Mai Tais are synonymous with Hawaii bars, so it makes sense that our state hosts 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 went on stage July 6 to battle for a chance to compete at the Bacardi Mai Tai Festival, held annually 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 there are four components to the drink:
1. A rum base; 2. Juice used as a binder; 3. A flavoring component such as orgeat or falernum; 4. A float, which is a layer of liquid usually spirit-based, most commonly seen in the Mai Tai as a dark rum.
The contestants were Wendy Agustin of Haliimaile General Store; Joseph Getgen, Christopher Nevins and Bryan Aloy of the Four Seasons Resort; Blair Anderson and Eric Zimmerman of Mala Ocean Tavern; Alex Dreher of Westin
Maui Tropica; Mark Reck of Lulu’s Lahaina; James Shoemaker of Mala Wailea; and Ricky Supnet of the Royal Lahaina Resort.
Like chef competitions, bartender battles can get heated very quickly. The bartenders each had seven minutes to prepare five drinks: four for the judges and one for their photos. When you are squeezing, shaking and smacking several drinks together in this kind of time-frame, and with prizes like airfare and hotel hanging in the balance, the pressure is on.
In the first round Agustine battled it out with Aloy. Though her Mai Tai was inspired by the pineapple fields around the Haliimaile General Store and was served in a pineapple, it 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 difficult job of evaluating each Mai Tai specimen and tabulating scores. Judging was determined by presentation, nose, palate, finish, balance, creativity, and trueness to form, with a total high score of 70 possible points.
In round two, returning competitor Anderson made his “Quintessential Mai Tai” that used Bacardi Gold, Orange, Coconut and Anejo rums, while Tropica’s Dreher made the Kelekona Mai Tai, with dragonberry rum and a “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, a Chambord upside down float and Bacardi Limon. Nevin’s Asian-inspired “Mai Thai” appeared in a stemless Bordeaux glass lined with lemons wheels. It was a light concoction of Bacardi Silver, hint of Thai lemongrass syrup and coconut water.
In round four, 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. 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 fresh lilikoi and Bacardi Select, coconut and Superior. That was the recipe of Eric Zimmerman of Mala Ocean Tavern in Round 5, and Ricky Supnet from the Royal Lahaina slipped mango puree in with Disaronno, Serranno peppers, Bacardi Orange and 8 for his concoction.
In the end no flamboyant presentations, elaborate garnishes or fancy barware could beat a well balanced, true to form Mai Tai.
Shoemaker took first place with his “The Spirit of Don Beach Mai Tai” and his high score of 60.25. Getgens’ Mai Molokai Tini took second and Agustin, the only female contestant, took third. ■
Got a hot food scoop? Contact Jen Russo at 808-280-3286 or fax to 808-244-0446.