3 days, 3 cities, 3 winners, 3 judges and 3 chances for May to mispronounce ‘replicability’. Bacardi Legacy 2016 is up and running.
One of the highlights of our judging year comes in the form of Bacardi Legacy. Not just for the opportunity to hang out with Metinee ‘May’ KongMyWhopper, the UK Bacardi Brand Ambassador, but also to travel the country and see some of the nations best bartenders given the opportunity to really shine.
Bacardi Legacy is, if you don’t already know, a competition like no other. It is a competition built around progression. Progression of our industry and of the bartenders that compete. Win or lose the message from the bartenders after the first three heats was how excited they were to be included and how much they enjoyed meeting and watching all the other competitors.
Once again dozens of bartenders and supporters gathered in bars in Bristol, Manchester and Edinburgh to compete, support and enjoy a daiquiri or two. There have been a couple of changes to the competition this year but the heart remains the same. To create a Bacardi cocktail that can become a modern classic.
This means the drinks have to be replicable, not just in UK bars but in bars around the world. No more than 6 ingredients in the drink, all of which have to be available worldwide and any homemade ingredients need to be easy to make by any level of bartender in any style of bar. More often than not simplicity is best and this was certainly reinforced by the fantastic level of drinks we tasted.
The two main changes to the competition firstly allowed the bartenders to use Bacardi Ocho or the traditional Carta Blanca and Carta Oro. Secondly at the end of the UK judging there will only be one winner as opposed to the previous 3 Most Promising. This will allow the whole of the UK to get behind one winner as opposed to having three people fighting for your affection.
We started off this years adventure in Bristol and the superb Her Majesty’s Secret Service (HMSS). This year May & BarLifeUK are lucky enough to be joined by Bacardi’s Global Brand Ambassador and all round nice bloke (for a Kiwi) Dickie Cullimore for judging duties, and by the time we arrived the bar was already full of competitors. They were rewarded for their superb timekeeping abilities with a round of daiquiris.
This year has seen a huge surge in bartenders entering competitions from Wales and once again they were out in force, looking to make an impact. They were going to have a battle on their hands though, as the local crew were hoping to keep the South West Legacy trophy (there is no actual trophy) in Bristol after Madi’s win last year.
Unusually for a cocktail competition Bacardi Legacy doesn’t require the bartenders to talk about the brand. Instead it is all about their inspiration and story which leads to a really fun competition to judge. In Bristol inspiration came from all angles – the bartending community, parents, Rafael “Pappy” Valiente, grandmothers, festivals, freedom and the book The Secret.
The variety of drinks matched the variety of presentations. The competition started strongly with Luke Robinson impressing with his imaginative mix of Carta Blanca, Mure, lime juice, gomme and peated whisky. It wasn’t enough for him to break into the top three however, with the winner going on to the UK final and second and third being invited, all expenses paid down to London to watch the event and get inspired for next year.
In no particular order second and third spots were filled by Jenny Griffiths from Ten Mill Lane in Cardiff with her absolutely delicious Passport To Cuba (Bacardi Ocho, basil gomme, pineapple juice, Green Chartreuse and lime juice) and Lucas Roy-Smith from HMSS who’s Ocho Libre was based around the freedom he finds when working behind the bar.
However in the end Ben Alcock, also from HMSS, wowed with a superbly professional performance that impressed not only the judges but the other competitors. His drink The Secret (inspired in part by the book of the same name) had its roots in a punch and the Bacardi Ocho, earl grey tea, lime sherbet, strawberry liqueur and falernum was exceptionally moreish (full recipe below).
The next day we found ourselves in Luck Lust Liquor and Burn in Manchester’s Northern Quarter and absolutely surrounded by bartenders. The North had come out in force (even if Manchester bartenders were a bit light on the ground), it was going to be a long, but as it turned out, thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.
You always know when judging a competition heat in the north you will be entertained, however it was the support that all of the bartenders and supporters gave to each competitor, both respectful and enthusiastic, that really stood out. The moment any of the bartenders started there was quiet, applause, encouragement and laughter which all helped each bartender competing to really bring their best.
These days it seems bartenders are scared to make cocktails simple, worried that without homemade ingredients or 14 types of bitters the drink will not be exciting enough. However, as Manchester proved, reducing these elements in no way curtails imagination or flavour. Over the 14 competitors we saw basil and ginger paste, honey, banana liqueur, apple cider, barbecued pineapple, Benedictine, yuzu juice, olive brine, smoked sea salt, Guinness and so much more.
Before we get to the top three a couple of special shout-outs to Julian Ion from Bar Lounge for a superb drink that had the judges fighting over the glass (just a slightly maths issue getting in his way). Also to Keiran Tighe from Blue Bar in Burnley, in his first competition, who gave a heartfelt presentation that resonated with so many in the room. Finally Sammy Abdalla from 1539 who very kindly brought along a pre-batched bottle of his serve so everyone in the room could have a glass.
The fact all of these people missed out shows how high the quality was. In third and second, and heading down to London for the party, are Ed Belshaw from Nottingham’s World Service who balanced his drink (containing Bacardi Carta Blanca, St Germain, Martini Bianco, pickle juice and absinthe) excellently, serving a classic looking drink that tasted anything but. Joining him is Liverpool’s Brendan Soprano from Alma de Cuba who was absolute force behind the bar, belying the only 8 months he has been bartending, to entertain the crowd and judges and show how a presentation should be done.
However it is on the experienced shoulders of Chris Edwards from Liverpool’s Filter & Fox that the hopes of the north will rest at the UK Finals. Linking his own story effortlessly with that of the Bacardi family whilst producing a wonderful drink (Bacardi Ocho, sage infused Amontillado sherry, peach bitters and wild flower honey), it may have been his first comp in 7 years but he certainly hasn’t got rusty in his time on the sidelines.
After a surprisingly calm night in Manchester (although we still managed the Higginson triangle of Cane, Pedro’s and Liars) we were bright eyed and bushy tailed for Edinburgh, which was just as well as yet another huge turn out lay in wait for us, this time at Tonic.
One of the joys of traveling the UK judging cocktail competitions is the different styles of both drinks and presentations you get in each different area or city. There is no-where in the country that can beat Scotland when it comes to the presentation of drinks. They show better than anyone that you don’t need elaborate garnishes to make a drink look as good as it tastes and once again they provided a selection of drinks that made the photography element of our job a whole lot easier.
Once again there was no shortage of fantastic inspiration and unusual flavour combinations also on show. This group however seemed to be drawn towards the Bacardi Carta Blanca for their base with several taking the unusual step of stirring down the charcoal filtered rum.
Ewan from Bar Soba won the quote of the day award ‘This is a big, big drink because I’m a big, big boy who likes a drink’. David from Hillhead Bookclub produced a superb drink including kaffir lime leaves (which May invented) but unfortunately time just got he better of him. In the world of photographable drinks however Ramsay from St Judes reigns supreme, his Rose Tinted Glass cocktail was simply…. well see for yourself.
Not only did these three not make it through but the quality in general meant that three runners up will be making their way south to enjoy the finals. The Finnieston’s Julia showed great bar skills when presenting her exceptionally drinkable Pina Colada twist. Jack from Tiger Lilly had a superb story behind his Sunshine On Cuba all tied into his home of Leith and Bacardi’s home of Cuba. Leon from Panda & Sons used is mum as inspiration for his stirred down Bacardi Carta Blanca serve.
In the end it was Joe Harper from The Century Bar at Gleneagles who wowed and won a place in the UK final. His drink was a twist on the Airmail and Missionary’s Downfall cocktails, with the name Pilar tying into every element of his story. The drink itself was superbly balanced with all the ingredients (Bacardi Carta Blanca, lime juice, mint, RinQuinQuin, pineapple syrup and soda) coming through.
With that we were done with our first week of Bacardi Legacy judging for 2016, it seemed only right to celebrate so we hit the bars of Edinburgh, possibly slightly harder than was wise.
It was a fantastic few days of judging and we can’t wait for the next couple of heats in Belfast and London to complete the line up for this years Bacardi Legacy UK final. Only one questions remains, where’s Danny?
Ben Alcock, Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Bristol
- 5 parts Bacardi Ocho
- 4 parts earl grey tea (infused with cardamom pods)
- 3 parts lime sherbet
- 2 parts strawberry liqueur
- 1 part falernum
Stirred down and served in a tea cup with a lemon slice, mint, strawberry and a slice of toast garnish.
Chris Edwards, Filter & Fox, Liverpool
Into The Wild
- 50ml Bacardi Ocho
- 20ml sage infused Amontillado Sherry
- 2 dashes peach bitters
- 1 bs honey
Stirred down and fined strained into a Nick & Nora glass with a sage leaf and wild flower for garnish.
Joe Harper, The Century, Gleneagles
- 40ml Bacardi Carta Blanca
- 20ml lime juice
- 6 mint leaves
- pineapple syrup
- soda top
Shake and fine strain into a coupette glass with a mint leaf garnish.