Mai Tai’s are synonymous with Hawaii bars, so it makes sense that we host the biggest Mai Tai competition in the nation. People don’t realize what a craft beverage the Mai Tai can be, but 10 of Maui’s liquor slingers got on stage July 6 to battle for the challenge to compete at the Bacardi Mai Tai Festival at the Royal Kona Resort. Each bartender had to qualify their recipe to compete, and these bar chefs were serious about their products. The complicated origins of the Mai Tai are laid aside here, all you need to know is that the components of the drink are fourfold: 1. rum based in spirits, 2. juice used as a binder, 3. there is a flavoring component such as orgeat or falernum, 4. finally there is a float, a layer of liquid usually spirit based, most commonly seen in the Mai Tai as a dark rum.
The contestants were Wendy Agustine, Haliimaile General Store; Joseph Getgen, Christopher Nevins, and Bryan Aloy, Four Seasons Resort; Blair Anderson and Eric Zimmerman, Mala Ocean Tavern, Alex Dreher, Westin Maui Tropica; Mark Reck, Lulu’s Lahaina; James Shoemaker, Mala Wailea; and Ricky Supnet, Royal Lahaina Resort.
Like chef competitions, bartender competitions can get heated fast. The bartenders each had 7 minutes to prepare 5 drinks, 4 for the judges and 1 for their photos. When you are squeezing, shaking and smacking several drinks together in this kind of time frame, and prizes like airfare and hotel are on the line, the pressure is on. In the first round Wendy Agustin battled it out with Bryan Aloy, her mai tai inspired by the pineapple fields around the Haliimaile General Store is served in a pineapple, but surprisingly did not contain pineapple juice.
The judges, Chuck Bergson of Pacific Radio Group, Dave Fried of the Hula Grill, and Molly and James Jacobson authors of Top Maui Restaurants and whatscookingmaui.com had the hard job of evaluating each Mai Tai specimen and tabulating scores. Judging was determined by presentation, nose, palate, finish, balance, creativity, and true to form, with a total high score of 70 points available. In round 2 returning competitor Blair Anderson made his “Quintessential Maitai” that used Bacard Gold, Orange, Coconut and Anejo rums, while Tropica’s Alex Dreher made the Kelekona Mai Tai, with Dragonberry rum and Fireball whiskey float.
Joseph Getgen’s round three Mai Molokini Tini was a layered cocktail in a brown sugar rimmed martini glass with frothy egg whites and a Chambord upside down float and Bacardi Limon. Christopher Nevin’s asian inspired Mai Thai appeared in a stemless bordeaux glass lined with lemons wheels, and a light concoction of Bacardi silver, hint of thai inspired lemongrass syrup and coconut water .
In round four Mark Reck performed his cocktail as a samurai warrior creating the Lulu’s Samurai Tai, where he dramatically topped and cored a pineapple in which to serve the drink. Reck had a grip of fans with him and was a crowd favorite. James Shoemaker focused on his cocktail ‘the Spirit of Don Beach Mai Tai’ amid the hubub, that incorporated locally made Maui Preserves Syrup, Barcardi gold and 8 into its mix.
The Aloha aina Mai Tai celebrated land lubbers with lilikoi and Bacardi select, coconut and superior, the recipe of Eric Zimmerman of Mala Ocean Tavern in Round 5, and Ricky Supnet from the home property of Royal Lahaina slipped mango puree in with Disaronno, serranno peppers and bacardi orange and 8.
In the end no flamboyant presentations, elaborate garnishes or fancy barware could beat a well balanced true to form Mai Tai. There was no beating the math of the high scores of the winners. James Shoemaker took first place with his ‘the Spirit of Don Beach Mai Tai’ and a high score of 60.25, Joseph Getgens Mai Molokai Tini took second and Wendy Agustin, the only female contestant took third with her pineapple inspired Haliimaile General Store Mai Tai. Royal Lahaina’s own Ricky Supnet won the Peoples Choice award.