|This is not a Mai Tai|
The United Mai Tai was something special and it was good. It was a drink we all would get excited about prior to our flights to Hawaii, and before my drinking days, something my parents would even talk about on the trips we all made together when I was a kid. It was the perfect excuse to start drinking at 9am if you happened to be on the early flight. Along with the Halfway to Hawaii game, it was a little something extra that made flying to the islands on United memorable, and not just like any other routine domestic flight.
To fully understand what made the drink so special we need to go back in time. You may be surprised to learn that the Mai Tai in fact is not Hawaiian. The name is Tahitian, and the drink itself was invented in California in the 1940's by either Don the Beachcomber or a guy named Trader Vic, depending on which story you believe. The fact that Trader Vic's name made it onto the bottle of they serve today is unfortunate. After a quick google search I was able to uncover the original secret recipe:
The Original Trader Vic Mai Tai
- 2 oz of 17-year old J. Wray & Nephew Rum over shaved ice
- Add juice from one fresh lime
- 1/2 oz Holland DeKuyper Orange Curaçao
- 1/4 oz Trader Vic's Rock Candy Syrup
- 1/2 oz French Garnier Orgeat Syrup
- Shake vigorously.
- Add a sprig of fresh mint
The Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai
- 1/2 oz Orange Curacao
- 2 oz Orange Juice
- 1/2 oz lime juice
- Dash Orgeat
- Dash Simple Syrup
- 1 oz Light Rum
- 1 oz. Myers's Dark Rum
It took a little bit more research to come up with what United actually put in their Mai Tais (besides creativity), and thanks to this flyertalk thread, I think I figured it out, down to two variations. For now let's call them Version 1 and Version 2. Version 1, or the older incarnation, was made with Mr. & Mrs. T's Mai Tai mix, which is something I recall seeing on board several times. It also had Bacardi, a dark rum, and various other juices- sometimes lime, sometimes orange, and even possibly guava juice, but it's been a while, and possibly before I legally started drinking, since United served guava. The degree of "cloudiness" depended on how much juice there was. Version 2, the newer one, for sure contained at least two things: Trader Vic's mix (which is alright if you actually "mix" it with something) and a Myers's dark rum floater. The other ingredients were dependent on how much your flight attendant liked you and how long they had been working for the airlines. A good drink usually contained lime. A really good drink had more rum in it. Sometimes Version 2 had juice. Both drinks came with a pineapple, a cherry, and a magic tiki dude.
The United Mai Tai
- Mix- either Mr. & Mrs. T's or Trader Vic's
- Rum- Bacardi and/or Myers's
- Orange Juice (optional)
- Pineapple, Cherry, and Magic Tiki Dude (very important)
As I said before, the neon-yellow pre-made "stuff" that United serves today is not a Mai Tai. Not that there's anything wrong with Trader Vic's- I've even used it myself as an ingredient in some of my own recipes, but it's just not very good by itself. For a Mai Tai to be good it has to have a little something extra and/or something dark floating on it. I've used Captain Morgan before and while it wasn't great, it was acceptable. For a Mai Tai to be worthy of the name, it can't just be something straight from a bottle dumped over ice. At least Aloha Airlines would float some guava juice on their Trader Vic's before passing it off as a drink. Towards the end they were much more cash-strapped than United is, but they still took pride in what they served to their customers. United just doesn't get it. Getting rid of the Myers's was undoubtedly a cost saving measure, and the last step in destroying a wonderful tradition. It was a tradition, that in my opinion, was the one thing they did really well, that truly set them apart from the competition.