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

Prepare:

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.

Ingredients:

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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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Cris July 25, 2013 at 2:46 am

Molly, thanks for your dedication in preparing this drink. This is really great stuff.

But have a question: Which of the ingredients would adjust, to include Bacardi Gold, Myer’s Dark, and Kraken Black Spiced rums? With orange and pineapple juices?
I believe you and that Kevin that posted his recipe are the closest yet to perfection. The ingredients I listed above are made are fm Mai Tai Bar’s (Honolulu) drink menu. This is in their ‘Traditional’ Mai Tai.

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Molly Jacobson December 17, 2013 at 12:10 pm

Bacardi Gold and Dark would be your light and dark rums, respectively. And if you like the spiced rum in your mai tai, I’d use it to replace the dark. Or maybe … because I’m not such a spiced rum fan myself, try doing half dark and half spiced rums for the amount of dark rum in the recipe. Ack. Hope that was clear! As for “traditional” mai tais, that’s a legal matter and I have no standing. My recipe is just my personal favorite ;-) perfect mai tai!

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TheBeav July 19, 2013 at 1:49 pm

Wow….what a recipe..heading to Total Wine to start my Mai Tai quest and learn how to create this magical island tour drink…..heading to Princeville in November…

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Molly Jacobson December 17, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Have a great time on Kauai!

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Corinne April 6, 2013 at 4:47 pm

OMG! You hit the nail on the head my dear. These Mai Tai’s are the best. We even put an extra splash of dark rum over the top and they are spectacular. Thanks so much for the recipe
Aloha!!!!!

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Wendi H. December 31, 2012 at 2:19 pm

This is absolutely the best twist on a Mai Tai I have ever had. The mint is such a terrific addition. Although I do make them here in Oregon, I really miss the Old Lahaina rums that I used while in Maui. We are heading back to Kahana for Spring Break and I can’t wait for my first Molly’s Mai Tai on the lanai. And my second…

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Kent November 21, 2012 at 6:28 am

Hi Molly…can’t wait to try your recipe!! I have one of my own I thought I’d share. It’s not a “true” Mai Tai per se…but definitely my go to cocktail when I’m on the islands or when I just need a little liquid aloha at home! :)

Maui Sunset Mai Tai (my own recipe and delicious)!!!!

1.5 oz. Malibu Rum
1.5 oz. Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum
1 oz. Pineapple Juice
3 oz. POG (Passion, Orange, Guava)
1/4 fresh squeezed lime (leave it in the cup)
Mix all above ingredients and pour over ice then add:
Kraken dark rum floater (critical)
Pineapple wedge and bruised mint leaves garnish

If you want to make them by the gallon, take a 1 gallon POG jug and drink half of it. Fill the remaining half gallon 1/3 1/3 and 1/3 with Captain Morgan’s, Malibu and Pineapple Juice. Mix well, pour over ice and serve with a lime wedge, pineapple slice and finish with aKraken dark rum floater and bruised mint leaves.

BTW: love the book. My wife and I have our own list, called Kent’s Maui Must Do’s, that we share with all our friends that are heading to Maui. Maui is our happy place…physical proof that God loves us! :)

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Richard November 4, 2012 at 6:41 am

Aloha Molly! Heading to Kona in a week. 3 couples, renting a waterfront house on Alii, swimming pool, hot tub, the whole she-bang. As the host I want to bring on the mai-tais as everyone arrives. I love the idea of refilling the water bottles. I’m sure that I will not have any prob getting the various juices at the market, but do have any tips on where I should be able to find the simple syrup and the orgeat syrup? I don’t want to be running all over town looking if you know any secrets :)
Mahalo!

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Kevin A. August 28, 2012 at 6:24 am

Molly, this sounds delicious. I’m interested in making pitchers or gallons of your Mai Tai recipe for a party this weekend. Do you know by how much the quantity of each ingredient would increase to accomplish this? Thanks!

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Molly Jacobson August 28, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Hi Kevin! The trick to making this recipe in quantity is making sure that you can mix the ingredients well before serving. I’ve accomplished this in several ways.

First of all, figure out how many drinks you’re going to make. This recipe serves two, but I can often make it three, because it’s so potent. So, if you need ten drinks, say, and you know this recipe will serve two, you will need to multiply all ingredient amounts by 5 to get your ten servings.

What’s even easier is to use a different measurement. For example, instead of using “ounces” use “cups.” One cup = one ounce. As long as you use the same measurement for all ingredients, you’ll get the proportions correct. So, in this case, you would use one cup of Orgeat, two cups of pineapple juice, and so on. This will give you lots of mai tais ;-)

Hope that makes sense.

The biggest challenge will be to mix all of those ingredients ahead of time and ensure that they don’t settle too much. I have dealt with this in several ways in the past. Sometimes I mix up a pitcher of JUST the juice/non-alcoholic ingredients, and then another pitcher of JUST the alcohol. Give each pitcher a BIG stir before you pour 7 oz. of the alcohol mixture and 8 oz. of the juice mixture into a shaker and strain over the crushed ice. The problem with this method is that there is almost always some settling, and my stir doesn’t quite get everything as mixed back up as if I made each drink by hand. Some people get mostly juice, others get mostly rum. This is not the making of a great mai tai.

So last year I asked James (my husband and co-author of Top Maui Restaurants) to solve the problem. He went to Costco and came back with those little bottled waters they sell in bulk: 8 oz. bottles. We poured the water into pitchers to save for our party, and then I spent a few hours in my kitchen mixing up mai tais. I mixed according to the recipe above, and then immediately poured the contents of the shaker into the little bottles, and recapped them. Then I refrigerated them until the party started.

That night we had a little self-serve mai-tai bar. We filled a bucket with ice and the mai tai bottles, filled a separate lidded cooler (washed really well and lined with plastic) with crushed ice we made in our Vitamix, and put out highballs. Guests took a glass, added crushed ice with a ladle, and picked up a little bottle, SHOOK it well, and then poured the mai tai over the ice. We had the limes and mint available for garnish, plus straws. This made sure everyone had a perfectly balanced mai tai, and no one had to play bartender. It was heaven. Also, the little bottles were perfect for leftovers — they kept for another day or two without losing flavor, and a couple even went in the freezer.

This is how I’ll always serve these mai tais from now on. Having them pre-made is nice, but pitchers are too hard to shake/stir adequately. These single serving bottles are perfect. Have a great time!

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Swami August 17, 2012 at 6:59 pm

This is an amazing recipe. Even though I haven’t been able to score orgeat yet, I’m still stoked. Using Amaretto as a substitute is ok….a little “hot” to the taste and extra boozy of course, so I cut down on the rum volume just slightly. Gonna have to either order some orgeat on line or make my own. And of course I have a fine, fine buzz on. Thanks Molly!

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Ron July 22, 2012 at 3:14 pm

Hi Molly!
Thanks for sharing what is now my favorite Mai Tai recipe! Our previous favorite was from the Maui Onion restaurant at The Renaissance Hotel which I believe to now be closed. They had awesome burgers and Mai tais. Your recipe is awesome! Spent the day day drinking and listening to the Makaha Sons. Great day! Thanks!

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Captain Redbeard July 19, 2012 at 12:26 pm

I love the PPSD campaign….poor Canadians. I agree with the layering, however I have used Kilo Kai spiced rum and it creates a drink that is even more dangerous than a regular Mai Tai. Great article

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Scott B July 7, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Fee Brothers Orgeat is available at Long’s Drug store in the Lahaina Cannery Mall. Patron Citronage is better then triple sec and not as sweet as Grand Marnier (nor as expensive) Goslings Black Seal Rum and Mount Gay Silver will do in a pinch.

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DaniCaliGirl July 5, 2012 at 6:55 pm

EXCELLENT Mai Tai! We were in Kihei, Maui in November, it was our second trip, and we went back to Life’s A Beach home of the $1 Mai Tai ( we get the $6 liter); this Reciepe takes us right back to our favorite watering hole on Maui! Thanks for sharing ;)

PS- making a batch for a 40th Wedding Anniversary Party this weekend!

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John Fischer May 23, 2012 at 11:30 am

I’ll have to try this. I’m not a huge Mai Tai fan. I prefer a Blue Hawaii cocktail and the best one I ever had of that was at the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa at Ko Olina, Oahu.

OK, back to the subject. Here on the east coast, the hardest ingredient to find would be the guava juice, especially fresh. In fact, I’ve never even see canned.

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Molly Jacobson May 23, 2012 at 11:57 am

Hi John! It’s good to see you stop by. I used to get cans of guava juice in NYC and Boston at bodegas — those little hispanic/Spanish/latin neighborhood convenience stores where they sell everything from fruit to beer. I agree, that’s the hardest ingredient to find in your neck of the woods — but maybe you have a little place nearby. Also … you can get canned guava juice online, if you must. But I bet you can find it locally. And I promise you — most mai tais are not nearly as delicious as this. It is like having a big glass of fresh juice —- mmmmmm —– and then, oops. You’re smashed. Enjoy!

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Beckie March 5, 2012 at 5:25 pm

Thank you is great sounding recipe ! I am having a luau to celebrate 190 years ( Father and 2 friends) and I have been searching for the right recipe for a Mai Tai. Any other menu suggestions are welcome. Aloha for now

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Denise February 13, 2012 at 8:26 am

Dave and I have been on a quest for the best Mai Tai. The best we’ve had were at the Princeville hotel at the bar on the beach (2002) and at the beach bar at Mauna Kea Beach hotel on the Big Island (last week). We arrived in Maui Sat night and I had found your recipe. We decided to get the ingredients and forgo the high prices at the restaurants/bars here. The Mai Tai’s were a hit with our friends last night. We had to hunt for orgeat syrup. We found Torani Almond flavored syrup at the Time store in Kihie in the coffee section. I know Torani sells Orgeat but this syrup had the same makings: almond and orange flower water. We forgot to get the mint leaves but the drink was still the best. Thanks for the great recipe.

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Molly Jacobson February 13, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Hi Denise! So glad you liked the mai tai. Next time, try the mint – it takes it to a whole new level!

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Rick Davis October 29, 2011 at 6:30 pm

I take it you have not been to Hawaii! Because they don’t shake a Mai Tai.
A good Hawiian Mai Tai is layed dark on top.

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Molly Jacobson November 11, 2011 at 9:59 am

Hi Rick,

I live on Maui ;-)

What constitutes a “real” mai tai has been the subject of discussion for decades, and people have even gone to court over the matter. A mai tai does usually involve some sort of float on the top, but what that float is can vary wildly. In my recipe, it’s mint oil. Because there are so many different juices and syrups involved, the main part of the drink is often shaken before it’s poured over the ice. Also see the Mai Tai contest we judged.

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Che September 24, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Molly, I was on Maui and drove down to Wailea and stopped at the Tommy Bahama restaurant and had what I consider the best Mai Tai ever.
I wish I would have stopped and asked for the recipe. I am back on the mainland and have been trying to duplicate that recipe and haven’t been able to come close. If you are still on Maui please give it a try and please send me the recipe. Include what rums they actually use.

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Molly Jacobson October 13, 2011 at 11:41 am

Aloha Che!

Yes, Tommy Bahama rum is delicious – and that’s what they use in every drink they make, so I’m sure it’s what they used in your mai tai. You can get Tommy Bahama spirits at some more upscale liquor stores on the mainland. I’m sure their website http://tommybahama.com will be helpful. Glad you enjoyed it!

On a side note, my dearest childhood friend, Jack Terry, was just named Tommy Bahama Rumologist! He lives in Key West, FL, so I’m hoping they’ll send him to the Wailea store during his year-long gig with them. If you’re on island, you’ll be sure to hear about it. We’ll definitely be stopping by to sample his creations.

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Evanice September 1, 2011 at 5:02 pm

Hi Molly,
Than you soooo much for the MaiTai recipe – It took me quite awhile to find the almond syrup but today for my surprize I found it. I live in Michigan so Guava juice is nothing that I can easily find but I did. So I made the MaiTai according to your recipe – It was the best MaiTai ever – even better that the one I love at Hula Grill in Kaanapali – Many thanks – better than that it is just having this MaiTai in Maui.
Aloha !!!

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Kathie August 20, 2011 at 3:34 pm

We just returned from West Maui, and found that our favorite Mai Tai over the week was at Pacific’o. We liked the unblended colors, and the fact that it was served on the rocks, rather than over shave ice. Have you tried their version? On the other hand, we are heading out right now to see if we can find the ingredients for “Molly’s.” P.S. We loved having your book for our trip…you really helped us enjoy every meal.

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Goia April 19, 2011 at 6:10 am

We just got back from Maui last week and tried Mai Tais at both Lahaina Grill and Pineapple Grill. Lahaina Grill’s version was best on our trip, so thank you! What I am searching for is the Bloody Mary recipe from Pineapple Grill. It’s their secret, but secret’s can be found out, I’m hoping!

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Jim Liefeld November 19, 2010 at 7:49 am

Molly,
Your Mai Tai recipe is great. I really liked it. BUT…I also want you to know about a recipe that is not on the menu at Haliimaile General Store and concocted by Wendy. She calls it the “Tai Mai”, and I have to say it is the most outstanding liquid I have ever put in my mouth. You have to ask for it, and she only works during the day.
Mahalo

Jim

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Maui Girl Swimwear September 24, 2010 at 4:29 pm

I have to say, the best one I have ever had was at the Pineapple Grill. Now I will be trying out your recipe tonight.

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