Skinny Hawaiian Mai Tai
Enjoy all the vacation vibes and none of the guilt with my Skinny Hawaiian Mai Tai recipe. Sweetened with orange liqueur, pineapple juice, and just a splash of cherry juice, this lightened-up version of the quintessential tropical cocktail is lightly sweet, perfectly refreshing, and my current favorite way to welcome the weekend.
Classic Mai Tai’s used to be my jam, and then I found out just how many calories I was imbibing with each one; the average is well over 300! Since Happy Hour is always a little happier with a second round, I set out to create a skinny version of this iconic tiki cocktail. This delightful beverage is the result of my efforts, and I’m pretty sure you’re going to love it.
The History of Hawaiian Mai Tai’s
As legend has it, the original Mai Tai recipe was created in 1944 by Victor Jules Bergeron, Jr (a.k.a. Trader Vic). Apparently, his Bay Area restaurant called Hinky Dink’s had some special Tahitian visitors arrive, so Trader Vic wanted to showcase a bottle of 17-year-old J. Wray and Nephew Rum in a new and exciting way.
This first iteration of the Mai Tai was closer in flavor and composition to an Old Fashioned than the sweet, tropical juice-laden beverage we know and love today. That OG Mai Tai was simply made with rum, fresh lime juice, simple syrup, a sweet almond syrup known as orgeat, and orange curaçao.
The simple cocktail was shaken and served over crushed ice with a simple garnish of a spent lime half and a sprig of mint, which was said to represent an island and a palm tree. Sounds good, right? Apparently, his Tahitian guests thought so, too; the story goes that they exclaimed “Maita’i roa ae,” which roughly translates to “the best of the best.” Thus, the Mai Tai was born.
In fact, this delicious beverage became so lauded around the world that Trader Vic used up the entire inventory of the 17-year-old J. Wray and Nephew rum within a few years and had to change his recipe to include a 15-year Tahitian rum as well as a Jamaican rum to mimic the bite of the 17-year-old rum that he had come to love.
So, how did this Californian beverage become the boozy tropical punch we know today? Well, in 1953 the Royal Hawaiian Hotel approached Trader Vic and asked him to create a version of the acclaimed drink specifically for them. He tailored the new two-rum cocktail to its new tropical environs by adding pineapple juice, a splash of grenadine, and fresh fruit garnishes. The Hawaiian Mai Tai was thus created.
About This Recipe
While I’m quite grateful to Trader Vic and his prolific additions to the tome of tiki cocktails, sipping on Hawaiian Mai Tai’s is not a sustainable habit. With over 300 calories per drink, they are decidedly NOT bathing suit friendly, despite being perfect for sipping poolside! As a result, I knew I had to come up with a lighter, skinny Mai Tai recipe that my hubs and I can sip all season long.
The first and easiest change I made was omitting the orgeat and simple syrup, which immediately cuts back on the number of empty calories in the cocktail. In my opinion, pineapple juice and orange liqueur are plenty sweet enough!
I also opted to leave out the thicker, more viscous (and more sugary) grenadine, opting to use a bit of the juice from my jar of maraschino cherries for that bright red floater. Just like that, my Mai Tai recipe is officially skinny! With under 200 calories per serving, I don’t feel the least bit guilty about reaching for drink number two.
As if that weren’t enough to love, this simple, 5-ingredient tiki cocktail takes just a few minutes to assemble. All you have to do is shake, strain, and top with cherry juice and a pretty pineapple leaf. If you’re looking to entertain a crowd, you can also easily turn my skinny Mai Tai recipe into a pitcher drink.
Ingredients & Equipment
This recipe for skinny Hawaiian Mai Tai’s calls for just 5 primary ingredients. Here’s everything you’ll need:
- Rum – As the primary spirit of this tasty tiki beverage, I suggest reaching for the best rum you can find. Clear rum should be fruity and light-bodied, while dark rum offers notes of burnt vanilla-sugar and banana. If you can’t decide, take a page from Trader Vic’s book and use both!
- Orange Liqueur – If you want to follow tradition, reach for orange curaçao. Otherwise, any other orange-flavored liqueur like Cointreau, Grand Marnier, or even triple sec will do the trick.
- Pineapple Juice – If you can get your hands on fresh pineapple juice, your tastebuds will thank you. If not, feel free to reach for canned or bottled instead.
- Lime Juice – Definitely reach for fresh here; the flavor is far superior to the bottled kind. To get the most juice from your citrus, give it a firm roll on the countertop for 10-15 seconds before cutting into it.
- Maraschino Cherry Juice – Drizzling just a teaspoon on top of your shaken skinny Mai Tai will give it the look of the traditional Hawaiian interpretation of the cocktail with a fraction of the calories.
- Pineapple Wedge & Maraschino Cherry – You can’t have a tiki cocktail without a fruit garnish, and this Hawaiian Mai Tai is just begging for a fresh wedge of pineapple and a bright, fire-engine-red sweet maraschino cherry.
In order to make this cocktail, you’ll also need:
- A cocktail shaker and strainer,
- Crushed/Nugget ice did you know that you can buy bags of nugget ice at Sonic or Chick-fil-A? I am obsessed with my new nugget ice maker.
- Cocktail glasses.
So far, so good, right?
How To Make Skinny Mai Tai’s
Now that you’ve assembled your ingredients and equipment, it is time to get down to shaking. Here’s how this classic tiki cocktail is made:
Add rum, orange liqueur, pineapple juice, and lime juice to a cocktail shaker.
Fill the shaker with ice, cover, shake vigorously, and strain into a cocktail glass filled with ice.
Drizzle in maraschino cherry juice as a float, then garnish with a pineapple wedge and a maraschino cherry. Enjoy!
Frequently Asked Questions
No, actually. The original recipe for a Mai Tai was created in California in 1944 by a fellow named Trader Vic. He then created an alternate version for the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in 1953 that included the addition of pineapple juice.
Absolutely! Simply adjust the quantities up by about 8x and add everything but the maraschino cherry juice to a pitcher and stir. When it is time to serve, shake each cocktail individually before floating it with cherry juice and garnishing with fruit.
Swap in whisky and your skinny Hawaiian Mai Tai will transform into a skinny Honi Honi!
More Tasty Tropical Drinks
If you tried my recipe for Skinny Hawaiian Mai Tai’s, please be sure to rate and review it below!
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Skinny Hawaiian Mai Tai
- 1.5 ounces rum
- 1 ounce orange liqueur
- 2 ounces pineapple juice
- 1/2 ounce lime juice
- 1 teaspoon maraschino cherry juice
- Pineapple wedge, for garnish
- Maraschino cherry, for garnish
- Fill a cocktail shaker with rum, orange liqueur, pineapple juice, and lime juice.
- Fill the shaker with ice, cover, shake vigorously, and strain into a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
- Drizzle in maraschino cherry juice.
- Garnish with a pineapple wedge and maraschino cherries.
Photography by Jenna Sparks