Mai Tai Me Up
Ahhhh, Kona, Hawaii. You think sleepy little Kailua town on the big island. Think again. Once a year the town wakes up in a wash of Bacardi rum when the Don the Beachcomber Mai Tai Festival kicks off its weekend competition. With top mixologist talent showing up from all across the state, and international participants and judges like William Ramos from Bacardi, Puerto Rico, and Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Rum expert, the town goes all out. But here is a little secret, Kona is packed with fun bars and cantinas, a charming and easy walking distance to the Royal Kona Resort where the Mai Tai Festival is held. It makes it the hot spot place to party once a year in August. For this year’s Second Annual crowning of the king of Mai Tais, the event stepped it up a notch with a concert with Third Eye Blind, food booths and tasting contest, entertainment by Henry Kapono and Eric Gilliom, ten thousand dollars and mai tais as far as the eyes can see.
The festivities began with an opening Friday evening reception including a meet and greet with Third Eye Blind, that gave way to a DJ Brad Hargraeves dance party. I knew I was in the right place when I noticed all of the Brad Parker art in the lobby, they had his originals and prints for sale in the lobby gift shop. The Mai Tai bar has over ten different mai tais available, and its built over a lava jetty so there is ocean all around you. A perfect polynesian tiki bar setting, replete with beautiful big tikis. Third Eye Blind drummer Brad Hargraeves rocked the spot till the wee hours. His drum sounds flowed over his dance mixes, while we tested the Bacardi waters with many cocktails. We took the late night crew on a few walking distance pub crawl missions, Lu Lu’s, Humpy’s, and Rosa’s Cantina.
Battle of the Barbecue
If there is one thing Big Island can do its pulehu. There was mad skills out for Saturday’s Battle of the Barbecue tasting. Eric Gilliom performed stage side while folks got to sample fine meats slathered in homemade barbecue sauces from the likes of Roy’s, Big Jakes, Huli Sue, Romano’s Macaroni Grill and more. Big Jakes BBQ was People’s Choice winner and Jackie Rey’s was voted Best by the Judges.
On the sippable side was Kona coffee sampling, with lots of home farmed, small batch coffee’s to try (good for sagging eyes and aching heads). After a night out on the town in Kona there is nothing like taking a dip in the ocean. The salt water, partially man made, partially nature intact pool at the Royal Kona Resort is fantastic, there was nothing like it that I have ever seen at a resort. Other festival goers tried beaches down the road and reported swimming with turtles. The ocean is certainly wild and full of life here. Later at the Mai Tai Bar poolside Henry Kapono warmed up the mai tai crowd and the mixologists got ready to roll.
Beachbum Berry‘s Rum-ology
Beachbum Berry offered an awesome opportunity in the insight of the mai tai mystique and the history of Don the Beachcomber with his seminar “Tiki’s Big Daddy: The Life and Drinks of Don the Beachcomber.” Jazzed up with demonstrations of three rum cocktails including the mai tai and zombie, Beachbum is a walking rum cocktail encyclopedia and historian. According to the Bum, Don the Beachcomber was ahead of his time about 70 years. Now we can understand the intricate stylings of his rum cocktails, the food pairing vision and his tiki art themed restaurant as a pop culture phenomenon not truly appreciated during his own time. Donn Beach’s, as he came to be known, palate was right on the money with strong tropical drinks made with fresh locovore ingredients served alongside of “polynesian” inspired but mainly asian influenced cuisine. Donn Beach, the creator of the international marketplace in Waikiki is perhaps the unrecognized predecessor of our own very popular beachside bars that mix lava flows and polynesian themes with pupus. He passed in 1989, but lucky for us his mai tai lore lives on in Beachbum Berry’s books and recipes.
With $10,000 on the line the mixologists brought out all their stops. Judged on presentation, nose, palate, finish, balance, creativity, and true to form the mai tai could earn up to 350 points. They had just seven minutes to prepare their drink and serve it with memorable flair. Judges sniffed, scrutinized, sipped, and scored. Some mixologists stripped, some forfeited, and some served up amazing concoctions that wowed the judging panel that consisted of William Ramos, Bacardi Brand Master; Juan Coronado, Bacardi Brand Master Apprentice; Chris Teves, Publisher of Hawaii Beverage Guide; Eric Gilliom, of the Barefoot Natives, and BeachBum Berry, author and rum expert. Joey Gottesman, Hawaii’s expert mixologist, emceed and narrated the event. Maui had five mixologists vying for the prize, Julie Henson from Kahale’s, Blair Anderson and Ryan Burden of Mala Ocean Tavern, Amy Day of Lahaina Grill, and Jeff Felice of Pailolo at Westin Kaanapali Ocean Resort Villas. (For more on the preliminary Bacardi Mai Tai Mix Off held on Maui Click Here)
Amy Fujiwara – Greenleaf
There was some stiff competition with money on the line, and in the end it was Christian Self, with his white shirt black tie and shades on, from ThirtyNineHotel who took the top score with his amazing Mai Tai Twist. Looking like a secret service agent of molecular mixology he whipped up the judges favorite with a finesse worth ten grand. He made a mai tai on the rocks topped in foam taking the flavor notes of lemongrass and lime and combining them with Bacardi rum, serving it with a gelee of the same flavor notes minus the liquor served in a saimin spoon. Judge Juan Coronado said of the winning drink, “If you closed your eyes and took a sip it was identifiable as a mai tai, when you opened your eyes to look at it it was 3-D with texture, lemongrass, lime, the foam. He created a complex cocktail with all the hard labor and delivered it with balance.”
Judge Beachbum Berry said, “I liked the way Christian applied the principles of modern molecular mixology to the Mai Tai — deconstructing the classic 1944 recipe into a solid gel, then pairing it with his own very contemporary interpretation of the drink, which tasted balanced, layered, and complex, but not too fussy.” You can check out his experience at the ‘Fest in his blog post titled Kona Coasting, where he shares his top 5 Mai Tai contest recipes.
Gallery of Christian Self below courtesy of Kevin Olson, all rights reserved:
Brice Ginardi, owner of the coming-soon OkoleMaluna Tiki Bar in Kona, came in a close-but-no-cigar second. I was surprised to find that he used Maui’s own Haleakala Distilleries Okolehau liquor in his Mai Tai Twizzle recipe. He’ll be featuring other cocktails with Okolehau on his menu as well. “When we heard of it becoming available, we bought a bottle as soon as we could,” Ginardi says. “Immediately we noticed it has a very sweet, herbal aroma and a grassy, complex flavor. It tastes very smooth, and we first enjoyed it just as a sipping liquor. As soon as I tasted it, I knew I wanted to make it part of my mai tai recipe for this year’s contest.”
For those of us with some Okolehau in the cabinet, Ginardi was kind enough to share this recipe:
One of our favorites is the Happy Buddha, from Beachbum Berry’s book, “Intoxica.” It’s a long-lost Hawaiian recipe from the House of Hong restaurant, Waikiki Beach, circa 1960s.
4 oz. guava nectar
1/2 oz. lime juice
1/4 oz. Cointreau
1 1/2 oz. Okolehao
Shake with ice & strain into a double-old fashioned glass full of crushed ice.
After Christian’s crowning the crowd reassembled itself outdoors to enjoy Third Eye Blind under the stars and right next to the ocean. The audience was full of people singing along. The band said they were staying a while and working on a new album on the Big Island, and even treated us to a new song or two. Lots of mixologists went out to celebrate losing that night, while Christian flew back to catch his shift at ThirtyNineHotel.
For the bartenders that still had two legs to stand on there was a boat trip out of Kona bay to turtle heaven with some of the judges and festival crew. Juan Coronodo and Keli’i Heen, of Better Brands, got up early to make a Bloody Mary mix from scratch which was exceptional. I furiously took notes as I sat at a table with Beachbum Berry and Willie Ramos discussing all things rum. Fancy bottles, old school collectors in New Orleans and passionate debates on chromatographic lab results ensued. “Everyone asks me what my favorite rum is,” Ramos said. “What rum am I drinking? But that means nothing, that is only what I like. Everyone’s palate is different. What may be the best rum to me is not going to be the same thing for you.” I realized I have a lot of rum tasting ahead of me.
From ono eats to beautiful scenery to excellent company, balance was what this weekend was all about. That, and some really good mai tais.
For more photos on the event check out the the TGIF post: http://tgif.staradvertiser.com/archives/6651
Vimeo Vid posted by Hawaiian Ryan is Fantastic:
About Jen Russo
I write lifestyle and culinary columns for MauiTime. I love being a Maui girl and adore my big family. Dedicated food taster, blogger, internet fanatic, and Maui and Hawaii specialist.