So you are stuck inside and going stir crazy? Whether we like it or not, with many of us self-quarantined, we are going to have to get creative when it comes to entertaining ourselves for the foreseeable future, as there are only so many hours of Netflix one can watch before it starts to become unhealthy. So think of your house as your own personal toybox. And today’s toys are all in the liquor cabinet.
The focus is on tiki drinks. No, not those frozen, overly sweet, Windex-blue cocktails they sell at beach bars and TGI-Fridays – those drinks are often mistakenly thought of as tiki, when in fact they are not. Real tiki drinks are complex, heavily boozed, yet balanced cocktails that spawned from the post-World War II tiki craze, a result of soldiers returning home from the Pacific and wishing to bring back a bit of the island vibe they had become accustomed to.
The interesting thing about tiki is that it bears little resemblence to any true island culture. It has more to do with the fantasy of what Americans think island culture is all about. So it’s loaded with kitsch — over-the-top mugs, wacky garnishes and complex cocktails prepared at heavily themed bars dripping with bamboo and blowfish lamps. In other words, it’s a lot of fun. And you can enjoy some of that fun right at home. We promise it will make your self-imposed lockdown just a bit more festive.
It’s time to make the most famous of all tiki drinks — the mai tai.
As is often the case with well-loved dishes and drinks, the true origin is up for debate. In the case of the mai tai, two of the most famous tiki bar owners- Victor Bergeron (of Trader Vic’s) and Donn Beach (of Don the Beachcomber)- each claim to have invented a version of the drink. But Trader Vic’s was the first to have it on the menu with the name mai tai back in 1944, so that is the recipe we are going with today.
Like many tiki drinks, the mai tai is rum-based and features orgeat, an almond-flavored syrup that you can find online and in some of the better-stocked grocery stores. It serves as a great entry point into tiki because it’s fairly simple to make and quite tasty. Make one at home, put some Hawaiian music on, walk outside as the sun goes down and sip peacefully. Life will go back to normal soon enough.
Traditional mai tai
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce orange curaçao (Pierre Ferrand preferred)
1/4 ounce orgeat
1/4 ounce rich demerara simple syrup (2:1 ratio) — It helps to impart the dark, caramel-like flavors of demerara sugar in this cocktail, but if you can’t find demerara simple syrup, you can either make it yourself as you would any homemade simple syrup, or just replace with traditional simple syrup - but only if you have no other option.
2 ounces aged pot still or blended rum
Combine all ingredients with 12 ounces of crushed ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake until chilled and pour — ice and all — into a double old-fashioned glass or your favorite tiki mug. Garnish with a lime shell and mint sprig.