When you think of classic rye cocktails, the Mai Tai isn’t exactly the first thing that springs to mind. Now practically synonymous with Hawaiian vacations and tropical hotel bars, the Mai Tai is a classic tiki cocktail that actually originated in California in the 1940s. Its exact origin story is a matter of some debate, but the most widely accepted version is that it was created by Victor J. Bergeron, better known as Trader Vic, in his Oakland bar in 1944.
According to Bergeron, he created the Mai Tai for some friends from Tahiti who were visiting his bar. He wanted to make them a special drink showcasing the flavors of their homeland, so he combined rum, lime juice, orange curaçao, and orgeat syrup to create a drink that he felt captured the essence of Polynesia. He named the drink the "Mai Tai" after hearing the phrase "Maita'i roa ae" (which means "out of this world" in Tahitian) at a party he attended. The name stuck, and the Mai Tai quickly became a hit with customers at Trader Vic's.
However, some have disputed Bergeron's claim to be the sole inventor of the Mai Tai. Don the Beachcomber, another tiki bar owner, also claimed to have created a similar cocktail around the same time. His version included a blend of rums, lime juice, grapefruit juice, and falernum.
The debate over who truly created the Mai Tai continues to this day, but most agree that Bergeron's version is the one that became the most popular. Cocktail historians also agree that the original Mai Tai certainly didn’t include rye whiskey. That didn’t stop Barrell Craft Spirits Regional Manager Ned Anderson from experimenting with a rye-based riff on the Mai Tai — which, although nontraditional, turns out to be absolutely delicious. Here’s how to make one at home:
● 1.5 oz Barrell Seagrass Rye Whiskey
● .5 oz Giffard’s orgeat syrup
● .75 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
● .75 oz Pineapple Juice
● 6 dashes Angostura bitters
Combine the Seagrass Rye, orgeat, and juices in a shaker and fill with ice. Shake until
chilled. Strain into a highball filled with crushed ice. Top with bitters and garnish with a
pineapple wedge or pineapple leaf. Kick back, relax, and imagine you can feel the tropical breeze on your face.
Feel like mixing things up? Ned also recommends a variation that substitutes pineapple juice for the lemon juice. Dole 100% Pineapple Juice works well, as does freshly squeezed pineapple juice.