UPDATE: Mixologists take Tiki cocktails to new artistic heights at South Beach Wine & Food Festival showdown

Updated May 17, 2016

Bartenders Gui Jaroschy (left) and Randy Perez of The Broken Shaker celebrate their victory in The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival on Friday, Feb. 26. Among the prizes was a rare bottle from sponsor Rhum Barbancourt. (Atomic Grog photo)

Bartenders Gui Jaroschy (left) and Randy Perez of The Broken Shaker celebrate their victory in The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival on Friday, Feb. 26. Among the prizes was a rare bottle from sponsor Rhum Barbancourt. (Atomic Grog photo)

A hometown favorite took home the top prize at The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival on Friday, Feb. 26, while an enthusiastic bar team that traveled more than a thousand miles also came away a winner.

The Judges Choice award for best cocktail was awarded to The Broken Shaker of Miami Beach and bartenders Gui Jaroschy and Randy Perez for their crafty Sweet Micky. Hosted by Food Network’s Guy Fieri, the event featured nine of the country’s most acclaimed Tiki bars facing off during a festive event at the oceanside Surfcomber hotel on South Beach.

Some 700 guests enjoyed the many excellent cocktails and cast their own votes for the People’s Choice award, which went to Cleveland’s Porco Lounge & Tiki Room. The entire Porco staff of 18 people made the trip to SoBeWFF, cheering their mixologists to victory with their Alchemy Hour cocktail. The event also featured many top chefs from South Florida serving up Tiki-themed small bites in the spirit of the festival, one of the largest of its kind in the country.

The Atomic Grog’s ratings: Reviews and ingredients for all the competing cocktails
Cocktail recipes: The Broken Shaker’s Sweet Micky | The Mai-Kai’s Pupule Punch
Exclusive photo gallery: Browse images from The Atomic Grog
More below: See the full event preview and participant bios

Bartenders from Cleveland's Porco Lounge & Tiki Room are hard at work on the Alchemy Hour cocktail. They took home the People's Choice award.

Bartenders from Cleveland’s Porco Lounge & Tiki Room are hard at work on the Alchemy Hour cocktail. They took home the People’s Choice award. (Atomic Grog photo)

Also competing were mixologists from Fort Defiance (Brooklyn), Foundation Tiki Bar (Milwaukee), The Golden Tiki (Las Vegas), Kreepy Tiki Lounge (Fort Lauderdale), The Mai-Kai (Fort Lauderdale), The Rum Line (Miami Beach), and Slowly Shirley (New York City). He wasn’t part of the competition, but defending Judge’s Choice champ Brian Miller of “Tiki Mondays With Miller” in New York City was a welcome addition, mixing up a special cocktail for sponsor Rhum Barbancourt. All of the night’s drinks included at least one of four expressions of the distinctive rum from Haiti.

Across the board, the cocktails were clearly superior to those at last year’s inaugural event. The rum and other sponsor products greatly contributed to this (absinthe and sherry were other popular ingredients), but the participants also showed creativity and a knowledge of their craft that led to some high-quality creations (check out the reviews and recipes below). But this was Tiki, after all, so fun was the name of the game. The bar stations ranged from whimsical tropical oases to an Egyptian tomb, manned by mad scientists and voodoo priestesses (see photos).

The team of Perez and Jaroschy was considered a favorite after winning the People’s Choice award for The Broken Shaker at last year’s inaugural showdown, and also finishing second on the judges’ ballots. (There was no second place announced this year.) The acclaimed craft cocktail bar – located a mile north of the Surfcomber in the Freehand Miami hotel – is a critical darling, both locally and nationally. The most recent feather in its cap was being named best bar in Florida by Business Insider.

Bartender Garret Richard of Slowly Shirley in New York City prepares his Manta Ray cocktail with assistance from Sean Saunders.

Bartender Garret Richard of Slowly Shirley in New York City prepares his Manta Ray cocktail with assistance from Sean Saunders. (Atomic Grog photo)

Fieri mentioned The Broken Shaker’s acclaim in announcing the Judge’s Choice award during the climax of the event. Jaroschy and Perez were all smiles, graciously accepting the title and a bevy of prizes, including a Mavenhal bar bag and Rhum Barbancourt aging barrel. They proudly showed off the most coveted prize, a rare (unreleasd in the U.S.) bottle of Cuvée 150 Ans rum, released in a very limited bottling in 2012 to commemorate Rhum Barbancourt’s 150th birthday. The only question remaining: Will the popular bartenders be gracious enough to share their booty with their loyal followers?

But even The Broken Shaker’s fans couldn’t top the flood of fan adulation heaped upon Porco Lounge & Tiki Room, who moments earlier enthusiastically accepted the People’s Choice award from Fieri, along with all the same prizes. The Porco crew, led by general manager and head bartender Shannon Smith, posed for photos while basking in the victory. Those who weren’t working behind the bar became an enthusiastic cheering section surrounding the Porco station, urging guests to cast their ballots with tokens given out upon arrival.

It was a prestigious win for Porco, which has been open just a little more than two years. The staff returned home as local heroes, appreciative of the national recognition. “We were adamant about bringing this prize back to Cleveland,” owner Stefan Was told Cleveland.com. He was so committed to his team, in fact, he closed the bar for five days so everyone could travel to South Beach. They made the most of their trip, gathering Saturday for a marathon victory party in Fort Lauderdale at The Mai-Kai, the venerable 59-year-old Polynesian palace, followed by a late-night blow-out at Kreepy Tiki Lounge.

Manager Kern Mattei presents The Mai-Kai's Pupule Punch to the judges: Guy Fieri (Food Network), Julie Reiner (Clover Club), Francesco Lafranconi (Southern Wine and Spirits), and Laine Doss (Miami New Times).

Manager Kern Mattei presents The Mai-Kai’s Pupule Punch to the judges: Guy Fieri (Food Network), Julie Reiner (Clover Club), Francesco Lafranconi (Southern Wine and Spirits), and Laine Doss (Miami New Times). (Atomic Grog photo)

A similar camaraderie was a common sight at The Art of Tiki event. It was less a competition than a laid-back pool and beach party, albeit with world-class food and drinks. The nine bars were set up around the huge Surfcomber pool, giving attendees plenty of room to mingle and sample multiple cocktails. The chefs and food booths were farther back toward the beach, where you could also find Miller and his Haitian Frolic cocktail (Barbancourt 5 Star, absinthe, bitters, lime juice, orange juice, pineapple juice and Miller’s special “Derelict Gardenia Mix”). Also representing Rhum Barbancourt were Zach Lynch and Greg Goldstein from the Ice Plant in St. Augustine.
May 2016 update: Exclusive recipe for Brian Miller’s Haitian Frolic

Fieri was a gregarious and outgoing host, in some ways the antithesis of Emeril Lagasse at last year’s event at the Shore Club. The colorful Food Network star not only hyped the winners during the the award presentations, he played to the crowd as he led the panel of judges in tasting all the cocktails poolside in clear view and earshot of guests. Last year, the judges were secluded in an area away from the crowd, though in fairness the smaller space made logistics difficult.

The host of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives took the time to pose for photos with fans and got his hands dirty behind the grill cooking up ribs at the food station for his Cancun restaurant, Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen & Bar. He was seen signing autographs, hobnobbing with other chefs, and welcoming Thierry Gardere, the fourth-generation director of the Rhum Barbancourt empire.

The addition of Fieri as host, which I initially considered a step backward, turned out to be a plus for the event. Too bad it wasn’t filmed for posterity (and a Food Network special). If the rest of the food and cocktail world knew what great work is being done in the name of Tiki, it would push appreciation of the craft forward even more.

The Broken Shaker's Sweet Micky, featuring two Barbancourt rhums, is a tribute to Haiti's president, Michel Martelly.

The Broken Shaker’s Sweet Micky, featuring two Barbancourt rhums, is a tribute to Haiti’s president, Michel Martelly. (Atomic Grog photo)

The judging seemed fairly transparent, with Fieri giving a play-by-play during the tastings. What he lacked in Tiki cred he seemed to make up for in enthusiasm and curiosity. He was particularly impressed with the presentation of The Broken Shaker’s Sweet Micky, which was served to the judges garnished with fresh mulberry from the bar’s herb garden. The cocktail, named after Haiti’s president, was presented by both Jaroschy and Perez, who offered up the drinks amid a voodoo shrine. It was named for Michel Joseph Martelly, the popular Haitian president who gained fame as a musician known as Sweet Micky.

The most experienced Tiki cocktail expert on the panel was famed New York City bar owner, author (The Craft Cocktail Party) and mixologist Julie Reiner (founder of New York City’s influential Flatiron Lounge, Pegu Club and Clover Club). Among Reiner’s past projects was the short-lived but well-received Lani Kai in SoHo, a Polynesian-themed restaurant and cocktail den inspired by her birthplace (Hawaii). The other new judge was Miami New Times food and spirits writer Laine Doss, no stranger to The Art of Tiki. She covered the event last year and has vast experience both behind the bar and as a writer covering South Florida food and cocktails. [See her story on this year’s event]

The one judge returning from last year was event organizer Francesco Lafranconi from Southern Wine and Spirits, the giant liquor distributor that helped run the entire festival. Kudos to SoBeWFF and Lafranconi for the new venue and other changes that made the event a more pleasant experience. The upgrade was readily apparent upon entering the swank Surfcomber, a historic Art Deco hotel built in 1948 and renovated in 2011.

Bartender Navind Boodoo (left), Molokai Girl Roxy Centera, and manager Kern Mattei from The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale put sponsor Rhum Barbancourt to good use.

Bartender Navind Boodoo (left), Molokai Girl Roxy Centera, and manager Kern Mattei from The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale put sponsor Rhum Barbancourt to good use. (Atomic Grog photo)

Guests arriving early for The Art of Tiki’s opening at 10 p.m. queued up in large outdoor breezeway leading from the lobby to the pool and oceanfront beach. The hundreds in line faced a much easier wait than they did in last year’s line that snaked down a side street into traffic outside the Shore Club. The SoBeWFF staff and student volunteers from Florida International University were efficient in quickly ushering the crowd into the venue. It was a good omen, and the event ran smoothly from an operational standpoint. There were some power issues at the very beginning of the evening, but they were quickly squelched.

The spacious pool and sandy beach allowed for easy movement by guests, unlike last year’s gridlock. I might even recommend more tickets be sold, but I hesitate to mess with this year’s success. Only a few ambiance issues kept the event from transporting guests into a true feast for all the senses. This might have been unavoidable for safety and logistical reasons, but there were too many strategically placed floodlights on the premises. In some areas, they cast a blinding light on what should be a dim and exotic atmosphere. There were some fire elements, including a cool array in the pool, but more Tiki torches and fewer spotlights would go a long way.

My biggest beef at events such as this continues to be the music, which in typical South Beach fashion ranged from the simply annoying to the midly obnoxious. I get it, this isn’t supposed to be a full-blown Tiki experience, merely a showcase for the food and drinks. However, more care should be given to theming an important element that helps sets the mood and creates the correct vibe. For what it’s worth, The DJ’s playlist seemed to be less reliant on throbbing electronic dance music than last year. I even heard tunes by the Bee Gees (a nod to 1970s Miami?) and Kid Rock (an ode to his bro, Guy Fieri?). But that’s not saying much. How about some Tiki staples like Hawaiian and hapa haole, plus classic and modern exotica, lounge and surf. Some cool jazz, Latin or Caribbean sounds would even suffice. I’d be happy to recommend a proper DJ and/or band if the event continues next year.

Mikel Kortan and The Golden Tiki team crank out The Coco Moloko cocktail.

Mikel Kortan and The Golden Tiki team crank out The Coco Moloko cocktail. (Atomic Grog photo)

A final suggestion would be to extend the event for an additional hour, perhaps starting at 9 p.m., or at least push back the time for guests to vote. Last year, I barely made it to all seven bars in time to make my pick and have it count. I felt rushed, so this year I took my time savoring every cocktail. But with two extra bars in the lineup, I barely made it past the half-way point before balloting ended. Luckily, all the bars were well-stocked and most continued serving until close to 1 a.m., but it would have been nice to be able to have my vote count.

South Florida chefs serve up savory small plates

The time crunch also meant that by the time I made it back to the food kiosks, which were situated past the bars on the sandy beach, many of them had shut down for the night. I could have wandered over there at any time, but it was hard to drag myself away from the excellent cocktails. Those who made a beeline for the food were rewarded with some mighty tasty Polynesian-themed bites. Several of the chefs were also unexpectedly serving up drinks.

Guy Fieri’s ribs were messy and meaty, the perfect bar food to pair with the sweet and spicy cocktails. But the standout bites came from a trio of local chefs who took the pu-pu concept in decadent new directions:

* Tiki Bar Ribs from Richard Hales of Blackbrick and Sakaya Kitchen in Miami were tender and fall-off-the-bone delicious. The “Caja china roasted” pork spare ribs featured a “China-Polynesian pineapple sweet and sour” sauce.

What a concept: Peking Duck in a cone, from Miami's Tropical Chinese Restaurant. (Atomic Grog photo)

What a concept: Peking Duck in a cone, from Miami’s Tropical Chinese Restaurant. (Atomic Grog photo)

* The menu item from Mei Yu of Tropical Chinese Restaurant in Miami simply said “Peking Duck,” but this was not your grandfather’s duck dish. Served in small, easy-to-eat cones, it was the perfect bar bite. Comparable to duck tacos, the soft tortillas were filled with rich and crispy duck, topped with lettuce, and a sweet-and-savory sauce.

* Ralph Pagano of the newly opened Naked Tiki in Miami Beach didn’t mess around, serving one of his signature dishes, Bang Bang Rice. The former Hell’s Kitchen competitor and Pressure Cook host proved that he has a passion for Polynesian food with this rich and complex fried rice dish topped with teriyaki-glazed steak and “butter lemon cilantro bathed shrimp and lobster.” I was temped to follow Pagano down the street to his month-old restaurant in the Stiles Hotel and demand a pint to go.

The quality and inventiveness of the food at The Art of Tiki was indicative of the delights you’ll find elsewhere at the annual South Beach Wine & Food Festival. On Sunday, Feb. 28, I visited one of the main events, the Grand Tasting Village located in massive tents directly on the beach. I sampled dozens of small bites (from Pork Belly Tacos to Charred Oxtail Terrine) and spirits (from Pusser’s Gunpowder Proof Rum to Marlee’s Green Tea Whiskey). I also stumbled onto a news story during a cooking demo by the debonair Geoffrey Zakarian:
* Food Network star and Iron Chef plans new South Florida restaurant

But at The Art of Tiki, it was all about the cocktails.

The art of judging Tiki: Cocktails push the envelope

Judges Francesco Lafranconi and Laine Doss discuss Porco Lounge & Tiki Room's Alchemy Hour cocktail.

Judges Francesco Lafranconi and Laine Doss discuss Porco Lounge & Tiki Room’s Alchemy Hour cocktail. (Atomic Grog photo)

The judges had the enviable task of picking one winner from among the nine extremely well-crafted cocktails. It likely came down to details, from the garnish to the presentation to the back story. Each mixologist had a chance to discuss his creation with the judges and explain its genesis. Many were elaborately garnished and presented in unique glassware, including custom Tiki mugs. Lafranconi has said he likes to judge a Tiki cocktail’s flavor based on the holy trinity of rum, fresh exotic flavors and spice.

The cocktails presented this year had all those bases covered, and then some. While we missed out on the presentations and Tiki mugs, those of us making the rounds of all the bar stations had the opportunity to engage the mixologists and check out their creatively decorated workstations. While many of the ingredients, such as fresh-squeezed juices, were pre-batched for them by the SoBeWFF staff, the bar staffs personally mixed and blended all the cocktails.

They all followed a few simple rules, and all the recipes were approved in advance. All the drinks had to contain at least one of four Rhum Barbancourt expressions: White, Pango 3 Star (a gold rum aged 4 years), and Réserve Spéciale 5 Star (a gold rum aged 8 years). A few other sponsors made products available, including Absente, Combier Liqueurs, and Lustau Wines.

St. John Frizell (right) and Tyler Caffall of Fort Defiance in Brooklyn get into the spirit of the festivities as they prepare the Body Snatcher cocktail.

St. John Frizell (right) and Tyler Caffall of Fort Defiance in Brooklyn get into the spirit of the festivities as they prepare the Body Snatcher cocktail. (Atomic Grog photo)

The most popular rum of the night was 3 Star, used in five of the cocktails. White and Pango showed up in three drinks each, while 5 Star was featured in two. Four cocktails included the bold flavor of absinthe, while three featured sherry. Other popular ingredients were lime juice (seven of the nine drinks), passion fruit (four), Angostura bitters (four) and coconut (three).

The rules limited each cocktail to no more than seven ingredients, but some of the mixologists were creative in combining two or more ingredients into special mixes that were considered as one. Among my favorites: The Rum Line’s pomegranate spiced reduction, Slowly Shirley’s ginger-honey mix, and Kreepy Tiki’s banana-pepper Demerara syrup. Ingredients were posted at each booth, and sponsor bottles prominently displayed. Before I get into the nitty-gritty of my ratings and reviews, a few more random observations from my Tiki bar crawl:

Most creative costume: St. John Frizell of Fort Defiance, who assumed the role of an Egyptian mummy to serve up his Body Snatcher cocktail. His crew joined in on the theme, which may not be very Tiki but was fun nevertheless. Runners-up: The voodoo wahines from Kreepy Tiki Lounge and the mad scientists from Porco Lounge & Tiki Room.

Bartenders Tiffney Allen (left) and Demi Anne Natoli from Kreepy Tiki Lounge conjure up an intoxicating brew with The Tsanta cocktail.

Bartenders Tiffney Allen (left) and Demi Anne Natoli from Kreepy Tiki Lounge conjure up an intoxicating brew with The Tsanta cocktail. (Atomic Grog photo)

Best Tiki mugs: The Mai-Kai brought out a classic, the venerable Mara-Amu, which dates back to the restaurant’s early days and served as a link to the restaurant’s late, great mixologist Mariano Licudine. The Golden Tiki represented the new school with the debut of an imposing and impressive signature mug by Tiki Diablo. The Southern California artist also created custom mugs for Kreepy Tiki Lounge.

Best auxiliary drinking vessel: If you got tired of drinking out of small plastic glasses, you could head over to The Broken Shaker booth for a sample of their Haitian Haymaker served in a scooped-out half of a passion fruit. Between the pungent mint and passion fruit, this booth was an olfactory overload.

So, inquiring minds want to know: What was The Atomic Grog’s favorite? Using a familiar 10-point scale that I employed at last year’s contest, I set about my task. Most of my scores focus on the drink itself: Did it contain bold flavors, balance and creative use of ingredients? I also considered originality, use of garnish, and technique. Less important to me were presentation and theming.

Without further adieu, here are my ratings, followed by a drink-by-drink breakdown:

Rob Ferrara and his crew from The Rum Line put the finishing touches on their Haitian Haymaker cocktail.

Rob Ferrara and his crew from The Rum Line put the finishing touches on their Haitian Haymaker cocktail. (Atomic Grog photo)

FIRST PLACE (8 out of 10): Haitian Haymaker (The Rum Line) and Manta Ray (Slowly Shirley).

SECOND PLACE (7.5): Sweet Micky (The Broken Shaker) and Pupule Punch (The Mai-Kai).

THIRD PLACE (7): Body Snatcher (Fort Defiance), Ti-Bon-Ange (Foundation Tiki Bar), The Coco Moloko (The Golden Tiki), The Tsanta (Kreepy Tiki Lounge) and Alchemy Hour (Porco Lounge & Tiki Room).

OK, so I copped out and settled for three ties, but it was truly that close. I can see how any of the nine could be considered someone’s favorite, taking personal taste into account. But for me, the top two cocktails gained a slight edge by virtue of their creativity and exotic flavors. It didn’t hurt that they were both artfully crafted (by Miami Beach’s Rob Ferrara and New York City’s Garret Richard, respectively), beautifully presented and perfectly balanced.

Not far behind were the two second-place drinks, a couple more straightforward but no less tasty creations from South Florida’s perennially popular exotic cocktail hotspots. While not as creative as the top two, they were both flawless examples of the teamwork of Miami’s Gui Jaroschy and Randy Perez, and Fort Lauderdale’s Navind Boodoo and Kern Mattei. The remaining five bars were all very close behind, with only slight flaws keeping them from the top two slots, IMHO. It’s a cliche, but there truly were no losers at the Surfcomber on this balmy evening in February.

Here, then, is a more detailed review of each cocktail:

Slowly Shirley's Manta Ray is a creative concoction featuring Barbancourt 3 Star Rhum, peach liqueur and coconut-washed Magellan gin.

Slowly Shirley’s Manta Ray is a creative concoction featuring Barbancourt 3 Star Rhum, peach liqueur and coconut-washed Magellan gin. (Atomic Grog photo)

Slowly Shirley: Manta Ray (Barbancourt 3 Star, peach liqueur, coconut-washed Magellan gin, lime juice, ginger-honey mix, coconut mix, Angostura bitters). Rating: 8. This mash-up of three classic cocktails is wildly creative and distinctive, while at the same time perfectly accessible and highly drinkable. Young gun Garret Richard continues to prove himself to be a force to be reckoned with by combining elements of Trader Vic’s Fogcutter with The Mai-Kai’s Moonkist Coconut and Don the Beachcomber’s Queen’s Road Cocktail. Rum and coconut dominate the flavor profile, appropriately, and the gin makes itself known. But the real beauty of this drink are the very subtle touches: the slight hint of ginger and honey, the Combier Crème de Pêche liqueur, and the distinctive Slowly Shirley house coconut mix. The garnish of toasted cinnamon, lime twist and mint completes the impressive package.

The Rum Line: Haitian Haymaker (Barbancourt 3 Star, Barbancourt Pango, absinthe, pomegranate spiced reduction, lime juice, passion fruit puree, Angostura bitters). Rating: 8. A wonderfully complex and refreshing drink from the underrated Rob Ferrara, who plies his trade just a couple blocks south of the Surfcomber on Collins Avenue at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel. Full of nuance and bursting with exotic flavors like any great tropical drink, the Haitian Haymaker is clearly creative and well-crafted by a deft hand. The absinthe and bitters are used with great restraint, and the garnish of a mint sprig, a lime wheel, an orchid, and a heaping helping of fresh grated nutmeg was one of the night’s best.

The Mai-Kai's Pupule Punch includes Barbancourt 3 Star rhum and absinthe.

The Mai-Kai’s Pupule Punch includes Barbancourt 3 Star rhum and absinthe. (Atomic Grog photo)

The Mai-Kai: Pupule Punch (Barbancourt 3 Star, absinthe, lemon juice, simple syrup, orange juice). Rating: 7.5. Absinthe rules the day in this concise but powerful cocktail that is both exotic and easy to drink. At just five ingredients, Pupule Punch is simpler than the typical drink at The Mai-Kai, yet utterly satisfying. The rich house-made simple syrup is the key, offsetting the tart lemon and heavy dose of the 110-proof Absente, aka “Absinthe Refined.” The spirit is made from traditional absinthe botanicals, including wormwood, or artemisia absinthium. Created by mixologist Navind Boodoo and manager Kern Mattei, Pupule Punch was simply yet elegantly garnished with a purple orchid, and served by a moonlighting Molokai Girl, Roxy Centera. It doesn’t get much more classic (and classy) than that.
* See recipe below

The Broken Shaker: Sweet Micky (Barbancourt 3 Star, Barbancourt white, Amontillado sherry, spiced passion fruit syrup, lime juice, mint). Rating: 7.5. An extremely fresh, sweet and spicy treat, Sweet Micky is a perfectly balanced classic-style Tiki drink with exotic flavors and craft cocktail touches. The latest gem from bartenders Gui Jaroschy and Randy Perez somehow manages to be simultaneously tart, sweet and dry. It’s no surprise it won the Judge’s Choice award. The combination of rums is the perfect complement, while the distinctive Lustau Dry Amontillado “Los Arcos” Sherry adds a rich and complex note on the back end. Garnished with a mint sprig and fresh passion fruit with spices, the aromatics enhance the experience and bring it to the next level. This award-winning crew never lets us down.
* See recipe below

Foundation Tiki Bar in Milwaukee is represented by bartender Michael Kotke (left) and manager Don Nelson, who serve up the Ti-Bon-Ange cocktail.

Foundation Tiki Bar in Milwaukee is represented by bartender Michael Kotke (left) and manager Don Nelson, who serve up the Ti-Bon-Ange cocktail. (Atomic Grog photo)

Foundation Tiki Bar: Ti-Bon-Ange (Barbancourt white, sweet sherry, absinthe, lime juice, pineapple juice, passion fruit syrup, Angostura bitters). Rating: 7. The driest and most mysterious tasting cocktail of the event, this concoction by mixologist Michael Kotke translates into “sweet little angel” in Haitian French, manager Don Nelson told me. Garnished with a lime wheel and mint sprig, it’s dry and strong with a rich complexity and plenty of kick. The absinthe, bitters and Lustau East India Solera Sherry combine to add another level of flavor as the white rum takes a back seat.

Fort Defiance: Body Snatcher (Barbancourt 5 Star, Amontillado dry sherry, lime juice, carrot juice, cream of coconut, Angostura bitters, cardamom syrup). Rating: 7. Strong, spicy and rich with great mouthfeel and depth, this is exactly what you’d expect from St. John Frizell, who won the New York City Wine & Food Festival’s version of The Art of Tiki in October. The cardamom imparts a complex burst of spice, combining with the bitters to create a potent flavor kick. Frizell joked that the carrot juice makes it a health drink, and we agree that the Body Snatcher could easily revive the dead. Served in Beachbum Berry’s Pearl Diver Glass for the judges and garnished with mint, the Body Snatcher is not for the timid, veering just to the edge of dangerous. But that’s apropos for a cocktail served to you by a crew who looked like they just emerged from a sarcophogus.

The Tsanta from Kreepy Tiki Lounge included pepper-infused Barbancourt 5 Star rhum, apricot liqueur and absinthe.

The Tsanta from Kreepy Tiki Lounge included pepper-infused Barbancourt 5 Star rhum, apricot liqueur and absinthe. (Atomic Grog photo)

Kreepy Tiki Lounge: The Tsanta (Pepper-infused Barbancourt 5 Star, apricot liqueur, absinthe, lime juice, pineapple juice, papaya nectar, banana-pepper Demerara syrup). Rating: 7. Named for a type of shrunken head, The Tsanta is a spicy tour-de-force from the mother-daughter tream of Ayme Harrison and Demi Anne Natoli. Another very creative cocktail, it’s full of complex flavors and rich juices. Though not quite as balanced as some of the event’s other offerings, it’s nonetheless surprisingly clean and goes down smooth, revealing different nuances of the pepper-laced rum and Demerara syrup as you progress through the drink. The combination of apricot, lime, pineapple and papaya creates a totally new flavor explosion, enhanced by the aged rum and absinthe. The garnish of pineapple, pineapple leaves, papaya, lime, orange and cherries was one of the event’s most elaborate, matching the Kreepy Tiki bar station’s decor and smoking cauldron of cocktails.

The Golden Tiki: The Coco Moloko (Barbancourt white, Barbancourt Pango, coconut cream mix, lime juice, mint). Rating: 7. A simple yet effective cocktail that puts Barbancourt’s mango/pineapple-flavored Pango Rhum to best use as a foil for the coconut. Managing partner Branden Powers said bartender Mikel Kortan purposely kept things simple with this five-ingredient drink that shows off the bar’s well-balanced house coconut cream mix. The Coco Moloko is a bit one-note, but in a good way, garnished with mint and toasted coconut. There’s also mint in the drink, which keeps if from becoming too sweet. It walks a fine line perfectly, coming off as the craft cocktail version of a Painkiller.

The Alchemy Hour cocktail from Porco Lounge & Tiki Room was a crowd favorite.

The Alchemy Hour cocktail from Porco Lounge & Tiki Room was a crowd favorite. (Atomic Grog photo)

Porco Lounge & Tiki Room: Alchemy Hour (Barbancourt 3 Star, Barbancourt Pango, lime juice, passion fruit syrup, cream of coconut, maple-raspberry spiced syrup drizzle, sugar-spiced salt rim). Rating: 7. A melting pot of flavors in every sip, from sweet to spicy to salty, this over-the-top cocktail from manager/head bartender Shannon Smith and his crew took home the People’s Choice award. Garnished with pineapple and mango, the Alchemy Hour comes dangerously close to being overly sweet and may actually have too much going on for its own good. Though it definitely impressed both the guests and judges, I’d prefer it with the salted rim and maple-raspberry drizzle dialed back. At its core, the combination of rum, lime, passion fruit and coconut makes for a very solid drink. It just needs a little more space to breathe.

While you’d be hard-pressed to duplicate the all-encompassing, celebrity-laden experience presented last month in South Beach in the privacy of your own home, you could at least have a pretty good taste of The Art of Tiki with the following two recipes:

**************************

SWEET MICKY
(Adapted from a recipe by The Broken Shaker, Miami Beach)

Sweet Micky by The Atomic Grog, March 2016. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Sweet Micky by The Atomic Grog, March 2016. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* 1 ounce Rhum Barbancourt 3 Star
* 1 ounce Rhum Barbancourt white
* 3/4 ounce dry sherry
* 1 ounce spiced passion fruit syrup ***
* 3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
* Mint leaves

Muddle 4-5 mint leaves in shaker, add other ingredients and shake heartily with ice for 8-10 seconds. Strain over crushed ice in a Tiki mug or stemmed cocktail glass. Garnish with mint sprig.

The Judge’s Choice award winner is a tour de force of sweet, tart, spicy and bold flavors. The two rums unite with the sherry to create an aggressive punch of alcohol, but it’s perfectly balanced by the tart lime and spiced passion fruit. While any quality dry sherry will work fine, pick up a bottle of Lustau Dry Amontillado “Los Arcos” Sherry if you want to truly duplicate The Broken Shaker’s masterpiece. It’s a Spanish wine with a touch of sweetness that’s also known for its distinct, tangy salinity.

*** Spiced passion fruit syrup
The Broken Shaker’s spiced passion fruit syrup is made with a base of frozen passion fruit pulp and sugar. We’re told it also includes allspice dram (the St. Elizabeth brand), Angostura bitters, cinnamon, clove, anise, and pink peppercorns. Rather than cook up a large batch without knowing the proper proportions, I came up with a shortcut to make a small amount for one cocktail. It includes all the flavors except the peppercorns (The Broken Shaker uses fresh berries, most likely from the bar’s garden). These proportions work well and closely approximate the flavor in Sweet Micky. Simply increase to make larger batches. To make sure the flavors meshed, I mixed this up in advance and set it aside for an hour before making the cocktail. The base is the same fresh syrup I make in batches for other cocktails using frozen passion fruit pulp and organic sugar.
* 3/4 ounce fresh passion fruit syrup
* 1/2 teaspoon allspice dram
* 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon syrup
* 1/4 teaspoon falernum
* 3 dashes Angostura bitters
* 1 drop of Pernod

* The Broken Shaker: Official website | Facebook
* The Atomic Grog: Bar of the Week (April 2015)

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PUPULE PUNCH
(Adapted from a recipe by The Mai-Kai, Fort Lauderdale)

Pupule Punch by The Atomic Grog, March 2016. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Pupule Punch by The Atomic Grog, March 2016. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* 2 ounces Rhum Barbancourt 3 Star
* 1/8 ounce absinthe
* 1 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice
* 1/2 ounce fresh orange juice
* 1/2 ounce simple syrup

Pulse blend with 1/2 cup crushed ice for 3-5 seconds. Pour into a chilled cocktail glass of your choice. Strain out ice, if preferred. Garnish with orchid or any available flower.

A bit on the simple side for The Mai-Kai, but all the ingredients work in perfect harmony. This is an elegant drink that can be sipped and savored seemingly indefinitely. The 4-year-old rhum from Haiti blends seamlessly with the fresh juices and The Mai-Kai’s house simple syrup. Use a rich syrup (2 parts sugar to 1 part water) to emulate the rich sweetness. The 110-proof Absente was the brand of anise liqueur featured during The Art of Tiki. Used in a small dose, it adds a bold flavor that doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the drink.
* The Mai-Kai: Official website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter
* The Atomic Grog: 2015 Art of Tiki: Molokai Swizzle | Bar of the Week (June 2015)

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EXCLUSIVE PHOTO GALLERY
The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown 2016

(Click on thumbnails to see larger images or to view as slideshow)
Photos by The Atomic Grog

Official photos: See 178 images from Getty for The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown
More photos and recap: Broken Shaker wins Art of Tiki (Miami New Times)

Official site: SOBEFest.com | Facebook page

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EVENT PREVIEW: Top Tiki mixologists take their talents to South Beach Wine & Food Festival for Cocktail Showdown

Published Feb. 21

If Tiki mixology truly is an art, then this week’s tropical drink showdown in Miami Beach is the modern cocktail world’s equivalent of an epic battle between the descendants of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael. After all, Tiki cocktails are in the midst of a second Renaissance.

South Beach Wine & Food Festival

“The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown” at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival unleashes nine of the country’s most popular and exotic drinking establishments in a festive fete hosted by celebrity chef Guy Fieri, on Friday, Feb. 26. Competing for bragging rights and cash prizes are bartenders from The Broken Shaker (Miami Beach), Fort Defiance (Brooklyn), Foundation Tiki Bar (Milwaukee), The Golden Tiki (Las Vegas), Kreepy Tiki Lounge (Fort Lauderdale), The Mai-Kai (Fort Lauderdale), Porco Lounge & Tiki Room (Cleveland), The Rum Line (Miami Beach), and Slowly Shirley at The Happiest Hour (New York City).

SoBeWFF official site: Preview, schedule, more
See below: Meet the mixologists, see how the bars stack up
Bonus recipes below: Pain Reliever | Cesar’s Rum Punch

The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown" at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival

The festival, commonly known as SoBeWFF, is celebrating its 15th anniversary during its Feb. 24-28 run, brought to you by title sponsors Food Network and the Cooking Channel. Many of the high-profile stars from those networks will be on hand, from Iron Chefs (Bobby Flay, Michael Symon, Masaharu Morimoto, et al.) to distinctive personalities (Rachael Ray, Giada De Laurentiis, Robert Irvine, and many more). The more than 80 events will expand beyond South Beach, reaching into both Miami-Dade and Broward counties. They range from intimate dinners and walk-around tastings, to grand tastings and late-night parties.

The Art of Tiki is in the latter category, running from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. at South Beach’s Surfcomber, a historic 1948 property that was renovated in 2011 into a modern boutique hotel. Like many events, however, the Cocktail Showdown is sold out due to overwhelming demand. Hosted by Southern Wine & Spirits of Florida and Florida International University, the festival benefits FIU’s Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management and the Southern Wine & Spirits Beverage Management Center. The school has received more than $22 million from the festival. One of the largest and most well-known festivals of its kind in the country, SoBeWFF attracts more than 60,000 guests annually.
* SoBeWFF links: All events | Buy tickets | Facebook page

Judges Martin Cate (left) and Beachbum Berry enjoy The Mai-Kai’s Molokai Swizzle at The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown on Feb. 20, 2015. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Judges Martin Cate (left) and Beachbum Berry enjoy The Mai-Kai’s Molokai Swizzle at The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown on Feb. 20, 2015. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Spurred by the 21st century revival of tropical drinks and Tiki culture, The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown made its debut at last year’s SoBeWFF. More than 700 people packed the Shore Club for the event, hosted by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse and featuring an expert panel of judges that included Tiki cocktail authors and bar owners Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and Martin Cate. Brian Miller (of “Tiki Mondays With Miller” in New York City) won the Judge’s Choice award, while Miami Beach’s The Broken Shaker earned the People’s Choice award. Other competitors, including 2016 returnees The Mai-Kai and The Rum Line, cranked out hundreds of cocktails for the thirsty guests, who also enjoyed small bites from an array of acclaimed chefs.
* Atomic Grog recap: Photos, review of the 2015 Tiki event at SoBeWFF

The successful event was reprised Oct. 17 during the New York City Wine & Food Festival, with a few Big Apple twists. Held on a rooftop with temperatures near freezing, it was far from a tropical oasis. Lagasse returned as host, Miller joined Berry as a judge, and NYC bartenders dominated the competition. St. John Frizell (Fort Defiance) edged out Garret Richard (The Happiest Hour) with a festive frozen drink. Both Frizell and Richard will be competing this week in South Beach.
* Atomic Grog recap: NYCWFF results, photos

Fieri, best known for Food Network’s Guy’s Grocery Games and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, has replaced Lagasse as host. The colorful chef and restaurateur, who rose to fame after winning The Next Food Network Star in 2006, has arguably supplanted the respected chef/restaurateur/author as the network’s rock star. Unlike Lagasse, however, he has little experience with Tiki cocktails, so it will be interesting to see if he brings the requisite laid-back vibe. Lagasse’s hosting duties last year were minimal, so it may not matter much.

New York City's Brian Miller, last year's Judge's Choice winner, will be serving up cocktails for sponsor Rhum Barbancourt at The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown on Feb. 26.

New York City’s Brian Miller, last year’s Judge’s Choice winner, will be serving up cocktails for sponsor Rhum Barbancourt at The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown on Feb. 26.

The real stars of the show are the cocktails and the food. And, of course, the rum. There’s a new exclusive rum sponosor this year, the venerable Rhum Barbancourt from Haiti. The nine competitors, set up in tricked-out bar spaces around the Surfcomber pool, will be featuring at least one of four Barbancourt products (White Rhum, Pango Rhum, 3 Star, and 5 Star) in their drinks. In addition, Rhum Barbancourt will pop up in the hotel’s existing pool bar to offer samples of its distinctive, sugarcane-based rhums.

Rhum Barbancourt is taking its sponsorship seriously, teaming up with last year’s champ Brian Miller for the occasion. “Brian’s skill and creativity truly stands out. He embodies Tiki,” said Rhum Barbancourt spokeswoman Jenna Dillon. “Once we found out that he was not part of the judges panel, we decided it would be the perfect opportunity for him to showcase 5 Star in one of his original cocktails. You will not be disappointed.” Over the past year, Barbancourt has been a proud sponsor of Tiki Mondays with Miller, the mixologist’s quarterly Tiki party at Pouring Ribbons in New York City.

Joining Miller and the Barbancourt crew will be bar manager Zach Lynch and Greg Goldstein from the Ice Plant in St. Augustine. Lynch, who created the bar’s creative cocktail program, also has a history with the rum brand. In July, he spearheaded the Rhum Barbancourt Tiki Takeover at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. Barbancourt will also be contributing some special prizes to the showdown winners, including the rare Cuvée 150 Ans, which was released in 2012 to commemorate the brand’s 150th birthday and fetches upwards of $500 a bottle today.

Recent Atomic Grog coverage
* ‘The Art of Tiki’ to feature Rhum Barbancourt, Brian Miller
* Tickets for ‘The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown’ sell out

Brian Miller of New York City accepts the Judge’s Choice award from Emeril Lagasse at The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival on Feb. 20

Brian Miller of New York City accepts the Judge’s Choice award from Emeril Lagasse at The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival on Feb. 20. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Like last year, there will be both Judges Choice and People’s Choice winners. Joining Fieri at the judge’s table are event organizer Francesco Lafranconi (executive director of mixology and spirits educator for Southern Wine and Spirits of Nevada), Julie Reiner (owner of New York City’s influential Clover Club); and Laine Doss (food and spirits writer for Miami New Times).

A hallmark of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival is the high caliber of chefs showing off their skills, and The Art of Tiki is no exception. The 10 food stations will feature an array of acclaimed chefs from South Florida serving light, Polynesian-inspired bites to pair with the cocktails. The lineup:
* Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen & Bar in Cancun
* The Social Club in Miami Beach (Blair Wilson)
* BC Tacos in Fort Lauderdale (Brett Chiavari)
* Ian’s Tropical Grill in Stuart (Eric Grutka)
* Blackbrick and Sakaya Kitchen in Miami (Richard Hales)
* Temple Street Eatery in Fort Lauderdale (Alex Kuk and Diego Ng)
* Sushisamba in Miami Beach and Coral Gables (David Sears)
* Tropical Chinese Restaurant in Miami (Mei Yu)
* The Federal and Phuc Yea in Miami (Cesar Zapata)
* Naked Tiki in Miami Beach (Ralph Pagano)

Naked Tiki grand opening

Pagano, host of Pressure Cook and former competitor on Hell’s Kitchen, has perfectly timed the recent opening of his new concept. Naked Tiki has just opened its doors in the Stiles Hotel on South Beach, bringing a stylish, Polynesian-themed restaurant and bar to an area that desperately needs it. [Past Atomic Grog coverage] The soft opening was Feb. 11, with a grand opening party on Feb. 20. Naked Tiki should be operating on all cylinders by the time SoBeWFF rolls around. [Check out our photos from the Feb. 20 party on our Facebook page; full story coming soon]

While The Art of Tiki is sold out, there are still plenty of events to choose from, featuring world-renowned chefs serving up tasty food, wine, beer and spirits. The signature Grand Tasting Village (on Saturday and Sunday) is perhaps the most bang for your buck ($225). Spend five hours checking out the tasting tents and culinary demos featuring such noted food personalities as Duff Goldman, Aaron Sanchez, Alex Guarnaschelli, Geoffrey Zakarian, Andrew Zimmern, and more. Rhum Barbancourt is among the many spirits sponsors.

Outside of the festival, there are also a few cocktail-oriented events to check out during SoBeWFF, including “takeovers” by New York City’s Employees Only and Chicago’s The Broken Shaker. Spirited Miami posted this handy list.
* See full event coverage from Miami New Times

Meet the mixologists, preview the competition

In addition to the 8-year-old (5 Star) and Pango Rhum (pictured), Rhum Barbancourt is offering the 4-year-old (3 Star) and White Rhum to The Art of Tiki competitors.

In addition to the 8-year-old (5 Star) and Pango Rhum (pictured), Rhum Barbancourt is offering the 4-year-old (3 Star) and White Rhum to The Art of Tiki competitors.

At “The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown” at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, nine bars and restaurants from across the country that have a flair for tropical mixology will mix up special signature cocktails for attendees and judges to taste. Drink recipes were submitted and approved in advance. They must include at least one of Barbancourt’s rhums; mixologists can add their own unique ingredients and prep them in advance. There’s also likely a limit on the number of ingredients (last year it was seven).

Rhum Barbancourt has a unique profile that should make the cocktails stand out. It’s made only in Haiti using a special distillation and barrel-aging process that dates back to 1862, when founder Dupre Barbancourt created the original recipe. It uses sugarcane instead of molasses, hence the “rhum” designation. In this regard, it’s similar to the grassy agricole rhums from another French-speaking island, Martinique. The Barbancourt rhums stand on their own, however, and are somewhat more accessible, with a great balance of sweet and spicy flavors.

In previewing the competing bars, I split them into three groups of three. Not that anyone from the third group couldn’t easily pull off a victory, but I sought to handicap the lineup based on past experience and expectations. It’s entirely subjective, but I gave preference to awards and experience, especially competitions such as the Art of Tiki. Past winners can rightfully be considered the favorites. That being said, it would be great to see one of the newer entries pull off an upset. May the best cocktail win!

THE FAVORITES

Randy Perez (left) and Gui Jaroschy from The Broken Shaker in Miami took home the People’s Choice award at The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown in February at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival

Randy Perez (left) and Gui Jaroschy from The Broken Shaker in Miami took home the People’s Choice award at The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown in February 2015 at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The Broken Shaker (Miami Beach):
Randy Perez and Gui Jaroschy

Last year’s People’s Choice winner (and No. 3 on the judges’ ballot) is back and bucking for a sweep this year. The Broken Shaker’s visonary owners, Gabriel Orta and Elad Zvi, have once again entered their A Team: Bartenders Randy Perez and Gui Jaroschy. The founders of Bar Lab in 2009 opened the first Broken Shaker as a pop-up, then moved into their current digs at the Freehand Miami hotel on South Beach in 2012. Since then, the accolades have come at a frequent pace, including Best American Hotel Bar at the 2015 Spirited Awards at Tales of the Cocktail. In 2013, The Broken Shaker was a semi-finalist for a prestigious James Beard Award. The bar transcends Tiki, with a speakeasy vibe and vast outdoor tropical space that lends itself to innovation. The cocktails are wildly creative, as is the food at the adjoining 27 Restaurant. A second Broken Shaker opened in June at the Freehand Chicago, while a third location is planned for the fall at the Freehand in Los Angeles. Boosted by their work at The Broken Shaker, Perez and Jaroschy have become rising stars in the local bar scene.
* Freehand Miami website | The Broken Shaker on Facebook
* On The Atomic Grog: Bar of the Week (April 2015)

St. John Frizell of Fort Defiance in Brooklyn.

St. John Frizell of Fort Defiance in Brooklyn.

Fort Defiance (Brooklyn):
St. John Frizell

New York City is arguably the world’s epicenter for craft cocktails, and Tiki plays a significant role in the city’s boozy landscape. While there are a small selection of Tiki-themed lounges in the city, it’s rare to find cocktails made at the same level as the bar staff at Fort Defiance and The Sunken Harbor Club, the Polynesian party that has been called Brooklyn’s Best Tiki Bar despite being a monthly event. Frizell, a veteran bartender and writer, opened Fort Defiance in 2009, offering craft cocktails and food, quickly establishing a reputation for fresh ingredients and creative libations. In October, Frizell proved his mettle by winning The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown when the event made its debut at the New York City Wine & Food Festival. He beat out some of the city’s top bartenders, Tiki or otherwise, including another competitor this week in South Beach, Garret Richard. At SoBeWFF, Frizell will be joined by bartender Tyler Caffall.
* Official website | Facebook: Fort Defiance and The Sunken Harbor Club
* On The Atomic Grog: Bar of the Week (January 2016)

Among the many iconic cocktails at The Mai-Kai are (clockwise from upper left) the Shrunken Skull, Mai-Tai, Barrel O' Rum, and Gardenia Lei.

Among the many iconic cocktails at The Mai-Kai are (clockwise from upper left) the Shrunken Skull, Mai-Tai, Barrel O’ Rum, and Gardenia Lei.

The Mai-Kai (Fort Lauderdale):
Navind Boodoo

The impact of The Mai-Kai on the current Tiki cocktail revival cannot be understated. It’s accurate to say that Jeff “Beachbum” Berry kick-started the current renaissance with Grog Log (1998) and the many books that followed. But it was The Mai-Kai that inspired Berry, and it continues to inspire a new generation of mixologists with its vintage menu of classic tropical drinks. Established in 1956, The Mai-Kai is a throwback to another era, perhaps the last remaining mid-century Polynesian supper club in the world. Its roots go back even further, with many of its founding employees coming to Fort Lauderdale from Tiki bar pioneer Don the Beachcomber’s employ. The Mai-Kai has retained the same standard of excellence for six decades, and was recently named to the National Register of Historic Places. In mid-century tradition, The Mai-Kai’s bars are hidden from view, so Navind Boodoo has toiled in relative anonymity since 2009. But he brings a wealth of experience making classic Tiki cocktails at the highest level. General manager Kern Mattei, who assisted head mixologist Troy Gallant at last year’s The Art of Tiki, collaborated with Boodoo on this year’s cocktail. Mattei is no stranger to Rhum Barbancourt, having created the excellent 1862 Rhum Punch for the rum sponsor at The Hukilau 2015. For The Art of Tiki, they’ve come up with a simple drink with classic flavors, including Rhum Barbancourt 5 Star and a special ingredient that was once banned in the United States for 100 years.
* Official website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter
* On The Atomic Grog: Art of Tiki recipe: Molokai Swizzle | Bar of the Week (June 2015)
The Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide | Tropical drink family tree

THE CONTENDERS

Garret Richard of Slowly Shirley in New York City.

Garret Richard of Slowly Shirley in New York City.

Slowly Shirley at The Happiest Hour (New York City):
Garret Richard

Don’t let his youthful appearance fool you. Richard has spent five years in the trenches in the competitive New York cocktail scene, finding a niche with a flair for tropical mixology after an early apprenticeship with Julie Reiner at Monkey Bar in 2011. Richard thrived at Prime Meats, where he helped create themed Tiki pop-ups and began building a loyal following. In 2015, he joined the opening staff at The Happiest Hour, another acclaimed program with an emphasis on quality and creativity. Richard’s domain is the basement bar, Slowly Shirley, where he gets to show off his passion for tropical drinks and push his talents to the next level. You can also find him mixing at the city’s major Tiki events, including The Sunken Harbor Club at Fort Defiance and Tiki Mondays With Miller. He was Brian Miller’s right hand at the Tiki Tower Takeover at The Hukilau in June 2015, then competed at The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown at the New York City Wine & Food Festival in October. According to reports from the scene, he came within a hair of winning that competiton with an over-the-top performance.
* Official websites: Slowly Shirley | The Happiest Hour
* Facebook pages: Slowly Shirley | The Happiest Hour
* On The Atomic Grog: Bar of the Week (February 2016)

Michael Kotke of Foundation Tiki Bar.

Michael Kotke of Foundation Tiki Bar.

Foundation Tiki Bar (Milwaukee):
Michael Kotke

Dating back to 1995, this former punk-rock dive has evolved into one of the most highly regarded Tiki establishments in the world (No. 8 on Critiki’s list of the Ten Best Tiki Bars in the World). The Mai-Kai (No. 1) is the only other competing bar on that list. Led by manager Don Nelson and mixologist Michael Kotke (who will both be representing Foundation at SoBeWFF), this oasis of Tiki in the Midwest is committed to authentic decor, music, and cocktails. The small, dark bar is loaded with Tiki touches (bamboo, thatch, pufferfish, etc.) and more than 50 carvings by local artist Dave Hansen of Lake Tiki. The cocktail menu is loaded with many classics as well as originals, plus a rum list that numbers more than 70 different varieties. And like any self-respecting Tiki bar, Foundation offers its own mugs and glasses that you can take home. Like many in today’s scene, Kotke has a classic cocktail pedigree, but he’s also well-versed in tropical drinks after his total immersion in the art of Tiki at Foundation.
* Official website | Facebook | Instagram
* On The Atomic Grog: Bar of the Week (November 2015)

Rob Ferrara of The Rum Line in Miami Beach.

Rob Ferrara of The Rum Line in Miami Beach.

The Rum Line (Miami Beach):
Rob Ferrara

Since opening at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel in 2014, The Rum Line (and attached restaurant Lure Fishbar) have created a welcome sanctuary of expertly curated cocktails and spirits amid the glitz of South Beach. For that, we can thank mixologist Rob Ferrara, who returns for a second year to The Art of Tiki show off his talent for cocktail artistry. The Rum Line sits on the hotel’s outdoor terrace, welcoming guests to its version of a tropical resort getaway in 1940s-era Cuba. Tiki torches burn as guests sip elaborately garnished, complex cocktails in Tiki mugs while noshing on small bites from Lure Fishbar. Ferrara also heads Lure’s cocktail program, coming to the Loews after a stint at Swine Southern Table & Bar in Coral Gables, where he was named best bartender in Miami by New Times. He also started the bar program at The Dutch Miami at the W Hotel South Beach, voted best restaurant bar in Miami on Eater.com. He came to Miami from New Jersey in 2008, quickly establishing himself as head bartender at STK Miami. Ferrara is a creative force to be reckoned with, employing fresh local ingredients such as exotic fruits and vegetables in his signature barrel-aged cocktails and infused rums.
* Official website | Facebook
* On The Atomic Grog: Bar of the Week (January 2016)

THE WILDCARDS

The Golden Tiki

The Golden Tiki (Las Vegas)
Opening in July, The Golden Tiki is the newest bar in the competition and also the only one from west of the Mississippi. True to its location in Sin City, the 4,000-square-foot space in the Chinatown district is an orgiastic feast of the senses. Open 24-7 and offering the requisite gaming machines, The Golden Tiki also serves up eclectic entertainment (bands, DJs, special performers) in a highly themed environment (fountains, thatched huts, an animatronic talking Tiki, etc.). It’s like an adult Disneyland, complete with spiked Dole Whips. Managing partner Branden Powers, a Vegas nightlife veteran, came up with the concept, spurred by his love of Tiki and Disney-style theming. Guests can enjoy classic and new-school Tiki cocktails while exploring the bar’s distinctive areas: Skull Island, Pirates Lair, Mermaid’s Cove and Headhunters Village. While generally glowing, some online reviews have questioned (some would say unjustifiably) the drink quality and consistency, so The Art of Tiki will be a good opportunity for Powers and the bar’s mixologists to shine on the national stage and prove the naysayers wrong.
* Official website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
* On The Atomic Grog: Bar of the Week (November 2015)

Ayme Harrison (right) and Demi Anne Natoli of Kreepy Tiki Lounge in Fort Lauderdale.

Ayme Harrison (right) and Demi Anne Natoli of Kreepy Tiki Lounge in Fort Lauderdale.

Kreepy Tiki Lounge (Fort Lauderdale):
Ayme Harrison and Demi Anne Natoli

While this small bar has been a mainstay in the local rockabilly scene for years, the cocktail program didn’t emerge until last year, when a full liquor license was procured and the mother-daughter duo of Ayme Harrison and Demi Anne Natoli took over behind the bar. Hands-on owner Harrison makes sure everything is done right, from homemade bitters and syrups, to hand-squeezed juices, to top-shelf spirits. The fact that five drinks include the acclaimed Smith & Cross Jamaican rum should tell you they take their drinks seriously here. Mixologists from The Broken Shaker helped create the original menu, and Kreepy Tiki got a publicity boost last year when it was named one of the best 22 Tiki bars in the country by Condé Nast Traveler. Attached to the longtime tattoo parlor of the same name, Kreepy Tiki Lounge has also received a drastic upgrade in decor, with lots of retro and Polynesian Pop touches. It’s still the area’s hotspot for lounge, swing, pin-up, and rockabilly enthusiasts, who can now also enjoy world-class tropical cocktails. In addition to the drinks, which include both revved-up classics and creative new concoctions, live entertainment takes center stage with a full schedule of themed nights (jazz, swing, punk, comedy, burlesque, et al.).
* Official website | Facebook page | Twitter | Instagram
* On The Atomic Grog: Bar of the Week (September 2015)

Shannon Smith of Porco Lounge & Tiki Room in Cleveland.

Shannon Smith of Porco Lounge & Tiki Room in Cleveland.

Porco Lounge & Tiki Room (Cleveland):
Shannon Smith

Part of a new breed of Tiki bars that have recently opened with total reverence for the past, Porco is Cleveland’s first authentic Polynesian cocktail lounge in nearly 40 years. Opened by owner Stefan Was in October 2013, the bar seeks to duplicate the classic experience in every detail, from the decor to the music to the drinks featuring homemade syrups, fresh-squeezed juices, and a plethora of rums. Porco Lounge & Tiki Room even includes some artifacts from the Kon Tiki, the city’s last vintage Polynesian restaurant (closed in 1976). The cocktail menu boasts many familiar classics as well as distinctive new drinks created by general manager/head bartender Shannon Smith and his crew. The Porco staff is tight-knit and dedicated. In fact, they’re so committed to The Art of Tiki they’re closing the bar from Feb. 25 through Feb. 29 so all 18 employees can all come to South Beach for the competition against Tiki’s top guns.
* Official website | Facebook | Twitter
* On The Atomic Grog: Bar of the Week (November 2015)

After party on Feb. 27: Some of the competitors will be gathering at The Mai-Kai on Saturday, Feb. 27. Join us as we toast the winners and enjoy a quiet happy hour following Friday’s frenzied festivities.
* Facebook event

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Here are a couple tasty cocktail recipes to get you in the mood for The Art of Tiki 2016. First up, the Judge’s Choice award-winning cocktail from the inaugural 2015 event in South Beach, a dark and spicy riff on the Painkiller by New York City barman Brian Miller:

Pain Reliever tribute by The Atomic Grog. Ono Lono Mug by Crazy Al Evans and Tiki Farm, 2003. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, February 2016)

Pain Reliever tribute by The Atomic Grog. Ono Lono Mug by Crazy Al Evans and Tiki Farm, 2003. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, February 2016)

PAIN RELIEVER
(Adapted from a recipe by Brian Miller of Tiki Mondays with Miller)

* 1 ounce Myers’s dark Jamaican rum
* 1 ounce Ron Zacapa 23 aged rum
* 1/2 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice
* 1/2 ounce fresh-squeezed orange juice
* 1 ounce fresh-squeezed pineapple juice
* 1 ounce coconut cream
* 1/2 ounce Don’s Spices #4 (cinnamon simple syrup)
* 1/4 ounce double-strength Kona coffee, chilled

Pulse blend with 1 cup of crushed ice for 6-8 seconds, then pour into a Tiki mug. Garnish with a pineapple wedge and grated coffee bean.

Rich, sweet and creamy, this award-winning concoction tantalizes the taste buds with an array of rum and coffee notes followed by spicy cinnamon undertones. The blend of citrus brightens and balances the cream and pineapple, creating a complex and intoxicating flavor profile.

The 2015 contest featured a range of well-known rums from Diageo, but Miller was able to create a unique flavor by using his own blend of coffee-infused Zacapa Rum. This tribute recipe comes close to that flavor with a dose of strong coffee and the standard rum. Feel free to use more or less coffee to taste. Miller also uses his own homemade coconut cream and cinnamon syrup, which only enhances the freshness and flavor. Cinnamon syrup is fairly straightforward and there are many recipes online, but if you must use an off-the-shelf product you can’t go wrong with B.G. Reynolds. Miller’s coconut cream is a tougher ingredient to duplicate, so we recommend the old standbys Coco Lopez or Coco Real.

* See reviews, photos of all the drinks in the 2015 showdown

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To represent the 2016 sponsor, here’s a classic Rhum Barbancourt cocktail:

Cesar's Rum Punch by The Atomic Grog. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, February 2016)

Cesar’s Rum Punch by The Atomic Grog. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, February 2016)

CESAR’S RUM PUNCH
(From Beachbum Berry’s Potions of the Caribbean, Remixed and Intoxica)

* 2 ounces Rhum Barbancourt 3 Star
* 2 ounces fresh-squeezed lime juice
* 1 ounce grenadine
* 1 teaspoon sugar
* 3 dashes Angostura bitters

Dissolve sugar in lime juice, then shake all ingredients with ice cubes. Strain into a tall glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with a pineapple wedge speared to a cocktail cherry, and lime and orange wheels. Finish with a mint sprig.

This is a sour and spicy take on the classic Planter’s Punch, featuring Barbancourt 3 Star working in unison with the bitters and lime to create an intense punch of flavor. The grenadine and sugar add just the right amount of sweetness, and the smell of the mint enhances the taste. An alternate recipe served by Rhum Barbancourt at The Hukilau 2015 in Fort Lauderdale featured 1 1/2 ounces of lime juice and 1/4 ounce of simple syrup.

Cesar’s Rum Punch is a signature Rhum Barbancourt cocktail recipe served in the 1960s at Haiti’s Grand Hotel Oloffson, a fomer presidential palace. The original recipe, created by Joseph Cesar, dates back to the 1930s. Both were unearthed by Tiki cocktail historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and can be found in his latest book, Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them. You’ll also learn more about Rhum Barbancourt and the legendary Hotel Oloffson, a favorite destination of generations of rum-loving bohemians.

More on Rhum Barbancourt
Official sites
* BarbancourtRhum.com | Facebook | Twitter | Pintrest | Instagram | YouTube
The Atomic Grog Rums of the Week
* Rhum Barbancourt 5 Star and 1862 Rhum Punch
* Rhum Barbancourt 3 Star and Tahitian cocktail

Don’t miss: Brian Miller and St. John Frizell will be mixing up signature cocktails at the sold-out Tiki Tower Takeover at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale on June 9. They’ll be joined by three other top Tiki barmen: Jeff “Beachbum” Berry of Latitude 29 (New Orleans), Martin Cate of Smuggler’s Cove (San Francisco), and Paul McGee of Lost Lake (Chicago).
* The Atomic Grog preview | 2015 recap, photos

About Hurricane Hayward

A professional journalist and Florida resident for more than 30 years, Jim "Hurricane" Hayward shares his obsession with Polynesian Pop and other retro styles on his blog, The Atomic Grog. Jim's roots in mid-century and reto culture go back to his childhood in the 1960s, when he tagged along with his parents to Tiki restaurants and his father's custom car shows. His experience in journalism, mixology, and more than 20 years as an independent concert promoter make him a jack-of-all-trades in the South Florida scene. A graduate of the University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications, Jim is a longtime web producer for The Palm Beach Post. In his spare time, he has promoted hundreds of rock, punk, and indie concerts under the Slammie Productions name since the early 1990s. In 2011, he launched The Atomic Grog to extensively cover events, music, art, cocktails, and culture with a retro slant. Jim earned his nickname by virtue of both his dangerous exotic drinks and his longtime position producing The Post's tropical weather website.
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