A few weeks ago in Sydney the finals of this years Bacardi Legacy competition took place, you have probably heard all about the winner but that was only half the story.
Since I got back from the finals I have tried to write this piece about half a dozen times. Every single effort has resulted in major use of the delete key as it always ends up being a seeming ode to Bacardi combined with a rather sickening ‘I went to Sydney’ affair.
However during an early morning ceiling staring session it dawned on me that there is actually nothing wrong with that. The simple fact of the matter is that is exactly the point of Bacardi Legacy, all the effort (and let’s not ignore money) that is put in by the worldwide team is designed to make everyone that attends love Bacardi more than they did before. There is nothing wrong in embracing that and letting you all know why.
Facts, Figures and the Final
Let’s start by explaining just what a mammoth competition Bacardi Legacy is, it is after all the biggest single brand competition in the world and arguably the biggest comp full stop.
This year saw 34 competitors from around the world descend on Sydney for a week long competition to be crowned the 2015 Bacardi Legacy Global Champion. For those of you that followed the UK’s winner Ally Martin you will know that just getting to the finals is an amazing achievement.
The competitors each have to create a cocktail that will be a Legacy and then spend months promoting it both nationally and internationally. It’s a huge undertaking and all 34 of the finalists had equal right to be standing on the stage during the semi-finals.
At that point even talking to some of them about walking away without the title would have resulted in scowls, shakes of the head and possibly a few choice words. At that point the idea of waking up the day after the final without the trophy in bed next to them was unthinkable.
The process to become the winner in Sydney is just as arduous as getting there. Those 34 were, over the course of two days, reduced to 8 to compete in the final. For a full look at this semi-final stage click right here for our write-up.
The final itself took place in one of the most intimidating competition settings I have ever seen. The Sydney Town Hall is a very grand and impressive building, huge ceilings, ornate decorations and a history that can be seen in every corner.
Put into that a few hundred invited guests, the 26 competitors that didn’t make it through, a judging panel consisting of Tom Walker, Steve Schneider, Ago Perrone and Jose Sanchez Gavito (The Maestro de Ron Bacardi) and I would imagine, for the finalists, it was one of the most effective laxatives the human race has ever created.
The final 8, consisting of Barney Toy (New Zealand), Denzel Heath (South Africa), Faye Chen (China), Franck Dedieu (France), Jad Ballout (Lebanon), Karim Mehdi (Ireland), Peter Chua (Singapore) and Xaris Darras (Greece), all did an outstanding job. Everyone we spoke to whilst the judges were deliberating had a different take on who they thought the top three would be.
At the end of the day an absolutely fantastic presentation and, by all accounts, drink from France’s Franck Dedieu gave him a well deserved and very popular win. He is your 2015 Bacardi Legacy Champion and will represent both the brand and the honour of all the other competitors superbly over the coming year.
It may seem that the final has been skipped over here and that is no disrespect to Frank or the other finalists. As I hinted earlier this competition is about so much more and I am sure Frank would be the first to acknowledge that the focus of the Bacardi Legacy final should be on the whole week and all the competitors not just the final 8. If you want more details on the final there are some excellent articles all over the web so go Google (other search engines are available).
The first time I started to really consider how I was going to write up the adventure was the day after the final. I was looking out from behind the DJ booth on an island in the middle of Sydney Harbour at a group of people who had met just as few days earlier dancing like drunk uncles at a wedding. At that moment it dawned on me for the upteenth time in 72 hours that Bacardi Legacy isn’t your run of the mill competition.
Next to me May was grinning like Steve Schneiders travel agent as she spun the mouse wheels and another dance floor filler was released. To my right a call of ‘Occcchhhhhhooooo’ emanated from a table of people from a variety of countries I had sworn to visit at some point in the next year.
Elsewhere Nicolas Saint Jean was having a ‘flair-off’ with all comers including Alan Kavanagh and Loy Catada. Tom Walker was resting his eyes on a sun lounger and Daniele Dalla Pola was producing enough Piña Coladas to get Andre the Giant drunk in the rain.
This was one moment, one snapshot, of an amazing few days on the other-side of the world.
Sydney proved to be an inspired choice for the finals. I have a soft spot for it having lived there for six years but the explosion in the bar scene since I had last been there was a joy (we’ll be bringing you a look at the bars making waves in the coming weeks). However the thing that really stood out was how the entire bar community embraced the competition and the competitors.
Being the city that hosts a global cocktail competition is a tricky business. Everyone hunts in packs and suddenly on a quiet Tuesday night, or indeed a busy Friday night, 20 or 30 bartenders can descend en masse all studying backbars and menus as if they had only ever visited a Wetherspoons before.
This was perfectly expressed when a group of 20ish of us arrived without warning at the already full Barber Shop bar. Petr Dvoracek immediately took us under his wing and within minutes the whole group were furnished with beautiful Daiquiris. Owner Mike Enright was at a charity auction but once he heard we were in his bar downed his bidding paddle (this may have also been to stop Freya bidding on a kayak) and came to join us. We had an amazing time with wonderful people and never at any point felt as though we had put them out.
Every bartender and owner we saw treated every question, request and random drink order with smiles and unlimited patience. It was a testament to not only the local bars but the Australian Bacardi team including Loy, James ‘Dub Dub’ Wynn-Williams and many others.
People Are Crazy
I have often heard people say they’d rather have a crap bar with a great bartender than a great bar with a crap bartender. I agree wholeheartedly and the same can be said for booze trips, I’d rather have a crap location with great people than a great location with a bunch of annoying gits.
However when you get the location and the people right, well then you have something very special. Often with competition trips this combination can be very tricky, especially early on in proceedings, the bartenders are there to win after all and this can often result in a slightly tense group.
Why Bacardi Legacy was different I can only guess. Maybe the fact everyone was so proud to be there. Maybe the Bacardi team put them all at ease. Maybe they were all just awesome people but whatever the reason it was an absolute joy to hang around with all 34 bartenders.
Of course there were moments of quietness, the odd early night and even one or two cocktails turned down but that was to be expected, this was the biggest competition of their lives. However almost constantly wherever you looked there were competitors laughing with, encouraging and advising the very people that stood in the way of their potential glory.
There were many friendships forged not least in the form of Denmark’s Jonas Anderson & Emil Areng of Sweden who were like the cheeky kids at the back of the school bus whenever they were together.
Even in the face of bitter disappointment acts of unity were evident.
Denzel Heath from South Africa must have been devastated to not take out the title, yet on the final night it was in his room that I found myself and half the competitors chatting, dancing and generally mischief making.
A mention should also go out to the local finalists in the form of Australia’s Alissa Gabriel and Barney Toy from New Zealand. At every event they knew approximately twice as many people as everyone else and it must have been very tempting to chat to their friends about what was happening, yet whenever I looked round they were either shunning them in favour of their new buddies or introducing them to some of Australia’s biggest bar talent.
During the semifinals I wrote an article about one competitor in the form of Karim Mehdi from Ireland who summed up the passion people have for this competition during his presentation (check out the article here).
Much to his shock and disbelief (if not other people’s) Karim made it through to the final 8 and found himself stood on that hugely intimidating stage. News of his semi-final emotions had swept through the group and every single person involved with the comp was rooting for him when he came on stage.
It was however his fellow competitors who led the way giving him a standing ovation both onto and off the stage, it may have confused those that had arrived just for the final but it meant a lot to everyone who had been involved throughout.
The fact is the other competitors gave every single finalist an equally rousing welcome. They had each found a special place in the group, from the joker Barney to possibly the sweetest person in the world in Faye Chen from China.
We even had a musical end with Singapore’s Peter Chua belting out Rodriguez ‘Sugar Man’ at the end of his presentation as the group sang along. The support continued as the winner was announced with all the competitors rushing the stage to congratulate Franck and commiserate with the other 7. Earlier I said it would have been unthinkable for the finalists to consider not having that trophy, at that point that was the furthest thing from their minds.
This support didn’t only come from the competitors but also from the excellent Bacardi team from all the Brand Ambassadors (including of course Shev and May) who lived every moment with their charges, through to Jacob Briars and the Bacardi Family members, they were all on hand to lend words of wisdom and encouragement.
There was also a changing of the guard in Sydney as David Cordoba’s very shiny and well heeled shoes were filled by the new Global Ambassador, and old BarLifeUK friend, Dickie Cullimore who did a stirling job hosting the entire week. If ever a man was born for the job of standing in front of a big crowd and keeping them entertained it’s Mick Jagger but Dickie is pretty damn good too.
All Good Things
After the day on the island and the various after, after parties that night I found myself the next morning sat in the lobby of the hotel nursing a cold beer and watching as one by one the huge contingent started to check out of their rooms.
Everywhere you looked there were groups and pairs, chatting and hugging, reminiscing and planning, laughing and choking back tears as the end of an amazing few days came all too quickly.
People checking in must have thought they had stumbled upon the most diverse wedding party in the world. It dawned on me that they wouldn’t believe just how quickly these people in front of them had become so close.
It was here as May tucked into a breakfast Chicken Pie, Ally stared at a beer as if it had done him wrong and Cocktail Lovers Sandrae cursed herself for not extending her trip, that it all made sense to me.
When you put something under intense pressure it speeds up the process it is performing. In the same way a pressure cooker can knock up a 5 hour stew in 45 minutes a Bacardi Legacy Final can produce a lifelong friendship in 5 days.
A week at the Bacardi Legacy Global Final is an exceptionally emotional one but ultimately one of the best experiences anyone in the bar industry can have. The whole Bacardi team and family should be congratulated for what they achieve with this competition and every single bartender from around the world who has ever got involved should be very proud to have been part of it.
I would like to personally say a huge thank you to everyone on the trip, in particular the competitors and especially Ally who was great fun to hang out with. From the Bacardi side everyone I met was superb but a special mention has to go to Shev & May who were, as always non-stop hilarity.
I’ll leave you with one last story that I think sums up what Bacardi Legacy is all about. Once again it involves Karim from Ireland who had a bit of an epic journey home.
Bear in mind Karim did not win the Global Final, however getting through to the final 8 for such a small country was a great achievement. His fellow bartenders back home must have thought so too as, unbeknownst to him, they had organised a welcome home party. As he stepped through customs at Dublin airport he was greeted by banners and cheers from a group of local bartenders who wanted to show him how proud he had made them.
That is a Legacy.