When is a Mai Tai Not a Mai Tai?

Crappy cocktail recipes are an occupational hazard of using the internet. I do my best to roll my eyes and move on. Until I came across this horror show on Thrillist This one simply needed to be addressed.

Titled the Dead Man’s Mai Tai, the text breathlessly describes it as “… an autumnal take on a familiar tropical classic. So basically just as good! Coconut rum? Check. Dark rum? Check.”

Now, I totally get improvising on a classic Tiki recipe. Swapping a few ingredients to make something new? Great idea! Mezcal in your Mai Tai? Why not? The classic 1944 recipe (rum, lime, orgeat, orange curacao, simple syrup) is ripe for improvisation.

But with coconut rum and dark rum, the Dead Man’s Mai Tai starts out shaky before abruptly plummeting off the cliff:

  • 1½ ounces coconut rum
  • ½ ounce lime juice
  • 2 ounces cinnamon simple syrup (1 cup water, 1 cup sugar, 5 broken cinnamon sticks)
  • 2 ounces apple juice concentrate
  • 12 ounces sparkling water or seltzer
  • ½ ounce dark rum, to float
  • 3 dashes Angostura bitters
  • Apple slices, to garnish

<Raises hand> Uhm… Hello? Where’s the curacao? Where’s the orgeat?

A Mai Tai without orgeat. W.T.F?  Ponder that, editors at Thrillist.

And good lord, how sweet is this atrocity? Two ounces of cinnamon syrup and two ounces of apple juice concentrate? That’s a candy recipe right there. Why even bother with the half ounce of lime juice?

And no, putting a float of dark rum on your drink doesn’t make it a “Mai Tai”.

As best I can ascertain, the only ingredient this “Mai Tai” shares with an actual 1944 Mai Tai is lime juice. This is light years removed from “…autumnal take on a familiar tropical classic’,

Here’s what I’m hoping for from Thrillist:

“We’re sorry. The Dead Man’s Mai Tai recipe we recently published did not meet our standards. In fact, it doesn’t meet any standards whatsoever. Truth be told, our accountant’s six year old concocted it in our break room when they were left unattended. We’ve taken away the responsible editor’s keyboard and will return it after they consume a bottle of Jeppson’s Malort followed by 100 Hail Marys to Victor Bergeron.”

If you want to create and publish a drink recipe like this, great. Just don’t call it a Mai Tai. Respect the Tiki tradition. People like Martin Cate, Jeff Berry, and countless others have worked tirelessly to bring Tiki the respect it deserves, after many dark decades where the category was considered an old joke, left for dead.

Well-made Tiki is anything but just haphazardly throwing rums and fruit juices in a glass. Tacking on the Mai Tai moniker on to this abominable recipe perpetuates this misperception.

p.s. Want to learn how to make real Tiki classics at home? Check out this post from the archives.

3 thoughts on “When is a Mai Tai Not a Mai Tai?

  1. Have you see the Allrecipes.com debacle that currently sits at the top hit on google for Mai Tai? Spiced rum, coconut rum, pineapple and orange juice. I’m starting to fear “Mai Tai” is going the way of “martini”

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