Learn The Legendary Trader Vic’s Mai Tai, In Time For National Mai Tai Day

Show of hands: Who here has had a mai tai?

Probably most of you. But what about a real mai tai? How many hands drop if we disqualify drinks containing pineapple juice, orange juice, or grenadine? While such brilliantly-hued concoctions masquerade as tiki‘s king of cocktails, they aren’t the genuine article. Instead, they’re often cloying and syrupy, not at all out of this world.

If you’re ready to sip the real deal, you’ve come to the right place, at the right time, because August 30th is the day we celebrate the real National Mai Tai Day.

“But wait! Didn’t we just celebrate a Mai Tai-based holiday on June 30th?”

Well sure, but not the one recognized by the home of the original mai tai, Trader Vic’s. The drink that would go on to become one of the world’s most popular cocktails, inspire countless imitators, and riffs, was created by Vic “The Trader” Bergeron on August 30th, 1944. The rest, as they say, is history.

Having found success with his restaurant and its tropically-inspired rum drinks, Bergeron felt called to create a new recipe that would delight and surprise his guests. He considered the classics — your daiquiris, martinis, and manhattans — and the simplicity that gave them their staying power, then used that economy as a springboard, with a twist.

So sayeth The Trader:

I was at the service bar in my Oakland restaurant. I took down a bottle of 17-year old Jamaican J. Wray Nephew rum, added fresh lime, some Orange Curacao from Holland, a dash of Rock Candy syrup, and a dollop of French Orgeat, for its subtle flavor. A generous amount of shaved ice and a vigorous shaking by hand produced the marriage I was after. Half the lime shell went in for color, 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 on 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”.

Did you catch that? Vic didn’t create this drink in Tahiti. He didn’t even create it in Hawaii, a state that is often falsely credited with its origination, and where it remains ubiquitous (Vic developed bar menus for several Hawaiian hotels in 1953). He created it in Oakland, and the city has a proclamation to prove it. If that sounds a little funny consider that the aim of tiki is to create an intoxicating, tropical escape and bring it to you. Can’t go to paradise? Taste it in glass and be transported.

Made well, a mai tai is at once bracing and strong. It has a hint of sweetness to balance the acidity of the citrus, but these ingredients allow the rum to play the starring role. A sip of a Vic’s mai tai banishes all fears of tiki being syrupy-kitsch in a glass. Fresh, clean, and funky, this cocktail is every bit as classy as it is approachable.

You ready for the real-deal original recipe?

The Original Mai Tai


  • 2 oz 17-year-old J. Wray Nephew Jamaican Rum
  • 1/2 oz French Garnier Orgeat
  • 1/2 oz Holland DeKuyper Orange Curacao
  • 1/4 oz Rock Candy Syrup
  • Juice from one fresh lime


Hand shake and garnish with half of the lime shell inside the drink and float a sprig of fresh mint at the edge of the glass.

Today’s mai tai aficionados know that there’s no longer a supply of the 17-year-old J. Wray Nephew Jamaican rum to be had; Vic’s hot new cocktail was so popular the supply had been depleted by 1946. This meant The Trader had to be creative about choosing rums, adjusting ingredients and ratios in order to maintain the original character of the drink.

So how do you make a traditional mai tai now? Fear not! Trader Vic’s has the answer.

1944 Mai Tai


  • 1/2 oz Lemon Juice
  • 1/2 oz Lime Juice
  • 3/4 oz Orange Curacao
  • 1/4 oz Rock Candy Syrup
  • 1/2 oz Orgeat
  • 2 oz Royal Amber Rum


Hand shake and garnish with half of the lime shell inside the drink and float a sprig of fresh mint at the edge of the glass.

And there you have it friends. The mai tai that sits on the Tiki throne, just in time for August 30th.