The Mai Tai

A proper Mai Tai requires a proper shirt

A proper Mai Tai requires a proper shirt

There is considerable debate over who invented the original Mai Tai.  There are some who claim that Don the Beachcomber invented the drink in 1933.  It was not an overly popular drink at the time, and Donn Beach reportedly did not think that it was one of his best.  There are an equal number of people who believe that Trader Vic invented the drink in 1944, with the name derived from the expression “Maita’i roa ae!” which translates to “The best!” – when a Tahitian woman tasted one for the first time.

The argument is moot, of course, as it has been proven that the Mai Tai was invented by Cap’n Jack, even though he had not yet been born.  He has tried many variants, but none come close to his own original recipe.  Over the years Cap’n Jack has introduced his own modifications, with names (and stories that go with those names) for each special drink.

Most people have never had an “authentic” Mai Tai, if there truly is such a thing. But one thing is for sure – a Mai Tai should not be red, or blue, or made with juice that comes out of a plastic lime.  A proper Mai Tai has a deep amber hue, because it’s the liquor that should dominate the drink, not the sweeteners.

Don the Beachcomber Mai Tai

Originally created in 1933 and called the Mai Tai Swizzle, the drink fell off the menu around 1937.  In answer to the popularity of Trader Vic’s Mai Tai, Don the Beachcomber put his version back on the menu soon afterwards.  This original version is the spiciest and most complex of the Mai Tai recipes served at Cap’n Jack’s Tiki Bar.  With very different tasting notes than what Americans have come to know as a Mai Tai, it has more of a spicy Caribbean flavor rather than a sweet Hawaiian flavor.  This is still worth a try, and a great start to a “flight” of Mai Tai recipes tastings.  (updated 3/14/13)

¾ oz fresh lime juice

Donn Beach1 oz fresh grapefruit juice

½ oz Cointreau

¼ oz falernum

1½ oz dark Jamaican rum

1 oz Nicaraguan light rum

6 drops Pernod

1 dash Angostura bitters

This Mai Tai, like all authentic Mai Tai recipes, are not made in a shaker, but rather in a glass. The standard Mai Tai glass is not Cap’n Jack’s prized Don the Beachcomber mug to the right, but instead a glass like the one shown for the Trader Vic’s Mai Tai recipe below.  Have all ingredients ready to go, as you don’t want the ice to melt too much as you prepare the cocktail. Start with a glass with 8 oz of crushed ice.  Pour the ingredients in order, and give just a small stir with a swizzle stick so as to barely blend the ingredients.  Sip straight from the glass with no straw.

Trader Vic Mai Tai

This is the version of the Mai Tai that has been often imitated, usually without success.  Grocery store Mai Tai mixes (“just add rum!”) have put most people off Tiki drinks, and for good reason. But a well-crafted Mai Tai, using the original Trader Vic’s recipe, fresh fruit juices, and high-end rums, will convince you that this is one of the top ten drinks ever created, and a defining recipe for  past and present Tiki cocktail fans.  There are still a few Trader Vic’s around, and a visit to one is highly encouraged – don’t forget to pay the extra bucks so you can keep the glass!  (updated 3/14/13)

TV Mai Tai1 oz fresh orange juice

1 oz fresh pineapple juice

¾ oz fresh lime juice

¼ oz Triple Sec

¼ oz orgeat syrup

¼ oz simple sugar syrup

1 oz Demerara rum

1 oz dark Jamaican rum

1 oz light Puerto Rican rum

Add 8 oz of crushed ice to a glass, and pour the ingredients on top of the ice in the order listed. DO NOT SHAKE OR STIR!  Use a straw for your first 1/3 of the glass, then after the layers have had a chance to blend, throw the straw over your left shoulder, shout ““Maita’i roa ae!” at the top of your lungs in your fiercest warrior voice, and finish the drink straight from the glass. Polynesian heaven!

Beachbum Burt Mai Tai

(Cap’n Jack is still searching for this legendary 1970’s era recipe!  Any SoCal folks have access to any of the former BBB mixmasters?)

Halekulani Mai Tai

The Halekulani Hotel is Cap’n Jack’s preferred home away from home.  Cap’n Jack always spends his last evening before his red-eye “back to reality” flight sipping this wonderful version of the Mai Tai, while listening to a classic Hawaiian trio sing while a graceful former Miss Hawaii dances hypnotically.  The scene is as timeless as the 80 year old couple (with matching Aloha shirt and Mumu) on the dance floor.  (updated 3/14/13)

1¼ oz fresh lime juice

Halekulani Mai Tai⅓ oz orgeat syrup

⅓ oz Orange Curacao

⅓ oz rock candy syrup

¾ oz Puerto Rican gold rum

½ oz Puerto Rican 151-proof rum

1 float Puerto Rican dark rum

Add 8 oz of crushed ice in a clear glass and add the ingredients in the order listed.  While jiggers in 1/3 oz measurements are difficult to find, do your best to obtain a set, as this recipe is precise, and hard to beat when made exactly as listed.  Do not stir, but instead drink through a straw so that as the ice melts and dilutes the drink, the dark rum float will make up for it.

Bali Hai Mai Tai

It isn’t often that a cocktail comes with a warning on the menu, and rarer still when the waitress again warns you when you place your order.  This is a simple recipe, as there is no fruit juice other than a lime (gotta have lime!) in this version of the Mai Tai, and the strong alcohol content requires that you call a taxi after 2 of them.  (updated 3/14/13)

Mr Bali Hai1 oz fresh lime juice

2 oz Jamaican dark rum

1 oz Puerto Rican light rum

½ oz orange liqueur

1 oz sweet ‘n sour

Scatter several pillows or an old mattress wherever you will be drinking this version of the Mai Tai so that when you fall over you don’t hurt yourself.  Combine the ingredients in a glass with 8 oz of crushed ice, give a few stirs with a swizzle stick, and prepare for impact.  You have been warned…

No Regrets Mai Tai

Gather ‘round children, and hear Cap’n Jack’s tail of woe.  Or at least try to get it out of him, but not before you have seen him drink at least 4 of these.  While you may never get him to tell you the whole story, he has volunteered that if he had had just one more of these tasty drinks (this is based on the recipe from the Halekulani in Waikiki, where the event took place) on a past tropical and balmy night, things would have been very, very different.  (updated 3/14/13)

Halekulani stage1 oz fresh lime juice

¼ oz orgeat syrup

½ oz orange Curacao

¼ oz simple sugar syrup

1 oz Barbados Banancourt gold rum

1 oz Haitian 151-proof rum

Add the ingredients over 8 oz of crushed ice in the order listed.  Do not stir, but instead follow the drinking instructions listed above for the Halekulani Mai Tai (I know, I know…Cap’n Jack, who believes in a world with no rules, is dictating how you drink a cocktail…but trust him on this).

Cap’n Jack’s Mai Tai

If the Mai Tai has come to represent the Tiki drink, then this version, perfected over many years, has come to represent Cap’n Jack’s Tiki Bar.  This is subtler and less sweet than most versions, with a hint of Hawaiian coconuts and Tahitian vanilla.  Despite evidence to the contrary, Cap’n Jack still contends that he is the inventor of the Mai Tai.  (updated 3/14/12)

CJTB1 oz fresh lime juice

¼ oz orgeat syrup

¼ oz vanilla syrup

¼ oz Mexican orange liqueur

1 oz Virgin Islands coconut rum

1 oz Virgin Islands gold rum

1 oz Jamaican dark rum

1 CJTB Seafoam

½ dollop whipped coconut milk

1 pinch freshly ground Tahitian vanilla bean

Every man wants to leave his mark on the world, and it is not lost on Cap’n Jack that it could be considered a bit odd that this is the mark he wants to leave on the world.  But then, Cap’n Jack is a bit of an odd duck.  This is one of the few Mai Tai recipes that should be mixed in a shaker. Combine the ingredients, with the exception of the whipped coconut milk, ground vanilla, and CJTB Seafoam, to a cocktail shaker.  Add 8 oz of crushed ice, shake until your hands are frost bitten, and pour into a clear glass.  Add the CJTB Seafoam, stir lightly with a spoon, and top off with whipped coconut milk, and finish with a pinch of freshly ground Tahitian vanilla bean. While a long way from the original Don the Beachcomber Mai Tai Swizzle, this recipe is Cap’n Jack’s favorite of all his cocktail recipes.


There are many who dispute who makes the best Mai Tai (spoiler alert:  it’s me), but there are few who dispute who makes the best music – life long musician, educator, mentor, and “second father” to thousands of Southern Californian students and musicians…the Maestro himself, Don Marino. Those who did not go into the music business professionally (and there were a lot who did), certainly left his tutelage with a love and appreciation of great music. It is only fitting that on the eve of an invasion of his home with former students parachuting in (all are invited, and this drink will be served), that Cap’n Jack create a new Mai Tai for the great Maestro…”The Mai-Tai-stro.”

"Anna one, anna two, anna nother Mai Tai-stro..."

“Anna one, anna two, anna nother Mai Tai-stro…”

3/4 oz fresh lime juice

3/4 oz fresh orange juice

1 oz fresh pineapple juice

1/4 oz Triple Sec

1/4 oz orgeat syrup

1/4 oz coconut syrup

2 oz Nicaraguan gold rum

1 oz dark Jamaican rum

1 float of 7-Up

This version of the classic Mai Tai is shaken, not layered. Combine everything, including the dark Jamaican rum (Cap’n Jack’s own “Pirate Black Rhum” is preferred, but Meyers or Appleton dark rum can be substituted) but not the 7-Up in a cocktail shaker. Add crushed ice, shake it like you are conducting an orchestra playing “Flight of the Bumblebee,” and empty it ice and all into a Tiki mug. Pour in a 1/2″ or so float of 7-Up (it dilutes your first taste of what many consider to be a very strong drink…think of it as a way to “brace for impact”). Garnish with mint, a non-red dye #2 cherry, a paper umbrella, and drink it way too fast. Still thirsty? The proper way to order your second drink is to say in your best Italian accent, “Anna one, anna two…”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s