The Mai Tai is a rum-based cocktail with tropical flavours that also includes orange Curaçao and orgeat syrup. Through its flavour and sweetness, drinkers are transported to the tropics. It is often referred to as the “king of tiki beverages” due to its Polynesian and Caribbean roots. Despite being one of the most classic cocktails, its origin is a matter of debate.
Who invented it?
Victor Jules Bergeron, also known as Trader Vic, established his first tiki restaurant in Oakland, San Francisco, in 1934. After making numerous successful exotic rum cocktails, Trader Vic decided a new cocktail was required. He wanted to experiment beyond the basic cocktails like Manhattans and Martinis.
The story begins when, on a certain evening in 1944, he put two friends named Eastham and Carrie Guild to the test in trying out his new cocktail invention. Upon having her first sip, Guild exclaimed, “mai tai-roa ae,” which is Tahitian for “out of this world.” Bergeron went on to name the cocktail the “Mai Tai.”
His opponent, Ernest Raymond Beaumont-Gantt, famously known as Donn Beach, also claimed that he created the Mai Tai and first served it in 1933 at his bar named Don The Beachcomber’s, in Hollywood, California. This was the precursor to Bergeron’s famous Mai Tai cocktail by about ten years.
Rumour has it that Vic actually took inspiration for the flavour profile of the Mai Tai from a punch he particularly enjoyed at The Beachcomber. Though he did copy the flavour profile, it was indeed Vic that invented the concoction of the Mai Tai. To support the claim, Vic’s loyal executive assistant for over 41 years agrees to the copying of the flavour profile but explains that the invention of the Mai Tai was indeed Vic and it was Carrie Guild who named it.
However, Don wasn’t ready to quit. Instead, he went on to release his very own Don The Beachcomber’s Mai Tai Mix with a label claiming to be the drink’s originator. Unfortunately, that got him into trouble.
Who won the debate?
Vic filed a lawsuit against Don for releasing his Mai Tai Mix in 1970. Simon Difford, author of The Difford’s Guide, lays out the details of how the whole ordeal went down. He was ordered by the judge to reveal his then-top-secret recipe, which he later published in a seven-page article titled ‘Let’s Get The Record Straight on the Mai Tai’. This includes a declaration from Carrie Guild verifying Vic’s story that he invented the beverage in 1944 and that she named it. After much ongoing debate, Vic went on to win the case.
The Origin of Mai Tai
Contrary to common belief that the Mai Tai originated in Hawaii, Trader Vic’s restaurant in Oakland, California is actually where the drink got its start. The first Mai Tai was created at his service bar by combining a seventeen-year-old Jamaican with fresh limes, orange Curaçao, rock candy syrup, orgeat, and shaved ice.
The Mai Tai became increasingly well-known when Trader Vic opened his restaurants in 1948 in California and Seattle. The beverage was also first served in Hawaii in 1953 at The Royal Hawaiian Hotel. It was well received during the following few years, and since then, it has become internationally known.
How it’s made?
½ ounce orange Curaçao
¼ ounce rock candy syrup
¼ orgeat syrup
2 ounces Trader Vic Mai Tai rum or 1 ounce dark Jamaica rum and 1 ounce Martinique rum
To make the Mai Tai, add all the ingredients above except the lime in a cocktail mixer. Handshake well. Then, cut the lime in half and squeeze the juice over shaved ice in a Mai Tai glass. Save one spent shell for decoration. Add the mixed ingredients to the glass and top it off with a lime shell and a fruit stick.
Best Places to get a Mai Tai in KL
Check out these bars in KL that serve their signature Mai Tai.
Vic’s Mai Tai is one of the highly recommended beverages served at JungleBird. The Mai Tai is presented in a lovely small copper bucket topped with vibrant fruits, and it is uniquely made with Appleton Estate Rare Blend 12.
Mai Bar offers its signature cocktail, The Malaysian Princess Mai Tai-Nusa Cana, pressed with blueberries and kaffir lime, topped with Captain Morgan, Cointreau, pineapple and orange juice, served in a Tiki-themed mug.