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Properly Sauced: Rob's Mai Tai

By Rob Christopher in Food on Feb 18, 2010 7:20PM

Mai Tai by Kenn Wilson
We ran our very first Properly Sauced nearly two years ago. So, after a bit of research, we were shocked! shocked! to discover that we had never written about what is arguably our very favorite cocktail: the Mai Tai.

Perhaps it's simply because we've taken its presence in our lives for granted; once we learned the authentic way to make it, it's never strayed far from our repertoire. Yet it's not hard to remember a time in the not-too-distant past when ordering this drink at a bar would nearly guarantee both a secret snicker from the bartender and a tooth-achingly sweet "girlie drink" in front of you. Nowadays, any bar worth its salt takes the Mai Tai seriously. The Violet Hour and The Drawing Room both make excellent versions.

The classic Mai Tai was created circa 1944 by "Trader Vic" Bergeron. Like most iconic cocktails a Mai Tai is quite easy to make, but somehow just as easy to screw up. So repeat after us: a classic Mai Tai does not contain pineapple juice. A classic Mai Tai is not red. A classic Mai Tai is not served in a pint glass, like a frat party punch, and does not even have a little umbrella on top as garnish. It's a beguiling balance of sweet, sour, smoothness, and strength. And here's how we like to make it.

Rob's Mai Tai

juice of 1 large lime (or 3 small limes)
1.5 oz. Sailor Jerry's spiced rum
1.5 oz. gold rum (we like Mount Gay Eclipse)
3/4 oz. orange curaƧao
3/4 oz. orgeat (almond) syrup

Roll the fruit on your cutting board a few times, pressing down with the flat of your hand (this draws the juice out of the pulp.) Then cut the lime(s) in half and squeeze the juice into an iced cocktail shaker, reserving one of the lime shells. Add the other ingredients and shake vigorously. Strain into a double old fashioned glass filled with ice. Drop the lime shell into the glass and serve.

Yes, we've made some alterations in the classic Trader Vic's formula. We really like the subtle spice of the Sailor Jerry's. The almond syrup is quite sweet, so we omit the simple syrup included in other recipes. The most important thing when making a Mai Tai is to make sure you're using large limes; if you skimp on the lime juice, the drink's balance will be all out of whack.

The dirty secret is that although Trader Vic's still makes awesome Mai Tais, they're no longer made from scratch. Nevertheless, on Tuesdays they're only $5 at the Trader Vic's here in Chicago, and you can't beat that.