Trader Vic’s (1944)
You really can’t improve on perfection, but that hasn’t stopped the world from screwing up Trader Vic’s original Mai Tai for almost 70 years. I’ve already detailed the secretive and combative world of Tiki in my write-up about the Navy Grog – I’d say that contributed to the degradation of the Mai Tai, but Trader Vic himself also changed his recipe as time went on, adding more citrus juices (and more rum). Trader Vic originally used Wray & Nephew 17-year old rum in his recipe, but the Mai Tai was so popular, he actually depleted the world supply of that rum (or they just stopped making it), then the same with 15-year expression that came afterward. These days, the Trader Vic’s chain restaurants make the drink with a crappy, artificial-tasting bottled mix and inferior rum. Feel free to experiment with mixing two different rums (as I do here), or try just one kickass rum in this. My friend Matt “RumDood” Robold says he’s made this with Smith & Cross and “enjoyed it more than he probably should have” and I can back that up – even just a quarter-ounce in place of some of the aged Jamaican rum works great. The great bang-for-the-buck aged rum Appleton 12 is a minor luxury. If you’re up for it, make a batch of homemade orgeat (recipe below), or look around for B.G. Reynolds‘ excellent version. Either way, done right using this old-school recipe, the Mai Tai will take you back to the early days of Tiki, as US Marines were returning from the Pacific back home to southern California, eager to both remember and forget what they’d been through over there.
Hardware: Shaker, Jigger, Straws (optional), Hawthorne strainer (if using Boston shaker)
Ice: Ice cubes, Crushed ice
Glassware: Double rocks glass
Spirits: Aged Jamaican rum (recommended: Appleton Estate 12 or Reserve), aged rhum agricole (recommended: Neisson Élevé Suis Bois or Rhum J.M. Vieux VSOP)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Curaçao (recommended: Senior Curaçao of Curaçao, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao), Simple syrup, Orgeat (recommended: BG Reynolds’ or make your own; recipe below)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice, Lime hull half (reserve from squeezing), Fresh spearmint
In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:
1 oz aged Jamaican rum
1 oz aged rhum agricole
1 oz lime juice
1/2 oz Curaçao
1/4 oz orgeat
1/4 oz simple syrup
Shake well to chill. Fill a Double Old Fashioned glass with crushed ice, then strain the drink over the ice, adding more ice to top if needed. Garnish with the spent lime hull half (rind side up) and a mint sprig that’s been lightly slapped against the rim of the glass to release its aromatic oils. Optionally, serve with two straws cut to size.
In a heavyweight Ziploc, break up 2 1/2 cups whole, raw almonds – looking for large chunks, not powder. A rolling pin or muddler works well. Toast at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. In a saucepan, combine the crushed, toasted almonds with 2 cups of sugar and 1 1/2 cups of water. Bring to a simmer, then cook 4 minutes or so, stirring. Remove from heat and let cool, then pour into an airtight container and let steep 24 hours. Strain the mixture through a cheesecloth-lined strainer into a jar or bottle (it’ll take a while to slowly drip out), then add 12 drops of orange flower water, 12 drops of rose water, and 1 oz of overproof vodka to help reduce spoilage. Shake to blend. Keep refrigerated. Will last about 3 months.
Colonial America (mid-17th century)
When the weather turns colder, there’s few things better than a good Hot Buttered Rum – so long as you make it with real ingredients, not the powdered mix. There’s two parts to this recipe: a batter you’ll make beforehand (then store in an airtight container in the freezer), and the simple drink mix itself.
Hot rum drinks like this were common in Colonial America, but I suspect it took Middle America to perfect it with a decadent sweet-and-spiced butter/ice cream batter. There are countless recipe variations on Hot Buttered Rum – this one comes from my mother-in-law, who used to make it in Seattle (and, by chance, this is very close to the version made at Seattle’s Zig Zag Café). Stick with a good-quality, flavorful, rum like Plantation OFTD (amazing and potent), Appleton or Hamilton Jamaican Pot Still Black – but Coruba will work, too (don’t be tempted to use a spiced rum, it’ll become a spice bomb). For the bold and adventurous, take it a level up by using Smith & Cross “Navy Strength” 114-proof Jamaican rum – all those toffee & butterscotch flavors in Smith & Cross’s beloved funky hogo really shine in this. Or dive deeper and experiment with a blend of rums – or even rum and brandy – to get your flavor just right.
Hardware: Jigger, Plastic measuring cup, Standing mixer (optional)
Glassware: Ceramic or glass mug
Spirits: Dark Jamaican rum (recommended: Plantation OFTD, Coruba, Hamilton, Smith & Cross)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Hot Buttered Rum Batter (recipe below), Boiling water
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Cinnamon stick or fresh nutmeg
HOT BUTTERED RUM BATTER
In a saucepan over medium-low heat (just warm enough to melt the ice cream and butter), add together:
1 quart vanilla ice cream, softened
4 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 lb brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
Stir until well-blended, then pour into an airtight container and freeze. Batter will keep a long time – I have some from a year ago that’s just fine.
Pre-warm a ceramic or glass mug with boiling water while you’re assembling the ingredients. Discard the water, then combine in the mug:
1 1/2 oz dark rum
2 tbl hot buttered rum batter (leave frozen, it’ll melt as you stir)
1/2 cup boiling water (use the plastic measuring cup)
Stir to blend. Garnish with a long cinnamon stick or a dusting of freshly-grated nutmeg.