The Mai Tai recipe was created by one of the founding fathers of tiki, Trader Vic. The original spec utilized Wray and Nephew 17, a 17-year-aged Jamaican rum, as the base. This classic cocktail was so popular in its heyday that the Trader Vic bars caused a significant depletion in the stock of this rare Jamaican rum from so many Mai Tais being ordered by guests.
Eventually, this expression of rum ran out, causing Vic's bar team to resort to creating their own bespoke rum blend for the Mai Tai, hoping to replicate some of the characteristics of the Wray and Nephew 17. The new blend consisted of pot still (high ester) Jamaican rum with Rhum Grande Arome, a rhum used to enhance the flavors of other rums as opposed to being sipped on its own.
Today, many bars and bartenders continue this tradition of creating their own rum blends, although a few brands do the job, producing blended rums that have enough depth to make this cocktail the sophisticated serve that it should be. Orgeat, a nut syrup traditionally made with almonds, sugar, water, orange flower water, and a fortifying spirit, is vital for this classic drink. If you don’t make your own orgeat, we recommend using a top-quality commercial brand, such as Small Hand Foods or BG Reynolds.