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Mai Tai Recipe

Mai Tai cocktail

Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s adaptation of the classic.

The cocktail revival has solidified the Mai Tai’s status as a ubiquitous presence on tropical drink menus. Its no-nonsense blend of aged rum, orgeat, curaçao, and lime makes it revered for its simplicity, despite having long been a drink that’s often spoiled by cheap syrups, pre-squeezed citrus, and recipe confusion. “Unlike the Zombie and other classic ‘tiki’ drinks, the Mai Tai is easy to make,” says Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, tropical drinks historian and founder of New Orleans’ iconic Latitude 29. Berry also appreciates that the Mai Tai recipe’s straightforward ingredients complement its base spirit rather than mask it, an unfortunate tendency of many tropical cocktails.

The Mai Tai’s reputation as a beloved standby makes it easy to overlook its history of rivalry. Tropical drink enthusiasts debate who invented the drink, with some claiming Donn “the Beachcomber” Beach and others “Trader Vic” Bergeron, two founding fathers behind the first tiki bars of the 1930s.

Berry has served as a neutral third party on the matter, consulting friends and family from both figures to get to the bottom of the story. He notes that although Donn Beach may have offered a limited-time Mai Tai Swizzle at his namesake restaurant in 1933, it bears no resemblance to the version that Trader Vic conceptualized in 1944. “The two drinks have nothing in common except lime juice and rum, and not even the same rum,” says Berry. However, there is speculation that Vic may have been workshopping a take on Beach’s Q.B. Cooler—a cocktail with similar components of rum, lime, and orange, but with a splash of passion fruit thrown into the mix. But the general consensus is that Vic deserves credit for today’s Mai Tai recipe.

For more about the Mai Tai history as well as Berry’s best approaches to making one, listen to his interview on Radio Imbibe.


  • 1 oz. aged rhum agricole
  • 1 oz. aged Jamaican rum
  • 1 oz. fresh lime juice (reserve the shell)
  • 1/2 oz. orange curaçao
  • 1/2 oz. orgeat
  • Tools:shaker
  • Glass:double Old Fashioned
  • Garnish:mint


Shake all of the ingredients with 2 scoops of crushed ice for around 10 seconds. Pour unstrained into a double Old Fashioned glass. Sink the spent lime shell in the drink, then garnish with mint.

TIPTrader Vic’s version would have been made with a 17-year-old
Jamaican rum by Wray & Nephew—a product whose coveted status and rarity today makes it valued in the thousands at auction. Berry recommends a blend of rhum agricole and dark rum to mimic the 1980s editions of the Trader Vic’s restaurant Mai Tai. “I prefer Coruba Dark or Appleton Estate Extra 12-Year as my Jamaican rum, and either Rum JM V.O., Neisson Élevé Sous Bois, or Rhum Clement VSOP as
my Martinique,” he says.

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