Wednesday, February 13, 2008

In Search of the Perfect Mai Tai

One of my goals on my recent vacation in Hawaii was to discover who made the best Mai Tai, and I set about my quest in earnest my first day.

After checking into my Hotel, I walked the couple blocks to Waikiki Beach, and spread my beach towel near the blue-green Pacific, gentle waves lapping at the pearl-white fluffy sands in front of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel-- affectionately known as the “Pink Palace of the Pacific”.

The famous hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places located at 2259 Kalakaua Avenue, Honolulu, Hawaii.

One of the first hotels established in Waikiki it opened its doors February 1, 1927. The hotel harkens back to Hawaii’s turn-of-the-century glory days.

My friends had told me they make the best Mai Tai in the world.
(I also found out that they also claim the creation of the Shirley Temple cocktail). Steps from the beach the hotel's Mai Tai Bar offers a breathtaking view of Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head. Circular in shape, the bar seats 20 with additional seating provided on the Terrace.

After a couple hours lolling in the tropical sun, and a few dips in the warm ocean, I needed something to quench my thirst. I packed-up and headed to the Mai Tai Bar at the Royal Hawaiian.

I took a seat at the bar, white sand still clinging to my toes, no shirt on. (Happily no signs anywhere saying: No Shirt No Shoes No Service).

I immediately explained to the bartender my sources had told me that they made the best Mai Tai in the world, and was that true?

He said yes they did. The Bartender was happy to talk about their recipe and to tell me their secret: “Most places use pineapple juice as the base. We use orange juice, and fresh lime juice and a little simple syrup". A large container of this juice concoction sat on the bar counter which the bartenders were continuously dipping into. Small cooing doves were also trying to get into the juice and the bartenders were continuously shooing them away. I thought to my myself how the Health Dept. would never allow us to serve food or drink so unprotected from "contamination".

The Bartender went on to explain: "...we also add a splash of Orgeat syrup [OHR-ZHAT] (a sweet syrup made from almonds, sugar and rose water or orange-flower water. It has a pronounced almond taste).

"...start with a full glass of ice cubes.. The light rum goes on the bottom. Add the juices. Pour that in next. Finish with a float of the dark rum. We use Bacardi light on the bottom and Myers Dark on the top. We always make ours pretty strong. It helps to have a good kick to it"

The drink was delicious and strong, and sweet without being cloying (the orange juice supplying more acid than would pineapple juice). The drink was garnished with mint, a maraschino cherry, a wedge of pineapple, and a beautiful orchid.

The bartender brought a huge bowl of complimentary cocktail nuts, which made me thirsty for a second Mai Tai.

I ordered mai tai’s around the island-- but I kept coming back to the best at the Royal Hawaiian. Most were made with pineapple juice and orange liqueur (cheaper triple sec) which as the bartender explained, made the mai tai too sweet. When you start with the best as your baseline you quickly learn that it is worth the price—cheaper drinks can be had—but sometimes cheap is too expensive a price to pay!

By the way--always ask if they use fresh pineapple juice in any drink you order in Hawaii. If they answer that their pineapple juice comes from the bar “gun”--do NOT order it.

I also like Patron & Pineapple juice. But after my first pineapple juice out-of-the-gun experience, I never ordered pineapple anything again without asking first.

Even canned pineapple juice tastes 1,000 times better than the fake flavor that comes from the gun.

The Mai Tai at the Royal Hawaiian-- inches from the fluffy white sand and the blue Pacific-- with Diamond Head looming in the distance, is the ultimate Mai Tai experience.

- 1 oz Myers Dark Rum
- 1 oz Bacardi Light Rum
- 2 oz fresh squeezed Orange Juice
- 1 oz fresh squeezed Lime Juice
- Dash Orgeat
- Dash Simple syrup


Anonymous said...

My husband and I just returned from Oahu and Kauai and we made it our mission to search out the perfect Mai Tai . We also picked the Pink Palace as our number 1 . PERFECT drink , not too sweet , just right . The setting does'nt hurt either . Our # 2 was Scotty's BBQ on the coconut coast in Kauaii . Seems like they have a drop of grapefruit in their recipe , again not too sweet . Thanks for the recipe - I'll be using it right away !

Unknown said...

I've just got back from O'ahu, and I'm afraid they've changed all their recipes at the Mai Tai Bar. There are now four Mai Tai recipes including one they say is the original, but it's not the same. I was lucky enough to have been before some seven years ago, when the recipe was as given here. Now it's got pineapple juice in, and there's no orchid or mint any more. Pity, but it's still a really nice drink in a fantastic location. They do use fresh juices though.