With football season now upon us, The Dirty Monkey in Lahaina decided to have some fun. On the night of Monday, Sept. 4, the bar hosted seven female bartenders from around Maui for its first ever Girls Gameday Cocktail Throwdown.
The rules were relatively simple: Each bartender had six minutes to prepare two cocktails–one using Milagros Blanco tequila and one using Hendrick’s gin. The Dirty Monkey provided an array of citrus fruits, juices, olives and Luxardo maraschino cherries, but bartenders were also allowed to bring in their own syrups, bitters, etc. The goal was to craft cocktails that people would want to drink regardless of the time of day–Sunday morning, Monday night, whatever. The winning cocktail–judged on taste, presentation and execution–then becomes the featured drink at The Dirty Monkey whenever football’s on, all season.
These are the bartenders who found the courage to take part in the throwdown: Maya Alexander of Down The Hatch, Dolly Espino of Lava Rock Bar and Grill, Mari Howe of The Mill House, Denise “Big Island Barbie” Nakanishi of Steel Horse Saloon, Kara Powers of Three’s, Jenn Richardson of Milagros and Kendra Visscher of Pita Paradise.
The bartenders were broken up into rounds, four in the first, three in the second. They stood at four stations, set up on four cocktail tables on the dance floor, and made their cocktails for the judges. After the first round was over, the group of four moved into The Dirty Monkey’s back bar, where they set up again on similar stations and mixed their cocktails for customers who had paid $20 for the privilege of sampling all the night’s drinks. As they did that, the remaining three bartenders mixed their drinks for the judges.
The winner–undisputed, apparently, which meant there was no need for any sudden death overtime–was Howe, a King Kekaulike High graduate and bartender at The Mill House. Her drinks, both of which scored higher than any other drinks in the throwdown, exemplified the term “craft cocktail.” Her prize package included a football emblazoned with The Dirty Monkey logo and a $300 gift certificate to the Andaz (Young’s Market, Hendrick’s and Milagros tequila sponsored the event).
Howe called her first drink “The Gridiron” (football metaphors were plentiful during the throwdown). “It’s light and refreshing,” Howe told me after she’d won. “You can drink it day and night.” The drink contained Hendrick’s gin, fresh cucumbers, basil, Agua de Bolivia (an herbal liqueur) and fresh lime juice.
Her second drink, “The Red Zone,” featured Milagros tequila, Ancho Reyes (a chili liqueur), her own hibiscus honey syrup (made with Haiku honey and dried hibiscus leaves that she made into a tea), fresh lemon juice, orange bitters and a spiced sweet chili salt she made from a variety of ingredients, including Allspice, sugar and cloves. The last drink she garnished with an orange peel she cut into the shape of a football.
Ultimately, The Dirty Monkey’s Skye Dante told me the day after the throwdown, management chose Howe’s “The Red Zone” cocktail as their featured drink (see the drink recipe at the end of this story).
The throwdown had four judges: Chef Isaac Bancaco of the Andaz Resort, Ashley Leal of Fleetwood’s on Front St., Keli‘i Heen of Young’s Market and Angie Thompson, who writes the DiningonMaui.com blog and represented MauiTime (culinary writer Jen Russo is traveling and couldn’t make it; Thompson is also my girlfriend).
“The event was enjoyable, well-organized, had beautiful displays and a talented group of mixologists,” Thompson said after the event. “I had a great time and was honored to sit alongside the other judges. The Dirty Monkey’s staff was friendly and full of energy–which is critical for an event like this.”
Judging wasn’t easy, both because there were so many cocktails to taste and initial logistical confusion. At the end of each round, the bartenders simply placed their two drinks on the judging table–there were no labels on any of the drinks, so the judges constantly had to ask each other which drink was which as they sampled each one. In any case, they managed to keep everything organized.
“Overall, the cocktails were all tasty and most were well-balanced flavor-wise, but I would like to have seen more use of ice spheres as opposed to crushed and cubed ice,” Thompson continued. “By the time some of the cocktails reached us, much of the crushed ice had melted, diluting their flavor. Mari Howe and Maya Alexander stood out, in part due to their use of their own infused simple syrups, which elevated their drinks to the top in terms of execution.”
Though she didn’t win, Nakanishi of the Steel Horse had the greatest line of the night. It came when she was describing one of her cocktails to the crowd. “My first [drink] is the ‘Honeygirl Smash’ because who doesn’t want to smash a honeygirl?” To say the crowd cheered after she said those words would be an understatement.
The Red Zone
1.25 oz Milagro Blanco tequila
.75 oz Ancho Reyes Ancho Chile Liqueur
.75 oz Hibiscus Honey syrup
.75 oz fresh Lemon juice
2 dash orange bitters
1/2 bar spoon spiced sweet chili salt
Photo of (L to R) The Dirty Monkey owner Matthew Robb, Mari Howe, Keli‘i Heen courtesy Matthew Robb