IN GREAT SPIRITS MASTER MIXOLOGIST TONY ABOU-GANIM
When master mixologist and television personality Tony Abou-Ganim inked the recipe for a signature cocktail at The Study, THE MODERN HONOLULU’s award-winning bar, one could say he was precisely in his “sweet spot.” The Michigan native and current “king of cocktails” in Las Vegas, has embraced all-things-tropical since his early days in the industry. He’s a regular at the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival, serving unique cocktails alongside the big name chefs on the roster. Yet, whether he’s revamping a beverage program for a storied San Francisco hotel, guest stirring at a white hot Manhattan lounge or mixing mai tais in Miami, there’s a little bit of Hawaii in every sip he pours.
“The dream I’ve always had is to move to Hawaii, open a bar, and have it be open only three days a week so I can really enjoy the life,” says Abou-Ganim, fresh off his win on Iron Chef where he made craft cocktails to pair with each course presented by chefs Mario Batali, Jose Garces and challenger Shawn McClain in three separate appearances.
But no matter how bright the television—or Vegas—lights shine, he feels most at ease in Honolulu.
Reflecting on the “Wuthering Heights” cocktail at THE MODERN HONOLULU’s lounge, Abou-Ganim paired the spice of Sailor Jerry rum with orange curacao liqueur and finishes it with fresh squeezed lemon and a cinnamon-and-sugar rimmed martini glass.
“A lot of what I do is in that tropical vein. I love lilikoi, guava and fresh pineapple juice. People are frequently looking for what we call ‘coastal’ drinks, inspired by ocean or beach culture,” he adds.
We pressed Abou-Ganim on some hot drink trends to watch out for.
“I’m seeing a lot more tiki bars—real ones—being embraced across the mainland. And what it’s done is made Hawaii bars rethink how they make the mai tai. It’s no longer O.K. to shoot a mix from a gun into a glass and float it with Meyers Rum. There’s a lot of research out there, and a platform for creativity. It’s the soul of tiki and people are really going for it right now.
“Another thing to watch for is an evolution of the table service thing with communal drinks, like punch. Instead of plunking down $500 for a bottle of vodka and a few cans of Red Bull, I’m advising clients to make a crafty punch, something to heighten the communal drinking element. Punch service is definitely cool,” Abou-Ganim says.
Tony Abou-Ganim has authored “Vodka Distilled” and “The Modern Mixologist: Contemporary Classic Cocktails”.