Tai One On
Maui bartenders mix up an old favorite for a chance at cash and glory
You can’t be a bartender in Hawaii without knowing the mai tai. While some may despise the drink, others turn it into a creative outlet. I bore witness to that creativity at last week’s Mai Tai Mix Off preliminary competition at the Royal Lahaina. Ten bartenders went head to head in five seven-minute rounds, each bringing their own personal recipe. The top three competitors will get a place at the Second Annual Don the Beachcomber Mai Tai Festival, held August 14 at the Royal Kona Resort.
Burdened with the difficult job of tasting and scoring, judges Joey Gottesman (who also emceed), Eric Gilliom, Sommer Meyers and Chuck Bergson did the major lifting.
Blair Anderson from Mala Ocean Tavern in Lahaina took top honors with his Kamaaina Mai Tai. His recipe featured a familiar combination of pineapple, orange and lime flavors, but he mixed it up with flavored Bacardi Limon and Bacardi O and Select, and featured a pineapple wedge infused with Bacardi Coco and a Cocito garnish. The result was an understated but spectacular drink. Anderson says it’ll be available at Mala Ocean Tavern if you want a taste.
Ryan Burden, also of Mala, was a close runner up with his Kiona Aloha Mai Tai. His concept was to create an organic, natural mai tai, and in doing so his seven minutes on stage were a show stopper. He pressed his sugar cane juice on stage and ran off to the side to hack open a coconut with a machete so he could harvest fresh coco water and coconut meat. The concoction that came from all his hard work was creamy and dreamy.
Also going to Kona to compete is Jeff Felice from the Westin KOR. His mai tai featured fresh mint and local ingredients, but the highlight was the pineapple spear garnish on which he designed a face out of raspberries and lime.
Julie Henson from Kahale’s Beach Club took away the People’s Choice Award. Her “Maihitotiatini” was, as the name suggests, a mash-up of a mohito, mai tai and martini. Served in a martini glass with plenty of mint flavor, her presentation included a detailed and well-narrated story. (Ask her.)
From Kihei’s new Three’s Bar and Grill, Sossanna’s “3-tai” featured an unusual garnish of red pepper and candy ginger. Judge Bergson’s take on it: “The first taste is fruity flavor and you get a bit of the sugar rim, then I took a bite of the ginger for a new dimension of the drink. Then you bite into the pepper for the grand finale.”
The full boat by Joel Flack from Maui Brewing Co. and Royal Lahaina was a fruit smoothie sort of mai tai. Fresh berry ice, Thai basil and muddled frozen strawberries all contributed, along with the rum; the drink was acidic on first sip, but after a few moments the flavors came together and smoothed out.
In between the competition rounds, DJ Dan spun summer tunes that kept the Bacardi flowing. Bacardi launched a new flavor of rum, Torched Cherry, which debuted here. In between mai tais I got a taste. Aloe is an up and coming flavor trend, and Bacardi has fused it with cherry. The rum is easy to mix and will bring a new dimension to Cherry Coke. When I first heard the name, I envisioned the aloe was “torched” or heated in some way to bring out flavor but it actually refers the torch aloe, a particular type of plant. I tried it with Sprite and cranberry; both flavors took a back seat to the cherry which came on strong, but not too sweet. It was quite good, like a spiked Shirley Temple.
As mentioned, all of this mai tai action is a precursor to the two-day Mai Tai Festival that kicks off in August at the Royal Kona Resort. The fest also includes a BBQ competition and an appearance by Third Eye Blind, but the main event will be the Mai Tai Battle, with 30 contestants (about 15 from Hawaii) vying for a $10,000 cash prize. With that much dough on the line, it’s no surprise the judge list reads like a who’s-who: Sam Choy of Sam Choy Restaurants; William Ramos, head distiller for Bacardi; Chris Teves, Hawaii Beverage Guide; and Beachbum Berry, rum and mai tai expert.
If you can make it to the Big Island, it’ll be worth the trip. If not, seek out one of the bartenders mentioned above and give their signature spin on this classic drink a try. You might even feel like you’re tasting it for the first time.
Got a hot food scoop? Contact Jen Russo at 808-280-3386 or fax to 808-244-0446.