Molly’s Maui Mai Tai: The Best Mai Tai Recipe We’ve Had Yet

by Molly Jacobson on August 9, 2009

It’s easy to get a mai tai on Maui, but it’s nearly impossible to get a good one without spending almost as much as you would on an entree (think Mama’s Fish House, Mai Tai Lounge, Pineapple Grill).

Many bars will actually serve you pineapple juice and a little rum and coca cola and call it a mai tai! Ick.

The perfect mai tai - all ingredients are well blended and mint is used as a garnish (bruise the leaves to release the oils).

The perfect mai tai - all ingredients are well blended and mint is used as a garnish (bruise the leaves to release the oils).

The Perfect Mai Tai on Maui?

James and I have been searching for a good mai tai recipe for three years, because we want to be able to welcome guests to our home with this most-tropical, most powerful cocktail.

(Want to make a party instantly happen? Serve mai tais – people drink them down like fruit juice and are “socially lubricated” within minutes. Everyone thinks you’re an incredible host.  Confiscate car keys if they have more than two.)

A few months ago we had a mai tai so good that we fell off our chairs (not realizing you are already drunk after half a drink is the sign of a good mai tai). As we climbed back up off the floor, we knew we had hit paydirt. Or liquid gold?

We wheedled the bartender at this oceanfront restaurant into giving us the ingredient list (he wouldn’t divulge the recipe upon pain of losing his job, and to protect the innocent we won’t reveal where he works… although you could probably figure it out with a modicum of imagination).

After having a big meal (we didn’t intend to splurge at Lahaina Grill that night, but the mai tai was pretty powerful), and then walking around Lahaina for an hour or two extra to sober up, we finally got home.

The next day we went to two stores to get all the ingredients (Costco for the rum, and Hawaii Liquor Store in Kahului to get the syrups), and set out to duplicate the recipe.

Research and Development

It took two weeks of testing to get the recipe right. Every night I made another version – we couldn’t have more than one without getting crazy drunk all over again – and finally I got it right. We confirmed with a small group of friends, most of whom hadn’t had a mai tai in years because when you live on Maui, you don’t want to spend $20 for a good drink, and you don’t want to spend $2 for pineapple juice. The verdict was unanimous: “Best mai tai I ever had.”

If you google recipes for Mai Tais, you’ll find that everyone has an opinion on what a “real mai tai” contains. The first recipe was basically lime juice and rum, and there are some who say that is the only one (Trader Vic went to court to defend the recipe).

But our perfect mai tai – which we’re calling Molly’s Maui Mai Tai – has a perfectly balanced fruit:rum ratio that we love.

Use the best rum and ingredients you can – I’ve even gone so far as to make my own rock candy syrup (and want to make orgeat for our next big party).

I’m very specific about the order, and the mixings, because I spent years looking and weeks testing, and this is the best way to make it.

Molly’s Maui Mai Tai

You’ll need a cocktail shaker with a strainer, two glasses (high ball are fine), and straws


Shave enough ice to fill both high ball glasses. Put ice back in the freezer until just before you are ready to pour the drink so that the ice does not melt before it chills the cocktail.


3 oz. light rum
3 oz. dark rum
1 oz. orange curacao (or grand marnier)
2 oz. pineapple juice (fresh is amazing if you can do it)
2 oz. guava juice
2 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice
1 oz. orgeat syrup (almond syrup with orange or rose, you can get it in the mixer section)
1 oz. simple syrup or rock candy syrup
crushed mint leaves to garnish (very important)
pineapple wedges for garnish
lime wedge to garnish

Put all liquid ingredients in cocktail shaker.

Fill two high ball glasses with shaved ice.

Shake cocktail shaker thoroughly, at least ten times.

Strain into two glasses.

Crush the mint leaves between your fingers and float on the top of the drink. It is important to really bruise the mint leaves, because they blend the flavors together. You should NOT skip the fresh mint – it is the key to the whole drink.

Garnish with pineapple and lime wedges.

Drink through a straw. Make sure you have a designated driver … or make at home so you don’t need one.

If you are having a party, these can be made ahead of time and stored in a pitcher, but make sure you stir well before serving.

About Molly Jacobson

Molly Jacobson contributes 226 post in this blog.

Editor of the second best-selling guidebook to MauiTop Maui Restaurants, Molly has called Maui home since 2005.

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