A Mai Tai is one of those drinks that can look drastically different depending on where you get it. I’ve had Mai Tais in colors ranging from yellow to My Little Pony pink to brown. The classic Trader Vic’s Mai Tai skews toward a light caramel, but to be honest, even that “classic” drink will probably look different depending on who’s your bartender that night.
The best Mai Tai I’ve had all summer is the very boozy one served at Hula’s Modern Tiki in Phoenix and Scottsdale. It’s made with Appleton’s gold rum, orange curaçao, pineapple and lime juices, orgeat, and dark rum—quite an addicting combo. I couldn’t get that cocktail out of my head, so I set about perfecting a homespun version. Ever since reading that you can make your own orgeat syrup, a common ingredient in tiki drinks, I’ve been wanting to test it out.
Sidenote: After asking people, Googling endlessly, and listening to different dictionary pronunciations, it seems like “oar-zhat” or “oar-zha” is acceptable. If you have a definitive answer to this, I owe you a flaming shot.
I followed this Serious Eats recipe for orgeat pretty much to a T, and the results were a subtly sweet, opaque, almondy syrup. FYI: This recipe calls for orange-flower water, and I bought some cheap on Amazon. When it came to mixing up the first round of Mai Tais, I didn’t have any Jamaican rum or curaçao, so I substituted with Bacardi (gasp!) and Cointreau. Not good. The next day I got my butt to Binny’s to get some more acceptable rum for a Mai Tai and some orange curaçao. I also added fresh pineapple juice to the mix to better replicate the flavor at Hula’s Modern Tiki. The results? A pretty damn good take on a Mai Tai, at least for the home bar.
Mai Tai with Homemade Orgeat
- 2 ounces Appleton Estate rum (or another amber or dark rum)
- 1/2 ounce orange curaçao
- 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
- 1/2–3/4 ounce fresh pineapple juice
- 1/2 ounce homemade orgeat syrup (recipe here)
- Fresh mint
Shake all ingredients together over ice and strain into an ice-filled highball glass. Garnish with fresh mint and a slice of pineapple.
Have you had any delicious (or suspicious) tiki drinks lately?