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Jul 17, 2013 05:55 PM

Rums for Mai-tais

I know next to nothing about rum. I don't drink many tiki style drinks except for mai tais. I've really liked most of the ones I've had, including what I believe to Trader Vic's new recipe, called the Trader Vic's Mai Tai (it's on their happy hour menu).

My Oregon state monopolized liquor stores don't have great rum selections - mostly the big names like Cruzan and Bacardi, a bunch of spiced rums, and a couple bottles from Cuba and Haiti. Nothing from Martinique, no rhum agricole, etc, that I could see. I see St. James recommended a lot but didn't see that at the store either.

In my cabinet I have Appleton XV and Castillo Silver. I tried using these in a Mai Tai and it didn't turn out very good. I'm not sure if the Appleton XV (or the 12 year I saw at the liquor store) counts as amber or dark rum.

My questions:

What mass-market, easily found rums are best in a mai tai?

How can I tell if a rum is amber or dark?

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  1. If the one from Haiti is Barbancourt, it would be a good substitute for the agricole being made from cane juice - preferably the 3 star (4 year) which would be a little less woody.

    I have had the best luck with Appleton 12 yr, and if you can get it I highly recommend Clement Creole Shrubb as the orange liqueur (though as it is from Martinique I doubt you can get it there.) I think I used Wray + Nephew overproof once as the light rum and it turned out well, though I am not 100% sure, it's been over a year and I tried quite a few combos.

    This article is interesting but might not be all that helpful in finding mass market rums, but some of the comments might be. I used the combo of Sea Wynde and El dorado 15 yr from the article and it was outstanding, but Sea Wynde is definitely not easy to find these days - though Smith & Cross would work just as well.

    1. A Mai Tai really needs some flavorful rums with a kick to cut through all the other ingredients. If you are going by a recipe that says to use 1 oz light rum and 1 oz dark rum, you can throw that out the window. In the rum combos I've tried, only using a true Agricole from Martinique took the drink to its peak. Barbancourt 8 year did not work as a substitute IMO, as it's missing the sharp vegetal flavor. And Appleton 12 made the best partner.

      You can play around with whatever strongly flavored rums you can get, but it just may not be possible to hit a similar flavor profile. Castillo silver or other standard light rums, as you found, are not going to do the trick. Amber rum vs, dark rum is a fairly arbitrary division, but Myers, Goslings, Coruba, and sometimes Appleton 12 and Cruzan Blackstrap are considered the dark rums. The couple times I've ordered a Mai Tai from a bar that I thought could handle it, I just got a drink overwhelmed by Myers dark, so now I strictly enjoy them at home.

      2 Replies
      1. re: nickls

        That is why I recommended the Barbancourt 3 star/4 yr, the vegetal aspect hasn't been aged out as much as the 8 year. Unfortunately it is not nearly as easy to find as the 8 yr, and usually costs almost as much.

        The Barbancourt white might be an even better choice but seems to be even harder to find.

        1. re: nickls

          For sharp vegetal flavor, cachaca can be similar enough to an AOC to work in a pinch. A while back I got a bottle of Sagatiba Velha (2 yr) cachaca, and noted that it tasted very similar to my Depaz Blue Cane Rhum - though in a side-by-side, the Depaz was more complex and interesting,

          Just for fun I just made a Mai tai with Appleton V/X and Ypioca silver and it was quite decent considering the budget ingredients. When I open my 12 yr I will try it with the Velha.

        2. If all you have is bacardi and Cruzan I would try it with the bacardi 8 and the cruzan single barrel. Though as others have said I think the appleton may be the best choice.

          To me the vegetal aspect of the agricoles as well as their dryness in comparison to molasses rums is what makes the combo of molasses rum and rhum agricole perfect.

          When I started on my ma tai quest it was a year or two before I got a true Martinique rum. In the meantime I had godd mai tais with El dorado, Cruzan etc. Until you get the Rhum Agricole I would encourage you to try to make your own orgeat. I think upgrading all parts of the ma tai will make what you have that much better

          1. The Trader Vic's Mai Tai on their happy hour menu is not a "true" mai tai, it is made from mix and some lesser rum's, you need to order it "Mai Tai Old Way" and then it will be made properly - next time you are in TV's order a regular one and an old way and taste them next to each other, you should be able to tell a noticeable difference

            Well you are in luck Appleton V/X is one of the rums that goes in a Mai Tai so you are halfway there

            The other is Rhum Clement VSOP - it is hard to find you probably need to order it online - if you enjoy your Mai Tai's it is a worthy investment, I generally order 2-3 bottles at one time to save on the shipping price

            You would also want to order Senior Curacao of Curacao Orange Liqueur and some good orgeat (you can make it yourself to save on cost) - I buy mine from Small Hand Foods



            1. I am in Oregon, too, and went through this exercise about a year and a half ago for a Hawaiian party we were having. The hardest part was finding a dark that was truly dark enough to create that great float of almost black liquid on top of the mai tai like they do in Hawaii. We had a really hard time telling what was amber vs. REALLY dark and, consequently, ended up with about 5 bottles of "dark" rum at home. This was a problem for a while, because we actually don't drink rum very often and it was hard to get through those extra bottles. For a while, our standing joke when going to the liquor store was to say, "make sure you get some rum, we are almost out..."

              The Appleton is a good selection for the lighter (amber) rum and I never did find one that suited me for the dark rum, but based on what I DIDN'T try...I would aim for the cruzan black or goslings black seal. Good luck and let me know what you find out!

              5 Replies
                1. re: cobpdx

                  There is no float of rum in a mai tai

                  Blackstrap or black seal would certainly ruin the drink IF you were trying to make a mai tai

                  What you were drinking in Hawai might have been a good drink but it was not a Mai Tai

                  Generally for black rum floats Coruba works well in most cocktails

                  1. re: Dapuma

                    There is if it's a Donn Beach Mai Tai. Whether or not that's a real Mai Tai is up for debate :-)

                    1. re: davis_sq_pro

                      When you get mai tai in Hawai'i, for the most part the float of dark rum on top makes up for the dark rum you should be using in the mix. Makes a pretty drink, but most of those type drinks only have the alcohol in the rum float.

                      1. re: rexster314

                        I am aware of the authentic recipe (I have even made my own orgeat syrup) and I am also aware that there are many drinks called Mai Tais that are nothing like the real thing.

                        I just prefer the darker color drink that that the dark rum provides and had a hard time finding anything that was darker than amber even when the bottle said dark.

                        But thanks for the clarification, everyone.