If you didn’t know, the inventor of the Mai Tai is “Trader Vic”: Victor Jules Bergeron, Jr. History claims that he invented the drink for some friends and upon tasting it, one of them proclaimed “Maita’i Roa Ae!” (Which means “very good!”)
And if you want the best Mai Tai in the San Francisco Bay Area, you either need to go to the Trader Vic’s Restaurant in Oakland, or you need to go to Tao Tao in Sunnyvale. (The above picture is from Tao Tao which, incidentally, also makes the best Chinese Chicken Salad in the S.F. Bay Area)
Now then, when you order a Mai Tai at either joint the bartender will craft a libation of white rum, orange curacao, orgeat, and lime juice. That lovely creation goes into an ice-filled tumbler and is topped with a float of dark rum. (Garnishes vary by location but will always include a lime wedge.)
When you want to make your own Mai Tai, you might head for the liquor store to stock up on Orgeat (almond & rosewater syrup) and Orange Curaçao (a citrus liqueur). And while at the store, you might discover that Trader Tic’s makes a “Mai Tai Mix.” And you might then think, “Hey! I should just use that for my Mai Tais! It’s made by the folks who invented the drink, so it has to be good!”
And then you’ll hear a voice. My voice. And it will scream at you:
NO!! PUT THAT MIX BACK RIGHT NOW!
Scroll up a few paragraphs. What did I write? Did I say that when you go to Trader Vic’s or Tao Tao that they pull out a bottle of store bought mix and dump it in a glass? I did not.
In cocktail mixing, full control over your ingredients is key to crafting a tasty beverage. As I’ve said before, crappy ingredients guarantees a crappy cocktail.
Backpedaling to the title of this post here:
I make Brambles quite often. They’re not my signature cocktail, but they are my most often requested cocktail. If I’m tending bar, my friends practically demand Brambles.
Now, the basic ingredients of the Bramble, the stuff before the float of Creme de Mure, are easily mixed ahead of time. This way, I spend less time measuring, and more time chatting. I’ll mix up a big batch before a gathering and refrigerate it.
And one time, I thought: “Hey, lemon juice + simple syrup = Sweet & Sour!” So I used a Sweet & Sour mix in a batch. It was horrible.
Another time I thought, “Well, instead of Sweet & Sour Mix, how about lemonade?” So I used store bought lemonade in a batch. Not horrible, but nowhere near as good as my usual.
So I went back to making them the hard way because it just tastes better. Folks, I’ve done the leg work for you here. I’ve made the mistakes so you don’t have to!
NO SHORTCUTS IN YOUR LIBATIONS! It will only end in sadness.
And as you know: I make my own version of Simple Syrup. No, I don’t buy Simple Syrup. I don’t purchase Simple Syrup for the same reason that the French don’t purchase croutons: it’s wasteful, lazy, and just plain silly.
Making your own Simple Syrup is easy and it allows you control your ingredients. (Control is key, remember?)
As I’ve said before, there are two “regular” types of Simple Syrup, and mine makes a third.
First is “Bartender’s Syrup.” Bartender’s syrup is one part sugar to one part water. What’s nice about it is that it requires no heat to make. A cup of white sugar will dissolve into a cup of clean water with just agitation. The problem with Bartender’s Syrup is that’s not sweet enough to stand up in most cocktails.
The other “regular” type is “Simple Syrup.” The proper “Simple Syrup” is two parts sugar to one part water*. It requires heating the water and sugar until the sugar have fully dissolved into the water. The problem here is that it is too sweet for most cocktails.
*Although, technically, any suspension of sugar in water from a 1:1 to a 2:1 ratio is called "Simple Syrup.
My twist on these is to split the difference and go 1.5 parts sugar to water. You’ve seen me post this before, but here… let’s make it official:
- One & a half cups granulated white sugar
- One cup water
- One ounce (tablespoon) Vodka
Add Sugar & Water to a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Stir constantly until all the sugar is dissolved. Once the sugar granules disappear, remove from heat immediately. Let it cool.
To preserve it, add one tablespoon of vodka. Transfer to a nice squeeze bottle. Store in your refrigerator for up to one month.
Feel free to use organic sugar or raw sugar or demerara sugar if you like; but note that doing so will change not only the flavor of your sweetener, but it will also change the color. If you like making Sidecars and White Ladies, stick with white sugar.
All this to say:
Don’t use store-bought mixes. The hard work will result in a superior product. I quote Dumbledore:
…We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.