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How it's Made: Vice of the Admiralty at Mai Thai

If you're going to go tiki, drink lots of water and eat lots of food

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Being a bartender at a cocktail lounge is almost as much a function of knowing a cocktail's lineage as it is about preparing one, which is why asking Mai Thai head bartender Michael Reed about the restaurant's Tiki drink selection can feel like a trip through time and space.

Tiki drinks were invented after Prohibition when rum was cheap and easy, and gained traction after World War II, when soldiers and sailors, nostalgic about island living, started buying drinks that re-created island flavors like rum, gin and fresh fruit.

Though Tiki culture is an early 20th century invention, its parts are not: Rum has been produced in the Caribbean for more than 500 years, and sailors have been warding off scurvy with fruit-infused liquors for ages.

"It's the kitschiest, but it's steeped in tradition," Reed said. "It was never a replication of a specific island culture."

Mai Thai serves four Tiki cocktails, but Boise Weekly ordered one that wasn't on the menu, The Vice of the Admiralty ($11). Served in a ceramic Tiki mug, its prep time was almost 10 minutes and involved the use of Latin terminology.

KELSEY HAWES
  • Kelsey Hawes

Reed began by peeling bitter Seville oranges, which Mai Thai orders specially and are only available for three months a year. The peels were mixed with sugar and mashed into an olio sacrum--a fruit oil distillate--to which a shot of black tea was added, along with more sugar and a shot of fresh-squeezed Seville orange juice.

"I have to make adjustments," Reed said while adding extra sugar. "You never know how bitter your fruit's going to be."

KELSEY HAWES
  • Kelsey Hawes

He then added Madeira, a fortified wine made on a Portuguese-controlled island--another history lesson: Madeira--that doesn't oxidize as quickly as other wines, making it indispensable on long ocean voyages; a half-shot of kaffir lime juice; Camus cognac; Old Tom Ransom gin; and crushed ice.

KELSEY HAWES
  • Kelsey Hawes

After shaking the elaborate concoction, Reed poured it into the ornate, Island-themed mug, filled with still more ice, and topped it off with a slice of star fruit, orange peel and mint leaves.

Somehow after all that booze, The Vice of the Admiralty tasted more like a vehicle for fruit than for booze, and the flavor was accompanied by oral tingling--like licking a battery.

KELSEY HAWES
  • Kelsey Hawes

"Tingles on the tongue?" Reed asked. "That's from the oil of this orange and kaffir lime."

Despite the fruity flavor, Tiki drinks pack quite a punch--just imagine David Attenborough explaining that though jellyfish are beautiful, they're also dangerous--and Reed said even seasoned drinkers should approach them with caution.

"If you're going to party Tiki, you have to eat a lot of food and drink a lot of water," he said.

KELSEY HAWES
  • Kelsey Hawes