UPDATE: Chairman’s Reserve Mai Tai Challenge: 14 Bartenders to compete at The Mai-Kai for trip to St. Lucia

OCT. 10 UPDATE: There will be 14 finalists in the regional competition of the Chairman’s Reserve Mai Tai Challenge at The Mai-Kai on Oct. 30. Nearly 50 Mai Tai submissions were judged, with the finalists coming from cites across the eastern United States, from Chicago to Atlanta, New Orleans to Miami. Here are the bartenders who will be competing for a chance to move on to the global finals in 2019 in St. Lucia:

Chairman's Reserve Mai Tai Challenge at The Mai-Kai

Oct. 30 Mai Tai Challenge lineup
* Sophia Alba, Three Dots and a Dash (Chicago)
* Jesse Carr, Balise Tavern (New Orleans)
* Lindsay Chapman, Belle Epoque / The Old Absinthe House (New Orleans)
* Michael DeMahy, Death or Glory (Delray Beach, Fla.)
* Nick Deitrich, Manolito (New Orleans)
* Aiden Dillon, Three Dots and a Dash (Chicago)
* Nicholas Fatta, Iron Oak Post (Melbourne, Fla.)
* Ethan Lane, Empire State South (Atlanta)
* Maggie Morgan, Manolito (New Orleans)
* James O’Donnell, Compere Lapin (New Orleans)
* Gregory Schutt, Crush Eleven (Melbourne, Fla.) / The Fat Snook (Cocoa Beach, Fla.)
* Evan Nicole Sewele, The Nest (Orlando)
* Jessica L. Weinstein, Hank’s Cocktail Bar (Washington, D.C.)
* Sam Wiener, Lost Boy Dry Goods / The Bend Liquor Lounge (Miami)

Florida and New Orleans made a fine showing with five bartenders each, followed by Chicago with two. Atlanta and Washington fill out the coastal-heavy lineup.

More details were announced Oct. 9 by Chairman’s Reserve in a new Facebook event. The contest will be held from 1 to 4:30, followed by the crowning of the U.S. east champion in the after-party from 4:30 to 7:30. It will feature “tunes, cocktail specials and snacks.”


The deadline is fast approaching to enter one of the world’s most ambitious and fun-filled international competitions, the second annual Chairman’s Reserve Mai Tai Challenge. One winner from next month’s Fort Lauderdale regional contest will join bartenders from 10 countries in the finals in St. Lucia in 2019.

See below: 2017 Mai Tai Challenge recap | St. Lucia rums | What’s a Mai Tai?
Bonus cocktail recipes: Oh Mai Darling | Atomic Mai Tai Cocktail

Author and Tiki cocktail historian Jeff "Beachbum" Berry will be one of the judges of the Chairman's Reserve Mai Tai Challenge regional final on Oct. 30 at The Mai-Kai. He'll also join the finalists in St. Lucia in March 2019. (Atomic Grog photo from The Hukilau 2016) Author and Tiki cocktail historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry will be one of the judges of the Chairman’s Reserve Mai Tai Challenge regional final on Oct. 30 at The Mai-Kai. He’ll also join the finalists in St. Lucia in March 2019. (Atomic Grog photo from The Hukilau 2016)

Cocktail recipes and photos must be submitted online via the Chairman’s Reserve website by Monday, Sept. 24, to be eligible for the regional competition to be held at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday, Oct. 30.

At the Oct. 30 special event, 12 finalists will recreate their Mai Tai variations for a panel of judges including Tiki cocktail historian, author and barkeep Jeff “Beachbum” Berry. Details will be announced soon, but The Mai-Kai promises “an incredible after-party” starting at 4:30 p.m., right after the conclusion of the competition, which will be limited to industry and special guests. The after-party in The Molokai lounge will be free and open to the public.
* MaiKai.com | Instagram | Facebook page and group

A Chairman’s Reserve rum or rums are required to be the showcased spirit, but homemade ingredients are accepted. The exact definition of what constitutes a Mai Tai also seems to be fairly loose. Last year’s winning drink included Caribbean sherbet, ginger spice and passion fruit. More importantly, competitors are encouraged to have their cocktails tell a story.

Those selected for the regional finals will be judged on the taste, creativity and presentation of the cocktail along with how they promote the drink both on social media and in their bar. Finalists for the Fort Lauderdale competition will be announced on Monday, Oct. 1.

Chairman's Reserve

Bartenders outside of the Eastern Seaboard may want to consider entering the other upcoming regional competitions in Toronto (deadline: Nov. 12) and Los Angeles (deadline: Dec. 10). Competitions are ongoing across the globe. Working bartenders aged 21 and older from the United States, Canada, Spain, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Switzerland and France are eligible.

The fun really begins when the regional winners are selected. They’ll all be flown to exotic and enchanting Saint Lucia in March 2019 for the global finals. In a unique format, each competitor will be teamed up with a local Saint Lucian bartender to create a totally new cocktail using Chairman’s Reserve rums and locally sourced ingredients.

While on the Eastern Caribbean island, they’ll visit St. Lucia Distillers and learn about the creation, aging and blending of Chairman’s Reserve. Also included are other “educational excursions” to learn about Saint Lucia’s rum heritage, plus a tropical cocktail workshop hosted by Beachbum Berry.
* On the Web: A Look at St. Lucia Distillers (Rum Connection)
Chasing food and rum In St. Lucia, the Caribbean’s Never Never Land (Uproxx)

Chairman’s Reserve is St. Lucia’s premiere rum, a blend of column and pot distillates sourced from molasses imported from Guyana. The result is a distinctive suite of rums that combine the best of the traditional English styles (the funky Jamaican and lighter Barbados) along with the rich Demerara rums from neighboring Guyana. Chairman’s Reserve rums are known for their rich body and notes of chocolate, dried fruits, and brown spice. They’re blended and re-casked in ex-Bourbon barrels, which provide a slightly dry, smoky finish.
* ChairmansReserveRum.com | Instagram | Facebook

“Chairman’s Reserve has some remarkable, world-class rums, which I believe have pride of place in 21st-century Mai Tai variations,” according to Beachbum Berry. “I can’t wait to see what today’s bartenders come up with using these expressions.”

Do you have what it takes to earn a trip to St. Lucia? Here’s a sample of what you may be up against (from the competition in France):

This could be you: Recap of the first Chairman’s Reserve Mai Tai Challenge

The first Chairman’s Reserve Mai Tai Challenge culminated in the October 2017 finals at Capella Marigot Bay Resort and Marina in St. Lucia. Ten bartenders representing the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, France, Portugal and Sweden won their regional competitions to earn a trip that undoubtedly became a career highlight.

The winners of the inaugural Chairman’s Reserve Mai Tai Challenge – Sweden’s Sharam Mohebbi (center left) and St. Lucia’s Stephen Peter (center right) – show off some of their prizes.

The visiting bartenders were paired with brethren from St. Lucia to form two-person teams for the finale. It was a quick bonding experience as these professionals joined forces to shop for local ingredients, create an inventive new cocktail, then present it live in the bartender showdown.

They were challenged to create a reimagined Mai Tai using Chairman’s Reserve rums and taking inspiration from their trip, which included tours of the distillery and local markets, plus a Tiki cocktail seminar by U.K. Tiki guru Georgi Radev (Mahiki, Laki Kane).

Sweden’s Sharam Mohebbi and St. Lucia’s Stephen Peter emerged victorious with their Helen of Tiki cocktail. It featured Chairman’s Reserve Original and Chairman’s Reserve Spiced rums, Caribbean sherbet, ginger spice and passion fruit, plus fresh lime. The pair earned cash prizes, trophies and a trip for each. Mohebbi earned a return trip to St. Lucia, while Peter was offered a rare opportunity to visit Sweden. You can find the winning recipe here, along with a full recap of the finals from Drinks Enthusiast.
* Facebook: Photos of regional competitions

Second place went to Andrew Turner (U.K.) and Ron Hillar (St. Lucia), while the third-place team was Anthony Guaetta (U.S.) and Daniel Francois (St. Lucia). Here’s a video that shows just how fun this competition really is:

The history of St. Lucia and its rums

The French and British battled over the picturesque, volcanic island beginning in the 1600s, with control changing hands 14 times until Britain stabilized the government in 1814. St. Lucia gained its independence in 1979, though it remains a “commonwealth realm” under the queen of England (similar to Australia, the Bahamas, Barbados, Canada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, et. al.).

Chairman’s Reserve Original

St. Lucia Distillers was established in 1972 after a merger of the Roseau and Dennery distilleries. Some 80 percent of the distillery’s rum is sold in St. Lucia, with Bounty being the big local brand. Chairman’s Reserve was first blended in 1999, and it has has been exported since 2008. In just 10 years, it has seen explosive growth to become the island’s flagship brand worldwide.
* See all the brands produced by St. Lucia Distillers

There are currently five rums in the Chairman’s Reserve portfolio:
* Chairman’s Reserve White – A premium blend of 3- to 4-year-old rums distilled in a combination of copper pot stills and a Coffey (column) still, then aged in American white oak casks.
* Chairman’s Reserve Original – The brand’s first premium rum, desgined to represent the traditional St. Lucian style. It’s comprised of selected aged rums (both Coffey column stills and copper pot stills), aged separately by batch and type of still in ex-Bourbon barrels. It’s then blended and rested in oak vats for an additional six months. The average age of the blend is 5 years.
* Chairman’s Reserve Spiced – A blend of premium Coffey and pot still rums (essentially Chairman’s Reserve Original), aged and finished with local fruits and spices.
* The Forgotten Casks of Chairman’s Reserve – A premium aged sipping rum (between 6 and 11 years) that emerged from a tragedy. An extensive fire hit the distillery in 2007, and in the confusion barrels were misplaced. Found years later, they became the base of this acclaimed, extra-aged Chairman’s Reserve. The distillery continues the same process, holding back select blends of Chairman’s Reserve Original for extra aging to create the limited release of the Chairman’s Forgotten Casks.
* Chairman’s Reserve 1931 – A tribute to the Dennery distillery, which was established in 1931 and produced rum until 1972, when it merged with Roseau Distillery to become St. Lucia Distillers. This super premium rum is a blend of distillates from the Coffey still and three copper pot stills ranging from 7 to 12 years aged in Bourbon casks. What makes the rum distinctive is in addition to the traditional molasses rum, 10 percent of the blend is agricultural rum pot distilled from sugarcane grown around the distillery.

Rum’s most famous cocktail: What is a Mai Tai?

You would think that’s a simple question, but it’s not. I like to break down Mai Tais into three categories (historically and chronologically): Traditional, Bastardized and Reimagined. Unfortunately, the latter two sometimes get lumped together, but there’s a very good reason.

A traditional Mai Tai, as featured on BeachbumBerry.com and served at the Bum's Latitude 29 in New Orleans.

A traditional Mai Tai, as featured on BeachbumBerry.com and served at the Bum’s Latitude 29 in New Orleans.

The recipe widely considered to be the original (created by Trader Vic in the 1940s) achieved iconic status in the mid-century, then virtually disappeared when Tiki fell from favor. However, it has made an astounding comeback over the past two decades thanks to the Tiki and craft cocktail revivals.

Beachbum Berry revealed the classic Mai Tai’s storied history in his books, posing the theory that that perhaps Don the Beachcomber came up with the first version in the 1930s, even before Vic. It’s still open to debate, but Vic’s version has become the de facto standard.
BeachbumBerry.com: Click here for more history and the iconic Vic’s recipe

Unfortunately, the drink became so popular that “Mai Tai” became synonymous with any old tropical drink served with an umbrella. When Tiki cocktails devolved in the 1970s and ’80s, this usually meant the worst possible version of a “boat drink,” random juices and rums poured willy nilly into a plastic cup at dockside bars and tourist traps.

Adding to the confusion, Hawaiian statehood led to an alternate version (aka the Hawaiian Mai Tai) that bears little resemblance to the original. Some of these are excellent drinks, however. The version served at The Mai-Kai, which borrows more heavily from Don the Beachcomber than Trader Vic, is a variation of the Hawaiian Mai Tai.

The United Kingdom finalists in this year's Chairman's Reserve Mai Tai Challenge. A winner will be determined on Oct. 1. (Facebook photo)

The United Kingdom finalists in this year’s Chairman’s Reserve Mai Tai Challenge. A winner will be determined on Oct. 1. (Facebook photo)

Fast-forward to the 1990s and the dawn of the Tiki and craft cocktail revivals. Understandably, early adapters sought out the classics and eschewed anything approaching a bastardized recipe. For many years, enthusiasts didn’t take kindly to “changing up” the Mai Tai from Vic’s original, other than adjusting the rums. It was almost heresy.

But more recently, the sheer explosion of craft mixology and high level of creativity has opened the floodgates. It’s now fair game to experiment with the Mai Tai, either by tweaking the old recipe or coming up with something totally unique. You can find this creativity on display at the Don the Beachcomber Mai Tai Festival in Hawaii, which just hosted its 10th anniversary cocktail competition in August. Beachbum Berry also served as a judge at that contest.

Today’s bartenders, unburdened by the stigma of cocktail’s dark ages, are now free to experiment with the Mai Tai. Enter the Chairman’s Reserve Mai Tai Challenge, which provides a platform for creative rum cocktails across the globe, some with only a tenuous link back to Trader Vic’s original.

The rums are the key, of course, and Chairman’s Reserve offers some very appropriate choices. A traditional Jamaican rum is at the core of the classic recipe, and the St. Lucian rums very closely follow this style – especially the Original and Forgotten Casks blends.

Inspired and challenged by this competition, I came with a few Mai Tai variations that fall into the reimagined category. I did, however, keep the Tiki purists in mind and didn’t veer too far from the traditional flavor profile. Okole maluna!

*****************BONUS RECIPES**********************

Both cocktails below employ Chairman’s Reserve Original, the flagship rum of St. Lucia and a very fine addition to any Mai Tai. This blended, aged rum is medium-bodied with a full, rich flavor reminiscent of Jamaican rums. It’s bold and slightly smoky with hints of fruit and honey.

The recipes don’t stray too far from the classic version but do include a few twists. I like to keep the unique flavor notes that make the Mai Tai special, including orgeat and orange. For another semi-traditional Mai Tai recipe with a twist, check out our Merchant’s Mai Tai.

Oh Mai Darling featuring Chairman’s Reserve Original rum and served in The Hukilau glassware designed by Anna Powell and Tiki Kiliki featuring logo artwork by Kevin Kidney. Background: Trader Vic's 75th anniversary Fogcutter mug. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, September 2018)

Oh Mai Darling featuring Chairman’s Reserve Original rum and served in The Hukilau glassware designed by Anna Powell and Tiki Kiliki featuring logo artwork by Kevin Kidney. Background: Trader Vic’s 75th anniversary Fogcutter mug. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, September 2018)

(By Hurricane Hayward of The Atomic Grog.)

* 1 1/2 ounces Chairman’s Reserve Original rum
* 3/4 ounce Damoiseau VSOP Rhum Vieux
* 3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
* 3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed clementine juice
* 1/2 ounce Grand Marnier
* 1/2 ounce orgeat
* 1/4 ounce Petite Canne sugar cane syrup
* 1 dash orange bitters

Pulse blend with 1 cup of crushed ice for 5-7 seconds. Pour unstrained into a double old-fashioned glass, adding more crushed ice to fill. Garnish with a mint sprig, plus the leftover lime and clementine shells.

This is slightly sweeter and more citrusy than your typical Mai Tai, but there are enough sour and bitter notes to keep everything in balance. There are lots of refreshing flavors here to enjoy, along with a potent kick from the premium rums.

The twist: Fresh clementine juice adds complexity and an extra citrus flavor to the mix. It plays a background role but seems to enhance the other ingredients. The inspiration came from rum expert and author Dave Broom, who extols the virtues of this distinctive juice in his latest book, Rum: The Manual. He recommends it as the perfect juice to mix with rum, particularly the aged variety. This small tangerine is a cross between the Mediterranean mandarin and sweet orange, so the general flavor is not out of place. But as Broom points out, it’s not as sweet as OJ and features “a tartness that nods toward grapefruit” plus acidity that opens up the rum. While not extremely common, the small fruit is typically sold by the bag in grocery stores and produce markets.

Other ingredient notes: Damoiseau from Guadeloupe is a nice change of pace but still very similar to the traditional rhum agricoles from Martinique that are usually featured in the Mai Tai. Grand Marnier is another slight change from the usual orange curacao. It’s cognac-based, so it’s heavier and less dry. I kept a bit of Martinique flair in the recipe via the complex and distinctive Petite Canne, which is made from sugar cane grown on the island. A bold orgeat syrup is key in any Mai Tai, and this is no exception. Use your favorite. Finally, the orange bitters offsets the sweetness and helps balance all the flavors.

Atomic Mai Tai Cocktail featuring Chairman’s Reserve Original rum and Latitude 29 Formula Orgeat. Matchbook from the old Trader Vic's at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, September 2018)

Atomic Mai Tai Cocktail featuring Chairman’s Reserve Original rum and Latitude 29 Formula Orgeat. Matchbook from the old Trader Vic’s at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, September 2018)

(By Hurricane Hayward of The Atomic Grog.)

* 1 1/2 ounces Chairman’s Reserve Original rum
* 1/2 ounce Rhum JM VSOP
* 1/2 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
* 1/4 ounce fresh-squeezed orange juice
* 1/2 ounce Latitude 29 Formula orgeat
* 1/4 ounce honey syrup
* 1/8 ounce Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao
* 1 large sprig of mint

In a shaker, muddle the mint with the lime juice. Add the other ingredients and shake hard, 10-15 seconds. Double strain into a cocktail coupe and garnish with an orchid.

Sweeter and more complex than a standard Mai Tai with richer flavors and strong hints of mint and honey to mix things up. The premium rums combine with the traditional orgeat, curacao and lime backbone to remind you that this is still a Mai Tai.

The twists: Served straight up in a cocktail glass, this is a more elegant Mai Tai to be sure. But it’s also less diluted and features some additional sweet elements, such as honey (instead of simple syrup) and fresh orange juice. Simply combine equal parts Florida Orange Blossom Honey with water and shake vigorously to make a syrup, storing in the fridge. We’re partial to all-natural Florida OJ (from the sweet Valencia orange). Instead of a traditonal mint garnish simply providing aromatics, we infused mint flavor into the cocktail via muddling, then straining out all traces of the leaves.

Other ingredient notes: Rhum agricole is very traditional element, and Rhum JM is a particularly good one. Feel free to use your favorite VSOP from Martinique. Any quality orgeat will work, but try to find a fresh, rich and complex variety, such as the special formula created by Orgeat Works for Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29 in New Orleans. To help balance the sweetness, we’ve kept the old Mai Tai standby, orange curacao. France’s Pierre Ferrand makes an intensely dry and flavorful version that’s a favorite of mixologists everywhere. Feel free to use 1/4 ounce if you seek a drier cocktail.

More Mai Tai recipes on The Atomic Grog
* El Dorado Mai Tai
* Mai Ta-IPA
* Merchant’s Mai Tai
* Plantation Mai Tai
* Smuggler’s Cove Mai Tai
* Tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Mai Tai

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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