BY Martha Cheng
“I don’t enter to just win,” says veteran cocktail competitor Christian Self, formerly of thirtyninehotel and now the beverage manager of Waikiki Edition. “That’s just a bonus. It’s a great experience, the competition is always good and I’m surrounded by high-quality, top-notch bartenders.” But his $10,000 win at the Don the Beachcomber “World’s Best Mai Tai” at the Royal Kona Resort in August gave him something a little more tangible than camaraderie. With a nod to the past while using techniques of the present, Self presented a lemongrass-and-ginger-flavored “Mai Thai” accompanied by a gelée of rum and orgeat and topped with a sweetened lime Curaçao foam, an homage to Trader Vic’s original 1944 Mai Tai.
Spirit companies drive cocktail competitions as part of their marketing, which means sometimes winning cocktails are chosen for more than just taste, but also how easy a recipe is to replicate. Take the Hawai‘i Regional Bombay Sapphire GQ Most Inspired Competition, held at Pearl Ultralounge in June. Deliah “Dia” Asada, of the Fairmont Kea Lani, won with her blueberry and sage martini, influenced by a Cornish game hen recipe passed down for generations.
At the Trump Waikīkī in August, Iron Chef flair suffused the Corzo Throwdown, in which bartenders brought only their tools and were presented with a table of ingredients—from gummy bears to habañeros—as well as the required secret component: red currants. Dave Newman, of Nobu, won with his drink of passion fruit purée, Drambuie and cucumbers, muddled and shaken with Corzo. “Passionfruit and tequila go well together,” Newman says of his cocktail thought process. “The red currants are a bitter ingredient and passion fruit adds tartness, so I balanced that with Drambuie to add some sweetness … and cucumbers for texture.”