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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 We also included a recap and previously unpublished photos from last year’s Art of Tiki, along with a commentary on the history of the event.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).

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

UPDATE: Florida bartender wins Chairman’s Reserve Mai Tai Challenge at The Mai-Kai, earns trip to St. Lucia

Florida bartender wins Chairman's Reserve Mai Tai Challenge at The Mai-Kai, earns trip to St. Lucia

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)
The 12 finalists from the Eastern United States gather on stage at The Mai-Kai before the winners were announced. (Atomic Grog photo)
Facebook galleries: More from The Atomic Grog | The Mai-Kai photos

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.

Florida's Gregory Schutt's victory at The Mai-Kai on Oct. 30 won him a ticket to the finals of the Chairman's Reserve Mai Tai Challenge in St. Lucia in 2019. (Atomic Grog photo)
Florida’s Gregory Schutt’s victory at The Mai-Kai on Oct. 30 won him a ticket to the finals of the Chairman’s Reserve Mai Tai Challenge in St. Lucia in 2019. (Atomic Grog photo)

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.

Continue reading “UPDATE: Florida bartender wins Chairman’s Reserve Mai Tai Challenge at The Mai-Kai, earns trip to St. Lucia”

Recipes: Exotic cocktails at Altered State Tattoo’s 20th anniversary party

Exotic cocktails at Altered State Tattoo's 20th anniversary party

The Atomic Grog had the distinct pleasure of serving up cocktails on Aug. 27 for special guests of artist Mike “Pooch” Pucciarelli at the 20th anniversary party for Altered State Tattoo, the South Florida shop that has gained him a worldwide following for his highly creative ink.
See recipes below: Altered State Zombie | Mai Ta-IPA

Mike "Pooch" Pucciarelli gets festive at the party marking the 20th anniversary of his Altered State Tattoo shopMike “Pooch” Pucciarelli gets festive at the party marking the 20th anniversary of his Altered State Tattoo shop.

Respectable Street in downtown West Palm Beach hosted the private bash, which also included a rare performance by Pooch’s hard-rocking band, Ferocious Stones; a lowbrow art marketplace featuring Altered State artists; and a DJ keeping the eclectic tunes flowing during the three-hour party. The Atomic Grog pop-up bar was featured on the back patio along with food by chef Corey Hall.

Pooch opened his modest shop in August 1996 in Lake Worth, funneling his creative energy into a new career as a small business owner. His talent as an artist (and musician) was always evident, with much of his early work centered around his acclaimed hardcore metal band Raped Ape. Pooch quickly became an in-demand tattooist, showcasing his highly original work in national magazines and building a loyal following. A lowbrow art career soon followed, with Pooch’s paintings shown at gallery shows from Los Angeles to Seattle to New York City.

Altered State Tattoo 20th anniversary party at Respectable Street: Kenny 5 (left), Pooch and JC Dwyer kick out the jams with Ferocious Stones. Many guests enjoyed cake, while Dwyer was a two-fisted drinker of Atomic Grog cocktails. (Atomic Grog photos)
Altered State Tattoo 20th anniversary party at Respectable Street: Kenny 5 (left), Pooch and JC Dwyer kick out the jams with Ferocious Stones. Many guests enjoyed cake, while Dwyer was a two-fisted drinker of Atomic Grog cocktails. (Atomic Grog photos)

The artist’s eye-popping surrealist work includes many exotic images, including Polynesian Tikis, Day of the Dead, and his own unique take on roller coasters. Full disclosure: The Atomic Grog home bar and surrounding walls feature a half-dozen Pooch prints, including Franken Tiki Island. Pooch painted a boomerang table that hangs behind the bar and also gave me this rare Tiki piece he painted. Needless to say, I’m a huge fan of his work. I even traveled to his 2005 gallery shows in Seattle and Los Angeles.

Not only is Pooch a major talent in the lowbrow and tattoo art worlds, he’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. A seemingly imposing figure, Pooch is actually a gentle giant, literally and figuratively. Nowadays, we typically meet up for cocktails at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale, sharing our affinity for Tiki culture and exotic libations. Mrs. Hayward and I also often join Mike and Stacy (Mrs. Pooch) at the creative gastropub Sweetwater in Boynton Beach.

Hurricane Hayward mixes up the Altered State Zombie and Mai-Ta-IPA during Altered State Tattoo's 20th anniversary party
Hurricane Hayward mixes up the Altered State Zombie and Mai Ta-IPA during Altered State Tattoo’s 20th anniversary party. (Atomic Grog photos)

Continue reading “Recipes: Exotic cocktails at Altered State Tattoo’s 20th anniversary party”

Still available: The Hukilau 2016 merchandise by Shag, inspired by The Mai-Kai

November 2016 update

Lots of leftover merchandise – including mugs, glasses, pendants, and swizzle sticks – will go on sale in January when the The Hukilau’s new website launches. Co-creator, co-founder, producer and organizer Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White posted photos of the leftover merch on The Hukilau’s Facebook group on Nov. 23, offering to add anyone who’s interested to a waiting list. But you need to act fast. “Some of these are in extremely limited quantities,” she wrote.
Latest news: The Hukilau 2017 tickets go on sale!
Bonus recipe below: Brian Miller’s Greedo in Paradise featuring Rhum Barbancourt
* Related: Exclusive day-by-day photo recaps

The artist Shag created a special lithograph for The Hukilau 2016 that pays tribute to The Mai-Kai and the iconic Mystery Girl.
The artist Shag created a special lithograph for The Hukilau 2016 that pays tribute to The Mai-Kai and the iconic Mystery Girl.

Original post, June 2016

If you missed The Hukilau earlier this month, or somehow didn’t grab all the official merchandise by artists such as Shag and Eekum Bookum, now’s your chance to snag some collectible souvenirs.

Mugs, prints, glassware, swizzle sticks, plus beach and bar towels are all on sale now while supplies last. Many items are expected to sell out fast, so don’t delay. Keep an eye on the merchandise page on the official website for updates.

The Hukilau has also announced the dates for the 16th annual event, returning to the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 and The Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale: June 7-11, 2017.
* Latest updates: TheHukilau.com | Facebook: Page and Group | Twitter | Instagram

In the meantime, you can outfit your home Tiki bar with all this cool custom merch:

The Hukilau 2016 official limited-edition mug, sculpted by John Mulder and produced by Eekum Bookum, is a tribute to a tiki at The Mai-Kai
The Hukilau 2016 official limited-edition mug, sculpted by John Mulder and produced by Eekum Bookum, is a tribute to a tiki at The Mai-Kai.

Official Tiki Mug: Created by John Mulder and Eekum Bookum, the 2016 mug is based on a historic tiki in The Mai-Kai’s indoor garden (see 2016 photo) that used to live in the outdoor gardens (see vintage photo). Limited to 350 mugs, there were 115 remaining for online sales at $75 each.

Shag/Mai-Kai Lithograph: A limited-edition print with The Hukilau’s logo and artwork of The Mai-Kai’s iconic Mystery Girl created by Shag over a vintage photo of the restaurant. The acclaimed artist was a special guest at The Hukilau, hosting events such as Shag’s SkyLounge and the symposium “I Learned My ABC’s in Waikiki”. Of the 250 printed, 100 remained for online sales at $25 each.

Continue reading “Still available: The Hukilau 2016 merchandise by Shag, inspired by The Mai-Kai”

Mai-Kai cocktail review: The timeless appeal of this classic is no Mystery

Updated July 3, 2014
See below: Our Mystery Drink review | Ancestor recipe | Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide
Mini Mai-Kai Mystery Bowl offers scaled-down version of a classic
Symposium explores rich history and long-lost stories of The Mai-Kai

A vintage Mystery Girl and Mystery Drink photo
A vintage Mystery Girl and Mystery Drink photo. (Courtesy of SwankPad.org)

Oh Mystery Girl,
   what’s in this Mystery Drink?!
I must steal you away;
   conscience now has no say
Into this heart of darkness I sink.
And now you’re leaving me with this …
   a silken lei a single kiss?
A drink to fill this emptyness?
   Don’t leave me Mystery Girl!

Mystery Girl by The Crazed Mugs

The Mai-Kai’s Mystery Drink (and its accompanying ritual featuring the Mystery Girl) is no mere cocktail. It’s a Polynesian Pop culture icon, immortalized in song, on television and seared into the memory of countless Mai-Kai patrons over the past half-century.

When the drink is ordered, a gong is struck repeatedly as a Polynesian maiden silently delivers the huge, flaming bowl packed with at least 9 ounces of alcohol (some reports say it contains 13 ounces). The Mystery Girl dances before the lucky customer, placing a lei around the neck, then planting a kiss on the cheek before gliding away.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai cocktail review: The timeless appeal of this classic is no Mystery”