This week Bacardi Legacy kicked off with the Northern and Scottish heats giving the UK its first two finalists.
It is the 5th year that BarLifeUK have been involved in Bacardi Legacy and once again we were amazed with the quality of drinks and presentations and the effort that bartenders make with this competition. More than once in the last couple of days we heard from bartenders that they had been working on their Legacy drinks since last years heats finished.
It is a level of dedication and commitment that we simply don’t see with any other competition, it also makes the role of judge a lot harder, time and again the winner is decided by the smallest of details and the tightest of margins.
At it’s heart Bacardi Legacy has not changed as a competition – create a drink that will become the next modern classic, that is replicable across the world and a story that sits alongside it. However each year there are tweaks and adjustments based on feedback, and changes in the industry. This year, as well as the UK final being held in Amsterdam, shrubs were allowed for the first time and Northern Ireland embraced this rule change with open arms.
It had all kicked off in Belfast the day before we arrived, Belfast Cocktail Week had opened and there had been rather a brisk wind. As a result you could be forgiven for thinking they’d be a few running late or even missing from our Tuesday morning heat, however this was Belfast and this was Bacardi Legacy.
15 bartenders arrived ahead of time at The National & Sixty6, and before we had started that number had easily more than doubled with supporters on hand to encourage not only their own friends and colleagues but everyone who entered. It created an amazing atmosphere which the competitors seemed to feed off as the afternoon progressed.
The Irish are historically known for their story telling abilities and their love of poetry and the written word. It seems that the younger generation are not losing these traits with Ernest Hemingway and Charles H Baker providing inspiration to more than one competitor. The judges, consisting of Global Bacardi Brand Ambassador Dickie Cullimore, reigning Northern Ireland Legacy Champion Roisin Mc Erlean and BarLifeUK, were in for an entertaining afternoon.
Kealán Brady focused a little closer to home looking at the link between Ireland and Cuba, especially to troubles and hardships each country has suffered. Even the ingredients he used represented the different sides of the troubles in Belfast with the orange and lime representing the unionists and nationalists. The drink, also containing velvet falernum, cardamom syrup and Bacardi Carta Blanca, was fantastic and was passed back to the audience with not a lot left for them to enjoy.
The presentation from Michael McCaffery earned him a special mention from the judges for its originality and delivery. Drawing on his scientific background, and that of Don Facundo, he presented a drink which changed colour as it was made whilst also looking at the science behind the history of Bacardi and the drinks industry. It led Dickie to become his unofficial agent as he’s told everyone since then that Michael should have his own TV show.
Bacardi Legacy can be a cruel beast as Barney O’Kane discovered last year when a stellar presentation and drink was undone by a chipped glass. He returned this year with a point to prove (and 3 back up glasses) and was a force behind the bar, getting the crowd behind him as he created his Bacardi Ocho serve with the star ingredient of sour cherry jam.
Christopher McQuillan’s presentation focused on a trip he recently took to Cuba with his partner and a visit to a bar called Calle 62. When they asked for a couple of shots of Bacardi they were served a verdita alongside, on questioning this they were informed that the Cubans had invented this serve long before the Mexicans (for the record and before the hate mail begins this is Christopher’s story not BarLifeUK’s). As such his drink brought together the main elements of a verdita with Bacardi Carta Blanca.
There was a fair amount of deliberating for the judges to do, the scores at the top were very tight and once again we found ourselves looking at the smallest of margins.
In the end the runner up spot (who will be put into the mix for a wildcard spot into the UK final) went to a very surprised Kealán. However with the expectations of a bartending community on his shoulders it will be Christopher who will be on the main stage in Amsterdam vying for a place to the Global Finals in Mexico. From what we saw there won’t be a shortage of support for him and there is no doubt he’ll put everything he has into it.
All that was left was a night out in Belfast and rather that go into to much detail we’ll leave you with the words Barney left us with at the end of his presentation – ‘A drinks a drink, and we drink to enjoy’.
The Voodoo Rooms celebrates it’s 10th anniversary next month and with the bar’s alumni reading like a who’s who of Scottish bartending royalty it seemed like a very apt place to see the next generation of bartending talent sharpening their bar spoons.
The Scottish heat of Bacardi Legacy has a history of producing some fantastic winners, not least last year when Joe Harper went on to represent the UK at the Global Finals with such distinction. As a result their was a certain amount of expectation when the judging panel, with BarLifeUK and Dickie being joined by last year Northern heat winner Chris Edwards and Bacardi’s Aaron Jones, pulled up their bar stools.
Right off the bat (see what we did there?) Sam Baxendale had us thinking as his relaxed presentation hid a complex, interesting and clever drink. His mixture of Bacardi Carta Blanca, yuzushu, coffee liqueur and agave had us going back again and again with my eventual tasting note reading ‘coffee and citrus fight, before giving each other a big hug’.
Miran Chauhan took a path never before travelled in this competition looking at the influence of cubism on Cuba and terroir on modern bartending. It was a fascinating presentation and resulted in a drink that once again divided the judges, I would happily order his combination of Bacardi Ocho, Pineau de Charente Blanc, Star of Bombay and Angostura Bitters if I saw it on any cocktail menu.
Another unique and clever presentation followed by Lachlan Rooney, focusing on art & science it was one of, if not the, best Bacardi Legacy presentation I have ever seen at this stage of the competition. Equally informative and entertaining, drawing on Fibonacci, Newton and Romans and even finished with a self-penned poem to encourage others to follow their dreams. Simply flawless.
Leon Back took the focus back to the drink, the combination of Bacardi Carta Blanca, lemon juice, sugar syrup and Martini Ambrato may not fill you with excitement but the simple addition of celery bitters lifted the drink to a new level and brought all the flavours together in a wonderfully intriguing way. A couple of spritz’ of Islay Whisky over the finished drink brought a touch of Scotland to the finished product which I did not want to put down.
Bettina Kovacs’ story of her earliest memory of a classic desert from her childhood home of Hungary was heartfelt and touching and her ability to work the classic flavour of chestnut from there with modern ingredients such as malic acid and saline solution produced a drink that would make any Hungarian smile.
Following one of the most intense judging deliberations I have ever been involved with we had our winner and runner up. Going into the pot for the wild card position was Bettina and taking the spot in the UK final, on his third attempt to win his heat, was Leon Back from Panda & Sons.
Each year we wonder if Bacardi Legacy can continue to produce better and better drinks and presentations, and each year we are shown just how strong the UK bartending scene is. A huge congratulations to everyone who made it through to the two heats, all of the hard work and effort is not lost on us or the other judges.
Also a thank you to those who turned up to support and did so with such respect and enthusiasm. Of course thanks to Bacardi and especially Metinee Kongaeelravioli who had to watch from the sidelines but still managed to keep us all in order.
Next week we have the Northern and Southern/London heats and will of course be bringing you all the news from them.
Christopher McQuillan – Oliver’s Restaurant, Belfast
- 50ml Bacardi Carta Blanca
- 50ml Pineapple juice
- 20ml Lime juice
- 20ml Coriander syrup
- 1 spray of absinthe
Leon Black – Panda & Sons, Edinburgh
- 50ml Bacardi Carta Blanca
- 25ml Fresh Lemon Juice
- 20ml 1-1 Sugar syrup
- 20ml Martini Ambrato
- 3 dashes Celery Bitters
- Spritz Islay Whisky