BarLifeUK recently took to the road with Bacardi Legacy to judge the heats of this years competition.
Bacardi Legacy is unlike any other cocktail competition. We don’t mean the size of the thing, we aren’t even going to get into the whole ‘biggest cocktail competition on the planet’ discussion because quiet frankly that’s irrelevant. Someone could come along and launch a massive competition tomorrow, that wouldn’t mean it was any good.
Bacardi will give you many reasons why the competition is so unique, so special, but for us there is one that stands out. The time and energy that each country puts into their competitors is phenomenal and in the case of the UK we are not just talking about the winner.
During our tour of 5 cities in 9 days to judge scores of bartenders there was a moment that summed this up perfectly.
It was day three by the time we hit Cane & Grain for the Manchester heat. There were plenty of familiar names on the list of competitors for the day but one stood out above the crowd – Benji Davies. Benji had entered last year, he had done well, in fact he had done very well, he’d made it to the 3 Most Promising stage alongside Matt Fairhurst and Ally Martin.
Even more impressively Benji had beaten off bartenders from the likes of the Savoy and Artesian to progress past the top 8, not bad for a kid from a small bar in Chester. He hadn’t made it all the way but he was back to give it another go.
When Benji got behind that bar it was amazing. BarLifeUK had spent a lot of time with the final 8 and 3 Most Promising in the last 12 months but hadn’t seen Benji for a while.
What he gave was simply one of the most polished competition performances we have ever seen. The change from the young, keen but inexperienced bartender from a year before was unbelievable. He had the room and judges in the palm of his hand and we have no doubt that comes across even more so when he’s behind the stick in his own bar.
That is why Bacardi Legacy is unlike any other competition. The training, nurturing, advice, experience, experiences and confidence the competition gives anyone over a prolonged period of time who is talented and lucky enough to make it into the top 8 or even 3 is phenomenal.
It is for these reasons that judging it is not only a major responsibility but also a slightly different job than usual. Luckily we had Ms Legacy herself Metinee ‘May’ Kongfhsusdhsfnbegdjb with us, we were in safe hands.
Bristol greeted us like only it can, pissing down with rain and cold, no wonder stirred down and brown drinks are so popular. However once we got started in Flipside (the new look Papiji’s) we were soon basking in rum fuelled sunshine thanks in no small part to coconut water.
Coconut water maybe this decades Lucozade or Mars Milk Drink when it comes to hangovers but it is also about as easy to balance as a fat kid on a pogo stick, or so we thought. As it turned out all but one of the competitors used coconut water and used it well, and whilst no other heat had quite that dedication to Rhianna’s favourite endorsement it certainly was one of the ingredients of choice this year.
Amongst those putting up a coconut water based concoction was another Legacy returnee in the form of Birmingham’s Rob Wood who had made it through to the top 8 last year. Once again he proved that when it comes to the technical side of our industry there are few who can claim to sit alongside him.
However in the end it was Bristol’s own (via Australia) Madeleine Martin who (in front of her parents who were visiting from Down Under) took the first spot in the top 8 with a tasty drink and a natural presentation style and confidence that could see her go along way.
It is here that the different style of judging comes in, a style that May is very open about with all the competitors. Usually you pick the best drink and performer on the day and they win through. Legacy is about more than that, it is about finding someone who has a great package overall and has the potential to, with a little bit of nurturing & training, head to the global final and win for the UK. As a result it isn’t always the best drink that wins on the day, it is the complete package.
Madeleine Martin – Flipside
Rooted in Santiago
- 40ml Bacardi Carta Oro
- 25ml coconut water
- 10ml fine sherry
- 10ml lemon juice
- 5ml crème de peche
- 5ml orgeat
Stir all ingredients with ice. Served straight up and garnished with a lemon zest.
The next day Belfast was more hospitable with it’s welcome providing sunshine and one of the poshest taxi’s we’ve ever been in (even May was impressed!). For anyone who has flown from Stansted Airport you’ll appreciate a bit of luxury at the other end is always welcome. Although Stansted did provide one of the best overheard conversations in a long time between a late middle-aged couple in an airport cafe:
‘Can you see any Green Tea dear?’
‘This isn’t fucking Gatwick Margaret.’
There was a great turn out waiting for us at Aether & Echo for the days competition festivities and as everyone grabbed a Bacardi Daiquiri from the bar upstairs, Sean Ware set up camera’s and the judges (joined by another of last years 8 Most Promising in the from of Michael Brown) braced themselves.
It was my first time judging in Belfast so had no idea what to expect, what I got was a great group of enthusiastic bartenders who were as keen to showcase the local bar scene as they were themselves.
Our winner was Andrew Dickey from The Merchant Hoel who had, it turns out very sensibly, jacked in a career in retail to pursue his love for bartending. His drink was on the surface a simple mix of ingredients given a twist with an easy to find extra ingredient in the form of garlic. This drink summed what a Bacardi Legacy drink is all about, taking ingredients that can be found anywhere and using them in a way that makes you step back and wonder why no-one has done it before.
Andrew Dickey – The Merchant Hotel
The Family Secret
- 50ml Bacardi Carta Blanca
- 5ml Benedictine
- 10ml velvet falernum
- 2 dashes orange bitters
- half a clove of garlic
Stir ingredients with ice. Served straight up and garnished with orange twist and mint leaf.
Third day in the row and we were feeling surprisingly fresh as we climbed the stairs to the top floor of Cane & Grain in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. As we looked though the list of competitors for the day we knew it was going to be a strong heat and we weren’t to be disappointed.
Once Captain Higginson had turned up we were off and within no time we were reminded of the originality that northern bartenders always show. Susie Wong (who should be given official status as a national hero incidentally) stepped up and gave a funny and heartwarming presentation about her family, including pouring the Bacardi from a giant bottle given to her on her 40th birthday by parents.
We have already mentioned Benji’s sterling effort and there were many that were in with a shout of emulating him and representing the North in this years Legacy. The north of the country make great drinks and have great bars, but the one thing they do better than anyone else in the country as a bartending collective is tell an interesting story behind the bar. This is such a big part of the Legacy competition it is a possibly a surprise that none of them have taken that extra step to go on and represent the UK in the Global Final.
With Oliver Pluck from the East Village in Leeds they have a really good shout. Oliver’s presentation was superb, his knowledge and experience shone through and he is certainly one to watch out for when the Final 8 go head to head on November 10th.
Oliver Pluck – The East Village
- 37.5ml Bacardi Carta Oro
- 12.5ml Woodford Reserve
- 12.5ml amontillado sherry
- 10ml coffee liqueur
- 3 dash of spiced chocolate bitters
Stir ingredients with ice. Serve on the rocks and garnished with an orange twist.
We’re off again
After a mini 4 day break (2 of which was needed to recover after a night out in Manchester involving Sean) we were back on the road and heading to Edinburgh. In the past the Scottish heat has seen some exceptionally strong contestants so we were excited to see what the bartenders had in store.
As always in Scotland the support from fellow bartenders, both competing and coming down to watch, was fantastic. The sense of community that exists north of ‘the wall’ is something that should be applauded.
We had some imaginative serves and presentations (whole broccoli garnish anyone?), a Lee Potter-Cavanagh look alike but only one winner.
Once again coconut was involved (did we miss the email about it being year of the coconut?) but this time in syrup rather than water form. The drink showed the way Legacy helps bartenders step back from the brink of Moron-ness (someone who aways wants to add more) and come up with twists on ingredients we all know.
In this case Tonic bars Ryan Snedden put rum with coconut, pineapple and citrus but it was the earthiness and complexity of the simple Islay rinse that elevated the drink, especially when matched with the depth of the coconut syrup.
Ryan Snedden – Tonic
Father and Son
- 50ml Bacardi Carta Blanca
- 10ml coconut syrup
- 20ml fresh pineapple juice
- 20ml lemon juice
- 2 dashes Peychauds Bitters
- Islay whisky rinse
Rinse glass with whisky, shake ingredients with ice. Serve straight up and garnish with pineapple leaf.
So it came down to one last heat, a heat for the ages. Since we started the journey of Bacardi Legacy 2015 judging the London heat had been looming like an angry badger with a point to prove. Every time it was mentioned May went a little pale.
Whilst every other heat had been on average 10 bartenders, the response from London had been so overwhelming we found ourselves with 24 competitors (with dozens more having to be cut before this stage), in one day, in one long, scary, behemoth of a day.
There were three rays of light however. The first was that due to the overwhelming response we didn’t just have to chose 1 winner, in fact we got to pick the top 4. Secondly May had come up with the genius plan of taking polaroids (they’re back people) of each competitor and drink to help us remember what was what, and third we had Davide and his team at Punch Rooms looking after us.
It turned out to be an exceptionally strong heat. It led to one of the toughest judging arguments we have every been involved in. It was brutal, but we are sure the right 4 were eventually picked.
The London heat had it all, laughter, tears, super drinks and sit back and shut up presentations. In retrospect it was one of the strongest comp heats BarLifeUK have ever judged and huge credit needs to go to everyone who got up there.
In the end we arrived at our top 4 and it was, as is the Bacardi Legacy way, a fantastic cross section of bartender experience and bar style. We had the man whose Facebook updates are making us all hate him a little bit more each day, Iain Griffiths with a clever and well balanced drink using apple vinegar as his twist ingredient.
At the other end of the scale came Santiago Michelis who has been working as a bar back at Happiness Forgets since his relocation from Argentina (although we suspect he’ll be behind the stick very soon) with a mandarin juice based drink. A shout out to big bars making great drinks came in the form of Robb Collins from London Cocktail Club whose refreshing basil and cherry tomato Mariposa stuck it’s head above the crowd.
Completing the four was Peter Nguyen from China Tang whose emotional and heartwarming presentation was matched by a superb drink bringing plum liqueur to the competition in a homage to his roots.
That day could have picked 8, in fact over the 2 weeks we could have picked 20 who would have been strong enough on any other day to be included in the top 8. It was fantastic so see such talented bartenders stepping back from the 9 different types of artesian bitters, 4 homemade ingredients and liqueurs made by large breasted milk monks in Belize to make simple, tasty and complex drinks with ingredients any bartender can get their hands on.
That is, after all, the point of Bacardi Legacy and that is why it is such a joy to judge. Great products used well, in interesting ways.
The London bartenders drink specs are below and they will be competing against those above on November 10th to become this years 3 Most Promising. For those unfamiliar with the format, those 3 will embark on a journey that will see them making their drinks around the world, furthering their reputation and careers, inspiring bartenders and pleasuring (in the best possible way) consumers in dive bars and 5 star hotels.
The experiences all 8 are about to have will be amazing, those that make it to the top three will work harder than ever before but achieve more than they ever imagined possible. If you have any reservations about that just speak to Ally, Matt or Benji, they’ll tell you just how exciting the year ahead will be.
One of these 8 will be next years UK Bacardi Legacy finalist and, fingers crossed, the Global Champion.
A huge thanks to everyone who entered, competed and supported Bacardi Legacy this year. To the bars that hosted us thank you and we’re sorry for making you open late when we overran. To all of our fellow judges thanks for your invaluable input and arguing prowess and Sean for his photography and drinking skills. Special thanks to our partner in crime May for making it such a ball and Bacardi as a whole for a great competition.
Santiago Michelis – Happiness Forgets
- 45ml Bacardi Carta Blanca
- 25ml fresh mandarin juice
- 5ml lemon juice
- 15ml honey syrup (1:1)
- 12.5ml Martini Bitter aperitivo
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
Robb Collins – London Cocktail Club, Goodge Street
- 50ml Bacardi Carta Blanca
- 25ml St. Germain
- 25ml lemon juice
- 5ml sugar syrup (2:1)
- 3 leaves of fresh basil
- 1 cherry tomato
Muddle a cherry tomato, and add remaining ingredients. Shake with ice. Serve straight up and garnish with a cherry tomato and basil leaf.
Iain Griffiths – Dandelyan, Mondrian Hotel
- 60ml Bacardi Carta Oro
- 20ml grapefruit juice
- 5ml apple vinegar
- 5ml sugar syrup
- 3ml dash Angostura
Build in a highball. Swizzle with crushed Ice and garnish with a grapefruit twist
Peter Nguyen – China Tang
- 20ml Bacardi Carta Oro
- 20ml plum liqueur
- 20ml lime juice
- 20ml grapefruit juice
- salt rim
Shake and strain into a salt rimmed glass.