Trader Vic’s | Emeryville | 1940s
1/2 oz curaçao
1/2 oz orgeat
1 oz lime juice
2 oz Denizen Merchant’s Reserve rum
Garnish: spent lime half, mint sprig
Alternate rum blend: 50/50 aged Jamaican rum & aged Martinician rhum
You really can’t improve on perfection, but that hasn’t stopped the world from screwing up Trader Vic’s original 1944 Mai Tai for over 75 years. The secretive and combative world of mid-century tropical drinks contributed to its own degradation, as bartenders sought to mimic best-sellers through hit-or-miss reverse engineering,… but Trader Vic himself also changed his recipe as time went on, adding more citrus juices (and more rum). He originally used Wray & Nephew 17-year old Jamaican rum in his recipe, but the drink became so popular he actually depleted the world supply of that rum (or they just stopped making it), then he did the same with the later 15-year expression. These days, many passionate bartenders go with Denizen Merchant’s Reserve, a brilliant blended rum made specifically to emulate the rum combo used by Trader Vic in the ’50s, or experiment with their own blend of rums. The original Mai Tai will take you back to the flourishing years of the tropical drinks trend, when US military men and women were returning home from World War II's battles in the Pacific Theater, torn between remembering and forgetting what they’d been through over there. They found refuge in this wildly creative — but also appropriated, conflated, and unfortunately racist — fantasy world where Caribbean-style drinks, Cantonese-American food, and Polynesian art were jumbled in an “exotic” mishmash of othering. But damn, those drinks!