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Island Classics: Mai Tai


From the time I sipped a few overly sweet and garishly garnished poolside tropical mutations until I tracked down and mixed their simpler, more elegant classic antecedents for myself, I realized that somewhere along the line these drinks had been given a bad makeover. Though I didn’t bother to dig into the when or why this happened, promptly deeming it beyond my declared scope of work, I’m going to go ahead and blame it on America’s world-renowned sweet tooth, which seems to have developed sometime during the 1970s when lots of awful things were allowed to happen. Some good things were happening in the 1940s, however, when Trader Vic codified his original Mai Tai recipe, which I used as my guide for the drink that follows. Fans of the pineapple slice, maraschino cherry, dark rum float, and umbrella as adornments in their Mai Tai may be taken aback by the simplicity of a single sprig of mint as garnish, but like classics in any art form, the original can always stand on its own.

Mai Tai

Mai Tai

1 1/4 oz. Appleton Estate V/X
3/4 oz. Smith & Cross
1 oz. Lime Juice
1/2 oz. Orange Curaçao (or Clement Creole Shrubb, if you have the means)
1/2 oz. House Orgeat
Mint sprig for garnish

In a mixing glass, combine the lime juice, orange curaçao, and orgeat, then add the rum. If you’re experimenting with rum splits, mix those separately and taste until you’re happy with the outcome. Shake with ice and strain into a chilled rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with a mint sprig.

Island Classics: The Fog Cutter


On the subject of gambling, Kenny Rogers famously sang, “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.” Riffing on that wisdom, I would say that when it comes to a cocktail, you’ve got to know when to drink it and know when to send it back. Such was the awkward position I found myself in one night at a hotel bar on the island of Kauai. The drink was the Fog Cutter and ordered, as it was, from the section of the cocktail menu offering up nostalgia (read: classic cocktails), I harbored a certain expectation, especially considering the list of ingredients. When the drink arrived, I was crushed, unlike the ice filling the stemless wine glass in which it was served. And though it did take me back, it wasn’t to the late 1940s, but rather to my undergraduate years when we considered the Screwdriver to be a cocktail.

While disappointment prevailed–and I did actually send the drink back–it got me thinking that surely there must be a “real” way to make this, not to mention a few of the other syrupy concoctions mixed at the pool bar and marketed under names I knew to be classics of the tiki/tropical genre. So when life gave me this lemon, I decided to squeeze it and mix up some classics.

Once back on the mainland, as expected I quickly unearthed some Fog Cutter recipes that would appear to yield results drastically different from the drink I’d tasted. The first came from Ted Haigh’s indispensable Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, which includes recipes from tiki cocktail godfathers Trader Vic and Don the Beachcomber, though the jury seems to be out on who and where it was first conceived. (Named for a kind of diving knife and characterized by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry as the Long Island Iced Tea of exotic drinks, have one too many with a lady friend and you may find yourself wondering where something else was conceived.) For a second opinion, I consulted The PDT Cocktail Book by Jim Meehan, finding something of a mashup between the two originals. My final bit of research came when a friend from The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co. in Philadelphia generously offered me their spec for the drink. The recipe below follows The Franklin recipe most closely, though I tweaked the rums to my personal liking.

Fog Cutter

Fog Cutter

1 oz. Appleton Estate V/X
1 oz. Smith & Cross
1 oz. Macchu Pisco
1/2 oz. Plymouth Gin
1 oz. Lemon Juice
3/4 oz. Orange Juice
1/2 oz. House Orgeat
1/2 oz. Harveys Bristol Cream Sherry
Mint sprig for garnish

Measure rums, pisco, gin, orgeat, and citrus juices into a mixing glass. Shake with ice and strain into a Pilsner glass. Add crushed ice then float 1/2 oz. of cream sherry. Garnish with a mint sprig.