Having just returned from my third Bacardi Legacy global final, I feel compelled to write something more expansive than a dry, ‘who won and how’ news story about the experience.
There’s no doubt that Bacardi Legacy is a big, grown up comp. The investment and organisation it must take to hold heats in 30-odd countries, culminating in a week-long extravaganza for 100 or so people in a foreign country is staggering.
To be in with any chance of winning, you need to have your shit well and truly together. Not just on the competition stage, but for the twelve months prior, when on top of your usual shifts, there is marketing work to be done, and events, and travel. It must be exhausting, and only a bartender truly dedicated to winning will make it through the process.
As serious as this might sound, at the heart of the Legacy competition is something much more welcoming, and fun. Just as underneath the suits and arm garters of the competing bartenders there are a multitude of tattoos, behind the big brand of Bacardi Legacy, there is a multitude of really cool people, and it is they who make the Legacy experience so enjoyable.
A legacy trip is a little like a visit to Tales of the Cocktail, in so much as it is a week spent overseas in the company of a large number of good natured lunatics. But Tales is exclusive, and by that I mean not inclusive – unless you have a brand hookup or a couple of grand to spend, going is impossible for most. Arguably the most important people in our industry, new bartenders just starting their careers, have almost no chance of experiencing Tales, and the feeling it brings of belonging to a global community of bartenders.
The Legacy competition has no such restrictions – just enter the comp and win your heat to be in with a shot of going the distance. And this is the same whether you are a first year noob or a ten year vet.
This was impressed upon me last week when talking to India’s competitor, Mannmohan Singh. Not only was the trip to Russia his first outside of India, he is the first person in several generations of his family to ever leave their country. This is mind boggling, accustomed as some of us are to hopping on a plane every five minutes.
It is meeting people like Mannmohan that makes the Bacardi Legacy comp so special. More than just a photo and name on Facebook, these are connections made with real people from all over the world who do the same thing as you, only different. There is a huge amount to be learned from talking to your international colleagues, and life long friendships to be made.
In addition to this, which I admit all sounds a bit worthy, is the fact that a Legacy trip is more fun than you can shake a stick at.
The Bacardi team genuinely want you to have the best time possible. You might be reading this through skeptical, ‘big brand propaganda’ glasses, but I say get over it. Yes, Bacardi are a big brand, but the people who work for them are just that, people… and they want you to have as much fun and get as much out of your time away with them as possible.
This was illustrated to me on our last night in Russia. A riverside terrace bar had been booked, overlooking the city with a prime view of the World War 2 Victory firework display taking place that night. Drinks and food were served, the sun was shining, and the DJ was playing crap Ibiza chill music, because he thought that’s what the occasion called for.
Bacardi UK ambassadors (the pair with unfeasibly hard to spell names) Shervene Shahbazkhani and Metinee Kongsrivilai kicked him off the decks and took over.
From their first tune, the bar turned from sleepy afternoon drinks to full on party. They knew what everyone wanted, and were happy to serve it up.
I’m aware that this piece blows a fair amount of sunshine up Bacardi’s collective backside, but so what? When someone does a great job, shouldn’t they be told, and thanked?
The Legacy competition gives a lot back to the industry, is fun and most importantly, brings bartenders together and helps develop their careers. So I say well done to Bacardi, and to bartenders – get your entry in for 2015.