Surprise winner, new spirit of aloha at fifth annual Art of Tiki cocktail competition at South Beach Wine & Food Festival

Art of Tiki Cocktail Showdown at the 2019 South Beach Wine & Food Festival

Tiki and South Beach: Two great tastes that don’t necessarily go great together. The glitz and glamour of Miami’s most famous tourist strip seems at odds with the laid-back island atmosphere and exotic South Seas vibe that makes Polynesian Pop so endearing.

Bacardi served up four cocktails in its sponsor bar, including a take on the Mai Tai that includes its Anejo Cuatro, a 4-year-old rum
Bacardi served up four cocktails in its sponsor bar, including a take on the Mai Tai that includes its Anejo Cuatro, a 4-year-old rum.

But like diverse ingredients in a complex tropical drink, that awkward juxtaposition may finally be working in harmony if you look closely at the fifth annual “Art of Tiki” cocktail competition during the recent South Beach Wine & Food Festival.

Held Feb. 22 at The Surfcomber hotel and featuring mostly up-and-coming Miami bartenders, the festive feast of booze and food made a large leap forward after a disappointing 2018, according to our correspondent. Everything was turned up a notch, from the entertainment to the decor to the food, resulting in a better overall vibe and more successful event. Some credit should go to the event’s second-year sponsor, Miami’s venerable Bacardi rum.

Gui Jaroschy (right) and Anthony Valencia from Driftway at Generator in Miami Beach are hard at work on their GMT 5000 cocktail
Gui Jaroschy (right) and Anthony Valencia from Driftway at Generator in Miami Beach are hard at work on their GMT 5000 cocktail.

In a surprise result, the competition’s Judge’s Choice award went not to a hotshot bartender but to a quiet and unassuming chef whose complex and creative cocktail paid tribute to Cuba. Meanwhile, popular Miami restaurant Beaker & Gray was the People’s Choice, the bar team’s third win in three years. Ted Allen from sponsor Food Network hosted the party, which as usual sold out the large outdoor pool, patio and beach area behind the hotel.

Below you’ll find our full recap, including photos and reviews of all the cocktails. Also check out our photos from the Rhum Barbancourt booth in the SoBeWFF’s Grand Tasting Village, along with a cocktail recipe from New York City’s Brian Miller. We also included a recap and previously unpublished photos from last year’s Art of Tiki, along with a commentary on the history of the event.

Friday, Feb. 22 – Art of Tiki Cocktail Showdown at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in Miami Beach. A cocktail competition hosted by Food Network’s Ted Allen and featuring Florida bartenders, plus area chefs serving tropical-themed food at The Surfcomber hotel.
SPECIAL FEATURES BELOW
Photos, review: Exclusive images and ratings of all the 2019 cocktails
History: List of hosts, winners and sponsors from 2015-2019
Photos, bonus recipe: Blue Bayou, served by Brian Miller at the 2019 SoBeWFF
2018: Photos, recap from last year’s competition
Commentary: Bartenders, chefs are the true stars of this show

The Art of Tiki Cocktail Showdown was back for a fifth year on Friday, Feb. 22, at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in Miami Beach.

The Art of Tiki returned to The Surfcomber for the fourth year in a row and featured another new marquee name. Ted Allen, best known for hosting the Emmy Award-winning chef competition show Chopped since 2009, was the first non-chef to preside over the Art of Tiki (his bio calls him an author and television personality). His TV role made him well suited to judge the cocktails, which ended up being his central role.

Bacardi executive, ambassador and former bartender Adrian Biggs filled the role of master of ceremonies and made most of the announcements to the crowd. To Barcardi’s credit, it seemed like the spirits giant put more money and effort into the event in its second year as title sponsor. New decor and entertainment by the Mareva Tahiti Polynesian Dancers gave the event a much more authentically Tiki atmosphere. It was as if The Mai-Kai – Fort Lauderdale’s historic Polynesian restaurant – was there in spirit, as one speaker noted.

Sponsor Bacardi put its rums front and center at The Surfcomber hotel.
Sponsor Bacardi put its rums front and center at The Surfcomber hotel.

Several Bacardi-owned rums were made available for the 10 contestants, including sponsors Banks, Santa Teresa and Havana Club (the U.S. version, of course). Among those used by the mixologists were Bacardi Anejo Cuatro, Banks Five Island, Santa Teresa 1796, and Havana Club Anejo Blanco. The contestants also challenged the judges’ taste buds with an array of unique house-made ingredients along with fresh juices, syrups, liqueurs and bitters.

In addition to Allen, the judges included journalists Belkys Nerey (Miami’s WSVN-7) and Laine Doss (Miami New Times), plus bar manager Chris Hudnall (Soho House & Co.). While there’s no Tiki in Allen’s background (that we know of), he sure seems like the kind of guy you’d want to drink with at a Tiki bar. He appeared to enjoy the festivities, but looked “more like a spectator than a host,” according to our correspondent.

The 2019 lineup featured just two 2018 returnees (last year’s champs, Jesus Perez and Ben Potts), along with two-time winner Gui Jaroschy plus many new faces:
* Kevin Andrade from Drunken Dragon (Miami Beach)
* David Cedeno, Seth Carter and Roman Naumov from MiniBar (Miami Beach)
* Emiliano Gonzalez from Casa Florida (Miami)
* TJ Palmieri from Madrina’s (Gainesville)
* Jesus Perez and Courtney Lane from The Broken Shaker (Miami Beach)
* Daniele Dalla Pola from Esotico Miami
* Ben Potts from Beaker & Gray (Miami)
* Andres Rairan from The Social Club at The Surfcomber (Miami Beach)
* Jorgie Ramos from Abi Maria Bar & Refuge (Miami)
* Anthony Valencia and Gui Jaroschy from Driftway at Generator (Miami Beach)

Particpiating chefs included: Byron Alabado of SushiSamba (Miami Beach), Adrianne Calvo of Chef Adrianne’s (Miami), Victoria Chediak of Poké 305 (North Miami Beach, Miami Beach, Coconut Grove, Miami), Brian Mullins of Ms. Cheezious (Miami, Coral Gables), Richard Sandoval of Toro Toro (Miami), and Cesar Zapata of Phuc Yea (Miami).

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A cure for your holiday hangover: All the Miracle pop-up cocktails, reviewed and ranked

Miracle cocktails by Death Or Glory

While visions of sugar plum cocktails are still dancing in my head (and on my taste buds), I would be remiss if I didn’t share my deep thoughts on the Miracle pop-up bar menu that recently dazzled imbibers at more than 80 locations around the world.
See below: Jump straight to the cocktail ratings

The inside bar at Miracle on Delray Beach by Death Or Glory. (Atomic Grog photo, December 2018)
The inside bar at Miracle on Delray Beach by Death Or Glory. (Atomic Grog photo, December 2018)

Florida was lucky enough to have nine Miracle bars, the most of any state, for the pop-up’s 39-day run from Black Friday through New Year’s Eve. I’m fortunate enough to work near the site of the dedicated West Palm Beach location and live not far from Death Or Glory, the Delray Beach craft cocktail haven that spearheaded Miracle’s entrée into South Florida.

I got a brief taste of the inventive concept in 2017, the first year of Miracle on Delray Beach. But it was enough to get me as excited as a kid waiting up for Santa when it was announced that the award-winning bar would launch a second location, Miracle on Rosemary, in a vacant space in downtown West Palm’s bustling CityPlace shopping and dining district.

This double-shot of Christmas cheer spurred an article I wrote for The Palm Beach Post following interviews with co-owner Ayme Harrison, beverage director David Bouchard, and executive chef Jessie Steel. You can find a bigger, longer, uncut version here on the blog:
* Festive ‘Miracle’ pop-up bar expands in South Florida, worldwide

The inside bar at Death or Glory's Miracle on Rosemary pop-up in West Palm Beach, which made its debut in 2018. (Atomic Grog photo, November 2018)
The inside bar at Death or Glory’s Miracle on Rosemary pop-up in West Palm Beach, which made its debut in 2018. (Atomic Grog photo, November 2018)

In the weeks that followed, I made regular stops at both locations to unwind from the hectic holiday hubbub. But more importantly, I was on a mission to sample everything on the cocktail menu along with some of Steel’s decadent dishes. The results are detailed below. As with all of my cocktail adventures, I couldn’t resist the urge to rate the drinks on my own 1-5 scale. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know I also took plenty of photos that I’ll also share here.

But first, a tip of the Santa hat to Cocktail Kingdom owner and visionary Greg Boehm, who in 2014 created the original “Miracle on 9th Street” pop-up at the suggestion of his mother in the space that later became his bar Mace in New York City. (Hear Greg talk about this and many other geeky cocktail topics on the Bartender At Large podcast released Dec. 2.)

Perhaps it was simply a holiday miracle, but it appears in hindsight that Boehm omnipotently foresaw the coming confluence of craft cocktails and Christmas. The average American consumes double the amount of alcoholic drinks over the holidays than any other time of year, according to research. Now, some of us have many more craft options than the standard eggnog and coquito.

The entrance area of Death Or Glory in Delray Beach during the heart of the Miracle season. (Atomic Grog photo, December 2018)
The entrance area of Death Or Glory in Delray Beach during the heart of the Miracle season. (Atomic Grog photo, December 2018)

At Miracle, with the Christmas spirit flowing freely, cocktail newbies are more likely to dip in their toes, or just dive in headfirst. “We kind of trick them into drinking cocktails,” Boehm has been quoted as saying.

Or course, this interest has been building for years on both fronts. But while major metro areas have long become accustomed to having outstanding craft bars in every neighborhood, great swaths of the U.S. (and many countries overseas) are still in the cocktail dark ages. Enter Miracle, which has blown up as a contagious concept, adding some 30 locations last year alone. There’s no reason to believe it won’t top 100 in 2019.

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Lost Cocktails of The Mai-Kai: The late Dr. Fong has a funky and famous history

Dr. Fong was featured in August 2017 as part of the new Flashback Friday promotion in The Molokai bar. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Updated August 2017
See below: Ancestor recipes | Tribute recipe | Dr. Fong review
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide | More “lost cocktails” | Tropical drink family tree

Bernhard Funk
The real Doctor Funk (from The Cyclopedia of Samoa, via TikiCentral.com)

The concept of a “Polynesian” cocktail is somewhat of a misnomer. While most tropical drinks have names and imagery that recall Polynesia, most are actually Caribbean rum concoctions reinvented by American restaurateurs. One notable exception is the distinctive Doctor Funk, also sometimes known as Dr. Fong.

Doctor Funk was an actual person as well as a real Polynesian drink. Born in 1844 in Germany, Dr. Bernhard Funk migrated to Samoa around 1881 and was reputedly the first medical practitioner in the capital city. He became friends with Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson (author of Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) and was the bedside doctor when Stevenson died in 1894 in Samoa.

Dr. Funk was not only a skilled doctor but also a mixologist of some note. The Doctor Funk was a notorious drink that became known throughout the region. It was mentioned by travel writer Frederick O’Brien (1869-1932) in his books White Shadows in the South Seas (1919) and Mystic Isles of the South Seas (1921). The latter calls the drink “a portion of absinthe, a dash of grenadine – a syrup of the pomegranate fruit, the juice of two limes, and half a pint of siphon water.” It was apparently served by the doctor as a “medicinal tonic.”

Doctor Funk
From a Don the Beachcomber menu.

Dr. Funk thrived in Samoa, marrying the daughter of a chief, but health problems caused him to return to Germany, where he died in 1911. After his death, a granite stone was placed in his honor on the shore of the mysterious Lake Lanoto’o in Samoa, where Funk had built a health resort. The secluded lake still contains goldfish, illegally introduced to Samoa by Dr. Funk. For a lot more on the life and times of Bernhard Funk, check out this great research on Tiki Central by Sven Kirsten (bigbrotiki), Tom Duncan (TikiTomD), and many others.

A drink this legendary and rooted in the South Pacific was perfect fodder for Tiki bar pioneers Donn Beach (Don the Beachcomber) and Victor Bergeron (Trader Vic). Both created Doctor Funk cocktails in the 1930s and ’40s with pretty much the same flavor profile. But over the years there became so many different versions by Beach, Bergeron and many others, it became impossible to pinpoint a definitive “original” version.

The Dr. Fong cocktail returned to The Mai-Kai in September 2016 during a special event celebrating the release of the book ‘Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant.’ (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Dr. Fong cocktail returned to The Mai-Kai in September 2016 during a special event celebrating the release of the book ‘Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant.’ (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Doctor Funk also inspired variations with names such as Dr. Fong and Dr. Wong. Many of these became synonymous with the (now somewhat politically incorrect) Fu Manchu-style Tiki mug that was widely produced in the mid-century. Restaurants across the country simply invented their own drinks called Doctor Funk or Dr. Fong to go into the mug (see “bilge” at the very bottom of this review).

When The Mai-Kai opened in 1956, the menu included a Dr. Fong cocktail based on one of the Don the Beachcomber versions of Doctor Funk. This is where bartender Mariano Licudine worked for nearly 20 years, mixing the drinks that became the template for most of the original 1956-57 Mai-Kai menu.

Luckily for us, Tiki historian and author Jeff “Beachbum” Berry has over the past 15 years decade published two of Beach’s Doctor Funk recipes, which I’ve included below. In 2016, thanks to another author, guests at The Mai-Kai were finally able to taste the authentic Dr. Fong after an absence of more than 40 years.

Dr. Fong was featured on a special lost cocktails menu in September 2016 during the book release party for Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant by Tim “Swanky” Glazner.

The special event also featured several other long-lost cocktails (Hanalei Bay and the Demerara Float) plus two days of gatherings of Mai-Kai enthusiasts from across the country. [More photos on Tiki Central]

Dr. Fong, August 2017

The book chronicles the history of the iconic restaurant, named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014. Pick up the book on Amazon or get a signed copy in The Mai-Kai Trading Post gift shop. It’s also usually available in the new online ordering app.

Dr. Fong returned again in August 2017 as part of The Mai-Kai’s monthly Flashback Friday promotion, including a special new recipe. See more below under the Tribute recipe notes.

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Sweetwater introduces new cocktails, voluminous spirits menu

Sweetwater Bar & Grill in Boynton Beach, one of South Florida’s premiere spots for craft cocktails, has raised the bar again with the debut of some long-awaited new concoctions plus a monster spirits menu that runs a whopping 70 pages.

I stopped by last night to sip a few cocktails and take a gander at the tome-like menu. Presented in a three-ring binder on narrow pages with appropriately retro typography, the menu is incredibly detailed, more like an encyclopedia of spirits than a throw-away guide. Mixologist Sean Iglehart has out-done himself with this carte du jour of every bottle in the house.

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