“Who here is ready for a 2-day hangover?” Maleko asked the crowd as the Mai Tai contest had just gotten underway. August 19th, 2017 marked the day of the 9th annual Don the Beachcomber’s Mai Tai Festival, taking its name from the father of Mai Tais. Held at the Royal Kona Resort on the Big Island, the festival began at 11 am with a variety of local food and craft vendors.

A Sip of Paradise: Don’s Mai Tai Fest 2017

Don's Mai Tai Fest 2017

The blend of tropical cocktails, delectable local cuisines, and vibrant entertainment encapsulated the spirit of Aloha, making Don’s Mai Tai Fest 2017 an unforgettable experience for everyone who attended. The venue had a variety of local arts and crafts for sale, including jewelry, photography, paintings, clothing, and woodwork.

The restaurants that had set up food booths were also participating in a BBQ contest, with a panel of four judges who were sampling each offering. Live music was playing all morning and afternoon, too. The main event in Don’s Mai Tai Festival at Royal Kona Resort, the Mai Tai contest brings bartenders and mixologists from all over to compete to see who can mix up the best Mai Tai cocktail.

Battle of the Spirits: The Don’s Mai Tai Contest

Don's Mai Tai Fest 2017

Royal Kona Resort’s Mai Tai contest, was a thrilling spectacle of creativity and flair, harnessing the true essence of Don’s Mai Tai Festival at Royal Kona Resort. Bartenders and mixologists from around the globe were challenged to craft the ultimate Mai Tai in a mere ten minutes. Tensions ran high as the concoctions were judged not only on taste but also presentation.

Mai Tais were served all day for 7 scrips a glass. The final score is based on flavor, presentation, aroma, and skill in mixing the drink (no wasted liquor!), allowing participants to go wild with creativity and showmanship when mixing up their concoctions. The only stipulation is that every Mai Tai recipe needs to be based on Bacardi 8-year rum, as Bacardi sponsored the event.

Toast of Triumph: Announcing the Winners

Mai Tai Contest Group Shot

From this basic recipe, a wide variety of unique cocktails can be mixed, blended, and stirred—as clearly evidenced by the staggering diversity in the contest entries.

The winner goes home with a cool $10,000, while second and third place get $5,000 and $2,500, respectively. Arguably better than the money, though, is the title of “World’s Best Mai Tai,” which the winner holds for at least a year. In addition, festival-goers could also participate in voting for a “People’s Choice” winner by casting voting tickets, acquired by buying 10 scrips. (Everything at the festival was sold for scrips, where one dollar got you one scrip.)

Third Place: Paul Schreuder

Mai Tai Contest 3rd Place Winner

It shouldn’t be a surprise Paul placed in the top 3. From Bar Leather Apron in downtown Honolulu, Paul Schreuder works under Justin Park, world-renowned bartender and mixologist who has won the Mai Tai fest twice previously. In addition, Art Deakins, also from BLA, won first place in last year’s festival. Schreuder’s Mai Tai was presented in a tall glass on a round wooden base, over which he placed an empty, bottomless Bacardi bottle.

Second Place: Justin Kipapa

Mai Tai Contest 2nd Place Winner

From The Myna Bird (renamed Tipsy Tiki), Justin Kipapa has competed in multiple mixing competitions, including earlier Mai Tai fests in Kona. Kipapa’s entry was a pretty, magenta-colored Mai Tai topped with pink foam and served with a yellow hibiscus.

First Place: Kevin Beary

Mai Tai Contest 1st Place Winner

Coming all the way from Three Dots & a Dash in Chicago, IL, Kevin placed third last year. This year, his presentation was probably the most extravagant, complete with orchids, little umbrellas, and mini volcanoes with dry ice “smoke.”

If you can’t go this year, I hope you can make it to Kona next August for the 10th Annual Mai Tai Festival!