SJC

The world’s greatest airport bar is at San Jose International, at least as far as this writer has experienced: Trader Vic’s San Jose Airport.

Mrs Mai Tai and I breezed through security in less than 10 minutes and landed at Gate 22 to have brunch at Trader Vic’s. Staff was super friendly, even suggesting an off-menu San Francisco Mai Tai. The standard issue was just fine for me, and you know what it tastes like? It tastes like a Trader Vic’s Mai Tai.

I also tried the signature cocktail for the location, the Pilo Pilo. Fruity and delicious.

My Salmon Bowl was an unexpected pleasure. Plenty hearty with a gigantic portion of salmon. This was really great, I’d love to see this at other Vic’s locations.

The restaurant and bar are on the gangway side of the Airport, so this is sort of like the Vic’s in Emeryville except it is a different kind of vessel that you’re looking at. The Outpost across the way has merch and some grab and go items.

It’s always great to see a new Trader Vic’s, especially stateside. The place is well positioned in the terminal and was busy the entire time we were there. Check it out and try to fly SJC on your next trip.

Trader Vic’s Mai Tai Rum

There’s a nice case of vintage Trader Vic’s bottles in the Cook Room at the Emeryville location.

This shot is of the Mai Tai Rum, which combined rums from Jamaica (70%), Martinique (20%), and Virgin Islands (10%), and coming in at a very nice 43% ABV. Likely a great rum to put in your Mai Tai (or your “Mai-Tai” according to the label, sigh). Man, I’d love to try some of this.

New Cocktails at Trader Vic’s Emeryville

The new cocktail menu at Trader Vic’s Emeryville leans heavily on Trader Vic’s favorites, including “the Original Mai Tai” which is a Mai Tai made from scratch and not from their Mai Tai Concentrate mix. But there are a few new cocktails that were developed with Vic’s alum Brent Harris. I was able to sample three of this on a recent visit.

Vic’s Itch
This is a Tropical Itch riff that includes Dark and 151 rums, bourbon, passion fruit, fresh lemon, and fassionola. This was quite tasty and most definitely boozy.

Vic & Dotty
Supposedly a There Dots and a Dash riff, though without Rhum Agricole in my opinion it has strayed pretty far off. Contains Royal Amber and Appleton rums, falernum, grog mix, citrus, and honey. Very flavorful and totally felt like a classic Trader Vic’s cocktail, including orange and lemon. So it fits in nicely alongside favorites such as the Eastern Sour or Fogcutter.

Trader Vic’s Painkiller – not pictured
Features dark and gold rums, orange and pineapple, and Vic’s “coco-nutty house made Mandalay mix” with a dash of cream. Painkiller fans will feel right at home, but there’s definitely something different here – and I like it. Just a bit more complex than your typical Painkiller. Curious if our friends in Emeryville are playing with fire legally, though.

I wasn’t able to sample the other new cocktails:

Banana Dreams: rum, pineapple, grapefruit, lime, banana, fassionola. Also available without rum as the Dreamless Banana.

Drunken Monkey: blanco tequila, cachaca, citrus, banana, and orgeat, topped with lime zesty banana whipped cream.

For lunch I had all-time favorites Crab Rangoon and the Trader Vic’s Salad. It was nice to see the restaurant pretty full, too.