How did you get a job there?
I was looking to interview with a restaurant while “visiting” a girl on Oahu so I could write off a trip from the mainland – the relationship with the restaurant has way outlasted the girl.
What spirit do you like to work with the most? What is the last drink you made with it?
As spirits go I would have to say Bourbon but if you ask my bartenders they’ll laugh and tell you I can’t make a cocktail without bitters… The last drink I made with bourbon was Elijah Craig, homemade ginger beer, lime juice, and Fee’s Old fashioned bitters.
Perhaps you are a wine and beer fan and distilled beverages don’t float your boat, what is the last incredible wine or beer you drank? What made it spectacular?
Last incredible beer was La Chouffe – I drank it camping at one of the cabin’s in Wainapanapa which makes everything taste better. Last great wine was a 2003 Dupont-Tisserandot Gevrey-Chambertin Lavaux St. Jacques as vintages go ’03 was a hot one so this wine is already drinking advanced for its age – it had the perfect blend of dried fruit, dusty earth, and oh my god deliciousness.
If you could change one thing about the drinks business on Maui what would it be?
Less sugar – better spirits – a controlled use of tropical fruit – I might ban blenders.
What is your favorite happy hour on Maui? Why?
Honu has a pretty sick happy hour/kama’aina combo if you are eating at the bar. You drink the beer cheap for an hour and then get the food discount after that – thanks Mark!
What is your bar’s signature drink/wine/beer?
Any response other than a Mai tai is probably wishful thinking – I’d like to think that our bar’s signature is using great spirits and keeping them prominent in our cocktails – yeah there’s tropical elements – mango in the tequila drink or pineapple with the vodka but you can taste the spirits – its a cocktail damnit not fruit punch! We also make more ingredients in our bar than in any other I know of but that’s another story…
What is YOUR signature drink? (Or go to wine or beer in your selection?)
Cocktail – Bourbon and Hibiscus with peychauds bitters its a slant rhyme off a manhattan but made “island-style” and not too sweet. Wine – Grower Champagne and its a long list of those. Beer – Gulden Draak its a forbidden love since I’ve yet to find it in Hawaii.
When you are making a cocktail what is the most important thing?
Balance of acidity, alcohol, bitters, and aromatics it’s like making soup except you get drunk instead of full.
Who or what influences you outside of the beverage business?
My children are huge influences – my youngest daughter Madeline will ask me “dad did you do wine today?” and I’ll be like “oh yeah, daddy totally did wine today” and then my oldest wants to help me make cocktails which I know is trouble. I tried teaching them about fermentation this summer. We made a Kula strawberry ginger soda and lost 2/3s of the batch to bottles violently exploding which was a pitty because it was easily the best soda I’d ever tasted. It was just kind of dangerous to drink. I think its important to make science fun and half of drinking is science.
Lets say your pitching an investor who wants you to open your ultimate bar. What is your concept? Where is it located?
I think my ultimate bar would be a tiki bar in Indo that was built palapa style right on the beach complete with thatch roof and sand floor. There’d be a perfect point break in front and I’d surf half the day and start work in the afternoon when the winds came up. There’d be hammocks as well as tables and all the fruits and juices would be sourced locally. We’d distill our own rum from cane juice and have a reserve bottling that was thirty years old. Our clientele would be ex-pats, supermodels, surf pros, unpretentious artists, and philosophers. Half the people are drinking cocktails the other half champagne – champagne sales are very important to my ultimate bar! We’d have a rad house band. One day Sally Fitzgibbons comes in to surf and we fall madly in love and get married out in the lineup then party back at the bar – thats how my ultimate concept works. Investors may reach me at 503.568.5480.
Name one new liquor/beer/wine you tasted recently. What was your impression?
Gouden Carolus the hoppy version it was like somebody overnighted hops from the PacNW and threw them into a delcious Belgian brew it was super tasty.
What are your regulars like?
All our guests are the most interesting people in the world – especially the Australians – still working on you – Sally Fitzgibbons…
What is one interesting thing about being a bartender on Maui?
There’s a new plane arriving every hour and you never know who’s going to walk into your bar.
What makes a good bartender? Why are you one?
The best bartenders are always still learning and looking for something new whether it be technique or ingredient that’s going to make a drink better. I’m curious by nature and I’d like to think I stay true to this goal – but I’m not a bartender day-in and day-out. I wear a lot of hats in our restaurant.
What is the newest drink you have created? Describe whats in it.
Big Island Honey, Tamarind, and Cognac “Sidecar.” Its a combination of the sweet and sour that you get from tamarind rounded out by honey and then enlivened with the woodsy spice of Hennessy Cognac - it reminds me of biting into the perfect apple – but the apple bites back! Oh yeah it has bitters – all my cocktails tend to have bitters…
MERRIMAN’S HAPPY HOUR – Daily. Well drinks (Sobieski Vodka, Bombay Gin, Flor de Cana Rum, Dewar’s Scotch, Sauza Tequila & Elijah Craig 12 Whiskey) for $5; Varied Beers for $3; Mai Tai’s for $6; Wines by the glass are 25 percent off. We also offer Oceanfront Wine Bar/menu every day at 3:00 p.m. 25 % off on all food everyday at the bar for Kama’aina. 3-5pm Merriman’s, (1 Bay Club Pl., Lahaina); 808-669-6400; http://www.merrimanshawaii.com/maui.htm
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.