Our team is dedicated to finding and telling you more about the web’s best products. If you purchase through our links, we may receive a commission. Our editorial team is independent and only endorses products we believe in.
There's just something about a tiki drink. Catch me with a piña colada in hand and you know my serotonin is through the roof. My favorite hands down, though, is the Mai Tai: a heady mix of fruit juice, an almond-based syrup called orgeat, and dark, dark rum that packs a punch while always going down smooth. The problem is, I never like my cocktails cloyingly sweet, and the average Mai Tai can drink like a big old glass of sugar. You need one with a real sense of proportion, with all the ingredients in perfect balance… and how easy is that to find in a tourist trap?
In my quest to find the perfect tiki bar, and the perfect Mai Tai by extension, I was sad to find that here in Los Angeles most of the best purveyors have long since closed their doors. Don't get me wrong, a few bars like Silverlake's Tiki Ti are still alive and well thanks to a recent cultural resurgence, but tiki's postwar boom shrank significantly by the 1980s. I wanted that old-school cool back, where the kitsch was high but the quality of the ingredients was higher, and the drinks tasted like real cocktails instead of spiked pineapple juice.
And wouldn't you know it, my prayers were answered.
Trader Vic's, the brand founded by Victor Bergeron, the inventor of the Mai Tai himself, recently launched a ready-to-drink canned version of its very own OG Mai Tai. As someone that never got to the L.A. Trader Vic's before it closed, after 62 fabulous years in the heart of Beverly Hills, I practically jumped for joy upon hearing the news. Unlike so many of his imitators, Trader Vic used aged rum, lime juice and cane sugar to find real depth of flavor, creating a drink that has just as much tartness and spice as it does sweetness.
Unlike so many of his imitators, Trader Vic used aged rum, lime juice and cane sugar to find real depth of flavor, creating a drink that has just as much tartness and spice as it does sweetness.
His reputation truly precedes him, with legendary stories going back to 1944 when a Polynesian friend christened his new creation with her verdict: "Maita'i roa a'e," which translates to "out of this world, the best." But while Trader Vic's has sold rums, syrups and mixes before for aspiring mixologists who want to make their own at home, the canned cocktail had always seemed a bridge too far. So often the canning process calls for preservatives and additives like potassium sorbate and dimethyl dicarbonate… not exactly what you'd want from the guy who keeps it authentic.
By partnering with Iguazu Holdings, however, and testing various approaches for the better part of three years, the authentic Trader Vic's canned Mai Tai emerged -- with 100% natural ingredients. Eager to get my hands on some, I placed an order that arrived on my doorstep the literal day before I left for Kauai to live my own tiki fantasy. So I decided to put these cans to the test: I'd have as many Mai Tais as I could on vacation (purely for science, of course), then I'd come home and see how old Vic himself measured up.
THE REAL DEAL
I'll spare you a full-length travelogue, but after four days of hikes, swims, and choruses of "another round, thank you," I came home with plenty of data on the state of the Hawaiian Mai Tai. What I found, even in my favorite bar on the shores of Hanalei, was still an overwhelming bend towards sweetness even when the rum shone through. I prepared myself for the same from these canned concoctions, especially considering they were made for the mass market.
Imagine my surprise when I cracked open my first Trader Vic's and the first taste I got was lime. As far as I know, I'd never had a Mai Tai that was citrus-dominant before, and the tartness was the best kind of surprise. The quality of the rum was clear as day, too, without the wateriness that plagues so many other canned cocktails. Everything tasted as fresh and punchy as if it was mixed on the spot, which made my decision-making at cocktail hour as easy as it gets. Trader Vic's became my go-to for every outing, from dinner parties to Sundays in the park, and was met by friends and family with total rave reviews.
As someone currently in my own post-vacation hangover, I know all too well that paradise is often out of reach. But there are ways to bring it closer, and a perfectly crafted Mai Tai is one hell of a way to start. Regardless of your feelings on canned cocktails, Trader Vic's is worth checking out -- I've had my reservations in the past but this brand is truly top of the line.
After all, Mai Tai literally means "the best." It's about time someone lived up to that.
FIVE MORE REASONS TO GET TIKI WITH TRADER VIC'S:
1. After a sold-out run in BevMo stores – where you can still find these cans – Trader Vic's is now also available online and is starting to see demand internationally.
2. The brand is getting ready to release even more tiki drinks, with other classics like the Scorpion, Zombie and Suffering Bastard coming down the pipe this year.
3. You can drink right from the can or add some garnish to wow your guests: a lime wedge and a sprig of mint play beautifully off the drink's natural flavors.
4. The brand has a passion for eco-friendliness, using only the most recyclable materials possible for canning and transportation.
5. Though the rum certainly comes through, the Trader Vic's Mai Tai clocks in at a respectable 10% ABV, meaning you can enjoy more than one in a sitting. We won't tell.