Selected Readings for National Mai Tai Day 2023
So it is that today, August 30th, is National Mai Tai Day. Or perhaps it’s International Mai Tai Day for those with a global perspective. We don’t normally take notice of “National XYZ Day” at Casa Rum Wonk, as every day is effectively National Rum / Mai Tai / Daiquiri / Pina Colada Day/Week/Month. We never need reminding to enjoy rum or the many nirvana-inducing libations fueled by rum. Nor will we dwell here on whether the Mai Tai’s day is really June 30th or August 30th.
Nonetheless, the Mai Tai is particularly near and dear to us, so it’s apropos on a day with heightened attention on the drink to share a few Mai Tai-related insights selected from the Wonk archive.
Gatekeeping the Mai Tai
What is a “real” Mai Tai? Many an online flame war has ignited from this question. Why is that?
Excerpting from Gatekeeping the Mai Tai:
When these “attacks” on the Mai Tai’s good name and reputation come, Mai Tai defenders spring into action, calling out the affront to Mr. Bergeron. The recipes are publicly shamed in enthusiasts gathering points like the Tiki Recipes and Bad Mai Tais in the Wild Facebook groups.
Tiki outsiders (or even some newcomers) may view this public mocking as a tempest in a teapot; too much energy and vitriol expended on something of little importance. Others call it elitist or “gatekeeping.”[iii] But would it also be gatekeeping to call out a Manhattan with orange juice? What about a margarita without any trace of tequila, mezcal, or any other agave spirit? Where do we draw the line?
On one side of the line are “purists” who hew closely to the group norms established over time. On the other side, more laid-back people. Perhaps they’re unaware of the Tiki enthusiast norms or simply don’t care.
Full article: Gatekeeping the Mai Tai
Rhum Agricole in a Mai Tai? Or Any Classic Tiki Recipe?
Almost as polarizing as what constitutes a real Mai Tai is whether Trader Vic used Martinique rhum agricole from the 1950s onward after supplies of Wray & Nephew 17-Year and 15-Year ran out.
My research using original sources from the 1930s to 1950s strongly suggests not:
One of the hallmarks of the modern Tiki revival is the obsessive attention paid to recreating the classic recipes of Donn Beach and Trader Vic using the most authentic ingredients one can lay their hands on. But what if I told you that one of those ingredients — Martinique rum — is not at all the same today as it was when Donn Beach called for it in recipes like the Donga Punch, circa 1937?
This isn’t the first time that Tiki’s deep thinkers have raised this question. Martin Cate gets all due credit for noting that Trader Vic’s rum lists of the era strongly suggest that the “Martinique rum” Trader Vic referenced in his recipes was likely not rhum agricole. … But I’ve always believed there was more to the story than just the Mai Tai and what Vic had available to him…
What about those golden-era recipes that only use Martinique rum, like the Donga Punch, Martinique Swizzle, or Last Rites? … Have we been making our Donga…wronga? And if so, which rum(s) should we be using?
Full article: Tiki’s Missing Ingredient: “Martinique Rum” of Yore
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What Do We Really Know About Wray & Nephew 17?
As Trader Vic wrote in 1970, he created the original Mai Tai in 1944 using Wray & Nephew 17-Year rum. In the Tiki Renaissance, this particular rum became the Holy Grail of rum collectors, with only a handful of collectors owning a bottle today. But we know shockingly little about this rum, and certain assumptions often made about it may be wrong. However, a bit of digging through the archives and a bit of logical deduction provides some strong clues.
Wray & Nephew 17, Take II
When it comes to historical research, new sources and insights come to life, triggering a revisit to previous assumptions. The recent release of the Appleton Estate 17-Year was one such occasion for me:
Furthermore, in his 1946 book Trader Vic’s Food & Drinks, Vic lists several JW&N rums, including the 15-year Special Reserve, but no 17-year. Perhaps the JW&N 17-year was only sold in export markets. However, it would be unusual for the company not to sell a top-tier rum in its home market. An alternative explanation is suggested by a 1941 Don the Beachcomber rum list that includes a JW&N 17-year “Bottled Exclusively for Don the Beachcomber.” (Note well: Don the Beachcomber, not Trader Vic.)…
We might also ask, “Was it distilled at Appleton?” During the 1920s, JW&N was owned by the Lindo Brothers, who owned several distilleries, including Bernard Lodge, Monymusk, and Appleton. Rums blended from the marques of multiple distilleries were common at the time, including Applemony, a blend of Appleton and Monymusk rums.
Full article: Appleton Estate’s “Legend” 17-Year Rum
The Reverend’s Tai
Finally, while I’m a purist when it comes to the original 1944 Mai Tai recipe, I’m not above using it as a template for a revised take using modern ingredients. Example #1 is The Reverend’s Tai, which brings pineapple into the Mai Tai without using pineapple juice.
That’s all on the Mai Tai for now. Next up: a deep dive inside one of a true Valhalla of rum.