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The Clear Mai Tai | Is This The Future of Tiki Cocktails?

Mai Tai classic tiki cocktails besides a modern clarified mai tai

Hello, Friends of Cocktails. Last week we made Clear Orgeat, but the real test is to compare its classic counterpart in a true tropical classic: the Mai Tai. But just the clear orgeat won’t cut it so we’ll use clarified Lime Super Juice as well. I’m confident you all will love this too, because who wouldn’t want a clear cocktail that’s full of beautiful, bold flavors? So stick around if you want to find out if a Clear Mai Tai can taste as good as the original, quintessential Tiki cocktail!

The Mai Tai is popular, but I’m guessing you already knew that, so there are a lot of different recipes by a lot of different people, but at its core the Mai Tai is a Rum Daisy cocktail. A rum or two for the base, orange curacao to make it a Daisy, lime juice to make it fresh and orgeat to make it its own thing. To learn a bit about its history I turned to two sources, first Bar Vademecum, a vault of historic information for different cocktails, and the second source was a gift from one of its authors, Gerret Richard.

He sent me a book titled Tropical Standard, which he wrote with Ben Schaffer. With a foreword from Dave Arnold, this is almost a course in cocktails and their history, with a collection of new and refreshed recipes for tropical drinks, but it also shows you the creative and analytic processes of how drinks are developed. For the Mai Tai one important piece of information is all about the best rum replacement.

When Victor Bergeron aka Trader Vic created the Mai Tai he used Wray & Nephew 17 Year Old rum, but that was soon unavailable so he replaced it with the 15 year old version, but then that became unavailable as well. Trader Vic then started using two rums of complementary characters, although which ones they were exactly is up to debate. Another interesting quote from the book fits this situation perfectly: “since ingredients change or disappear, it is up to you to reinterpret, not just repeat old cocktail recipes”.

So it’s now pretty standard to use a combination of rums to come close to the original taste of the Mai Tai. A blend of Jamaican rum and Martinican rhum agricole is often said to be what Trader Vic used, once 17- and 15-year-old Wray & Nephew rums were no longer available. But Bar Vademecum points out several doubts about the use of rhum agricole, high price being just one of them. Trader Vic often wrote “Dark Jamaica or Martinique rum” on his rum lists, and traditional rum made from molasses was far more common.

So for the classic Mai Tai recipe we’ll use the rums suggested on this informative website: Smith & Cross Jamaica navy strength rum and Wray & Nephew white overproof rum. As for orgeat, if you’re not making it yourself, but don’t want to compromise on the quality, look no further than Liber&Co. Their orgeat starts with whole almonds that are blanched and roasted to bring out deep toasted nut flavors. Also in the mix are cane sugar, orange blossom and a touch of bitter almond oil for a distinct marzipan note that keeps that orange flavor in balance, so it will surely make a great Mai Tai. It’s Cocktail Time!

Clear Mai Tai being garnished with a single mint leaf

Mai Tai

● 1.5oz · 45mL Smith & Cross Navy Strength

● 0.5oz · 15mL Wray & Nephew Overproof

● 0.75oz · 22,5mL Lime Juice

● 0.75oz · 22,5mL Orgeat

● 0.5oz · 15mL Dry Curaçao

● 2 drops Saline Solution

I like to chill the large shaker and add ingredients into the smaller tin while our glass is already chilling in the freezer. Also here’s a tip from Tropical Standard for making sure your Mai Tai doesn’t get over diluted, known as the hybrid shake: shake it with cubed ice, then just serve it over crushed ice. Now drain the ice, add the cocktail and give it a good shake to chill and dilute. Then strain into our chilled glass filled with crushed ice.

Garnish with a mint sprig next to a straw, and if you want to make it a little fancy, add an orchid flower as well. Instead of adding the spent lime half I’ll just express some lime essential oils over the top for some more citrus freshness, and that’s it. This really is the unwavering king of tiki that hasn’t lost a step in its popularity, so let’s give it a taste to set a benchmark for our clarified version. Cheers!

You’ll know you have a great Mai Tai in your hands when you get a well-balanced mix of rum's caramel, oak and banana flavors, with a zesty lime kick, and a sweet, nutty almond undertone. It's a refreshing and exotic sip, finishing with a subtle hint of orange liqueur, making it a timeless classic for those seeking a taste of the tropics. But can we get so many bold flavors in a clear looking cocktail? We pulled it off before so I don’t see why not, so let’s start with our clarified Super Juice.

Clarified Lime Super Juice

● 10oz · 300mL Lime Super Juice

● 0.6g Agar Agar

For this to work, the Super Juice needs to be hydrated in hot liquid, but we don’t want to heat up all of the citrus juice, so measure out a quarter of your Juice, pour it into a small saucepan, add agar agar and place on medium high heat. To dissolve and incorporate agar agar fully, remember to keep stirring constantly until it just starts to simmer. Then take it off the heat, add the rest of the juice and whisk to mix it all together.

Afterwards transfer the mixture to an ice bath or into the freezer until agar agar does its thing and a soft gel forms - these will be the solid particles that will help with the clarification. Break it apart slightly with a whisk and pour over a cloth filter, and as always when clarifying wait until the clear liquid starts coming through, then transfer the filter and re-filter the first part. Once filtered you have Clarified Lime Super Juice that will last just as long as regular super juice, it just looks cooler. Let’s make this Mai Tai!

Clear Mai Tai

● 1.5oz · 45mL Jamaican Aged Rum

● 0.5oz · 15mL Rhum Agricole

● 0.75oz · 22,5mL Clarified Lime Super Juice

● 0.75oz · 22,5mL Clear orgeat

● 0.5oz · 15mL Dry Curacao

● 2 drops Saline Solution

To keep the clear appearance, but still give it enough aeration I’ll be throwing the cocktail, not shaking or stirring. That means ice and a hawthorne strainer into the small shaker tin and ingredients into the large tin, then comes the throwing. Drain the ice from the small shaker tin, pour in the ingredients, then pour the cocktail back into the empty tin, while moving the tins apart. Each repetition you can increase the distance between the tins, aerating the cocktail more and more, while the ice chills and dilutes in the process.

After 8-10 throws you should see nice frosting on the tins, meaning your cocktail is ready to be poured over a clear ice block in a low tumbler glass. Before I do, I'll add a nice Cocktail Time stamp on the ice, and I'll pour the cocktail down the side of the ice to preserve the stamp mark. For garnish take a single mint leaf, release the essential oils with a nice slap and place it on the ice cube - beautiful!

The aroma is less minty, but this version of the Mai Tai is cleaner and crisper on the palate than the original, while retaining all of its characteristic flavors. And with today's first cocktail being one of the best Mai Tais I ever had I'm really proud to say we actually made it even better. You should really try making this.

With that you’ve made it to the Bottom of The Glass, and for a fun fact of the day, something a lot of you probably know already, the creation of the Mai Tai was actually claimed by two bartenders. Trader Vic and Donn Beach aka “Don the Beachcomber” both claimed to be the father of this popular tiki cocktail. While Donn Beach is often credited with the creation of the tiki era, his “Q.B. Cooler”, which he claims was the foundation for Trader Vic’s Mai Tai, is a very different drink.

Made with rum, orange liqueur falernum, pernod, angostura bitters and grapefruit juice, you can already see how much differences there are. The matter was then settled out of court and Trader Vic is universally known as the inventor of the original Mai Tai. Now before we end the episode, something I promised when I made the Milk Syrup. I’ll test it every time we film to tell you about its shelf life, and yes, it's still good 10 days in, as expected. In the meantime, here are clarified Penicillin and Aviation cocktails. Until next time, cheers!


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