Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Why the Mai Tai is the Perfect Mirror Cocktail

 The Mai Tai is The Perfect Mirror Cocktail

The Mai Tai enjoys a special place in the history of cocktails in that it has just enough history that it almost can be itemized and specified to a point in time. Yet, none of those original ingredients can be currently obtained, and the actual cocktail that gained world wide fame only loosely resembles what we know of the origins of the Mai Tai. 

Thus the Mai Tai is a holy grail that can not be recreated. It's only 4 ingredients, yet each one of them can become a quest to recreate something that does not exist in the modern world. This is the magic of the Mai Tai. It becomes a mirror of the person recreating the drink; what do they think matters? Most efforts have focused on recreating the unavailable 17 year old Wrey & Nephew Jamaican rum, but what orange liquor was used in the "original" Mai Tai? Or for that matter, what lime variety was used for the juice? What exactly was the "rock candy" syrup? I won't even attempt to plumb the depths of what "orgeat" was in the 40's. 

This creates a perfect mirror for allowing the mixologist to express their vision of what a Mai Tia is within a limited framework. Much like the limited poetic frameworks of haiku or sonnets, restrictions focus creativity. 400 years after Basho, people are still attempting to recreate his simple formula in completely different languages to describe the natural world. And just like the Mai Tai, we can never completely know the subtleness of 16th Century Japanese. I fully expect that in 400 years, mixologists will be attempting to recreate the Mai Tai in whatever ingredients exist. It might be better, it might be worse, it will likely taste nothing like whatever was served in Oakland in the 40's. 

To be honest, I suspect many of the current recreations of the Mai Tai are much better than whatever you think of as the original, but there is no way to know. This is the beauty and wonder of the Mai Tai. It is a mirror in which you express yourself in a common language. 

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