The Mai-Tai is another cocktail, like the Negroni, that has a ‘neat little story that might actually be nonsense.’ For the tale in question, we have to go back to 1944 and walk up to the bar of Trader Vic’s, which used to be in Oakland, California. There, we would find Victor J Bergeron. Bergeron (who was the ‘Vic’ of the eponymous bar/restaurant), was apparently entertaining friends who were visiting from Tahiti. He made them the new cocktail, and one of their number – specifically Carrie Gould – cried out “Maita’i roa ae!” This translates to something approximating “Very good!” The drink took its name from this cute, little outburst. All of the published Mai-Tai recipes are based on the Trader Vic’s recipe.
The problem of veracity comes from Victor J Bergeron’s friendly rival, Donn Beach (Don the Beachcomber). Beach claims to have invented the Mai-Tai in 1933. But the confounder is that it is not the same recipe as the Trader Vic’s version. The Beach recipe calls for rum, Cointreau, Pernod, Angostura bitters, fresh lime juice, and fresh grapefruit juice. The Bergeron version is entirely different and uses rum, orange curaćao, orgeat, and fresh lime juice. So, for me, we just have two different drinks that happen to have the same name. I have encountered this before with various recipes for a Frankly My Dear cocktail.
Certainly, it is the Trader Vic’s version that has gone global, and it is that version that has been picked up by the International Bartender’s association as the certified Mai-Tai recipe. You can thank the availability of the recipe to Donn Beach, who was sued by Victor Bergeron in 1970 for claiming to have invented the drink. Waving his recipe in the face of Bergeron’s lawyers, Beach demanded to see the Trader Vic’s recipe book. Bergeron eventually had to come clean and show how he made it. It was, of course, completely different, the lawsuit dissolved, and the cat was out of the bag. Not surprisingly, the recipe on this page is the Trader Vic’s edition. You can buy pre-mixed Mai-Tai under the Trader Vic’s brand, but that is taking all the fun out of making cocktails.
So where does the Mai-Tai come from? I am inclined to believe the Victor Bergeron story, as 1944 was really not that long ago, and Carrie Gould, unlike Count Camille Negroni, actually existed.
Digging around the history of the Mai-Tai reveals that it is not so surprising that Gould found Bergeron’s drink to be so good. Victor Bergeron made the brew on that day with 17 year-old Wray and Nephew rum. That specific rum is no longer made, but caches of it still exist. Wray and Nephew conducted an inventory of their stores in 2004 and found the leftovers of a barrel along with with 12 unmarked bottles of the famous 17-year-old rum. The price of a 1l bottle of this rum is estimated to be $55,000. One Mai-Tai calls for 60ml of rum. This would make a single original Mai-Tai cost $833, plus a couple of quid for the other ingredients, and no profit margin.
Trader Vic’s has since moved from Oakland to Emeryville, CA, and opened other outlets in a bunch of major cities throughout the World. In the UK, Trader Vic’s can be found in the London Hilton at 22 Park Lane, London W1Y 1BE.
- 40ml white rum
- 20ml dark rum
- 15ml orange curaćao
- 15ml orgeat syrup
- 10ml fresh lime juice
Shake (no need for ice in the shaker) and strain into a large tumbler filled with crushed ice (ice cubes won't do, sorry).
Garnish with pineapple spear, mint leaves and lime.
Various versions of the Mai-Tai alter the proportions of the ingredients slightly. There are more garnish variations than Soft Mick has.