Your globetrotting liquor reporter is penning this week’s column from the beach bar at a posh resort hotel in Hawaii, sipping rum from a fresh coconut all the while.
The caffeine freaks in the audience may recognize Hawaii as the source of the world-famous Kona Coffee, grown on the volcanic slopes of the Hualālai and Mauna Loa mountains in the centre of the big island.
However, your intrepid liquor reporter didn’t fly all the way to Hawaii to drink coffee, so let’s talk about that quintessential tropical drink known as the Mai Tai!
The name of the drink comes from the Tahitian word maita’i, which means good or outstanding. Legend has it that a Tahitian customer who tried the first experimental cocktail shouted out maita’i on the first sip, and at that moment, a new libation was born.
Like many popular drinks, the true origin of the Mai Tai is swathed in controversy, which has doubtless added to its popularity.
Although the Mai Tai is now synonymous with Tiki-themed bars the world over, it was actually invented in California, rather than on some sun-drenched tropical island covered in grass skirts and coconuts.
There was a Tiki culture fad in the USA during the 1950’s and 60’s, with Polynesian-themed restaurants opening across the country, and soon spreading around the world.
Consumer tastes were simpler in those days, so a restaurant or lounge with Polynesian decor was seen as mysterious and exotic. Weary from the recent wars, the American public was quick to latch onto any fresh or avante-garde experience, much to the delight of all involved.
Even the King of Rock n’ Roll himself helped popularize the Mai Tai, with the drink featuring prominently in the Elvis Presley movie Blue Hawaii, way back in 1961.
Sadly, just like swinger parties and disco music, the Tiki fad eventually came to an end, and the Mai Tai faded into relative obscurity, now just one of countless cocktails on a near-endless drinks menu.
The popular Trader Vic’s chain of restaurants claims to be the inventor of the Mai Tai, first serving it in San Francisco back in 1944.
Contesting that claim is the Don the Beachcomber restaurant chain, which started serving up their own Mai Tai concoction in Hollywood a full decade earlier.
To further muddy the waters, both restaurant chains have different recipes for the Mai Tai, so it’s hard to claim that either one is copying the other.
Both of the original restaurant locations have long since closed down, but new locations keep popping up in tourist traps the world over, particularly where sun and sand are close at hand.
In fact, there is a Don the Beachcomber Mai Tai Bar right here in my hotel, still serving up their original recipe, now almost 80 years old.
There are literally dozens of Mai Tai recipes out there, so your intrepid liquor reporter will not bore you with the sordid details. Rather, I will share with you my own personal favourite recipe, with a few tweaks to the ingredients to eliminate hard-to-find mixers that are not available in Alberta.
Pour 1oz Appletons Dark Rum and 1oz Mailibu Coconut Rum over crushed ice into a tall highball glass.
Add 2oz orange juice, 2oz pineapple juice, 2oz soda water, and a splash of agave syrup. The original recipes used weird syrups that are no longer available, but agave syrup is a widely available substitute.
Squeeze in the juice from half a lime, then add a dollop of Grenadine for color. Garnish with a little umbrella or fruit slice if you have them handy, then enjoy!
With the recent arrival of winter in Alberta, many readers in the audience may find themselves longing for an escape to warmer climes.
This is the time of year that the phones start ringing at the travel agents, as frost-nipped noses in Alberta start longing for the sweet embrace of a trip south to the lands of eternal summer.
Instead of trawling the Expedia website for last minute getaways to a sunny beach, just mix yourself up a Mai Tai. You may have to lean back in your chair and imagine yourself wearing a lei at a poolside bar in the tropics, but after a few refills, you will forget you are still in chilly Alberta!