Tiki Kon Seminar: The (De)Evolution of the Hawaiian Mai Tai

Recorded July 1, 2022 at Tiki Kon, we’ve combined the professionally recorded audio with the slides so that you can experience it at home. There are a couple bonus slides during the Q&A.

Everyone is familiar with the iconic Hawaiian Mai Tai that features pineapple juice and a dark rum float. This version of the Mai Tai is quite different from the original 1944 Mai Tai created at Trader Vic’s. When did the Mai Tai in Hawaii become the “Hawaiian Mai Tai?” It wasn’t in 1953 when Trader Vic brought the Mai Tai to Hawaii and is later than you might think. Learn more about this iconic cocktail and how it evolved over the years based on contemporaneous reports and published recipes.

Note that this presentation was updated for Mai Tai Day at Trader Vic’s. That presentation wasn’t recorded but you can view the slides on this site.

Additional Referenced Links

The Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai Recipe

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.

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


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)


Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai with Best Views in Waikiki

Swung by the Mai Tai Bar at the Royal Hawaiian and managed to grab the best seat in the house and maybe the entire beach. Ground zero for the Hawaiian Mai Tai, when Trader Vic included the cocktail on the menu in 1953. That original ‘53 was pretty close to the ‘44 and needless to say today’s RH Mai Tai is quite different. But I must say I really liked the taste, much better than the Vic’s ‘44 we had earlier in the trip. The sweet blend of flavors worked for me on this visit. And you can’t beat the view of Diamond Head.

We ended up having dinner here, including the pancakes that were perfect. Service was pretty good too, though I’m sure the waitress was simply happy to deliver one or two drinks at a time compared to the typical table full of drinks.

The Royal Hawaiian is such a charming hotel, with a few cute stores and little passageways. And somehow insulated from the hustle of nearby Kalakaua Ave.

The Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai Recipe

Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai (Classic Recipe from 1972)
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

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

Today, the Royal Hawaiian provides the “secret recipe” for their “Original” Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai, and it differs considerably from the older recipe originally published in Drinks of Hawaii. Purists will note the use of Amaretto rather than Orgeat, and a mere 1½ ounces of rum.

Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai (Modern Recipe)
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

Roll the shaker, pour in a large “bucket” glass. Float with Whaler’s Dark Rum, garnish with a parasol with cherry, pineapple and lime wedge.

Learn more the Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai’s Evolution

The original Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai was very different from the two recipes shown above. Learn more about how this classic cocktail evolved.

Arnold’s Beach Bar – Hidden Waikiki Gem

Arnold’s Beach Bar is an under-looked gem of a bar in Waikiki. We were impressed on a previous visit and can confirm they’re still doing well.

The Mai Tai isn’t craft but at only $10 is really great. The ingredients are Calypso Virgin Islands White rum, Triple Sec, Amaretto, a splash of OJ and Pineapple, and a float of Dark Rum. A good shake means this Mai Tai is mixed well and chilled, better than many Mai Tais I’ve had this trip.

This is by far the best dive bar in Waikiki, with a friendly bartender and cheap booze. Plus some nice tiki decor. I enjoyed the visit and had two rounds.

Halekulani Mai Tai

The House without a Key was booked but we eventually figured out there is an adjacent pool bar that serves the full menu and even had a great view of the performance stage.

Our salads were good but expensive. A much better value was the Halekulani’s famous Coconut Cake. So light, with a cream frosting that I loved. Don’t skip it if you come.

The Mai Tai was good, not great (didn’t stop me from having two, though). The mix is batched and placed into glasses where they are procured when ordered and ice is added, then the dark rum float. No shaking or stirring, which makes the first sips less than satisfying. A little self stir rectified things.

According to the Halekulani’s published recipe, the float is supposed to be Lemon Hart 151, but we only saw Myers’s being used. Not a terrible choice but for sure lacking the requisite oomph we previously found to be this cocktail’s most important ingredient.

Nonetheless you’d be hard pressed to find a better Mai Tai in Waikiki. We continue to recommend this.

Vic’s ’44 Mai Tai at the Royal Hawaiian

We popped over to the Mai Tai Bar for a drink. Wish the 1944 Mai Tai was better, but sadly it was sour and thin. Mrs Mai Tai had a better time with her Pink Palace, which is a Pina Colada with grenadine to add the pink color reminiscent of the Royal Hawaiian’s pink color.



We have to thank Christa for the tip on Deck, a restaurant and bar located at the far end of Waikiki on the 3rd floor pool deck at the Queen Kapiʻolani Hotel. This was around the corner from Tiki’s and proved to be an elevated cocktail experience.

The Mai Tai is a ’44 made with three rums from local favorites KōHana. This superior Mai Tai allowed the rum blend to shine brightly and lets you savor the unique taste of these Hawaiian Agricole rums. Really great.

Mrs. Mai Tai ordered the R&R, which is a Gin cordial with raspberry and thyme, topped with soda. Quite interesting and refreshing. We also tried their Basque Cheesecake which was just right for desert, and quite good.

Our service at Deck was great, and we appreciate the host who sat us in quieter portion of the restaurant rather than at the bar where there was a lot of hooting and hollering. Quite a nice place to relax, and during daylight hours there’s a fabulous view of Diamond Head.

Tiki’s Grill and Bar

We missed this family-style tiki restaurant on our last trip so we ventured over for dinner just past sunset. Tiki’s is a very large restaurant with a large interior space that is mostly closed for refurbishment, along with a very large patio. We were seated right away and enjoyed some live music playing and some second floor views of Waikiki beach. Our service was very good.

Our food was moderately priced and a good value for the quality and portion. Less kind things can be said about the “1944 Mai Tai” which is served with a heaping portion of passion fruit foam, along with tourist-friendly Cruzan Light rum and Bacardi Dark rum. Far too sweet, even without any pineapple or orange juice. A plus of sort is that you can keep the plastic glass.

The interior portion that is visible is very nicely decorated with a lava rock and red paint theme that I think looks great. Lots of Shag artwork and other nods to Hawaiian and tiki culture. So, not bad at all.

Tipsy Tiki

This is the former Myna Bird Tiki Bar location in the food court at the International Marketplace. There was an ownership change for the food court and this bar was rebranded as being part of the La Pina Cantina next door. So I was surprised to see a new name here and also a new menu.

And, friends, I’m here to tell you that Tipsy Tiki is fantastic. Our bartender Lee told us his Mai Tai is made from fresh ingredients and while I’m no Island Mai Tai fanatic, this one was pretty great. One of the best I’ve ever had. Mahalo Lee!

Mrs Mai Tai had the Cool n Fresh with Tequila, lavender syrup, cucumber syrup, lime, and coconut water and it was really amazing. We will return to try more of the menu.

This venue may not scratch the itch for the hardcore tikiphile, but I’m always ready to welcome a new tiki place when the cocktails are outstanding. Check it out in Waikiki!