POIPU — For few seconds, it was quiet at RumFire Poipu Beach just before Kauai’s Best Bartender was named Friday night.
“The winner goes to … Jennifer Bryant.”
Quiet no more.
The calm was shattered by shouts, cheers, whistles and applause as Bryant claimed first place and a $4,000 prize to cap a 15-week competition.
Bryant, of The Club of Kukuiula, edged Eric Carroll of La Spezia on a night when both made between 200 to 250 of their original, handcrafted Koloa Rum cocktails. Each participating patron was invited to cast their vote to determine the winner, along with a panel of judges.
The decision was close and based on three categories. Bryant took the taste and balance category. Carroll won for creativity. It came down to presentation, and that went to Bryant.
Her winning cocktail was named “Malie,” the word for “tranquility” in the Hawaiian language. It utilized Koloa Coconut Rum, kaffir lime leaves, fresh Hawaiian guava juice and essence of lemon.
“It feels great,” she said. “We all worked really hard. Our team at Kukuiula all got together, that’s really what does it. I had so many hands helping me on this entire journey, my parents and my family supporting me.”
When Bryant started the competition, winning wasn’t the goal.
“We went into it to support the community,” she said.
Carroll, who received a $1,000 prize, said it was a busy, exciting night. RumFire was packed with people.
Like Bryant, he didn’t go into the contest worried about winning.
“I think there were two great cocktails and we had a great crowd,” he said.
In the contest’s second year, 16 finalists from the island’s food and beverage industry were challenged to showcase original Koloa Rum-based cocktails. Starting in August, two competitors went head-to-head each week at RumFire to showcase their original, handcrafted Koloa Rum cocktails utilizing a different mystery ingredient every round.
Mystery ingredients ranged from jackfruit and mango to kombucha and bacon. In her journey to the final round, Bryant won the battles for coconut, ginger and Hawaiian sea salt, creating cocktails that were judged based on five categories: Taste, balance, creativity, presentation, and use of the mystery ingredient.
The final round allowed the contestants to create their best Koloa Rum cocktail — with no mystery ingredient.
Bob Gunter, president and CEO of Koloa Rum, which sponsored and provided the prize money for the contest, said it was great to be part of the event that he hopes will continue to grow.
Gunter tried both cocktails created by Bryant and Carroll.
“They were excellent,” he said. “Really, really difficult to choose between the two.”
Carroll, whose family operates La Spezia, has been a bartender 25 years. He got into the profession because it gives him the opportunity to meet people and the freedom to travel.
“It’s my life,” he said.
The competition was “a good, fun time,” Carroll said.
“I’m very proud of Jen,” he said. “She did a great job tonight. She kicked ass.”
Bryant, who has been a bartender about 12 years, said it’s not about making drinks.
“It’s definitely about creating an experience,” she said.