Mai Tai Cocktail

The Mai Tai is one of the most well known cocktails from the “Tiki” era… Or is it? Chances are good that if you’ve ever had a Mai Tai, you haven’t had it the way Victor “Trader Vic” Bergeron intended it.


1 oz light rum

1 oz gold rum

1/2 oz orange curaçao

1/2 oz orgeat syrup

1/2 oz fresh lime juice

1 oz dark rum (float)


Build in glass.

Shake with ice.

Pour back into glass without straining.

Garnish with a pineapple chunk, cherry and mint sprig.


Adam 11 Mar 2008
11:33 am

Another enlightening installment of the Cocktail Spirit.

So that’s it! I’m making my Mai Tais for my guests the Trader Vic’s way from now on. Not just because this recipe is the original version, but also due largely to the fact that these pseudo-Mai Tais found in many bars today are harder to produce compared to the Trader Vic’s recipe. I know of one bar restaurant where their version of a Mai Tai includes Cherry Herring. How many bars carry that liqueur?

A couple of side blurbs about this installment:
- Are you going to don a Hawaiian shirt and lay for every show devoted to Tiki drinks?
- Blue cura

Robert Davies 11 Mar 2008
12:49 pm

Couple of tips for the authentic Mai Tai as the Trader intended..  the ice should be chipped or shaved where possible, the mint slapped in your hands prior to garnishing to release the essential oils and the lime that is squeezed should be dropped into the glass and that would have brought the glass to a full capacity.  cheers

Robert Hess 11 Mar 2008
1:02 pm

Yes, the Mai Tai sure has diverged quite a bit from how it was originally intended. I’ve seen recipes all over the board. Many times as great drinks, but not a Mai Tai.

Yes, I’ll be “properly attired” for all of the upcoming Tiki episodes :->

So you’re saying if I never plan on making an AMF I don’t have to purchase blue curacao? Sweet!

And since statistics indicate most web browsing is done at work, I don’t think I’d recommend building up any drinking games around web based content :->

If I can just get people to make their Mai Tais using this recipe, I’ll be happy. But if they want to go the full nine yards your points are well taken!


PS: Frankly at home, I usually just garnish with a couple cherries, which I always have on hand, while pineapple chunks and mint are more of a “special purchase” item.

Mark Seconi 12 Mar 2008
12:32 am

Hi Robert,

Definitely have enjoyed the Cocktail Spirit series since the very first episode went online; thanks!

Given the emphasis on making a true Mai Tai, why are you using light rum and a total of 3oz of rum in this version?  Vic’s original called for 2oz of a fairly aged rum (with nothing “floated” to my knowlege).  While I understand that the particular rum he used no longer exists, attempts to recreate the nuances of that product have been to mix 1oz of an amber/gold rum and 1oz of an aged/dark rum.  So I would have thought 1oz each of the Appleton and Gosling for a total of 2oz would have sufficed; 3oz seems really unbalanced and alcoholic given that the curacao, orgeat and lime juice measures are still similar to the original recipe.  Even the Beachbum holds to the 2oz of rum.

Regarding orgeat, have you tried it from Torani, Monin and Trader Vic?  If so, thoughts compared to Fee Bros?


Adam 12 Mar 2008
1:30 am

For Mark Seconi:

Concerning Orgeat Syrup…
I’m sick and tired of struggling to find any orgeat syrup at a liquor store or culinary market. When poorly supplied by a grocer, make your own batch from scratch. Check out: provides a home made Parisian recipe for orgeat syrup that is worth the effort. You’ll never need to shop for this ingredient again.

I added some orange flavored water and it is spot on. Blends nicely with the Trader Vic’s Mai Tai drink mix.

Robert Hess 12 Mar 2008
7:33 am


As I mentioned, the dark rum float is “optional”, and I use it for precisely what I comment about, to maintain some flavor consistancy as the ice melts and begins to dilute the flavors.

I had some friends over a while back and we went through several variations and ratios of this drink, and the determination was that the version shown here (without float), had the best balance of flavors. The float not really kicking in since we didn’t drink the whole drink.

I do however keep playing around with trying different rums to see how this can be improved. When “publicizeing” a drink, I usually try to avoid tying it too tightly to a particular brand of spirit, especially if that spirit might not be readily available. For example a Demerara rum might work real well here, but with availability so spotty, I don’t want to frustrate my audience by telling them to use a product they can’t get.

It might be worthwhile to do some shows on product/brand variations, and do a drink like the Mai Tai up several different ways with different rums, and discuss the benefits and differences of each.

Don and Victor were both big proponents of blending multiple rums together in order to achieve a particular character. Something I need to work more with.


Robert Hess 12 Mar 2008
7:45 am


Adam, that recipe looks interesting. I remember coming across it ( before, and need to give it a try.

As for the various brands of orgeat out there. Each seems to have it’s own individual characteristics. Some are sweeter, some more almondy. And I’m not sure if I specifically have a favorite amongst them. In my area the Torani is more readily available on the shelves, but I’ve also got a case of Fee’s in the basement, so that’s even easier for me :->

If orgeat is unavailable, just ordinary almond syrup works too. The flavor is every-so-slightly different, but I don’t think such that you could tell in this drink. The orgeat flavor shouldn’t be “pronounced”, just “present”.

NN 12 Mar 2008
10:33 am

Speaking of Kegworks, when are they (or anyone else) going to start supplying Angostura Orange bitters? Does anyone know?

Robert Hess 12 Mar 2008
10:48 am

I’m checking in again with Angostura USA to find out. Will post a note on the “Bitters” episode when I find out :->

DJ HawaiianShirt 12 Mar 2008
12:23 pm

Robert, it appears you’re not using quite enough lime juice in the recipe.  The original calls for the “juice of one lime”.  I’m in accordance with you that measurements such as “juice of one lime” are unacceptable, but that brings the measurement near 1-1.5 oz of lime juice.  Why do you use so little?

On a tropical sidenote, I just tried your Jolly Roger cocktail that you created on your website, and it’s now one of my favorites.

Berkana 13 Mar 2008
2:49 am


I love your cocktail videos, and I don’t mind that you’re sponsored by, but I do mind that you’ve switched to an inferior lime squeezer and pitch it simply because it is sold on Your old squeezer didn’t require that you quarter your limes and do two squeezes just to get the juice of about half a lime. The least you could do is tell them to stock a better juicer , and to use that one instead; the pliers-style squeezer simply can’t match the antique one you used to use.

Berkana 13 Mar 2008
2:56 am

I noticed that you used a nuclear-red pseudo-maraschino cherry to garnish the drink. Is there a reason you used one of those instead of one of your brandied cherries or a genuine maraschino cherry? (which they happen to have a sold under the Luxardo brand.)

JerseyRED 13 Mar 2008
11:38 am


Though the lime squeezerused is new it is actually an “antique” style. As a matter of fact the bartenders at Trader Vic’s in Emeryville use this style juicer/squeezer.

It’s possible limes are bigger now than in the past so the juice of 1/2 a lime is compatible to the juice of a whole lime from back in the 40/50’s. Remember, I’m sayiing it’s possible. Iprefer the juice of 1/2 a lime as a whole lime seemsto overpower the drink.
Nevermind the heartburn too…

JerseyRED 13 Mar 2008
12:18 pm

And, you can juice 1/2 a small lime with the “pliers” style squeezer with out cutting it into wedges.

Berkana 13 Mar 2008
3:35 pm

In any case, the new squeezer makes juicing take more steps. The old lime squeezing procedure went something like this:
1) Cut lime
2) put half-lime in squeezer
3) squeeze half-lime
4) pour juice into measuring cup from the squeezer.

The new squeezer has been used according to the following steps in the two episodes where it has shown up:
1) Cut lime in half
2) cut halves into quarters
3) Squeeze one quarter-lime using pliers into a holding glass
4) discard squeezed quarter-lime
5) load fresh quarter-lime
6) Squeeze the other quarter-lime using pliers into a holding glass
7) pour juice into measuring cup from holding glass.

The new squeezer takes far more steps, and gets one extra piece of glassware dirty. That’s all I’m pointing out. Those enameled green mexican-style “lime-inverter” squeezers are more efficient. I don’t like the new squeezer, but what bugs me is the apparent switch to the use of that particular squeezer because it is a Kegworks item. Robert always used the best tools and advocated the best techniques in all the pre-sponsorship episodes, even using antique bar tools such as his pitcher with the built in strainer and his absinthe dripper; that’s what made me a fan of this series. I wish he would keep doing that at least, or have him urge Kegworks go out of their way to find or reproduce those old-school tools. If they did that, I have no doubt that those tools would sell like hotcakes. I certainly would want to buy reproductions of those antiques.

JerseyRED 13 Mar 2008
6:38 pm


Either I’m not being clear or have a reading comprehension problem.
First, the “new” squeezer is an “antique” (retro is more appropriate) style squeezer used at Trader Vic

Berkana 14 Mar 2008
12:58 am

I apologize for implying that his tool choice was based on sponsorship considerations alone.

I know the pliers style squeezer is based on an antique or retro design; when I say “new,” I mean new to this series. The one he used prior simply appears more time efficient (based on my observations from the show), and at least as it has been used, it did not require getting an additional piece of glassware dirty, permitting a measured pour right out of the squeezer.

NN 14 Mar 2008
1:48 am

I’m inclined to think that the

Robert Hess 14 Mar 2008
2:06 am

wow… bunches of things to respond to… let me see if I can hit everything…

To date, I don’t think I’ve found “the” perfect juicer. The one I use on previous episodes is nice, but not perfect, especially since it is no longer made. I hate to “recommend” an out of production item. The plier-style juicers can work pretty well, and be small and easily packable. The version “currently” on kegworks (which I am using here), is unfortunately of thinner metal then I like, and ends up bending. I’ve been talking with them about this, and we are looking at sourcing something better.

Lime Juice:
It’s all about balance. “I” think the ratios I have here balance things out quite well, but of course you are free to adjust if you like things a little tarter.

I do in fact use the “atomic” cherries for somethings. Frankly in a Mai Tai, I think they “look” better than the darker/realer cherries. :->

...and yes. Kegworks is now selling the Luxardo Marachino cherries. I had recommended they check it out, and when they first did, they were a bit taken aback by how much they cost, but took a gamble and placed an order for a pallat of them, thinking it would take a while to sell… they went almost immediately, and have already had to re-order.

PS: Check out the bitters video thread for an update on Orange Bitters :->

JerseyRED 14 Mar 2008
7:46 am

I agree. I’ve seen the newer models and compared to the older, heavy (aluminum?) one I picked up on eBay they are quiet flimsy.
Oxo makes great products but their handheld press-style squirts more juice out the sides than through the holes. I’ve found the painted (green-lime, yellow-lemon, orange-well…) press-style works well for me. Just having the yellow one is enough as it’ll handle large limes and lemons. As most cocktails call for just a little OJ I’ll hand squeeze.

Berkana 14 Mar 2008
7:29 pm

I do not recommend bare aluminum juicers if they will come into contact with acidic liquids like lemon and lime juice; acid erodes away aluminum really aggressively. If you want to see just how quickly it does this, get a plate, put a small sheet of aluminum foil on the plate, and squeeze some lemon juice on it, and leave it for an hour or so.

The Oxo lever juicer appears to have exposed aluminum, and because of that, I discourage people from using it.

Perry Willis 15 Mar 2008
8:37 am

Thanks for a simpler Mai Tai recipe. I was starting to look for passion fruit syrup and will give this a go before an earnest effort.  I did not have gold rum on hand, so I punted with a mix of dark (meyers) and light rums.  Was nice to toast the spring thaw with this delightful treat.

Glad to see you picked up a “sponsor”. I’ve purchsed several items from Keg Works and been pleased with their service and site. Several purchases were made via and are in my Listmania list.;_bb= 

Thanks again, Robert.

Thomas 16 Mar 2008
8:00 pm

Another tasty & enjoyable installment!  I’m looking forward to the whole Tiki series. 

Gotta weigh in on a few of the controversies here. 

- I have been very happy with the “Mexican” style citrus squeezers.  Kegworks should carry them in all sizes.  I’ve found that the lime size is often too small for the limes I get in the groceries here.  I tend to use the larger orange size for all fruits. 

- You should grow mint in your garden or in a big pot on your porch.  It grows like a weed, always fresh, always available. 

- Thanks to Adam for the pointer to the orgeat recipe.  I love making my own ingredients. 

- The Kegworks drinking game is a great idea!  For folks at work, well, that is what pocket flasks are for!  :D


Perry Willis 18 Mar 2008
12:45 pm

Okay, I just made another one of these using Zaya aged rum for the float. I FINALLY found a good use for this stuff. I purchased it on a recommendation and never found a way to enjoy it. Plenty of cola flavor that worked great with the mai tai. Use it if you got it.

Robert Hess 18 Mar 2008
1:18 pm


Agree with you that the green/lime Mexican squeezer is just too small in most cases, yellow/lemon can also be a tad on the small side, but I also find that the orange/orange (hmmm… funny how that works), can be a tad large, and results in juices squirting out the sides a bit more. Would love to see somebody re-visit this style of squeezer and fine a good way to prevent it from “squirting”.

Mint… yeah, it does grow like a weed… so much so that my gardner cleared out my patch of mint thinking it “was” a weed. Haven’t had a chance to replant it since then :->


Owen Webb 19 Mar 2008
11:44 am

stupid question… I have a bottle of blue curacao… yes I’m very ashamed.  Does it taste any different than regular curacao?  ie, bol’s blue vs. regular bol’s; is it just a blue food coloring that has been added, or have they changed the flavor?

Owen Webb 19 Mar 2008
11:47 am

One other question… since I have easy access to several Demerara rums (Lemon & Hart, Barbancourt…), what rum would you replace with the demerara?

Robert Hess 19 Mar 2008
12:04 pm


Blue Curacao is essentially exactly the same as orange, clear, or (hard to find) red. Just food coloring. So you could use this in a Mai Tai… although it won’t look terribly appealing I fear :->

I would highly recommend playing around with mixing various rums in your Mai Tai’s and not feel tied to using just the “light + gold” combination I list here. I try to focus on being as “main stream” as possible with the ingredients I present so as to make the drinks as approachable as possible. The original rums that TV used in the Mai Tai were fairly rich in flavor, and so your demerara rum would work quite well, I’d even try a combo of a jamaican gold and your demerara for a tasty version.


Kevin Strickland (Stucky on the forums) 24 Mar 2008
11:23 pm

Hey Robert,

Just thought you’d like to know that I actually brought my favorite local bar a bottle of Orgeat just so they could make this drink. I gave them my recipe which is slightly different than yours (If I remember correctly I use Dale’s, which is 2 oz gold rum instead of the mixture you use, and no float) but the taste is still fantastic.

They love the drink and hopefully will be able to get it out to more people. I did this about a month ago and it’s slowly catching on.

I also get half off all mai tai’s I order because I supplied the bottle, which is a huge plus :-D


Robert Hess 25 Mar 2008
7:21 am

Kevin, A Mai Tai with just gold rum is perfectly fine, however Tiki drinks were all about “mixing” rums together, both Don Beach and Victor Bergeron were big fans of creating great flavors by mixing just the right rums together. Frankly, rums are some of the most flavorful spirits out there, with a very wide range that is possible. Here, I’m trying to simulate that without getting “too” specific on the actual rums being used, and think the combination of light, gold, with an optional dark, is a good start.

Kevin 3 Apr 2008
12:49 am

I totally agree on you thoughts of rum. One of the main reasons I go with the gold rum only is because I live in Alabama, where all the alcohol sales are controlled by the state, so you kinda gotta take what you can get, and the only decent rums in the state are gold, which is why I use only that in mine (although I sometimes do use a Gosling float). If I were in a different state, I am sure I would experiment with tons of different combinations as much as possible.

Thanks for the input!

Bobby 18 Apr 2008
3:10 pm

You really should try a demerara rum in a Mai Tai.  I highly recommend 1oz. El Dorado 12 year along with 1oz. Appleton VX.  That is my current favorite Mai Tai rum blend.

Bill 24 Apr 2008
11:08 pm

Robert, I love the cocktail recipes and the information you present here is wonderful. I am curious where you got the recipe for this version of the Mai Tai as it appears to be different from the Trader’s version.  It seems you’re using far too little lime juice.Shouldn’t you be using 1 1/2 ounces? And where’s the rock candy syrup? (aka simple syrup).

Robert Hess 29 Apr 2008
3:03 pm

Bill, yes, the recipe presented here has some very slight moderations over the original recipe as designed by Trader Vic… it is however very true in spirit to the original in that it focuses on the core structure, approach, and ingredients. I’ve just made some slight simplifications and adjustments for balance.

The original called for “the juice of one lime”... which hopefully I’ve made it clear in various episodes is a measureing method I absolutely hate… anytime I see that I assume all bets are off on how to accurately make the drink, and instead I focus on using an amount which I feel achieves the correct balance. Which is what I’ve done here.

It is possible that the amount of lime juice used is in fact less than what was originally used, but here then is where the loss of the “rock candy syrup” could come in. The extra 1/4 ounce of syrup could be balancing out a tad more lime juice. But in my experiments I found that if I add the syrup, and also add more lime juice in order to prevent the drink from being too sweet, I end up with a drink which is a little heavier on the sweet/sour side than I think it should be. It is possible that the original rums used would be the balancing agent here, but since those aren’t available, and since I wanted to focus on using more “easily available” rums instead of trying to use slightly more exotic rums, I chose to balance the recipe as you see shown in this video. Jeff Berry has “approved” my recipe (even though it is slightly different from the one he uses), so I feel adaquately covered :->

Below is the “Orignal” Trader Vic version of ths Mai Tai:

2 ounces 17-year-old J. Wray Nephew Jamaican rum
1/2 ounce French Garnier Orgeat
1/2 ounce Holland DeKuyper Orange Curacao
1/4 ounce 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.

JP Nguyen 7 May 2008
2:21 am

Mr Hess,

Thanks for sharing your knowledge in all your cocktail videos ! Most of them are really interesting.
I have a question regarding Orange Curacao. When trying to order some, I notice Orange Curacao wasn’t always at the same proof than Blue Curacao. in a description, the online shop also mentioned a hint of cognac flavor.
So, I would like to know if Grand Marnier or Cointreau could be acceptable sustitutes for Orange Curacao in a Mai Tai ?


Argyle Wolf-Knapp 27 Aug 2009
8:58 am

Given that the original recipe called for 1 rum (17-year Wray & Nephew, not produced any more, alas), I’ve tried using the Ron Zacapa 23 year, with great results. Interestingly enough, the first time I tried this, I omitted the Curacao, doubled the simple syrup and added 3 dashes of Angostura bitters - phenominal.

Robert Hess 27 Aug 2009
12:27 pm

I think one of the big underappreciated aspects of the “Tiki” drinks by Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic, were that in many cases the specific rum being used was really part of the recipe. Today customers think nothing of “calling” the brand of spirit they want in their drinks (often simply out of brand loyalty as opposed to understanding what actually tastes best), but with those Tiki drinks, you would never consider calling for a brand. The bartenders knew the right products to use. And the stockpile of different rums that they would keep in their back rooms was quite impressive.

The 17 year Wray and Nephew was the heart of the original Mai Tai, and it had a fairly heady aroma and flavor. The Zacapa 23 perhaps a decent replacement, but Jeff Berry recommends the 15-year Saint James Hors D’Age… of course I have yet to see that in my liquor stores :->

Argyle Wolf-Knapp 28 Aug 2009
7:26 am

Hah! I’ve seen the Hors d’Age in NYC, although I’m in New Orleans these days. If I can’t find it here, I’ll just have to do mail/internet ordering…
As I recall, the Hors d’Age has an intense, brandy-ish character to it, unlike the Zacapa.

Justin Victor 8 Sep 2009
5:50 am


I have a question.  In your book “The Essential Bartender’s Guide”, you recommend using Grand Marnier in any recipe calling for orange curacao.  In your Mai Tai video I see you are using Bols.  I have seen both brands in the liquor stores here and given the immense difference in price wonder if you could speak to the choice to use Bols instead of Grand Marnier.


Robert Hess 8 Sep 2009
6:06 am

Justin, In my book I don’t recommend using Grand Marnier in “any recipe” calling for orange curacao… what I say is “If you’re looking for premium brands, you’ll want to pick up Grand Marnier”.

While I (almost) always use Cointreau in place of triple sec, I rarely use Grand Marnier in place of curacao. These days, it can be very difficult to really arrive at a concensus as to what separates triple sec from curacao. If you were to line the wide variety of products up and do a blind tasting of them, I suspect deliniation would be more along “quality” then it would “category”.

Justin Victor 8 Sep 2009
7:44 am


First, let me apologise for categorizing your comments in the book.  They are as you say, in pursuit of premium brands. 

I agree that it seems consensus among brands is a very difficult thing to arrive at in the wide world of mixology.  However, the closest thing to consensus I have ever compiled in my internet and reading research is that Cointreau is THE triple sec to use.  Accept no other.

So my follow up question… interchangeable do you think Cointreau is in most recipes calling for orange curacao?

Robert Hess 8 Sep 2009
8:51 am

At a certain level any brand of triple sec/curacao is interchangeable with any other… with the caveat that there will almost always be some level of noticeable change in the underlying cocktail. Sometimes the change is simply “different”, while other times the change will be one in which the overall quality of the drink suffers (or improves). With the expense of Cointreau and Grand Marnier, it is often useful to experiment for yourself to see what role your personal taste takes here. Just as different people might prefer different brands of peanut butter, so too will different people perfer different taste profiles in their drinks.

Justin Victor 8 Sep 2009
10:47 am

Thanks again.  I greatly appreciate your wisdom.

Emily Hirsch 12 May 2010
3:33 pm

There seem to be a lot of Mai Tai Fundamentalists nit-picking on what is basically a vast improvement over what most bars are calling a Mai Tai. I would happily drink your version.

When I make my a Mai Tai for myself, I use Trader Vic’s original recipe and a combination of aged rums (usually Appleton 12-yr and Clement VSOP). I do take some liberty in using more orgeat (homemade) and omitting the sugar syrup. I think the Mai Tai was really created to highlight the flavors of the aged rums that Trader Vic chose to use. To each his or her own.

Enrique Cantu 26 May 2010
7:47 am

I really like your videos, you are the best…

I found this page about a home made orgeat and sounds good to me….

Thank you for your videos…  Wath about your podcast?

Nico 15 Jun 2011
6:17 am

Hey Robert,

congratulations to your videos. They are really nice…I like them.
There`s only one thing that gives me the creeps every time I see it: the Bacardi Light Rum.
A long time ago, when Cuba wasn’t communistic and Bacardi was producing in Cuba, Bacardi was really good and innovative. But growing and getting popular the distillery grew to chemical factories. You always claim not to take artificial / chemical ingredients. I appreciate that. But I would never take Bacardi as a quality product. Nigher the White nor the Black or Oro`. ( The 8 Year old one is quite nice…). There are other better tasting, smoother and less industrial Rums like the Appleton White (Jamaica) or my personal favorite Matusalem Platino.
Comparing them side by side the Bacardi tastes sharp and artificial.
An interesting variation is to a White Rum like Blue Bay White, that tastes a bit like Rhum Agricole, giving a fresh fruity side to the Mai Tai.

Alan 28 Jul 2011
8:52 am

Has anyone any opinions on using Cointreau here instead of a Curacao? I don’t like to have too many duplicate spirits and usually go for Cointreau since I find it better for other cocktails. I am quite confused about the difference between triple secs and curacaos to be honest though.

I understood that Cointreau was a premium triple sec-style made with a neutral grain spirit while something like Grand Marnier was a more premium curacao-style liqueur using Brandy. I got really confused though recently when I saw Gabriel Boudier “Triple Sec/Curacao”

I was able to find a shop selling this Teisseire Orgeat/Almond syrup - it actually says both orgeat and almond on the label. I’m not sure if there’s a difference however it is cloudy and I think Robert said something before about orgeat always being cloudy.

Robert Hess 28 Jul 2011
10:08 am

Alan, you have every right to be confused about which “orange liqueur” to use, and what the difference are. Triple sec is going to traditionally be neutral spirit, plus sweetener, plus orange essence. Curacao is going to traditionally be brandy, plus sweetener, plus orange essence (and specificaly the laraha orange) , plus often some additional “flavors/spices”.

Today, many of the “lesser” brands of triple sec and curacao don’t necessarily follow this model, usually with the curacaos being almost, but not quite, indistinquishable from the triple secs. So if you are already planning on using the lower end products, just use the one which amongst them you think works best.

But with quality products, there should be a noticeable difference between them, and the cocktails made with them. Cointreau is always my triple sec of choice, I can’t think of a single “triple sec” drink that doesn’t taste best with Cointreau. Cointreau is of course a (if not the) “top shelf” version of triple sec. Grand Marnier on the other hand is a top shelf version of curacao. Just as Cointreau used to call itself “triple sec” Grand Marnier also labled itself curacao.

Curacao is going to have a rounder, fuller bodied flavor than triple sec will, and so this will play a role in the cocktails you use it in, how noticeable this might be, without a direct side-by-side comparison, will depend on the tasting memory of the customer, as well as the amount used and the other ingredients in the drink.

I also find that curacao adds what I think of as a slightly more “rustic” flavor character to the drinks it is used in, so some drinks (such as a Mai Tai) can benefit from this, whereas a drink like the sidecar may not.

In the end of course, the real answer is which you prefer.

For additional reading information, I’d recommend checking out this set of articles over on

Alan 28 Jul 2011
10:33 am

Thanks again. I had a read of that site yesterday funnily enough after an internet search.

That the Gabriel Boudier is called “Curacao Triple Sec” adds confusion to my confusion!

Matthew Williams 29 Apr 2012
8:20 am

Robert, this is definitely the better Mai Tai recipe I’ve encountered. I disagree with others that there should be more lime juice; for me, the Mai Tai is best when it’s crisper and diluting the drink with more lime takes that away. I use Havana in my Mai Tais, generally, but from what I understand you can’t get them in the USA?

Anyway—thank you.

Robert Hess 30 Apr 2012
8:42 am

Matthew, at a certain level, all cocktails can benefit from a little tweaking here and there. And for something like the Mai Tai, the amount of lime juice could depend on the sweetness/quality of the orgeat being used. And yes, Havana club makes an excellent Mai Tai, but we can’t get that in the US unfortunately… one of these days… fingers crossed!

Vanessa Harper 28 May 2012
4:15 pm

I went through a lot of trouble to find orgeat syrup which a nice coffee chop finally sold me 6 oz. of.  I got it home and my husband and son tasted it and immediately both said it tastes like the juice that is in the maraschino cherry jar.  So we got it out and it absolutely was almost identical!  So if you need a substitute, just buy a jar of maraschino cherries and use the juice from them.  It is an almond-y syrup too.

Robert Hess 29 May 2012
8:55 am


For the most part, orgeat syrup is an almond syrup with usually a little bit of orange flower water added. Another difference between almond syrup and orgeat, is that orgeat will almost always be slightly cloudy, while almond syrup should be clear.

Purists I suspect would always use orgeat for their Mai Tais, but almond syrup should work perfectly fine. You are right in noticing that the syrup that artificial marachino cherries are packed it is “essentially” almond syrup with a lot of red food coloring in it. I’ve never tired substituting it for orgeat, so I’m not sure if its sweetness level is too high or not, but the red coloring would decidely make the drink take a different hue. From a flavor standpoint, if you can’t tell the difference, then I suppose that is all that matters. But I’d never want to see a bar take that approach! :->


Brad Simpson 1 Dec 2012
11:17 pm

Mr. Hess,

I’m a fledgling home mixologist, and I’ve just strayed into this world of tiki. I’m also presented with a few challenges. I live in a small town, far from major shopping centres, and so ingredient access can certainly be difficult.

I’ve also got a love of classic bartending. I blame watching Chris McMillian on the Internet for that. I have a strong desire to keep things as faithful to the originals as I possibly can. I haven’t had a problem with this recipe, but I do have a quick query regarding orgeat syrup.

I’ve read the above comments, where you’ve suggested that almond syrup could easily replace orgeat syrup. I’ve also got orange blossom water that I could add to almond syrup. And I also see that the original Trader Vic recipe calls for sugar syrup. What about removing the orgeat/almond syrup and the sugar syrup entirely, and substituting a liqueur, like Disaronno or Pisa nut liqueur? Do you see that as interfering significantly with the balance of the cocktail? Right now, I’m looking at this:

1oz Havana Club Anejo Blanco(I assume this is unavailable to you)
1oz Appleton Estate V/X(looking at finding a replacement for this)
1/2oz Grand Marnier
1/2oz Disaronno or Pisa
1/2-3/4oz lime juice
1oz dark rum float(Gosling’s Black Seal or Cruzan Black Strap)

Could you recommend another common gold rum to replace the Appleton’s(or maybe it’s a dark rum, the whole bit regarding rum differentiation confuses me)? I’m not that impressed with it. I think I may have seen Lemon Hart locally as well. And a preference for the dark rum float? The thick molasses tones of the Cruzan may work well here(I’ve tried both but own neither).

It’s a great video in a great series.


Robert Hess 2 Dec 2012
1:35 pm


I would not recommend heading down the path of replacing the almond syrup with amaretto or other such liqueur. That is heading you down the path of making too many substitutions to result in the drink as it was intended. We already are in a bind because we can’t get the original rum that was used here, and that rum would really make a big difference.

As for the rum… since we can’t get the original Wraye & Nephew rum anymore, the goal with your rums is to end up with something that has a flavor profile you like. The mixture of white rum and gold rum is more of a hold-over for me of when I was first tuning this drink up, and shouldn’t be seen too much as being the only option. Lately, I’ve been using just Appleton XO or Bacardi 8 in this drink.

The original wraye & nephew was a very flavorful rum, but not overly dark or heavy. So experiment with any rum you think has a nice well-rounded flavor profile and see how you think it works here.


8stringfan 13 Jul 2015
3:37 pm

I tried this recipe, as well as about a half dozen other Mai Tai recipes, and I just can’t get behind what’s being made in this video - the basic idea is sort’ve right, but the blend of rums is poor and doesn’t produce a smooth, or even particularly palatable result.  The original drink was meant to showcase a high-end (and now defunct) expression of Wray and Nephew rum.  From my experiments, the basic Wray and Nephew doesn’t quite work, and as such, the next best thing is to just use a good, aged, Jamaican rum, such as Appleton 12, or, if you must, the V/X.  Gold rums are a bit of a vague class, if you can even call them that, and the rums used in this video clash really badly, with the Bacardi being a simply awful example of a white rum.  If you want to use a blend for the drink, the best bet is an equal mix of a rhum agricole and Appleton 12, which also just happens to fall in line with Trader Vic’s officially sanctioned version of a Jamaican and Martinique rum.  Rum flavors are quite diverse, and as such, playing too fast and loose with them in a drink can drastically alter the flavor of a drink.  Despite your good intentions, by using a poor (and also historically inaccurate) blend of rums, you’ve actually perpetuated the very butchering of this drink that you mentioned at the outset of the video.  Also Senor Curacao is probably your best bet for the orange liqueur.  I’m sure you’re aware of all this, and I’m also sure you have the money and means to procure better and more accurate ingredients, so I’m curious why you went the route you did in this video…

Robert Hess 13 Jul 2015
3:58 pm


Product selection is always a slippery slope. In my videos I try to use products which are as easily accessible as possible without being inappropriate. But I will agree with you that in this case I could have made some alternate choices. This video is several years old, and product availability (especially here in WA) has changed a lot since then. Lately I’ve been using a few different rums for making Mai Tais, one of them being Bacardi 8, which I should have used in this video. It would have worked far better here as an all-purpose rum, as would the Appleton 12 or V/X. I’ve also been enjoying using some of the great rums that Ed Hamilton has been importing, and blending them with 86 Co. Cana Brava rum… but both of those are still hard to find, and Ed’s rums can be a little on the pricey side.

I’ve also tweaked my recipe a bit, it’s now 2 oz rum, 3/4 lime, 1/2 curacao, 1/2 orgeat.

As for the curacao… Senor Curacao is a good curacao, but it can be difficult to find (although getting easier). But frankly, if I don’t need to worry about availability of a curacao to use, then I’d go with Marie Brizzard. However that seems to be totally unavailable here in WA.

The original 17 year Wray & Nephew was a truly wonderful rum, and to date I really haven’t found one that I think matches it as close as I would like, but I keep my eye’s open!

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