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Yuzu Mai Tai


When you think of a Mai Tai, you probably think a rainforest in a cup––pineapple juice, orange juice, grenadine, rum, sweet sweet sweet sweet shit. They even manufacture cheap mai tai mix in plastic bottles to have rum added and be consumed until your teeth vaporize.

I recently found the "original" mai tai recipe while wandering the aisles of my local supermarket and trying to think of what I could make as a new cocktail to serve. I managed to acquire the requisite ingredients for the new recipe I found on my phone. I made the cocktails that evening, and an instant classic was born among my family and friends, and my mai tais are in high demand at gatherings, as well as the nightly gathering of myself on the sofa.

The impresario of Trader Vic's in Oakland, CA claims that he invented the beverage back in 1944, but there are, of course, numerous claims to the genesis. The Trader Vic's recipe, however, is the one that endures among folks in the mixology know, and it's this recipe that I've been making for months and playing around with ingredients to make other wonderful tipples. This variation is, I think, my favorite, and uses yuzu, a Japanese citrus fruit, instead of lime.

The details:

  • Recipe makes one cocktail

  • Shopping list:

    • 2 oz of an excellent, aged dark rum​ - the older, the better

    • 1/2 oz orange curaçao, or other orange liqueur

    • At least two yuzu fruits (to total 3/4 of an ounce of fresh squeezed juice) - you can alo buy yuzu juice in bottles, but fresh squeezed is always better

    • 1/4 oz orgeat syrup (recipe below if you can't find it)

    • 1/4 oz rock candy syrup (2 parts sugar, 1 part water, melted together into a syrup)

    • Crushed ice

  • Equipment:​

    • Cocktail shaker​

    • Ounce (or tablespoon) measurement

    • Heavy tumbler or coupé glass


A note on yuzu:  you will need to buy more than you think you do––these little things are absolutely loaded with seeds, and so don't produce as much juice as other citrus.

Orgeat (pronounced "or-jah") is a syrup common in tropical cocktails that can be found in stores, but I like to make my own, and find the cocktail is better with homemade syrup. For the orgeat, you'll need 2 cups of ground almonds, 1.25 cups sugar, and 1.5 cups water, as well as orange flower water (if you can't find orange flower water, like me and most other people, you can just put a small section of peeled orange rind in the syrup as it marinates). Melt the sugar in the water over medium heat and bring to a brief boil. When the syrup boils, stir in the ground almonds and orange flower water (or orange peel) and simmer for a couple of minutes before removing from heat and covering. The syrup needs to sit for at least 3 hours and up to 8 hours. I like to stir it occasionally to get the maximum almond-to-syrup contact. Once done "marinating," strain the syrup through the finest fine mesh strainer you have or, if you have access, a cheesecloth. Add a little bit of brandy or cognac to round it out.

Add crushed ice to a cocktail shaker. Combine all ingredients and shake. If using a tumbler, empty the shaker, including the ice. If using a coupé (which I like, it looks prettier) strain into the glass. If using the coupé, I recommend filling to the brim with ice water to cool the glass before serving and disposing of the ice water (duh) before you fill with the cocktail.

I love experimenting with different and unusual types of citrus for cocktails. If you like this yuzu mai tai, consider trying something new next time!

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