Grind Time: Soo serves up World’s Best Mai Tai

Aug. 22, 2014 | 0 Comments

COURTESY KEVIN J. OLSONMichael Soo, wearing lei, a bartender at Bar Crudo in Phoenix, Ariz., celebrates after being named the winner of Don the Beachcomber's Mai Tai Festival's World's Best Mai Tai contest on Saturday.

COURTESY KEVIN J. OLSON

Michael Soo, wearing lei, a bartender at Bar Crudo in Phoenix, Ariz., celebrates after being named the winner of the Don the Beachcomber Mai Tai Festival’s World’s Best Mai Tai contest on Saturday.

BY JASON GENEGABUS / jason@staradvertiser.com

With the rise of tiki culture and the perpetual popularity of the Hawaiian Islands as a tourist destination, it’s no surprise the Mai Tai isn’t just for tourists anymore.

Bartenders from Los Angeles to New York City and beyond have concocted their own variations of the classic cocktail, and the Royal Kona Resort welcomed a handful of them to the Big Island last weekend for the sixth annual Mai Tai Mix-Off as part of the 2014 Don the Beachcomber Mai Tai Festival.

Each year, the resort hosts an all-day affair that includes a farmers and crafters market, Battle of the BBQ contest, pool party concert by Henry Kapono and the aforementioned mai tai competition. Before the cocktails were served, Roy’s Waikoloa and Broke Da Mouth were named winners of the Judge’s Choice and People’s Choice awards, respectively, in the BBQ contest.

The Mai Tai Mix-Off was a spirited affair once again, with bartender Michael Soo from Phoenix, Ariz. taking home the $10,000 first place prize and title of 2014 World’s Best Mai Tai for his cocktail, the A Hui Hou. It was the first time a bartender from outside Hawaii won the contest.

Previous winners of the Mai Tai Mix-Off:

» 2013: Wendy Augustine, Haliimaile General Store
» 2012: Justin Park, Manifest
» 2011: Christina Maffei, Trump Waikiki
» 2010: Christian Self, thirtyninehotel
» 2009: Jon Matsubara, Azure

Along with Soo, Haliimaile General Store’s Wendy Romlein — defending champ in the 2014 Mai Tai Mix-Off — won $5,000 for her entry, the Tai Mai, while Matt Corbin from the Cane & Canoe at Maui’s Montage Resort won $2,500 for his drink, the 77 Mai Tai.

Judges for this year’s competition were Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum master distiller Mark Nigbur, Hawaii Beverage Guide publisher Chris Teves, retired National Hockey League player TJ Gorence and Big Island chef Ippy Aiona.
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“Grind Time” is always looking for the latest places to get your grub on. Email Jason Genegabus with restaurant, bar or any other food/drink-related item at jason@staradvertiser.com and follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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