Bitter Mai Tai

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Cocktail History

The Bitter Mai Tai is a modern cocktail that was created by Jeremy Oertel while at Dram in New York City, New York. The recipe is essentially just as it sounds: a Mai Tai variation that calls for the classic’s mix of rum, citrus, and orgeat. What makes it unique, however, is its addition of Campari, a bitter red Italian liqueur that also serves as the inspiration for the drink’s name.

Cocktail Ingredients

To make this cocktail, you’ll need the following ingredients:

Campari: This is a liqueur made in Italy with gentian root, rhubarb, citrus, herbs, aromatic plants, fruit, and alcohol. For a mocktail version of this drink, try Giffard Non-Alcoholic Bitter Syrup in place of the bitter liqueur.

Lime Juice: This is the liquid juice of a lime. We used freshly squeezed lime juice.

Smith & Cross Rum: This is a type of rum made with molasses or sugarcane juice, spices, and alcohol that has been barrel aged for a long period of time. This recipe specifically calls for Smith & Cross Traditional Jamaican Rum because it has an extremely unique flavor with notes of caramelized banana, exotic fruits, and baking spices and an earthy finish. For a low-proof version of this drink, try Caleño Non-Alcoholic Dark & Spicy Tropical Spirit in place of the Smith & Cross rum.

Orgeat Syrup: This is a sweetener made with roasted almonds, orange blossom, sugar, and water. We used Liber & Co. Almond Orgeat Syrup because it’s delicious and high quality.

Orange Curaçao: This is a liqueur made with oranges, sugar, and brandy or rum. We used Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge because it has a rich Cognac base with notes of bitter orange, hazelnut, and toffee. For a mocktail version of this drink, try Monin Premium Triple Sec Syrup in place of the orange liqueur.

Mint Sprig: This is an herb. We used Mojito mint.

Bartending Tools

To make this cocktail, you’ll need the following bar tools:

Jigger: This is used to measure and pour ingredients. We used the Japanese jigger from the A Bar Above 14-Piece Silver Bar Set.

Boston Shaker: This is used to shake ingredients. We used the Boston shaker from the A Bar Above 14-Piece Silver Bar Set.

Hawthorne Strainer: This is used to strain out ice and solid ingredients after the cocktail is shaken. We used the A Bar Above Hawthorne Strainer.

Paring Knife: This is used to cut ingredients. We used the OXO Good Grips 3.5 Inch Paring Knife.

Juicer: This is used to juice citrus. We used the ALEEHAI Manual Fruit Juicer.

Tasting Notes

The Bitter Mai Tai has aromas of citrus and mint along with notable bitter orange notes, the initial taste of funky rum paired with nutty orgeat and balanced with citrus, and finishes with bitter, herbal Campari notes alongside nutty, tropical spices.

Our Opinion of This Cocktail Recipe: We both enjoyed this version almost as much as the classic, but only because the original is hard to beat. Alex found the Campari addition to be delicious and interesting; meanwhile, Kendall found the Bitter Mai Tai to be more palatable than she expected, which is in itself a feat for any recipe that calls for the bitter red liqueur.

Which of our palates is yours most like?
Find out if your palate is most similar to Alex’s or Kendall’s by answering five questions.

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Which of our palates is yours most like?
Find out if your palate is most similar to Alex’s or Kendall’s by answering five questions.

Take Our Quiz →

Alex’s Take: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
“As a huge fan of the classic Mai Tai and Campari in general, I was a fan of this drink, but not in ways that I expected. Its ‘Mai Tai’ aspect is surprisingly not lost amongst the Campari, with the strong Smith & Cross Rum, nutty orgeat, sweet orange, and tart lime still being very present; meanwhile, the Campari lends not only its bright red color but also its brilliantly bitter and herbal flavor to the mix. While I expected a bitter drink reminiscent of the Mai Tai, what I got was literally a Mai Tai under the guise of Campari, and it kind of blew me away.”

Kendall’s Take: ⭐⭐⭐
“I absolutely adore the original Mai Tai and, unlike Alex, I was not sure I’d enjoy a Campari-laced version all that much. I mean, why mess with perfection? That said, the bitterness lent to the mix by the Italian liqueur is really interesting in the template. I can see Campari fans absolutely loving this variation, but I didn’t personally like it better than the classic, so I’ll be sticking to that one. This was really interesting though!”

Recipe

This cocktail recipe was adapted from The Essential Cocktail Book: A Complete Guide to Modern Drinks by the editors of PUNCH and Megan Krigbaum.

Sale
The Essential Cocktail Book: A Complete Guide to Modern Drinks with 150 Recipes
The Essential Cocktail Book: A Complete Guide to Modern Drinks with 150 Recipes
Hardcover Book; Editors of PUNCH (Author); English (Publication Language); 352 Pages – 09/05/2017 (Publication Date) – Ten Speed Press (Publisher)
$13.05 Amazon Prime

AuthorThe Essential Cocktail Book

Yields1 ServingPrep Time5 mins

Ingredients
 1 ½ oz Campari
 1 oz Lime Juice
 ¾ oz Smith & Cross Rum
 ¾ oz Orgeat Syrup
 ½ oz Orange Curaçao
 1 Mint Sprig

Method
1

Add Campari, lime juice, rum, orgeat syrup, orange curaçao, and cubed ice to a shaker.

2

Shake for 10-20 seconds.

3

Strain into a lowball glass filled with fresh cracked ice.

4

Garnish with mint sprig.

Ingredients

Ingredients
 1 ½ oz Campari
 1 oz Lime Juice
 ¾ oz Smith & Cross Rum
 ¾ oz Orgeat Syrup
 ½ oz Orange Curaçao
 1 Mint Sprig

Directions

Method
1

Add Campari, lime juice, rum, orgeat syrup, orange curaçao, and cubed ice to a shaker.

2

Shake for 10-20 seconds.

3

Strain into a lowball glass filled with fresh cracked ice.

4

Garnish with mint sprig.

Bitter Mai Tai

Make It a Mocktail: Use Giffard Non-Alcoholic Bitter Syrup in place of the bitter liqueur, Caleño Non-Alcoholic Dark & Spicy Tropical Spirit in place of the Smith & Cross rum, and Monin Premium Triple Sec Syrup in place of the orange liqueur to try a booze-free version of this drink.

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More Campari Cocktails

If you like this Campari-flavored cocktail recipe, here are a few others we’ve tried that are similar that you may enjoy:

Negroni Sbagliato Cocktail Recipe

Negroni Sbagliato: A sparkling wine cocktail made with Campari, sweet vermouth, and an orange twist

Garibaldi Cocktail Recipe

Garibaldi: A Campari cocktail made with orange juice and an orange slice

Jungle Bird Cocktail Recipe

Jungle Bird: A rum cocktail made with Campari, lime juice, simple syrup, pineapple juice, and a lime wheel

Old Pal Cocktail Recipe

Old Pal: A whiskey cocktail made with dry vermouth, Campari, and an orange twist

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