Making the mai tai yours

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It's time for boat drinks.
  • It's time for boat drinks.

Boat drinks. That's a common toast in prison. An ideal. Yeah, at the end of a long, bad life, there you are. On a big cabin cruiser somewhere in the Florida Keys. Havin' boat drinks. -- Joe Heff, Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead.

It's summer. Get out your boat drinks. I'll focus on mai tais to start. The rum-based cocktail typically served with a paper umbrella, the drink is forever attached to Trader Vic's. The iconic pub in Oakland dates back to 1934, when it originally opened as Hinky Dink's. Today there are 32 Trader Vic's, and you can buy the pub's mai tai mix online.

There are those who claim that pub owner Victor Bergeron didn't serve the first mai tai but instead got the idea from Ernest Gantt, aka Don the Beachcomber. This alternate theory of mai tais suggests that Don began serving the Tiki drink in 1933, a year before Trader Vic's opened. History would probably side with Trader Vic's. 

A classic mai tai is a mix of two kinds of rum, lime juice, simple syrup, Cointreau and Orgeat. The one ingredient you'll likely need to buy is the Orgeat, an almond sugar syrup. While the cocktail might smell a bit nutty, the almonds are a complementary, even hidden flavor in the actual drink. But even in a well-balanced mai tai, you'll taste the rum. The drink should also be a bit tart. 

High rollers might consider this $300 mai tai made with Appleton Estate 21-year-old rum. You can stay in the citrus family and keep your bank account intact by swapping in orange juice and sherry to make the Balmy Night.

Tiki drinks come in all forms. While it's not a traditional mai tai, the Coconaut might not require you to buy any additional ingredients for your home bar. It's a blended mix of coconut cream, lime juice and dark rum.

If you're not a fan of rum, you could try the Pinky Gonzales -- which substitues white tequila for rum. There's also the Honi Honi, made with whiskey.

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