History of the Mai Tai Cocktail

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If the hot summer weather has got you feeling in the mood for something tiki-tiki, the tropical Mai Tai cocktail might be just what you need. Similar to a daiquiri, thanks to its base of white rum and lime juice, this beautiful cocktail also incorporates dark rum, orange curacao and orgeat syrup for a deliciously fruity finish.

Who Invented the Mai Tai?

It is thought that the Mai Tai was created in 1944, by a bartender known as Trader Vic, or Victor
Jules Bergeron, in Oakland, San Francisco. Having been in the bar/restaurant
business since 1934, he had become known for his eclectic blend of foods cooked
in a wood-fired oven, as well as his ability to create irresistible rum-based

When guests visited from Hawaii, they were lucky enough to be treated to one of Vic’s new cocktail
creations. Upon tasting, they exclaimed, “mai-tai roa ae”, which means “out of
this world”. Trader Vic loved the phrase, and so the name was born.

The drink became popular throughout California, but when Trader Vic opened his bar in Seattle in
1948, word about the drink spread. It had already been informally introduced to
Hawaii by his first Mai Tai customers and when it was included in a bar service
for American President Lines, it became an international hit.


A similar drink was created in 1933 by Ernest Raymond Beaumont-Gantt, called the Q.B.Cooler. Beaumont-Gantt claimed that Trader Vic had stolen the idea for the Mai Tai from
him, as well as many other elements of his bar, Don The Beachcomber’s. While
Vic admitted to copying many elements of Don’s, he has always refuted the
claims that he stole the idea for the Mai Tai, to the point where he took it to
court. He won his case and it is now generally accepted that he created the

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Mai Tai Variations

Today’s Mai Tai is actually a variation of the original recipe, since the rum used by Trader Vic is no longer in circulation. It also included rock candy syrup. Other variations include the Mango Mai Tai, made with mango puree; the Murderous Mai Tai, made with spiced rum and grenadine for a blood-colour finish; and the Sunset Mai Tai, which uses typical Mai Tai ingredients to create a sunset-inspired look. There are many other fruity combinations too, so be sure to take your time and try them all in order to find your favourite.

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Bartender's top tip

The way you pour ingredients can affect your cocktail's final taste. Pour slowly and steadily to ensure proper mixing. When layering cocktails, use the back of a spoon to gently add the next ingredient so they don’t mix prematurely. This technique is essential for creating visually stunning layers in drinks like the Pousse-Café.

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