This drink is probably the best known and worst executed drink in the tiki universe. It is a drink that has a storied origin and colorful past but lets just settle on a recipe and move on. For me: it is a slight variation of Trader Vic’s recipe from his book “Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide Revised”
1oz aged Agricola rhum
1oz Antigua rum (a round sweeter rum is needed)
1oz fresh lime juice
½ oz. orgeat
½ oz. orange clement schrubb (I like this because it’s a rum based orange)
Lets put the actual drink aside for a moment. How do you garnish this masterpiece at home? How do you make this drink pop at your deck party, or hell for just a sunny Saturday afternoon at home? I like to think it is in the presentation that separates good from great. I like to think that every part of the drink should be accounted for, meaning: Ice, vessel, and garnish. Garnish is its entirety.
Lets look at the ice situation first. I like to serve my Mai tai’s on crushed ice. For me at home or in a bar, the best way to achieve this ice is with a vintage Ice-O-Mat. (You can find them on Esty). You want to pack the ice down well, and have it just overflow the mug.
I like tiki mugs for the “glass” – the color, style and shape are really a reflection of how you see tiki. You can find a great selection on Amazon – Tiki Farm is a good source.
Now that we have the ice and the glass accounted for, how do we garnish this beverage? For me, I like a little surprise, a garnish that isn’t quite what it seems. I like to use two different cherries in concert and have them just taste different than your guest would expect. I like to start with the horrible Bing cherries, yes those bright red sugar bombs. Let’s lean into that bright red bomb. Be honest, it’s eye catching and going to make your drink pop, only problem, they are terrible. Solution, soak them in amaretto with some orange zest. Orgeat is an almond based syrup, this will tie the drink and garnish together.
The next cherry you want to use is a Luxardo maraschino cherry. They are excellent as is, but I like to manipulate them to give a “what the f&*k” note to the drink. I like to soak them in bitters and lime husk. It makes something that your guest thinks is sweet into bitter. The contrast of flavors, sweet and bitter, is further marked esthetically by the different shades of the cherries.
We are going to use a wooden skewer to hold the cherries. I like the combo of Bing, Luxardo, Bing, but this is really up to how you want to see tiki. After this, we need a way to keep this garnish above the ice. I use an 8th of a lime husk, (remove the meat of the fruit with a knife) use the triangle husk as a “stopper” and put it at the bottom of the cherry combo.
This husk will keep the skewer/garnish above the drink, in an eye-catching fashion. You can use fresh mint to create a dry aroma around the top of the drink, again, lean into the esthetic and make it yours.
(Note for the real drink nerds: I like to soak my skewers in rum or orange schrubb, it gives off a aromatic that the drinker can’t figure out where it is coming from.)
Todd Maul is Co-Founder of Cafe ArtScience in Cambridge, MA and an amazing mixologist who has revolutionized the way we see cocktails.