Trader Vic’s (1944)
You really can’t improve on perfection, but that hasn’t stopped the world from screwing up Trader Vic’s original Mai Tai for almost 70 years. I’ve already detailed the secretive and combative world of Tiki in my write-up about the Navy Grog – I’d say that contributed to the degradation of the Mai Tai, but Trader Vic himself also changed his recipe as time went on, adding more citrus juices (and more rum). Trader Vic originally used Wray & Nephew 17-year old rum in his recipe, but the Mai Tai was so popular, he actually depleted the world supply of that rum (or they just stopped making it), then the same with 15-year expression that came afterward. These days, the Trader Vic’s chain restaurants make the drink with a crappy, artificial-tasting bottled mix and inferior rum. Feel free to experiment with mixing two different rums (as I do here), or try just one kickass rum in this. My friend Matt “RumDood” Robold says he’s made this with Smith & Cross and “enjoyed it more than he probably should have” and I can back that up – even just a quarter-ounce in place of some of the aged Jamaican rum works great. The great bang-for-the-buck aged rum Appleton 12 is a minor luxury. If you’re up for it, make a batch of homemade orgeat (recipe below), or look around for B.G. Reynolds‘ excellent version. Either way, done right using this old-school recipe, the Mai Tai will take you back to the early days of Tiki, as US Marines were returning from the Pacific back home to southern California, eager to both remember and forget what they’d been through over there.
Hardware: Shaker, Jigger, Straws (optional), Hawthorne strainer (if using Boston shaker)
Ice: Ice cubes, Crushed ice
Glassware: Double rocks glass
Spirits: Aged Jamaican rum (recommended: Appleton Estate 12 or Reserve), aged rhum agricole (recommended: Neisson Élevé Suis Bois or Rhum J.M. Vieux VSOP)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Curaçao (recommended: Senior Curaçao of Curaçao, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao), Simple syrup, Orgeat (recommended: BG Reynolds’ or make your own; recipe below)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice, Lime hull half (reserve from squeezing), Fresh spearmint
In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:
1 oz aged Jamaican rum
1 oz aged rhum agricole
1 oz lime juice
1/2 oz Curaçao
1/4 oz orgeat
1/4 oz simple syrup
Shake well to chill. Fill a Double Old Fashioned glass with crushed ice, then strain the drink over the ice, adding more ice to top if needed. Garnish with the spent lime hull half (rind side up) and a mint sprig that’s been lightly slapped against the rim of the glass to release its aromatic oils. Optionally, serve with two straws cut to size.
In a heavyweight Ziploc, break up 2 1/2 cups whole, raw almonds – looking for large chunks, not powder. A rolling pin or muddler works well. Toast at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. In a saucepan, combine the crushed, toasted almonds with 2 cups of sugar and 1 1/2 cups of water. Bring to a simmer, then cook 4 minutes or so, stirring. Remove from heat and let cool, then pour into an airtight container and let steep 24 hours. Strain the mixture through a cheesecloth-lined strainer into a jar or bottle (it’ll take a while to slowly drip out), then add 12 drops of orange flower water, 12 drops of rose water, and 1 oz of overproof vodka to help reduce spoilage. Shake to blend. Keep refrigerated. Will last about 3 months.
Havana, Cuba (date unknown)
Some cocktails can be easily pinned down to a specific point of origin. The Mojito isn’t one of them. The first printed recipe is in the 1931 bar manual from Sloppy Joe’s in Havana. But there are records of Caribbean pirates mixing unrefined rum, sugar, lime, and mint going back to the late 16th century. Who knows? One thing’s for sure: The Mojito’s trendiness a while back wasn’t because it was the new kid on the block.
Most places I’ve seen make this over-muddle the mint, demolishing it into little shreds you’re picking out of your teeth for the next hour. Adding lime chunks to the muddling mix will get a huge boost from the oils in their rinds. Take care and do your muddling in two passes – you’ll get a much nicer drink. And cleaner teeth.
Hardware: Shaker, Jigger, Muddler, Barspoon
Ice: Ice cube, Cracked ice
Glassware: Collins glass
Spirits: Light rum (recommended: Havana Club 3, Caña Brava, Cruzan)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Simple syrup, Seltzer or sparkling mineral water (recommended: Pellegrino)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime chunks, Fresh spearmint
In a chilled shaker, add:
Half a lime, cored and cut into four chunks
2 oz light rum
3/4 oz simple syrup
Muddle well to express all lime juice and rind oils, then add:
10 spearmint leaves
Muddle again lightly to release the mint’s aromatics. Add an ice cube and let it steep in a cool place for a few minutes.
Fill a Collins glass about two-thirds of the way up with cracked ice. Gently strain the infused rum over the cracked ice – don’t shake too much. Top with:
1 oz seltzer or sparkling mineral water
Stir lightly to blend and garnish with a mint sprig that’s been lightly slapped against the rim of the glass to release its aromatic oils.