The search for the ultimate mai tai was well under way Saturday afternoon with 29 contestants vying for 10 grand and “world’s best” bragging rights during the fourth annual Don the Beachcomber Mai Tai Festival in Kailua-Kona.
Mixologists hailing from downtown Kailua-Kona and as far away as Las Vegas immersed themselves in the art of making mai tais. An array of juices, syrups, purees, liquors and liqueurs went into the various concoctions with their creators hoping to turn out the “World’s Best Mai Tai.”
Maui bartender Christopher Nevins, with Four Seasons Resort at Wailea, entered his concoction, the Kipahulu Lulu, hoping to earn top honors in the competition. The cherry foam mai tai is infused with mint and features Coruba dark rum, Sammy Hagar’s new Sammy’s Beach Bar light rum and orgeat — almond syrup.
“The mai tai is a drink with layers of flavor that should balance sweet and tart,” he said. “This is a great event for the publicity and great drinks. I love it.”
The festival is the brainchild of Gary Hogan, owner and president of Hawaiian Hotels and Resorts, which operates both the Royal Kona Resort and Royal Lahaina Resort on Maui. The festival, which began in 2009, highlights Hawaii’s food, drinks, music and aloha spirit, said Liz Bell, Hawaiian Hotels and Resorts’ marketing director.
“It’s about celebrating the most famous drink in Hawaii while promoting tourism, supporting local business and encouraging people to simply stop and embrace Hawaii for a minute,” she said.
The daylong event at the Royal Kona Resort regularly attracts more than a thousand people from across the state, country and world. More than 1,500 attended Saturday’s festivities, said Bell.
The event also collected food and donations for The Food Basket Inc., Hawaii Island’s food bank, including a $5,000 donation from Hagar and the Hagar Family Foundation to support the food bank’s Hunger Doesn’t Take a Holiday campaign.
Saturday’s festivities kicked off with a craft and farmers fair featuring an array of locally made and grown items followed by the annual Battle of the BBQ. The battle had seven contestants all hailing from various Big Island eateries.
The completed plates ranged from szechuan-style baby back ribs and keawe-smoked beef brisket sliders to smoked mahi tacos and barbecued frog logs.
After a poolside performance by Henry Kapono, the event’s main attraction got under way with 29 mixologists vying for the $10,000 grand prize, and, of course, bragging rights as the creator of the “World’s Best Mai Tai.”
Among the Mai Tai Mix-Off judges were Waimea’s Philip “Ippy” Aiona, who starred in this season’s “Food Network Star;” Hawaii Beverage Guide publisher Chris Teves; master distiller Mark Nigbur; pro mixologist Joey Gottesman; MXLGY and Kickstarter co-founder Michael Prasad; and Kona Brewing Co. brewery manager Paul Bergeman.
Results from the event were not available as of press time Saturday. West Hawaii Today will publish the official results once received.