by Victor J. Bergeron aka “Trader Vic”
I originated the Mai Tai and have put together a bit of the background on the evolution of this drink, which has earned worldwide identification and acceptance.
There has been a lot of conversation over the beginning of this drink. Many have claimed credit, including Harry Owens. The people who now own Trader Vic’s in Honolulu (which at this time has no connection with the Trader Vic operations on the mainland) claimed it was originated in Tahiti. This aggravates my ulcer completely. The drink was never introduced by me in Tahiti except informally through our good friends, Eastham and Carrie Guild.
In 1944, after success with several exotic rum drinks, I felt a new drink was needed. I thought about all the really successful drinks; martinis, manhattans, and daiquiris. All basically simple drinks.
I was at the service bar in my Oakland restaurant. I took down a bottle of 17-year old rum. It was J. Wray Nephew from Jamaica; surprisingly golden in color, medium bodied, but with the rich pungent flavor particular to the Jamaican blends.
The flavor of this great rum wasn’t meant to be overpowered with heavy additions of fruit juices and flavorings. I took a fresh lime, added some orange curacao from Holland, a dash of Rock Candy Syrup, and a dollop of French Orgeat, for its subtle almond flavor. A generous amount of shaved ice and vigorous shaking by hand produced the marriage I was after.
Half the lime shell went in for color. I stuck in a branch of fresh mint and gave two of them to Ham and Carrie Guild, friends from Tahiti, who were there that night.
Carrie took one sip and said, “Mai Tai – Roa Ae”. In Tahitian this means “Out of This World – The Best.” Well, that was that. I named the drink “Mai Tai.”
This drink enjoyed great acceptance over the next few years in California and in Seattle when we opened Trader Vic’s there in 1948.
In 1953 the Mai Tai was brought by me to the Hawaiian Islands, when I was asked by the Matson Steamship Lines to formalize drinks for the bars at their Royal Hawaiian, Moana and Surfrider Hotels. Any old Kamaaina can tell you about this drink and of its rapid spread throughout the islands.
In 1954 we further introduced the Mai Tai when we included it among other new drinks in bar service for the American President Lines.
It is estimated that several thousand Mai Tais are served daily in Honolulu alone, and we sell many more than that daily in our eighteen Trader Vic’s restaurants throughout the world. I have let Eddie Sherman, the columnist on the above mentioned Honolulu Star Bulletin, know who originated this drink and think it is time the general public knows that these are the facts of the evolution and growth of the Mai Tai.
In fairness to myself and to a truly great drink, I hope you will agree when I say, “Let’s get the record straight on the Mai Tai.”
The Original Mai Tai
The rum which motivated the creation of the Mai Tai was a fine, golden, medium-bodied Jamaican from Kingston. Trader Vic added fresh lime juice, flavored and sweetened it with Orange Curacao from Holland and French Orgeat with its subtle flavor of almond.
The drink chilled nicely with a considerable amount of shaved ice so a large 15-ounce glass was selected to compliment the cooling and generous quality of the Mai Tai.
The Original Formula
* 2 ounces of 17-year old J. Wray & Nephew Rum over shaved ice.
* 1/2 ounce Holland DeKuyper Orange Curacao.
* 1/4 ounce Trader Vic’s Rock Candy Syrup.
* 1/2 ounce French Garier Orgeat Syrup
* Add juice from one fresh lime.
Hand shake and garnish with half of the lime shell inside the drink and float a sprig of fresh mint at the edge of the glass.
The success of the Mai Tai and its acceptance soon caused the 17-year-old rum to become unavailable, so it was substituted with the same fine rum with 15 years aging which maintained the outstanding quality.