The Mai Tai is a mainstay of the once ubiquitous Tiki bar. Kelbo’s and Mishima’s may be long gone, but the Trader Vic’s people are still serving up Mai Tais to thristy Angelenos. Although Don the Beachcomber also lays claim to the title with his QB Cooler, the story is that the Mai Tai was invented in 1944 by Vic Bergeron of the original Trader Vic’s in Oakland. In “The Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide,” Bergeron tells how the Mai Tai came to be:
“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, daiquiris, all basically simple drinks. “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 addition 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.
“I added a generous amount of shaved ice and shook it vigorously by hand to produce the marriage I was after. Half the lime shell went into each drink for color and I stuck in a branch of fresh mint. I gave the first two to Eastham and Carrie Guild, friends from Tahiti who were there that night. Carrie took one sip and said, ‘Mai tai roa ae.’ [very good]
The Trader Vic’s at LA Live offers six Mai Tais: The 1944 original, The Trader Vic’s as it has evolved over time, the Maui version with pineapple juice, mango, guava, and a version made with vodka. You can sample three Mai Tais with “The Wave,” a flight of cocktails on a surfboard-shaped tray. The 1944 is earthy, spicy, and tastes strongly of rum. The Trader Vic’s is a bit more fruity, but still packs a wallop. The mango and guava taste like fruit juices; this is the kind of cocktail you think is innocent until it suddenly knocks you right on your ass. Mai tai roa ae!