Tiki recipes can seem a little daunting to the home mixologist. Sometimes they call for obscure ingredients like falernum and orgeat syrups. Often a single drink will be made with multiple types of rum. And then there's the barware. Ceramic mugs shaped like Polynesian wooden carvings, bamboo stalks, and even skulls. Where to begin?
Well, it doesn't have to be that complicated.
I'm a bit of a newbie to tiki myself. I But this summer, I decided to make tiki a special project - starting with a Mai Tai.
Mixing That First Mai Tai
One of the all-time greatest tropical drinks, the Mai Tai seemed like a good place to start. I used a recipe from Trader Vic's, circa 1958, that I found in Beachbum Berry's Sippin' Safari by Jeff Berry.
Like most tiki drinks, the Mai Tai has a longish list of ingredients: lime juice, simple syrup, orgeat (a special almond syrup flavored with rose and/or orange flower water), orange curaçao, and two, yes two different kinds of rum: an aged Jamaican rum as well as an amber rhum agricole from Martinique.
I rounded everything up, including a bottle of orgeat syrup made by Fee's. (There are also a number of recipes for homemade syrup on the web, including this one, from Art of Drink, which I'd love to try out later.)
I started out by crushing the ice. I took 10 or so cubes and wrapped them in a tea towel, then hit them several times with a rolling pin. I measured out the ingredients and shook them up in a cocktail shaker, then poured everything (ice and all) into a rocks glass.
The drink was delicious. With the addition of orgeat syrup, orange liqueur, and two types of rum, my Mai Tai really was more complex and layered than the drink's simpler cousin, the Daiquiri. Definitely a keeper. I'm looking forward to further adventures in tiki this summer.
Mai Tai (adapted from Beachbum Berry's Sippin' Safari by Jeff Berry)
makes one drink
1 ounce aged Jamaican rum (I used Appleton Special)
1 ounce amber Martinique rum (I used Saint James Royal Ambre Rhum Agricole)
1/2 ounce orange curaçao liqueur (I substituted the rum-based orange liqueur, St. Clément Créole Shrubb, but you could use Cointreau or triple sec instead)
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1/4 ounce simple syrup
1/4 ounce orgeat syrup (or almond syrup)
Combine all ingredients in a shaker with crushed ice. Shake vigorously and pour (ice and all) into a rocks glass. Garnish with a mint sprig.
Have you ever made tiki drinks at home?
Nora Maynard is a longtime home mixologist and an occasional instructor at NYC’s Astor Center. She is a contributor to The Business of Food: Encyclopedia of the Food and Drink Industries and is the recipient of the American Egg Board Fellowship in culinary writing at the Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow. She previously covered food and drink in film at The Kitchn in her weekly column, The Celluloid Pantry.
Related: Will You Help Save the Daiquiri?
(Images: Nora Maynard)