Story by Becky Speere
It’s a glorious, sun-filled afternoon at Taverna restaurant in Kapalua as we arrive for the Roca Patrón bartender showcase. Seven of Maui’s finest mixologists are here to shake, rattle and pour in honor of the mighty tequila.
Each contender stands behind his or her table, adding a dash of this and a dash of that to their cups like mad scientists concocting a potion. The tables are laden with bottles of Roca Patrón’s tequila varieties and all manner of mixers and garnishes — curry leaves, star anise, cubed pineapple, calamansi limes, caramelized bananas, peanuts, kaffir lime leaves, Crema de Mezcal and more.
Guests queue up to sample the ingenious libations from Taverna, Spago, Lineage, Merriman’s Kapalua, Māla Ocean Tavern, Esters Fair Prospect and The Ritz-Carlton Maui, Kapalua. I wait my turn at Māla’s table, and am rewarded with a spicy cocktail called Curry Up and Wait from bartender Dennis Day. Taverna’s assistant manager, Gene Pike, places a hot Margherita pizza and a platter of chef Roger Stettler’s award-winning CPB (Cow-Pig-Bun) burgers on an adjacent table. I am in gastronomic heaven.
I recognize several of the event’s special guests, including chef Sheldon Simeon of Tin Roof Maui, master brewer Kim Lutz from Maui Brewing Company, and wine director James Wadsworth from Pacific’o in Lahaina.
Local celebrities aside, the true star of today’s showcase is Roca Patrón, a top-shelf tequila made from blue Weber agave. Like all tequila, Roca began its journey as a succulent, growing in long rows under the hot sun in Jalisco, Mexico. After seven years, at the height of its sugar-storage capacity, the agave is harvested and stripped of its leaves. La piña (the heart/central core) of the plant is then quartered and roasted for more than three days in a small brick oven. Then comes the process that gives this particular tequila the name Roca, which means “rock” in Spanish: A two-ton tahona (rock-wheel press) is used to crush the roasted agave into a juicy, fibrous mash. The mixture is then placed into open oak vats to ferment, and after three days, is transferred into handmade copper stills for distillation. Eventually, it becomes the tequila I see before me, in shades ranging from crystal-clear to pale yellow to brassy blonde.
Near the bar, a few gutsy guests hop onto the Blender Bike, which is literally a bicycle connected to a blender. Their furious pedaling pays off, and as they dismount, they receive Patrón-branded swag, bragging rights and, of course, a frosty margarita. I step onto the lānai and watch a woman carefully slide a plank from the center of a giant Jenga tower without toppling it over; everyone cheers. Out on the lawn, guests play a friendly yet competitive game of cornhole.
The day’s special guests have been enlisted to critique the drinks on five criteria: taste, creativity, aroma, proficiency and overall impression. After the votes are tallied, Simeon announces the runner-up: Esters Fair Prospect with Parlor Trick.
“The team with the winning cocktail gets to hang out on a private yacht to eat, drink and talk story,” says Simeon. “And the winner is … Lineage with The Galleon!” Mixologist April Leslie stands and bows, then accepts the award on behalf of herself, the restaurant, and her former bar lead, Vill Eala, who, alas, recently moved to Manhattan.
Whether you’re looking to board The Galleon to do a Parlor Trick, or you have to Curry Up and Wait for Roca After Dark, these unique recipes are a hit at any party.
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