The Barrow House Hosts Winter in Maui Cocktail Competition

by Peter Candia
Winter in Maui The Barrowhouse

Hundreds of thousands of incredible cocktails have come out of the bar at The Barrow House in Clifton, NJ over the years. Still, the popular spot—owned by Skopos Hospitality—continues to find ways to innovate. Their latest cocktail competition was certainly no exception. 

The Barrow House hosted 13 of New Jersey’s best bartenders to compete head-to-head in a competition titled: Winter in Maui. The tiki-themed contest was sponsored by Zacapa Rum. The aged Guatemalan rum is distilled with sugar cane, lending flavor notes of caramel and oak. 

Rum Zacapa

Rum Zacapa No. 23 | Photography by Joey Palmieri

The competition was broken up into two rounds. 

In round one, bartenders were tasked with creating a variation on the classic mai tai—a rum-based cocktail consisting of dry Curacao, orgeat (almond syrup), lime and more. Funky garnishes, crushed ice and umbrella toothpicks have become directly associated with this influential cocktail. Depending on where you are, recipes of the tiki classic vary. 

The tropical but boozy drink has become a staple for bartenders to keep in their back pocket, so it’s no surprise that these 13 bartenders all came prepared with tantalizing versions of the drink. Guests saw the likes of cereal-infused syrups, corn liqueur, fire and more in the many versions of the drink. Contestants had free reign to garnish the drinks and serve them however they pleased. We even saw a mai tai served on an entirely edible (and drinkable) beach, complete with toys, sand and a shoreline courtesy of Montclair-based bartender Matt Brown. 

Cocktail competition

Mai Tai on a “Beach” by Matt Brown | Photography by Joey Palmieri

Six bartenders made it past the first round, but the second round is where things got truly interesting. The task? Make a classic daiquiri using Zacapa rum. Rather than all six remaining contestants simply making a drink that they’ve each made no less than 500 times, they were broken up into three teams of two. The duos had to then put a hand behind their back, with one bartender playing the left arm and the other the right to make the drink. We saw spills and laughs, but each team was able to put a cocktail before the judges without fail. 

The daiquiri—though simple—was the perfect cocktail to judge the second round on as it is perfectly balanced and something that every great bartender should know like the back of their hand. The Zacapa rum added more body and texture to what is normally a refreshingly light cocktail. 

Winter in Maui

DeLeon and Medina Team Up | Photography by Joey Palmieri

The winning duo comprised Alexis DeLeon of Madame in Jersey City and Frankie Cisco Medina of Cliffside Park’s newly reopened Five Twelve. DeLeon’s first round cocktail—deemed the Quetzalteca—combined Zacapa rum, Grand Marnier, ponche orgeat (punch and almond syrup), absinthe and salt. The fruit-charged Mai Tai variation played homage to DeLeon’s Guatemalan roots and propelled him into the second round with ease.

Medina’s winning cocktail was equally as fun, albeit quite different. His cleverly named Someone Help Me Fix Mai Tai united Zacapa rum, an anise and sugar cane spirit called cumbé, Grand Marnier, rosemary syrup, rose water, almond oil and a freshly aerated orange foam to finish. Medina’s inventive cocktail gave judges no issue in advancing him to the second round. 

winter in maui barrowhouse

Someone Help Me Fix Mai Tai | Photography by Joey Palmieri

Together, they made a winning daiquiri in round two with DeLeon playing the “left arm” and Medina the right. 

Winter in Maui offered a fun opportunity for decorated bartenders to show off their chops and for guests to take a peek at the work that goes into conceptualizing cocktails. With each differing cocktail comes a story on how it was made and what inspired it. With any luck, Winter in Maui is just the first of many cocktail competitions that Skopos will host going forward. 

“We Are the Champions” | Photography by Joey Palmieri

Photography by Joey Palmieri 

About the Author/s

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Peter Candia is the Food + Drink Editor at New Jersey Digest. A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, Peter found a passion for writing midway through school and never looked back. He is a former line cook, server and bartender at top-rated restaurants in the tri-state area. In addition to food, Peter enjoys politics, music, sports and anything New Jersey.

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