BarLifeUK were honoured to be joining the judging panel in Amsterdam recently for the 2017 Bacardi Legacy Northern European Final.
One of the most overused, and stupid, sayings around is ‘History is written by the victors’. For starters it wasn’t first said by Winston Churchill, as so often credited, but by someone no-one remembers, kind of stepping on it’s own point there.
If that isn’t enough to convince you that it’s nonsense you’re reading this, and let me assure you BarLifeUK has never won anything.
It seems that Bacardi also aren’t fans of this saying. Of course they celebrate and reward the Bacardi Legacy global winner each year, rightly so they are carried on high around the world and given experiences of a lifetime. However it is the others involved in the competition, those that don’t emerge victorious, the ones that can’t quite reach the summit of the mountain, the people on whose shoulders the winner stands, the……. well, you know…. losers, who aren’t forgotten. That is always something that has impressed us about Bacardi Legacy.
Whenever there is a Bacardi event there is a reminder about so much more than the winning bartenders and cocktails. Drinks on the menu’s that didn’t take the crown but are delicious nonetheless, bartenders working hard who may not have made the final stage but sure know how to work a room, taking place in venues run and owned by previous competitors, even the ambassadors feature some who fell under Bacardi’s gaze during Legacy competitions.
As we entered the judging room on a rainy morning in Amsterdam and surveyed the scene it seemed that once again Bacardi were making the most of the experience and knowledge of previous Legacy competitors to help further the competition.
BarLifeUK would be joining 9 other judges (most of whom had been at this stage within the last couple of years) to judge 28 competitors from 10 countries on their Bacardi Legacy cocktail and presentation. In the interests of fairness the judges and competitors would be split into 2 groups with no judges allowed to judge our own country’s competitors.
As we sat in our judging room waiting for the first competitor to arrive the tension was thick in the air, the pressure increased by spotlights and a camera crew recording every word. There were not even peers to cheer the competitors on, just them, us, a camera crew and their local ambassador.
As you move through the judging rounds of Bacardi Legacy the pressure on the panel increases. The time, dedication and effort that the competitors have put in is obvious and therefore the decision is even more important. How the judges at the Global Final handle it without use of valium I’m not sure I know.
As you can imagine if the judges are feeling the added pressure then the competitors must really be bricking it. The smiling faces of people who had been through it before surely helped as they entered the room to begin their setup period.
If the nerves were there then, on the whole, they were very well hidden. Over the next few hours myself and the other 4 judges in our room were treated to a series of fantastic presentations and drinks. Some were stronger than others, some handled the pressure of their moment in the spotlight better, others positively thrived with all the attention on them.
As the last competitor packed up their stuff and exited the room we were left to reflect on the past few hours. There had been some real stand outs for me. The home nation of The Netherlands were exceptionally strong and are definitely ones to watch out for in Mexico.
Tony Barry from Cork will be representing Ireland with his drink Hug From Mary. In the last few years Ireland has produced some real finds and for such a small market has shown the rest of the world how it can be done. Tony can definitely follow in the footsteps of the likes of Connor Myers and Karim Mehdi (also a judge in Amsterdam) with an amazing story and presentation and a drink that can definitely back it up. Hats off to local ambassador Alan Kavanagh for once again coming up trumps.
After a quick Bacardi Ocho (or two) we were released from our room and it was time to find out how the UK had got on in the next room. At this time the judges were kept separate from the competitors until nearer the announcement the following day, after all we had a pretty good idea of who had won (the marketing scores had yet to be added) and I for one have a shit poker face.
So it was up to the other judges to let me know how they had done. I cornered one (who shall remain nameless) and was met with a slightly less than socially acceptable greeting, it revolved around my lack of parents and what I should do with myself. It transpired that the UK had been very strong and close, and I was getting blamed for my involvement in the UK heat judging. I took this as a good sign, the UK guys had obviously done themselves proud and anyway I’m used to general verbal abuse.
The evening was spent having a few drinks (being served by a previous Legacy finalist of course), some very nice food and, as the evening progressed, a few games of pool with fellow judge and Tales & Spirits owner Bo. It was all about the next night, the announcement and the inevitably awesome Bacardi party that was to follow.
Sailing Away With It
The evening began in the afternoon, as is rapidly becoming a Bacardi Legacy tradition, on a boat. Touring the canals of Amsterdam with drinks flowing the competitors and judges were officially allowed to mingle again. I avoided anyone I had judged due to my aforementioned lack of face poker ability, but it gave me a chance to catch up with team UK.
First port of call was the boss lady, the giver of the best hugs and scariest looks, who genuinely cares about her charges, Metinee ‘used to be able to party’ Kongsrivilai. She was very proud of everyone’s efforts, no-one was perfect (she’s hard to please) but all six of the UK competitors had put themselves in contention.
The six themselves were more relaxed than I had anticipated, helped in large part (but one suspects not entirely) by the obvious friendships and camaraderie that they had built up on this trip and in the days leading up to it. They all seemed happy with what they had done and excited for whoever won. Of course they hoped that person would be them, but knew if it wasn’t they had lost to a deserving foe.
Once May had missed every single photo opportunity available we docked and transferred to the hotel that would be hosting the announcement and annual misguided attempt at dancing my legs seem to insist on.
As we took in the views from our lofty perch our numbers began to swell with supporters, colleagues and friends of the finalists who had been flown in by Bacardi to help tame the nerves. Also in attendance were some of those that just missed out in the regional heats, brought over as a thank you for the hard work they put in as well as a bit of inspiration for next year.
Despite all the smiles and laughter around the room there was no hiding the nerves. Everyone in the room had a vested interest in at least one of the results being announced. For the competitors it was amplified.
This wasn’t just about getting their hands on a trophy and a plane ticket to Mexico (although let’s be honest no-one was sniffing at that), this was the next step on the long journey to becoming the 2018 Global Bacardi Legacy Champion. Everyone of them had daydreamed about standing on the global stage when their name was announced and this evening could get them a little closer to turning that into a reality.
The UK finalists – Oliver Pluck, Will Meredith, Leon Back, Rob Collins, Christopher McQuillan & Dominic Whisson – huddled together, near one of the bars of course, as attention turned to the stage. You could feel the rooms collective heartbeat increase as country by country the winners were announced.
Leon Back from Panda & Sons in Edinburgh was the man wearing the biggest of grins as he bounded onto the stage to collect his trophy from May. As mentioned we hadn’t judged him the day before but having seen his presentation and tasted his drink at the Scotland heat his win came as no surprise, in all honesty any one of the six could have been announced and it would have been no surprise.
As he was engulfed by his supporters from Edinburgh as well as his ever supportive fellow competitors, our mind immediately rushed ahead to Mexico. Could he see his dream a reality on that global stage with the confetti cannons blasting around him? The answer is an unequivocal yes. It’s going to take plenty of hard work but he has the drink, the inspiration and the personality to definitely go all the way in Mexico.
However all that hard work would start the next day, it was time to celebrate, commiserate and maybe have a sherbet or two. As always Bacardi had put on a great shindig, there were bars in every corner knocking out drinks, food coming from all sides, a dance floor and DJ however the look of pure joy on Barney Toy’s face could only mean one thing. A giant fridge full of canned Bacardi Cuba Libre’s and Watermelon Bacardi Breezers. Happy Days.
Once again a huge thank you to Bacardi for allowing us to come along and be part of the judging panel in Amsterdam and for putting on such a great few days. A huge congratulations to all the competitors, from hanging around with the UK team we know just how hard everyone worked on their presentations.
Team UK did themselves very proud, all I heard from my fellow judges was how strong the group was and how impressed they were with the drinks and presentations. May yet again ensured that they were all as prepped and prepared as they could be and her hard work, as always, paid off. I know Leon would like me to thank May and the other UK finalists for all their support and camaraderie over the past few weeks.
So it is over to Leon now. The Queen Street Cocktail will be popping up all over the place and if you see it do yourself a favour and try it, you definitely won’t regret it. We will be bringing you news of Leon’s adventures as he prepares for Mexico and any support you can give him will undoubtably be greatly received.
Leon Back, Panda & Sons, Edinburgh
The Queen Street Cocktail
- 50ml Bacardi Carta Blanca
- 20ml Martini Ambrato
- 20ml lemon juice
- 20ml 1-1 sugar syrup
- 3 dashes celery bitters
Shake and fine strain into Nick & Nora glass, garnish with a spritz of heavily peated Islay Whisky.