While there are many ways to make a Mai Tai, the best way, according to Kevin Beary, the bar manager of much lauded Chicago tiki bar Three Dots and a Dash and creator of “The World’s Best Mai Tai,” is with both a Jamaican rum and a rhum agricole. The Jamaican rum lends depth and complexity, while the agricole adds a fresh, vibrant sugar cane flavor to the drink. Here, our recommendations for the best of each type of rum to use for the best tasting Mai Tais.
This iconic Jamaican rum is like liquid sunshine in bottle. There are bright, citrusy undertones and notes of vanilla, clove and allspice. In a Mai Tai, the rum gives the cocktail some spice and depth, while boosting the nuttiness and creamy mouthfeel of the orgeat. Its citrusy backbone also plays well with the bright acidity of the lime and the robust orangey notes of the dry curaçao. It doesn’t get any more tropical or beach-ready than this.
If you want your Mai Tai to be pungent and funky, look no further than this Jamaican rum. Made only with pot distilled spirits, Smith and Cross is incredibly complex and flavorful. In the classic tiki libation, the rum lends notes of bananas, mangoes, overripe pineapples and baking spices. Bottled at a whopping 114 proof, the rum brings an alcoholic punch that burns bright and long.
For an Extra Boozy Mai Tai: Hamilton Navy Strength Rum ($30)
Like Smith and Cross, this offering from the Hamilton portfolio is bottled at 114 proof. A blend of Jamaican pot still rum and Guyanese demerara rum, it is the color of molasses and equally as rich and viscous. In a Mai Tai, the rum lends notes of tobacco leaves, treacle, vanilla and barbequed pineapples. When it’s paired with a rhum agricole that’s equally as potent, it makes for a Mai Tai that’s as dangerous as it is delicious.
For a Classic Mai Tai: Rhum J.M Blanc ($30)
This bottle from the island of Martinique is a prime example of textbook rhum agricole. Bright and lively, with notes of fresh cut grass, wild flowers, overripe banana and horchata, this is one of the most incredible white rums on the planet. When used in a Mai Tai with a rich, Jamaican rum like Appleton Estate Reserve Blend, it makes for a Mai Tai with layers upon layers of tropical flavor with a backbone of bracing acidity.
For a Funky Mai Tai: Clairin Vaval ($39)
While it’s not technically a rhum agricole, clairin, which is produced in Haiti, is made from raw sugar cane like an agricole. Herbaceous and fruity all at once, the Vaval is a flavor bomb with notes of salted caramel, pickled plums, wet earth and pink guava. This is not a Mai Tai for the faint hearted.
This rhum was made for a Mai Tai. Mix it with Hamilton Navy Strength Rum to create a cocktail that’s layered and extremely boozy. It makes the cocktail brighter, and it lends notes of raw sugar cane and kaffir lime to the drink, making the orange notes in the curaçao and the fresh lime juice even more vibrant. If you can handle the alcohol, this Mai Tai is definitely worth mixing up.