Thursday, May 04, 2006

Camp Cookie: "Mai Tai Suggest a Drink?"

From The Tennessean

Make a Mai Tai Like It Was Meant to be Made


Staff Writer

January 27, 2006

I've been on a tiki bender this week with the review of Omni Hut and another story on the enduring fascination of retro-tiki culture, so we might as well go ahead and make it a tiki trifecta.
The undisputed heavyweight of tiki drinks is the mai tai. Just exactly who invented it remains a friendly point of cocktail contention.

Some believe the mai tai was invented more than 60 years ago by Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt, who later changed his name to Donn Beach to match his popular Don the Beachcomber bars and restaurants. As the father of the modern tiki craze, Beach claimed to have come up with the recipe in Hollywood in 1933.

That story sticks in the craw of a certain Victor J. Bergeron, later known as Trader Vic and founder of the restaurants that still bear his nickname.

As legend, and the Trader Vic Web site, have it, Bergeron was fooling around with a new rum-based concoction when he shared the drink with friends from Tahiti, Ham and Carrie Guild. Overcome with happiness, Carrie Guild exclaimed, ''Mai Tai, Roa Ae!'' which apparently means ''Out of this world -- the best.'' Who could pass up a segue like that? That year was 1944, and the mai tai birthday claimed by Trader Vic.

Since Vic seems to have the most documentation, and for me, the best recipe, let's stick with his story. Bergeron started with a 17-year-old Jamaican rum, certainly a luxury, but most aged rums will work. I'm partial to Zaya, a Guatemalan rum barrel-aged for 12 years. He continued with fresh-squeezed lime juice, orange CuraƧao, orgeat (almond syrup) and rock-candy syrup.
If all that sounds way too strange and complicated, don't worry. All those ingredients are easy to find, or make at home, and it's worth every bit of the effort, especially when your friends take a moment to peer over the umbrella straw in the tiki mug and crack a knowing grin.
Sadly, most folks, including many bartenders, don't take the time to make them right. Mai tais have suffered the gooey, sticky indignity that too often happens to simple, classic cocktails. Things such as pineapple and orange juice get introduced, and then come the pre-mixes in bottles. Even Bergeron and the Trader Vic corporation bottle their own pale mix that can never replicate the original recipe. So, in the interest of proper cocktailing, I'm going to hold your hand and walk you through this one.

o Start with 2 ounces of aged rum in a cocktail shaker.
o Add 1/2 ounce of orgeat, an almond syrup found at coffee houses such as Fido in Hillsboro Village. It should look a little cloudy.
o Now add 1/2 ounce of orange Curacao, available at most liquor stores. The DeKuyper brand is most common.
o Add 1/4 ounce of ''rock candy syrup.'' This is a simple bar syrup, generally made by boiling equal parts sugar and water (by volume) until the sugar dissolves. Let it cool and keep it in a sealed jar in the refrigerator for a week at the most. To replicate the old-fashioned rock candy taste, just add a couple drops of vanilla extract to the syrup.
o Next, add the juice of one lime, reserving the lime shell.
o Now add cracked ice and give it a good, vigorous shake.
o Pour, unstrained, with ice into a tiki glass. Garnish with a mint sprig and half a lime shell.

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