Bacardi Legacy – The Journey So Far

A couple of weeks ago the UK Bacardi Legacy top 3 were announced, there is more to the story than just their names however.

Recently at a very swanky venue on the outskirts of London, 8 of the countries leading bartenders competed on one of the most intimidating competition stages we have ever seen in front of 200 of their peers. By the end of the night those 8 had been reduced to 3 and the next part of their journey began.

We will come back to that night later but for the record, and in case you have missed the various reports, the names of those top 3 are:

  • Matt Fairhurst, City Social, London
  • Ally Martin, Peg + Patriot, London
  • Ben Davies, The Suburbs, Chester

You see unlike a lot of competitions that actual ‘on stage making the drink’ part is just one element in a big journey for those involved, and it is only when you look at the whole picture that you begin to realise just how important Bacardi Legacy is to the bartenders involved.

In an interview we conducted with last years UK, and then global, winner Tom Walker he put the scale of the competition into perspective (read the full interview here): ‘It’s pretty simple; there’s not one part of the competition where you don’t win. Sure, if you progress, the more rewarding stuff is there, but apart from the prospect of your drink gaining immortality, the competition teaches bartenders some very important aspects of the trade in the 21st century.’

It is of course easy to say this when you have just won the global final of a competition, but a look at the care and effort that the UK Bacardi team, led by Shervene ‘Shev’ Shahbazkhani and Metinee ‘May’ Kongsrivilai, put into every step of the journey they are words that ring true.

Regional Heats

Some elements of cocktail competitions shouldn’t be messed with and regional heats is one of those. So it was, that once the entries had been narrowed down the UK Bacardi team hit the road to run a series of regional competitions.

This year they visited London, Manchester, Belfast, Bristol and Edinburgh to pick their 8 finalists (don’t worry your maths isn’t that bad there were also some wildcards from the strongest heats). As always the concept of the drink for the competition was to create a legacy. A drink that will sit alongside the Daiquiri and the Cuba Libre in the annals of history.

That is a hell of an ask. Think about all the classic cocktails that are truly globally known by both consumers as well as bartenders and you’ll quickly realise that very few of them are from the last 20 years (take Dick Bradsell out of the equation and the number gets significantly smaller).

It also means that cocktails need to be easily replicable so none of that homemade shrub infused into the drink using a smoke gun and garnished with your mum’s buns! A look at Tom’s winning drink (Bacardi Superior, lime juice, simple syrup, absinthe, mint and cucumber) and the 2013 UK winner Zdenek Kastanek recipe (Bacardi Superior, lemon juice, sherry, triple sec, orgeat and Chartreuse) show that there is not a half decent bar in the world that wouldn’t be able to easily knock them out.

This combined with the fact Legacy brings out the best of the best to enter and you begin to understand just what a big deal it is to get into the heats. So getting into the top 8 is a hell of an achievement, Ally certainly felt so: ‘It was a massive deal. Competition was fierce to get to that top 8, so just to make the cut is a really nice feeling.’

As such it is only fair we tip our hat to the other 5 to make the cut as they form a big part of the journey, joining Matt, Ben and Ally were:

  • Roman Foltan from the Artesian at London’s Langham Hotel
  • Michael Braun from Panda & Sons in Edinburgh
  • Michael Brown from Albany Bar in Belfast
  • Robert Wood from The Edgbaston in Birmingham
  • Luca Missaglia from Quo Vadis in Soho, London

Club de Cantineros

As we mentioned Legacy isn’t like other competitions. Not only is it about the actual competition but the journey and the camaraderie between the competitors. Shev and May work very closely with all the competitors and this year the final eight got a few days in the country to prepare for the final along with some other influential bar folks and BarLifeUK.

Joerg delivering his CdC talk

In just a few days the 8 would be battling it out on that intimidating stage but there was still time to improve the presentations and calm the nerves. Shev & May knew exactly what they needed and came up with the perfect escape. A very important part of the trip that every competitor appreciated and Matt summed up: ‘It was great to relax and get some perspective and focus, also getting to know the other competitors.’

The inspiration for the get together was very aptly the Club de Cantineros, a club started in 1925 in Cuba to bring bartenders together, give them somewhere to go to catch up with like-minded people as well as support them and fight for them as a group. During this few days we discovered that Bacardi were bringing the Club de Cantineros to the UK and our group were the founding members, complete with an amazing pin to proudly wear.

The story of the Cantineros certainly provided inspiration to Ben and coincidentally also provided the inspiration for his cocktail Golden Age: ‘That whole sense of bartender community and everyone looking out for eachother is something that I’ve always wanted to be apart of, theres a lot of romance to the camaraderie that these great bartenders shared!’

It was the Club de Cantineros that was the topic of our first talk by the ever entertaining German bartender and owner Joerg Meyer who has not only been researching the Club for 10 years but is also one of the few bartenders who can rightly claim to have invented a modern classic cocktail in the form of the Gin Basil Smash.

Joerg took us through the history of the Club in his own inimitable way and it was amazing to see how they have already influenced us without us even being aware. For example in 1929 they launched a festival which happens every year on October 7th to help promote what they do – sound a bit like London Cocktail Week to anyone else?

They also had some ideas that perhaps we should embrace a little more. In 1926 they announced that their members work 8 hours a day and if you wanted them to work anymore than that they get paid extra – bartender overtime folks?

In 1930 they published their first official manual which also contained a bunch of cocktail recipes including the Santa Marta cocktail which is basically a daiquiri with a barspoons worth of Kirsch floated on top. Joerg has embraced this and informed us that: ‘There are many bad daiquiri’s in the world so I always carry a hip flask of Kirsch to pimp them up’

Wise words indeed. The talk was absolutely fascinating and kicked off the educational elements perfectly.

Inspiring ideas

Joerg certainly wasn’t the only person there providing inspiration and help. We had a man who introduced himself as ‘An Irishman with a good nose’ who engaged the group in an Aroma Academy session.

Flavour he explained is about Taste, Smell (which accounts for 95%) and Trigeminal, which is to do with pain and irritation – such as slicing onions, eating curry and drinking alcohol. He also advised smelling in short sharp sniffs not long deep inhales.

Check out those kinky boots

Calum Brannan also gave a talk on Social Media which is a big part of getting their Legacy cocktail into the greater conscience for the final three. He had invaluable tips for the group which will undoubtedly help over the coming twelve months with their plans. Ally is certainly already looking ahead and will need peoples help: ‘I’m looking to try and focus on our bartending community as much as possible and trying to do as many guest shifts as I can (insert desperate plea here). I’ll also be looking to try and get consumers as involved as we can as that is one of the key ways I think we can progress as an industry.’  

It certainly wasn’t all about sitting in a room and listening however as there was ample time to explore our idyllic surroundings. Two foraging experts took us under their wings and through the local fields and hedgerows to discover what the great outdoors can offer the intrepid bartender.

Obviously using something foraged in a Legacy cocktail isn’t going to work in the grand scheme of things but the walk was more about flavours and using your imagination which hit the roof when back at the house we got to try some of the hedgerow spirits and liqueurs they had made.

To top it all off May found her future husband out on that walk.

All work and no play

There was a lot more than ‘furthering’ ourselves going on, there was also a whole host of activities designed by Shev and May to help take the competitors minds off the rapidly approaching big day. From Ally’s point of view hanging out with the other competitors and experienced heads like Tom Walker was great: ‘It took us away from the stresses of operating a bar to relax a little bit and, crucially, spend time with people who were in, or had previously been in, the same boat.’

Our impressive surroundings also housed a cookery school which explained the fantastic food we had been enjoying, however they made what, on the surface, seemed a foolish move – inviting our group to cook our own dinner. Thankfully the teachers were not only talented but exceptionally patient (one look at the Baklavas will attest to that) but the Bacardi drinks trolley, complete with wigs which Luca got far too into, was parked right outside.

Such a pretty lady…

There was also a pub quiz at the local, which brought out the competitive nature of certain members of the group, not looking at anyone in particular…. Robert. Queue arguments, laughter (especially at poor Roman who failed to recognise his own bar in the picture round) and eventually a variety of shots. However this was nothing compared to the competitive animal the next activity was going to unleash.

The group arose to a peaceful morning with the sun dissipating the days early mists, breakfast was taken outside surrounded by the sounds and senses of an English autumn. Little did the tranquil setting know that in a short while the air would be filled with the unmistakable sound of bartenders doing some exercise and some swearing.

For their next trick Shev and May were about to play their trump card, a team scavenger hunt. 4 teams, 9 clues around the property and local village, and a bottle of Bacardi Gran Reserva up for grabs for each member of the winning team.

After seeing the reaction to the pub quiz we should have known this was going to be taken pretty seriously but we weren’t exactly prepared for the running……. so much running. To make it doubly cruel we went past the pub at least twice and at no point did anyone seem to think the idea of a nice refreshing pint was a good one.

After over an hour of being in almost constant motion, of near drowning, seeing how pigs live and wandering confused around a church (not for the first time) losing would be devastating. As it turns out we wouldn’t know, we won, our whole team did so with humility and dignity. Okay that last bit might be a lie – we may have rubbed it in just a little bit! However we did share May’s bottle with the losers…. I mean other teams.

The rest of our time at the house was spent relaxing, eating and maybe having a Bacardi cocktail or two, all topped off with a glass of the truly exceptional Ron Bacardi de Maestros Vintage MMXII  to toast the 8 finalists and wish them well in the competition later that week.

Stage Fright

The next time we saw the 8 competitors was on the steps of the stunning venue that housed the competition. As we, along with the over 200 guests, saw the building for the first time there was an audible gasp. It was only as we got closer that we realised that the poor competitors were going to have to perform in this spectacular piece of history.

What a bunch to look out on…

It was obvious that their prep was done and they were ready to go, but before that there was a bit of torture to endure as the crowd enjoyed some cocktails and canapes. Matt, who also had his family on hand to support him, got through the period with some serious pacing: ‘Beforehand it was awful, nearly wore my shoes out.’

As the crowd filtered into the main room the size of the raised stage dominated, hanging above the stage each competitor had a banner highlighting them and their drink. It was show time, there was no where to hide, if they didn’t have stage fright we certainly did just looking on.

As Shev introduced the 8 to the room the ovation they received certainly helped Ally as he entered the fray: ‘The whole day was kind of intense, when you step onto the stage it’s difficult to express just how you feel. In one regard you are completely isolated but the support you receive is really heart-warming, as corny as that sounds.’

It has to be said that all 8 of the competitors performed exceptionally well on the day. They all seemed to embrace the atmosphere in the room and had the crowd laughing and on more than one occasion on the verge of tears as they told their stories.

It was unsurprising that the judges took a while to deliberate (their scores would be combined with those for a presentation given at the house) but it was lovely to see the competitors congratulating each other and helping extinguish any doubts as they got their hands on some much deserved Bacardi based refreshments.

Eventually the crowd were called back into the main room and the 8 invited onto the stage to another thunderous reception. By this point the atmosphere was electric, thankfully Shev didn’t drag it out and the top three were announced. It is a moment Ben will never forget: ‘Shev read my name out 2nd and I don’t think I’ll ever forget her words “our 2nd three most promising…. is not from London… he’s from Chester!’ It was honestly the best feeling in the world, a dream came true that moment and it was easily the best night of my life!’

There was plenty of hugs of both congratulation and commiseration amongst the group, people coming from all angles to shake hands and offer words of support. In certain places there were tears, especially from Shev and May which only goes to show how much they put into not just the event but also to the bartenders involved. They truly care about each of them and the feeling is undoubtedly mutual. Matt summed up every bartenders feelings when we asked him if there was anything else he would like to say: ‘Shervene and May are amazing.’

Excellent Adventure

Ben, Matt and Ally have a hell of a journey ahead of them. Over the next twelve months they will be doing everything in their power to promote their cocktail around the world. Before one will be chosen to represent the UK at the global finals and hopefully regain the trophy.

However what the journey they have been on so far will have shown them is that they have a whole bunch of support from this awesome industry of ours. The rest of the world best be worried, we are not giving up the title of the greatest Legacy any time soon and we have an amazing strong 3 Most Promising to choose from.