OCT. 31 UPDATE: Bartender Gregory Schutt pulled off an upset victory on Oct. 30 in the regional finals of the Chairman’s Reserve Mai Tai Challenge, edging several fellow Floridians and seasoned competitors from cocktail hotbeds New Orleans and Chicago to earn a trip to the finals in St. Lucia in 2019.
The 12 finalists from the Eastern United States gather on stage at The Mai-Kai before the winners were announced. (Atomic Grog photo)
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Schutt’s winning drink was an outside-the-box Mai Tai featuring two Chairman’s Reserve rums plus peanut butter orgeat, banana liqueur and homemade marshmallow fluff. The rich and decadent drink wowed the judges, including noted Tiki cocktail guru Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and Chairman’s Reserve brand owner Benjamin Jones.
Schutt, who tends bar at Crush XI in Melbourne and The Fat Snook in Cocoa Beach, edged runner-up Aiden Dillon of Three Dots and a Dash in Chicago. The third place finisher was another Floridian, Sam Wiener of Lost Boy Dry Goods and The Bend Liquor Lounge in Miami.
The 12 bartenders took the stage at the venerable Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale for the 3-hour competition, presenting wildly creative as well as traditional takes on the iconic Mai Tai. They were graded on presentation, creativity, taste and balance, story and theatrical presentation, plus the use of Chairman’s Reserve rums.
Following the contest, the competitors, guests and VIPs joined the happy hour crowd in The Molokai bar to celebrate the first of several Chairman’s Reserve Mai Tai Challenge regional contests in the United States. Upcoming competitions include Nov. 12 in Toronto and Dec. 10 in Los Angeles. North American winners will join others from around the world in St. Lucia for the second annual global finals in 2019.