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Let's Talk Tiki - The Mai Tai

April 12 2016 | Restaurant News

The Mai Tai. Straight from Benton Bourgeois, Bar Chef of Cafe Adelaide and The Swizzle Stick Bar 

Let's talk tiki. Or more specifically, the Mai Tai and its many permutations. Like any classic worth debating, its origin is a bit fuzzy, which isn't helped by the numerous ways the drink was adapted throughout the second half of the 20th century. The way I have made mine for years was originated by Victor Bergeron, a.k.a. Trader Vic, in 1944. The drink calls for rum, orange curaçao, orgeat, simple syrup and lime-garnished with a mint sprig and served over crushed ice.

Before he died, Bergeron was quoted: "I originated the Mai Tai. Many others have claimed credit. All this aggravates my ulcer completely. Anyone who says I didn't create this drink is a dirty stinker." Strong words, but what of Don the Beachcomber, whose menu featured a Mai Tai Swizzle in 1933? Granted, the recipe is a completely different drink, with grapefruit, Cointreau, Angostura Bitters, and Pernod all being used along with the rum. Perhaps Bergeron was simply inspired by the name when he reportedly visited one of Don's restaurants in the mid 30s. It certainly would have been helpful for historical record if they could have agreed upon a Corpse Reviver-like numbering system of #1 and #2 if it was simply the name he borrowed.

As the drink was popularized and requested at numerous bars around the world, all manner of ingredients started popping up in recipes-some seem like innocuous additions-pineapple or orange juice, for instance, but others were indicative of the decline in the craft that occurred throughout the 60s and 70s-amaretto, Rose's Lime, 7-Up, and of course grenadine. The recipe from the Mirage Hotel calls for a splash of the cure-all "to achieve appropriate color," and I thank them for epitomizing the old "make it red" adage of a few older bartenders I know in print.

After testing both classic versions of the drink, it's hard not to love Trader Vic's version-it is well-balanced, and you can actually taste the rum. Bergeron used Wray and Nephew 17 yr in his recipe, but sadly it's no longer in production. To achieve a similar profile we'll be making ours with Clement Rhum Agricole from Martinique, along with Appleton Jamaican Rum. Come by and have one this week!

Benton Bourgeois
Bar Chef of The Swizzle Stick Bar