One-Two Punch


By Leo Schmid / Photo by Brevin Blach

From its 1944 debut on a steamship heading to Hawaii from L.A., the Mai Tai was pretty damn tasty. Trader Vic created the drink to kick-up the cruise with tropical flair. Soon afterward, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel adopted Vic’s recipe, helping elevate the cocktail to the ubiquitous crowd-pleaser it is today.

The Mai Tai’s roots lie in Polynesian cocktail culture created by Don the Beachcomber - aka the Godfather of tiki, aka Donn Beach, aka (by his mother) Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt - who began concocting and serving elaborate, exotic drinks at his Hollywood cafe in 1934.

It was after visiting Don’s spot that Trader Vic (Victor Jules Bergeron, Jr.) opened a Polynesianthemed watering hole in Oakland, where he developed his own grass-skirt shaking, South Pacific favorites. Legend has it the Mai Tai was born when one of Vic’s Hawaiian-speaking friends tried it and exclaimed: Maita’i roa ae! (very good).

Very good indeed, but as its popularity grew, the tiki-themed drink was tinkered with again and again... for the worse, says rum and exotic drink expert Martin Cate, owner of Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco.

“The Mai Tai is history’s most debased cocktail,” Cate says. “It’s been brutally mistreated. Going down the path much the same as an aging Malibu Barbie, it’s been constantly touched up and tampered with by those trying to improve it, adding coconut rum, grenadine, pineapple and more garnishes than a British wedding hat. And serving it in a Hurricane glass.”

Cate, one of the celebrity drink-makers headlining Tiki Oasis 13 (see sidebar) August 15 through 18 in
San Diego, offers this recipe for the real deal, sure to make anyone who tries it say, “Mai Tai have another?”

3/4 oz fresh lime juice
1/4 oz rich simple syrup
1/4 oz Orgeat (syrup from with almonds, sugar, rosewater)
1/4 oz orange Curacao
2 oz premium aged Jamaican Rum (Appleton Estate Reserve or Extra)

Squeeze lime juice into a mixing glass, then add simple syrup, Orgeat and orange Curacao. Finally, add the rum (Cate suggests Appleton Estate 12 Year). Fill the glass with crushed ice and shake vigorously until a froth forms. Pour, garnish with lime and a sprig of mint and enjoy.

Mai Tai One On

What: Tiki Oasis 13: Hulabilly
When: August 15 - 18
Where: Aug. 15 at Bali Hai, Shelter Island; Aug. 16 - 18 at Crowne Plaza Hotel, Hotel Circle
WTF: Billed as a four-day “Hawaiian Hootenany,” Tiki Oasis 13 brings Polynesian culture to San Diego with live bands, a rum and cigar pairing lounge, burlesque dancers, mixology symposiums, art and car shows and a 60-vendor marketplace.