Rita’s passion elevates lilikoi cocktail
BY BETTY SHIMABUKURO / email@example.com
When Tim Rita was but a beginner — a budding bartender, a mixologist in the making — he was told to smile, often and widely.
“It’s contagious and it’s free,” Rita said.
This is advice you can see in action every time Rita picks up his cocktail shaker and starts pumping. That smile pretty much lights up the bar. Then he pours out the drink and lights up you.
Rita tends bar at Monkeypod Kitchen and Aulani, both at Ko Olina, and Manifest in Chinatown. That’s three jobs — his fourth is entering mixology contests.
His recent big score is the local championship for Bombay Sapphire’s “Search for the Most Imaginative Bartender.” He won the competition held at Pearl Ultralounge last month and goes to a national competition in Las Vegas in September. A win there would take him to the world finals.
Earlier this month, he competed in a “World’s Best Mai Tai” competition in Kona, placing fourth, his third top-10 finish in three years. He has won the “Corzo Tequila Throwdown” in Waikiki and was a finalist in the Shake It Up “Spirit of America Cocktail Challenge” in Las Vegas in March.
These contests often feature cash prizes of several thousand dollars, but Rita said he enters for the challenge.
“It keeps me sharp,” he said. “It pushes me.”
Rita, a 1994 Waianae High School graduate, worked in sales and support for Louis Vuitton when he decided on a career change and answered an ad for a bartender at the Halekulani. He learned from Dale DeGroff, the resort’s director of beverage arts and an internationally known mixology expert.
Rita’s winning recipe using Bombay gin is called the Suhali Shandy, based on the traditional shandy, a mix of beer and a soft drink or fruit juice.
The recipe is far too complicated for mere mortals to accomplish at home, requiring first the making of a syrup of lemongrass, pomegranate and cardamom, then another syrup of ginger beer. So we asked him for something simpler and summery, using a tropical fruit.
Rita suggested lilikoi.
“Lilikoi is amazing. I love that fruit,” he said. “It’s part citrus, part sweet. It has basically anything you need in there.”
He said he’d use it in gimlets, martinis or margaritas. For an easy at-home margarita, Rita suggested using canned lilikoi juice, tequila, fresh lime juice, triple sec or Grand Marnier and a pinch of chili pepper.
For those who would like to aim higher, Rita offers his Lost Passion cocktail, developed while he was at the Halekulani for the wrap party for the TV show “Lost.” It’s a good time for this drink: Lilikoi is in season and backyard vines are in overdrive. For those not lucky enough to have free fresh-fruit access, try farmers markets or Chinatown.
If you have no shot glass or other way to measure an ounce of liquid, 1 ounce equals 2 tablespoons.
By Tim Rita
» Pulp from 2 lilikoi (passion fruit)
» 1 ounce lilikoi-honey syrup (see note)
» 1 ounce gin
» 3/4 ounce Canton Ginger Liqueur
» Juice from 3 calamansi limes (about 1 ounce)
» 2 ounces sparkling wine
Wet the rim of a martini glass and dip in sugar. Combine all ingredients except wine in a cocktail shaker or jar with lid. Shake vigorously to break up pulp. Strain into martini glass. Top with sparkling wine. Serves 1.
To make lilikoi-honey syrup, combine lilikoi juice with honey at a 3-2 ratio (roughly 1 tablespoon lilikoi juice and 2 teaspoons honey to make just enough for 1 serving). Strain the pulp of 1 or 2 lilikoi to get the juice. Or use 1 ounce of canned lilikoi juice and eliminate the honey.