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.

THE KIT

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

HOW TO

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.

ORGEAT

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.

Detroit Athletic Club, 1920s

The drink that launched a thousand knockoffs: The Last Word. Four equal parts heavy-hitters, no garnish. Written up by Ted Saucier in “Bottoms Up.” Revived by Murray Stenson in Seattle a few years ago. And now, endlessly pillaged as a source of inspiration by bartenders around the country. Try your hand at a spin sometime: Chartreuse, maraschino, and citrus seem to be the only constants (Chartreuse is one of the priciest liqueurs out there – look for smaller, 375 mL bottles). Three variations listed below.

THE KIT

Hardware: Shaker, Jigger
Ice: Ice cubes
Glassware: Cocktail glass or coupe
Spirits: Gin (recommended: Beefeater, Plymouth, Tanqueray)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Green Chartreuse, Maraschino liqueur (recommended: Luxardo)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice

HOW TO

Chill a cocktail glass or coupe in the freezer at least ten minutes.

In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:
3/4 oz London Dry gin
3/4 oz green Chartreuse
3/4 
oz maraschino liqueur
3/4 oz lime juice 

Shake well to blend and chill, then strain into the chilled glass.

 

LA OTRA PALABRA

otherwordThe Varnish, Los Angeles, 2010

THE KIT

Hardware: Shaker, Jigger, Barspoon
Ice: Ice cubes, Ice chunk
Glassware:
 Double Old Fashioned glass
Spirits: Mezcal (recommended: Del Maguey Vida)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Yellow Chartreuse, Maraschino liqueur (recommended: Luxardo), Agave nectar
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice

HOW TO

Chill a double Old Fashioned in the freezer at least ten minutes.

In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:
2 oz mezcal
1 
oz lime juice
1/4 oz yellow Chartreuse
1/4 
oz agave nectar
1 barspoon maraschino liqueur

Shake well to blend and chill, then strain into the chilled glass over a large ice chunk or two to three ice cubes.

 

WORDSMITH

Chuck Taggart, Los Angeles, 2009

THE KIT

Hardware: Shaker, Jigger
Ice: Ice cubes
Glassware: Cocktail glass or coupe
Spirits: Smith & Cross pot-still rum
Mixers & Liqueurs: Green Chartreuse, Maraschino liqueur (recommended: Luxardo)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice

HOW TO

Chill a cocktail glass or coupe in the freezer at least ten minutes.

In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:
3/4 oz Smith & Cross pot-still rum
3/4 oz green Chartreuse
3/4 
oz maraschino liqueur
3/4 oz lime juice 

Shake well to blend and chill, then strain into the chilled glass.

 

THE FINAL WARD

Death & Co., New York, 2007

THE KIT

Hardware: Shaker, Jigger
Ice: Ice cubes
Glassware: Cocktail glass or coupe
Spirits: Rye whiskey (recommended: Rittenhouse 100, Bulleit, Old Overholt)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Green Chartreuse, Maraschino liqueur (recommended: Luxardo)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lemon juice

HOW TO

Chill a cocktail glass or coupe in the freezer at least ten minutes.

In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:
3/4 oz rye whiskey
3/4 oz green Chartreuse
3/4 
oz maraschino liqueur
3/4 oz lemon juice 

Shake well to blend and chill, then strain into the chilled glass.

Colonial America (mid-17th century)

When the weather turns colder, there’s few things better than a good Hot Buttered Rum – so long as you make it with real ingredients, not the powdered mix. There’s two parts to this recipe: a batter you’ll make beforehand (then store in an airtight container in the freezer), and the simple drink mix itself.

Hot rum drinks like this were common in Colonial America, but I suspect it took Middle America to perfect it with a decadent sweet-and-spiced butter/ice cream batter. There are countless recipe variations on Hot Buttered Rum – this one comes from my mother-in-law, who used to make it in Seattle (and, by chance, this is very close to the version made at Seattle’s Zig Zag Café). Stick with a good-quality, flavorful, rum like Plantation OFTD (amazing and potent), Appleton or Hamilton Jamaican Pot Still Black – but Coruba will work, too (don’t be tempted to use a spiced rum, it’ll become a spice bomb). For the bold and adventurous, take it a level up by using Smith & Cross “Navy Strength” 114-proof Jamaican rum – all those toffee & butterscotch flavors in Smith & Cross’s beloved funky hogo really shine in this. Or dive deeper and experiment with a blend of rums – or even rum and brandy – to get your flavor just right.

THE KIT

Hardware: Jigger, Plastic measuring cup, Standing mixer (optional)
Glassware: Ceramic or glass mug
Spirits: Dark Jamaican rum (recommended: Plantation OFTD, Coruba, Hamilton, Smith & Cross)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Hot Buttered Rum Batter (recipe below), Boiling water
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Cinnamon stick or fresh nutmeg

HOT BUTTERED RUM BATTER

In a saucepan over medium-low heat (just warm enough to melt the ice cream and butter), add together:
1 quart vanilla ice cream, softened
4 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 lb brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
Stir until well-blended, then pour into an airtight container and freeze. Batter will keep a long time – I have some from a year ago that’s just fine.

HOW TO

Pre-warm a ceramic or glass mug with boiling water while you’re assembling the ingredients. Discard the water, then combine in the mug:
1 1/2 oz dark rum
2 tbl hot buttered rum batter (leave frozen, it’ll melt as you stir)
1/2 cup boiling water (use the plastic measuring cup)
Stir to blend. Garnish with a long cinnamon stick or a dusting of freshly-grated nutmeg.

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