Cheap-tasting, extra sugary Mai Tais are, sadly, more common than properly shaken Mai Tais made with good rum, fresh citrus and quality orgeat—especially at beach bars and chain restaurants. But if you want to know where to find—and how to make—really, really good Mai Tais, just ask a really, really good bartender. So we did just that. We tracked down two bartenders that are putting their own stamp on the tropical classic—and we came up with a seriously not sweet Mai Tai variation of our own. This is how real bars make Mai Tais.
How Real Cocktail Bars Make Mai Tais
A lot of Mai Tais that you find are made with just one rum, which can make the cocktail taste flat and one dimensional. This take on the drink from Ivy Mix, the co-owner of Leyenda in Brooklyn, New York, solves that problem by splitting the base spirit with a high quality Jamaican rum—which is vanilla-rich and funky—and a subtly smoky mezcal. “I wanted to put my favorite thing—mezcal—into my favorite drink, the Mai Tai,” Mix says. “The result was the Tia Mia.” Layered and complex, the cocktail manages to maintain its refreshing quaffability.
Often, the main complaint you hear about a Mai Tai is that it is too sweet. It makes sense—if you make the drink with low grade ingredients like rum and cheap orgeat, it is going to be sweet. But even if you make it correctly, the Mai Tai can still come off as sweet to some—especially those who primarily drink bitter things like Fernet-Branca and Negronis. It is for those people that we created this cocktail. This twist splits the measure of rum at the base with a full measure of Angostura bitters. While that might sound a little intense, we assure you that it is actually delicious.
No matter where you are drinking it, every sip of a Mai Tai should make you feel like you’ve been whisked off to a remote island. That is its true purpose, and the purpose of all tiki cocktails: escapism. This riff on the Mai Tai created by Dan Greenbaum of New York’s Attaboy and Diamond Reef in Brooklyn, really takes the vacation-in-the-glass quality to the extreme. Harnessing the carmelized fruitiness of banana liqueur—without being too sweet or cloying— this playful variation is tropical with a capital “T.” So whether you’re sipping it at the bar in Brooklyn, or in your own kitchen or on a snow-covered mountain, you will only have to close your eyes to find yourself on a sunny beach.