The Controversial History of the Mai Tai

Like any good cocktail, the Mai Tai begins with a good old fashioned controversy over who really invented it. The story of the Mai Tai begins in Oakland, California in 1944, when Victor Bergeron, also known as Trader Vic, claimed to have invented the cocktail at his restaurant.

Trader Vic stakes his claim as Mai Tai Inventor

According to the Trader Vic website, Bergeron was looking for a way to mix a bottle of his 17-year old Jamaican rum, J Wray Nephew. He wanted to mix it with something that would accentuate the flavor rather than over power it, so he mixed the rum with fresh lime, orange curacao and Rock Candy Syrup with a splash of French Orgeat and poured it over shaved ice.

Naming the cocktail was easy, Vic said in a 1970 statement posted on the Trader Vic’s restaurant website.

“I stuck in a branch of fresh mint and gave two of them to Ham and Carrie Guild, friends from Tahiti, who were there that night. Carrie took one sip and said, ‘Mai Tai – Roa Ae!’ In Tahitian this means ‘Out of This World – The Best.’ Well, that was that. I named the drink ‘Mai Tai.'”

Don the Beachcomber says the Mai Tai is his

However, although Vic claimed to have invented the drink, his rival, Don the Beachcomber, jumped on the bandwagon to claim that it was actually him who had invented the exotic cocktail. While Don had invented a similar drink, it was vastly different from Trader Vic’s in both ingredients and taste.

Legacy of the Mai Tai

For years after its invention, the Mai Tai enjoyed a large amount of popularity and was featured in Trader Vic’s restaurants as well as other Tiki themed restaurants. It was also famously shown in the Elvis Presley film “Blue Hawaii.”

Today, the Mai Tai continues to maintain its popularity at Tiki-themed bars and restaurants. Variations on the drink have always been around, but most Mai Tai fans prefer to drink it as Trader Vic originally intended.

Because of the popularity of the Mai Tai, the original rum used to make the drink was soon unavailable, and was replaced with other long-aged rums. Today, it is recommended that the drink be made with Jamaican rum aged either 8 or 15 years.

Old style Mai Tai


  • 1 oz Fine Jamaican Rum (aged 15 or 8 years)
  • 1 oz Martinique Rum
  • 1/2 oz Orange Curacao
  • 1/2 oz Orgeat Syrup
  • Juice from one freshly squeezed Lime

Add ingredients together in a shaker and shake vigorously. Pour in a cocktail glass over ice. Garnish with lime and sprig of mint, if available.


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