It was during a recent trip to Kauai with my girlfriend that the Mai Tai became one of my favorite cocktails for warm days.

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Home Bar: A Simple Mai Tai

Home Bar: A Simple Mai Tai

Tiki culture gained its notoriety after World War II vets returned from the South Pacific looking to recreate their experience abroad. Donn the Beachcomber and Victor Bergeron (Trader Vic) are credited with bringing the tiki drinking culture to the masses in the 1930s through their restaurants — it’s still disputed as to which of them created the classic Mai Tai recipe.

Home Bar: A Simple Mai Tai

It’s unfortunate that bright red or orange pre-made mixes with an insanely long shelf-life have come to define tiki cocktails for the average drinker. Over time, as my interest in rum has grown, I’ve been introduced to drinks that I never would have thought I’d order after age 23. Okay, maybe 24. Fine, 25. And surely I never thought that I’d be making these drinks at home! But then I was introduced to orgeat (pronounced or-zhat) and a delicious Mai Tai.

Home Bar: A Simple Mai Tai

It was during a recent trip to Kauai with my girlfriend that the Mai Tai became one of my favorite cocktails for warm days. We were given a long list of food, drink, and adventure recommendations for our Hawaiian vacation (including this awesome guide to Kauai from Kasey). The first thing we did after getting into our rental car was drive directly to the bar at Oasis on the Beach, where we were told they had the best Mai Tais on the island. It was exactly what I needed after a recent family medical emergency, and I couldn’t have asked for a better view as I sipped on the cocktail, with just a strip of sand between our table and the ocean.

Home Bar: A Simple Mai Tai

While the classic Mai Tai is hard to match due to the rare style of rum used, I find that this simple approach brings me back to that beach-front bar. If you’re new to tiki drinks and want to explore a bit before you try your hand at home, I highly recommend these bars:

San Francisco
Smuggler’s Cove (for the drinks)
Tonga Room (mostly for the kitsch)

Chicago
Three Dots and a Dash (best of both worlds — great drinks and kitsch!)

Los Angeles
Tiki Ti (drinks and kitsch galore!)

Glass

Old-fashioned

Home Bar: A Simple Mai Tai

Recipe

1.5 oz rum or rhum (I recommend using an Agricole style like Neisson*)
.5 oz Orange Curacao (I recommend Pierre Ferrand)
.5 oz orgeat syrup (I recommend Small Hands)
.5 oz lime juice
.5 oz simple syrup (dissolve 1 part sugar into 1 part hot water)
Lime, mint, or edible flowers (if you’re super fancy) — garnish optional

Combine all liquid ingredients in your favorite cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake vigorously. Strain and pour the drink into the glass with ice cubes. Add garnish and serve. If using a mint bunch garnish, smack the leaves in the palm of your hands before dropping them into the glass to release the oils.

*If you don’t have access to a specialty hooch shop, try your nearest Bevmo for Barbancourt Rhum 5 Star or 10 Cane rum. You can also explore by mixing different types of rum to find your favorite. Occasionally I’ll float an aged rum on top to add more depth to the drink.

Photography and styling by Hannah Levy.

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Posted by Jeffrey Levy

Jeffrey is on a never-ending quest to find the next addition to his home bar. By night, he shakes and stirs as the founding partner of cocktail consulting company JW Hawthorne. By day, he runs a health care software company. Follow him @jfflvy on Instagram.

  • I’m with you Jeffrey – it was only once I started dating a Hawaiian and had quality mixologists on Oahu make me a real Mai Tai did I come to truly appreciate it! These photos are gorgeous!

  • Deanne Katz

    I’ll admit to enjoying the bottled stuff, but having just got back from Kauai, I’m excited to make Mai Tai’s at home. Thanks!

  • This just might be my weekend drink. Looks delicious! Los Angeles Magazine just did an issue about drinking in LA that spotlighted a lot of tiki drinks. Your Mai Tai recipe would definitely hold its own in that spread.

  • Glad you’ll be trying to make it at home vs going for the pre-made beverages! Let us know how it turns out.

  • Thanks! Tiki seems to be all the rage these days!

  • It’s all about that orgeat.

  • Katie

    Having had a few too many Mai Tais back when Trader Vics was still open in San Francisco, I haven’t indulged in years, but this is tempting and gorgeous.

  • Gorgeous shots and styling!
    I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately, Kasey. I hope you are hanging in. It’s a lot of work growing two babes in your belly!
    I hope New Mexico was fun.
    xoxo
    E

  • It’s surprisingly easy to make at home once your hands on the few ingredients. Let us know what kind of rum you choose to go with!

  • Thanks so much, Erin! These photos and post are by our wonderful friends and contributors, Jeff and Hannah 🙂 They make me want a cocktail REAL bad 🙂 xo

  • Rosemary

    I make my own version of a Mai Tai that I developed years ago when I was trying to replicate Trader Vic’s version and orgeat syrup was difficult to find. I use 2 parts of Gosling’s Black Seal Rum, 1 part Lazzaroni Amaretto, 1 part orange juice, and 1 part pineapple juice. The type of rum is very important. Until I discovered Gosling’s, I was using a combination of a spiced rum and Meyers to get the taste. The amoretto fills in for the orgeat and simple syrup.

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