Whatever Happened to the Mai Tai?

Tony Abou-ganim - Mai Tai


silver gamma award winner 2012George, being a world traveler and lover of the finer things in life, found himself poolside at the beautiful Halekulani in Waikiki. It was a stellar day, as days go in Hawaii, with sunny, blue skies and just a slight tropical breeze.

Being quite content and very relaxed, George felt the need for refreshment, and what better libation to complement this incredible setting than a Mai Tai. When the drink arrived, he was surprised at its appearance. It was not made with the typical orange and pineapple juices with a bright red ring of grenadine syrup adorning the bottom of the glass, garnished with several Maraschino cherries attached to a slice of orange by a tiny umbrella floating on top. Instead it was a delicious, well-balanced tipple focused on flavorful rum, fresh lime, and just the memory of orange and almond. Fabulous! When asked about the variation of the drink, the waiter replied, “People ask about it all the time; this is the original recipe.”

Later that evening George found himself seated across the bar at Lewers Lounge and in the presence of bartender extraordinaire Tim Rita. George ordered a Mai Tai and inquired about its origins. “Well, as the story goes, the drink was first mixed in Oakland, California by Victor Bergeron in 1944 at Trader Vic’s,” Tim replied. “The recipe consisted of seventeen year-old J. Wray & Nephew Jamaican rum, orange Curacao, orgeat, rock candy syrup, and fresh lime juice,” he explained. “It never had orange or pineapple juices and definitely no grenadine syrup and that is the recipe we use here at the Halekulani!”

Tony Abou-Ganim - Mai Tai

1½ oz Rhum Clement VSOP Martinique
1 ½ oz Appleton Jamaican Rum
½ oz rock candy syrup
½ oz orange Curacao
½ oz orgeat syrup
Juice of 1 ½ limes (approx 1 ½ oz), freshly squeezed

Shake with ice, strain into a crushed-ice
filled Mai Tai glass. Garnish with a spent
lime shell, mint sprig, and pineapple spear.


George was intrigued with the Mai Tai story. He found it not only a wonderful draft for a poolside respite, but equally as delicious in the beautiful Lewers Lounge as he listened to the soulful jazz of Tennyson Stephens. But always determined to get to the bottom of things, George booked a flight to Oakland, California and made his way to Trader Vic’s in Emeryville. As he walked in, he was transported to the South Pacific with visions of blue waters, thatched huts, and grass skirts. He made his way to the bar where he met Javier behind the stick and ordered some Pupus and one of Vic’s famous Mai Tais.


“So what is the real story behind the Mai Tai?” George inquired. “It was invented in 1944 when Vic was working on creating a new drink,” Javier said as he repeated the same ingredients that Tim Rita recited at Lewers.” He was about to taste his newest creation when his friends from Tahiti, Ham and Carrie Guild, showed up. Vic presented the drink to Carrie, who tasted it and proclaimed, ‘Mai tai roa áe,’ which apparently means ‘out of this world-the best!’ in Tahitian. And that was how the Mai Tai was born!”

Many people have taken credit for the drink over the years and many, many more have taken liberties with the original recipe. It seems poor Vic was so bothered by this fact that he found it necessary to set the record straight in his Bartenders Guide, the revised 1972 edition. He exclaimed the drink to be his and his alone despite claims to the contrary. “Anybody who says I didn’t create this drink is a dirty stinker.”

So George felt very confident that he had gotten the real story on the drink’s creation, but for now he was very happy just to get to the bottom of another of the Trader’s Mai Tais.


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