Revised List of Top 10 Mai Tais

People often ask where they can get the best Mai Tai. So, we’ve recently updated and expanded the list of the best ones to a total of ten. These are my top Mai Tais made without any rum or ingredient substitutions, current as of July 2022, and they’re all great Mai Tais that anyone should enjoy.

Note that for purposes of the “rating” on this list, it only about what’s in the glass and not about the rest of the bar visit experience. Not that any on this last have poor ambiance or service, mind you.

Here is the alphabetical list of the top 10 Mai Tais that you can have right now.

Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29 – New Orleans
Dr. Funk – San Jose
Hale Pele – Portland
Halekulani Hotel – Honolulu
The Kon-Tiki Room at Palmetto – Oakland
Rumba – Seattle
Maunakea Mai Tai at Skull & Crown Trading Co. – Honolulu
Smuggler’s Cove – San Francisco
San Francisco Mai Tai at Trader Vic’s – Emeryville
Undertow – Phoenix

The list is ever-evolving. We had a close call in Seattle where Rumba is transitioning their Orgeat and we caught the bartender incorrectly using the previous ratios. And we hear that The Kon-Tiki in Oakland and Dr. Funk in San Jose are working on revised menus. So, we’ll have to see how that affects this list.

This list obviously skews to the United States. I’m willing to try anyone’s Mai Tai if a plane ticket and hotel is included in the invite.

Additional details, photos, and recommendations for these Mai Tais

Hawaiian Mai Tai Contest Winners and Recap

My Official Mai Tai Number is 34 Mai Tais consumed in the State of Hawaii on my 11 day trip.

We had three correct guesses in the Mai Tai Contest (I should have considered a tiebreaker). Congrats to the winners: @we.shall.tiki, @farbrorfuzz, and @wishiwastraveling84. I’ll be sending out a prize package with coasters, cocktail napkins, and stickers (bummed nobody seems to be giving out swizzle sticks or matchbooks anymore).

You can see the chart with the plot of all the guesses. Thanks again to everyone for playing along.

Top 5:

  1. Maunakea Mai Tai at Skull & Crown Trading Co.
  2. Casa de Christa Mai Tai
  3. Trader Vic’s Mai Tai at Mamahune’s
  4. Deck
  5. Dagger Mai Tai at Skull & Crown

Best Island Style Mai Tai: Tipsy Tiki
Best Bar: Skull & Crown
Best Restaurant: Duke’s Kauai
Best Beach Bar: Mai Tai Bar at Royal Hawaiian
Best Hotel Bar: Mamahune’s
Best Value: Arnold’s $10 Mai Tai
Best Vintage Location: Mai Tai Bar at Royal Hawaiian
Best New (to me) Location: Tiki Iniki

Stats:

Oahu: 19, Kauai: 14, Hawaiian air space: 1
23 different venues, some who served more than one type of Mai Tai, and others where I consumed more than one
1944 Style: 13, Island Style: 15, Original Riffs: 2, RTD: 4

Complete List

1. Aulani (Island style)
2. Monkeypod Mai Tai (Island style)
3. Splash Bar at Sheraton Princess Kaiulani (Island style)
4. Tipsy Tiki (Island style)
5. Tiki’s Grill and Bar (1944 style)
6. Deck (1944 style)
7. Mai Tai’s (1944 style)
8. Dagger Mai Tai at Skull & Crown (Original riff)
9. Maunakea Mai Tai at Skull & Crown (1944 style)
10. Vic’s ’44 at Mai Tai Bar (1944 style)
11. Casa Crista (1944 style)
12. ‘Awa’Awa Mai Tai at Skull & Crown (Original riff)
13. Halekulani (1944 style)
14. Halekulani (1944 style)
15. Trader Vic’s Bottled (RTD)
16. Koloa Bottled (RTD)
17. Arnold’s Beach Bar (Island style)
18. Arnold’s Beach Bar (Island style)
19. Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai (Island style)
20. Hawaiian Airlines / On the Rocks (RTD)
21. Bamboocha Mai Tai at Lava Lava Beach Club (Island style)
22. Hilton Garden (Island style)nn Welcome Mai Tai at Mamahune’s (Island style)
23. Trader Vic’s Mai Tai at Mamahune’s (1944 style)
24. Koloa Tasting Room (RTD)
25. Welcome Mai Tai at Mamahune’s (Island style)
26. Vic’s Top Shelf at Tiki (Island style)nikii (1944 style)
27. Vic’s Top Shelf with Denizen and heavy Orgeat at Tiki (Island style)niki (1944 style)
28. Tahiti Nui (Island style)
29. Welcome Mai Tai at Mamahune’s (Island style)
30. Trader Vic’s Mai Tai at Mamahune’s (1944 style)
31. Kalapika Mai Tai at Duke’s Kauai (Island style)
32. Classic Mai Tai at Oasis at the Beach (1944 style)
33. Welcome Mai Tai at Mamahune’s (Island style)
34. Stinger Ray’s Tiki Bar & Lounge (Island style)

 

Zombie Grapefruit Shootout

My last cocktail comparison between White Grapefruit juice and Rudy Red juice is a Zombie. For the comparison I decided to use the recipe on the bottle of the Beachbum Berry Zombie Blend from Hamilton Rum since this uses a bit more grapefruit juice than the original 1934 recipe (and significantly less rum, useful since I wasn’t going to drink two full Zombies). The Zombie Blend is pretty great and this does make a very good Zombie.

Unfortunately, from a grapefruit juice comparison the two Zombies tasted nearly identical. I was getting slightly more cinnamon notes from the Ruby version, which might be due to the juice being sweeter and with a lighter body. Or I could simply have measured an ever so slightly different half ounce in the cocktail. I’m pretty sensitive to the cinnamon flavor, and in fact went a little light on the measurement. I compensated by adding an equivalently higher amount of Falernum.

To conclude the Grapefruit Juice Shootout Comparisons:

Thanks to @vonschiltach for the white grapefruits for testing.

Navy Grog Grapefruit Shootout

My previous White vs. Red Grapefruit juice comparison was with a classic cocktail served up, the Old Friend. In that taste test, I preferred the sweeter Red Grapefruit. But that was a cocktail without a lot of sweeteners.

Today’s comparison is with a tiki classic, the Navy Grog. And the recipe is our own Ultimate Navy Grog that blends the historical recipes from Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic, and includes our potent Ultimate Mai Tai rum blend as one of the base spirits. This recipes includes a full two ounces of sweeteners, counterbalancing 1½ ounces of citrus.

Ultimate Navy Grog
¾ oz Lime Juice
¾ oz Grapefruit Juice
1 oz Honey mix
½ oz Pimento Dram (Hamilton)
½ oz Vanilla Syrup (BG Reynolds)
1½ oz Ultimate Mai Tai Rum
1½ oz Demerara Rum (Hamilton 86)
Shake with crushed ice. After pouring into glass, top with 2 oz of Soda.

I made two Navy Grogs and found that the Red Grapefruit version felt thin on the tongue. Meanwhile, I found that the White Grapefruit introduced a noticeably heavier body to the cocktail, and this version simply tasted better overall. So, the White Grapefruit was the clear victor in this taste test.

Ultimate Mai Tai Jamaican Rum Blend

As I’ve learned more about rum over the past few years, and tasted hundreds of them, I’ve come to the conclusion that the best rum in the world comes from Jamaica. Most of the world doesn’t know this, because Jamaican rum doesn’t have a cool region-specific name like “Scotch” or “Cachaça” or “Bourbon” to designate a spirt made in a specific locale. But the unique character of Jamaican rum has been known to bartenders and to savvy consumers for decades.

I have been less than enthused by actions of Plantation Rum’s parent company Maison Ferrand when it comes to the draft rum GI (geographical indication) in Barbados, and to a lesser extent the existing GIs for rums from Jamaica and Guyana. I enjoy many of the Plantation Rums, including the Xaymaca and OFTD expressions that are in my Ultimate Mai Tai rum blend, but I don’t love their Barbados expressions with tons of added sugar. And it is exactly the Jamaican Rum GI and other regulations that prevents any producer from adding sugar or other additives to the wonderful Jamaican pot still distillate that goes into Xaymaca. If the market was flooded by “Jamaica Rum” products with sugar and other additives, the spirit wouldn’t have the universally stellar reputation that it currently maintains. So this GI stuff is actually pretty important.

I’ve been looking for a Mai Tai rum blend that omits Plantation products, and tried to include rums from various countries. Over and over I’ve tried to approach the unique and complex flavor from the Ultimate Mai Tai blend, and tried to match the 50% ABV which that blend is famous for. None of them approached the taste I was looking for. After a year of experimentation, I’ve decided this blend is good enough to be let out to the world. And it turns out it is an entirely Jamaican blend.

Ultimate Mai Tai Jamaican Rum Blend
2 parts Appleton 12 Rare Casks (43% ABV)
2 parts Smith & Cross Traditional Jamaica Rum (57% ABV)
1 part Worthy Park 109 (54.5% ABV)

The Appleton 12 and Smith & Cross are carryovers from the Ultimate Mai Tai blend, and are widely used in the industry. The blended aged rum from Appleton tempers some of Smith & Cross’ infamous funky pot still flavors. Just the two of them together make a fabulous Mai Tai. In fact they make up the rum in the excellent Mai Tai at San Jose’s Dr. Funk Rum House and tiki bar, one of our Top 5 Mai Tais.

The inclusion of Worthy Park 109 is to add some Demerara Rum-style flavor notes, such as burnt sugar. The caramel coloring also adds to the mouthfeel of the rum blend. I found Worthy Park 109 to be similar to some circa 1950s Myers’s Planters Punch rum that I was fortunate to try. The light funk provided by 109 keeps that flavor in the rum blend, and the high ABV allows us to keep the overall blend just above 50%.

Unfortunately, the 2-2-1 ratio does not make for easy on-the-spot jigger measurements for a Mai Tai that features 2 oz / 60 ml of rum. So, we suggest you batch up a bit to give this blend a try in a Mai Tai. It compares quite favorably to the Ultimate Mai Tai blend in side-by-side comparisons.

Give it a try and let us know what you think.

Grapefruit Comparison

I was gifted some White Grapefruit from someone locally who has a neighbor with a tree, so I did some comparison testing with a Rudy Red.

Old Friend
¾ oz Grapefruit Juice
½ oz Campari
¼ oz Elderflower Liqueur
1½ oz Beefeater Gin
Shake with ice and strain into a coupe. Garnish with a lemon twist.
The original spec calls for St. Germain but I only have the Giffard Elderflower.

I made two of these, and found that I preferred the sweeter Red Grapefruit in the cocktail. I don’t know that I would have refused the tarter one with White Grapefruit, but the difference between the two was certainly obvious and noticeable given the relative percentage of juice in this recipe. And you know I like things a little sweeter. Overall, this was a pretty tasty cocktail either way.

Navy Grog and Zombie testing this weekend.

Centenario Rum Shootout

I’m almost done with the Forbidden Island Kill Devil Club 2.0 rum list. Tonight I am sampling four expressions from Centenario in Costa Rica. Forbidden Island is offer rums to go in addition to cocktails and food, so this is really convenient to try all these rums at the same time without having to worry about how to drive home.

These column-still rums with the solera aging method aren’t my favorite, but these appear to have less sugar than some rums in this style. Of these, I thought the 12 had a nice bite with a mild and pleasant flavor, and that the 30 was the overall winner with a more complex and buttery flavor. Overall, though, I do prefer true long-aging and also more pot still distillate in my rum.

Barring any unforeseen pandemic outbreaks, I’ll complete my 2.0 rum list on Tuesday, March 22 which is Ohana night at Forbidden Island. Come on down and let’s drink some rum!

Mai Tai with Pearl’s Orgeat

That little half ounce of Orgeat can be more important in a Mai Tai than you might think, so it is always fun to try a new one and compare it to your favorite.

I was fortunate to procure a bottle of Pearl’s Hideaway Orgeat from local tikiphile Laura Murphy. This is homemade the right way with freshly made almond milk from real almonds, along with sugar, rum, orange blossom water, and rose water. The milky consistency is similar to craft brands Liber and Small Hands, but with far less settling to deal with. Just a quick shake is all that’s needed.

Pearl’s Orgeat is pretty good. There’s a nutty flavor that’s a plus for the Mai Tai. The Mai Tai I made was our standard ratio including ¼ oz of Demerara syrup, plus Ferrand Dry Curacao. Rums were an ounce each of Denizen Merchant’s Reserve and Plantation Xaymaca. Very good Mai Tai with Pearl’s.



Homemade Orgeat can be a great thing to pair with a specific Orange Liqueur or rum blend. I’m still partial to Latitude 29 but a different rum or Orange Liqueur might switch the results. Check out our Orgeat page for more recipes and home Orgeat tips.

Thanks for the Orgeat, Laura. Cheers!

DeKuyper Orange Curacao

Years ago, this was the Orange Curacao I started using for Mai Tais and other cocktails. The brand doesn’t have a great rep in the craft cocktail community, and the cheap price is not a sign that this is a premium spirit. DeKuyper is 30% ABV and made from orange, lemon, and curacao fruit. Plus coloring, I’m sure.

Tasting this neat, I felt that this was lacking character but in a Mai Tai it actually works perfectly well. It doesn’t add any unpleasant flavors, and in a blind taste test against my preferred Ferrand Dry Curacao I had a very difficult time choosing a favorite. In fact, both times when I split hairs to declare a victor the Mai Tai I chose was the one with DeKuyper. More taste comparisons to come.

I do prefer my Orange Curacao to have a higher ABV, so DeKuyper being only 30% means it won’t be my recommended brand. But if you’re looking to send $11 for a bottle rather than $28, this doesn’t seem to be a bad option.

Rum Review: Mount Gay Origin Series Copper Stills vol 2

I picked up this two-pack of Mount Gay rums at the “bottle shop” at The Kon-Tiki in Oakland and have really enjoyed it. The release is from a few years back and limited to 7200 bottles, but I’m surprised there are still bottles in the market. The release includes two Mount Gay rums made from the same materials, and aged in the same barrels. The difference is that one bottle was distilled in the Copper Double Pot Still and the other in Mount Gay’s Copper Column Still. An included booklet goes into further details about the methods of distillation.

This was really interesting to me, having had more than my fair share of Barbados rums in the last year or two. The ABV for these releases is 43%, so while these aren’t cask strength releases you do gain an appreciation of how the method of distillation truly makes a meaningful difference in the end result. Most notably for me is that when I try each rum just by itself I do taste some of individual flavors that I remember from when I try a blended Barbados rum release from Mount Gay. Both rums are quite good, though the Copper Pot is not nearly as bold and funky as the recent (and much pricer) 48% ABV Pot Still Rum release from Mount Gay (one of my favorite rums). As always, Mount Gay does a good job with the packaging. I think any rum enthusiast would enjoy comparing these two rums, and both have appeal.

As is the tradition here, we made a Mai Tai with these rums. But I was curious if I’d prefer each release on their own, or a blended release with equal parts of each rum. So, it was umtshootout” time and a blind taste test.

The verdict?

Blind taste preference was as follows:
First Place: Pot Still
Second Place: Blend
Third Place: Column

So, I’m still a Pot Still Rum man, but honestly all of these Mai Tais were quite delicious. But the Pot Still just had a deeper and more satisfying flavor.