Honolulu's Most Inspired Bartender

Photos by Ross D. Hamamura

At the Bombay Sapphire/GQ Most Inspired Bartender Competition last night, eight bartenders vied for the chance to go to the national competition in Vegas. I helped judge, and it was like sitting and talking story at eight different bars, sipping eight completely different cocktails, all without having to leave my bar stool at Pearl Ultralounge. (The only downside—not being able to finish the drinks, so I could stay sober (ish) to taste the last cocktail.)

Some bartenders brought their own ice. They all brought their own glassware, and by the end of the night, there were eight glasses lined up in front of us, in a vintage tiki cup, a mason jar, a coupe glass, and more, with only one vessel repeating. Almost all the bartenders had some house made concoction that they added to their cocktail: a lilikoi and Kona Brewing Wailua Wheat syrup; a tiki blend of fresh pressed pineapple, lime, Velvet Falernum, maraschino, allspice, and cardamom bitters; dragonfruit puree; even a pepperoncini foam.

With difficulty, we narrowed down the cocktails to three:

– The Khaleesi. Roxanne Siebert of Manifest mixed Bombay Sapphire, Velvet Falernum, dragon fruit puree, lemon juice and Bob's ginger bitters, and topped it with a cardamom and ginger foam for a subtle, lightly tart and sweet, aromatic drink.

– Aulani's Tim Rita combined lemon, a house made lilikoi and Kona Brewing Wailua Wheat beer syrup, tea simple syrup, and Bombay Sapphire steeped with tea for the Majestic Brew, deliciously refreshing and lightly floral.

– But since we could only choose one, we picked Justin Park's Hotel Street Sour, which Park said captures a whiff of Honolulu's Chinatown, where he bartends at The Manifest. A twist on a Pisco Sour, he frothed Bombay Sapphire gin with coconut milk, lime juice, a house made lemongrass and grains of paradise syrup (both aromatics in Bombay Sapphire), Cardamaro, egg white and kaffir lime leaves, and topped the drink with Goslings ginger beer. Tart, rounded out with the coconut milk, with lots of body, I'm excited to see how far Park will take this drink in the Vegas competition.

Check out the full event gallery from the Bombay Sapphire/GQ Most Inspired Bartender Competition at Pearl Ultralounge.