The Mai Tai is a sweet-and-sour cocktail with fruit flavors balancing aged rum. All agree that “Trader Vic” Bergeron mixed the first Mai Tai in 1944 at his Hinky Dink bar in Emeryville, California, just outside of San Francisco. Naysayers need only heed the words of Trader Vic’s bartenders’ guide of 1947: “Anybody who says I didn’t create this drink is a dirty stinker.” Trader Vic had visited the South Seas, returning with all of the venerable accouterments now standard in a tiki lounge. He created the drink for two friends, Eastham and Carrie Guild, who were visiting from Tahiti and requested something special from the bar. After taking a sip, Carrie said, “Mai tai-ro aé,” which translates from Tahitian as “Out of this world—the best.” Like the “Polynesian” food Trader Vic served in his restaurant, the drink was completely ersatz as a South Seas libation. But it caught on, and apart from being out of this world, the Mai Tai is now one of the world’s classic drinks.
Trader Vic originally used 17-year-old rum in his recipe, but you may substitute a blend of dark and light rum, or just light rum. A Mai Tai is too busy having too much of a good time to argue.