How the cocktail industry took over the world (and where it might go next)
Bacardi Legacy is one of the world’s most prestigious cocktail competitions. Max Williams travelled to Mexico City to take a look back at the rise of the cocktail, and meet the mixology stars of the future
You may not have heard of Jerry Thomas but you are almost certainly beholden to him. Thomas was a bartender, or more specifically the bartender; the man who invented modern mixology and helped change the drinks industry forever in the 1980s. Impressive going, especially as Thomas died in 1885.
Large in character, girth, and ambition, Thomas tended his way across the bars of 19th-century America, earning national renown for his alcoholic concoctions and the flair with which he created them. In 1862 his Bar-Tender’s Guide became the first drinks book ever published in the US, and isn’t so much the Bible of mixology as its Rosetta Stone – the text that unlocked the secrets of an era. Next time you order a Manhattan or a Martini, raise a toast to ‘Professor’ Thomas, who built an industry through skill, showmanship, and the foresight to write it all down.
To appreciate the scale and scope of the industry Thomas spawned, you need only visit Bacardi Legacy, the global competition to create the next great cocktail of the age. (Made with Bacardi, naturally.) This is no marketing gimmick: the successful drink must be replicable in the average sports bar, by the average bartender. (Cockatoo tears might be a great mixer but they’re a nightmare to source.) It will be introduced to thousands of bars around the world, and its creator will be an industry superstar with the considerable might of Bacardi at their back.
Just ask 2017 champion Ran Van Ongevalle. “Since my win so much has changed. I have travelled with Bacardi to New York, New Orleans, Mexico City, Miami, Puerto Rico, Dubai and Berlin; the Bacardi network has also supported my own travels, allowing me to host seminars and serve my Legacy drink Clarita across India and Asia.”
So, it’s a big deal – and the 2018 edition is the biggest deal yet. Over eight months, roughly 10,000 bartenders and their drinks are whittled down to 34 of the most exciting talents to wield a shaker. These select few, along with the great and good of the drinks industry, plus media, descend on Mexico City for a week of competition, carousing, and cocktails – often simultaneously.
The Grand Final is held in the foundry of the Museo Numismático – a vast stone hall used to mint coins until 1992. (The walls are scorched black where the furnaces once burned.) Only eight bartenders remain, the others eliminated over the previous two days. Someone’s career will shortly change forever
“I’m not only looking for the drink,” says Legacy judge Alex Kratena, former head bartender at Artesian. “I want people to make me feel like I’m actually at the bar and not at a cocktail competition. Great stories are amazing but every single element should be spot on.”
On taking the stage, each bartender has two minutes to prepare ingredients and equipment, then a further seven to make the cocktail while explaining its inspiration and desired legacy. Watching someone make a cocktail sounds about as enthralling as watching someone make a bed. But all great bartenders are great performers: every presentation is infused with wit, charm and passion. It’s intoxicating stuff.
You will leave here, winning or not, having made a difference in many people’s lives
The ticking clock heightens the suspense – no situation is made less fraught by the addition of a ticking clock. Most bartenders don’t touch the ingredients until at least halfway through the allotted time; everyone finishes within ten seconds of deadline.
Ana Alicia Herrera, the home favourite and only female finalist, takes on the persona of a sorceress, crooning the story of her Devil Woman as though an incantation. Australian James Irvine makes his Bocado while performing a standup routine. Eric Van Beek of the Netherlands presents Cariño in free verse: “Dear family, I am on a mission to spread love, that’s why I’m being persistent, listen, I have a vision, you and I, we are not so different…”
Then there is Akira Abe of Japan. Immaculate in a tuxedo, and with a delivery reminiscent of Barry Scott from the Cillit Bang commercials (“HI I’M BARRY SCOTT”), Abe prepares Tales of Ocho with such gusto that you fear life can only offer anticlimax once his seven minutes run out. Perhaps Abe shares this fear, which is why he proposes to his girlfriend during the onstage interview: removing his tux to reveal the words “Marry Me” written on the back of his shirt.
The seven minutes onstage mark the final steps of an exhausting journey. To win the 2017 Legacy, Ran Van Ongevalle experimented with 24 different cocktails, or rather “24 different versions of the same drink. Different measurements with different oils – my garnish was an oil – then with a lot of variants. Use 50 of this and 20 of that; no, use 60 of this and ten of that. Tweak, tweak, tweak.”
For his presentation, Van Ongevalle studied orators such as Barack Obama. He rehearsed around 70 times. “I wrote seven speeches. I took a marker, and everything that I said in all the speeches I marked. Then I put all of these different sentences back together, because that was the stuff that came out of my heart.”
Requiring such dedication, and with the prize on offer, you might imagine Bacardi Legacy to be intensely competitive. Yet the night has the communal bonhomie of a school talent show; nobody cheers a finalist more than their rivals, without any hint of a ‘I just lost Best Actor at the Oscars’ grimace.
“Everyone here wants you to win,” says Van Ongevalle. “Talk with each other: be friendly, be social. That’s the most important thing about the competition. You will leave here, winning or not, having made a difference in many people’s lives.”
All the recipes from the 34 finalists
Juan Ignacio Quijano – Presidente Bar, Buenos Aires
– 40 ml BACARDÍ Reserva Ocho – 15 ml Palomino Fino Sherry – 15 ml Cassis liqueur – 1 barspoon Fernet Branca – 4 basil leaves
Stir and serve over ice.
Garnish: Lemon zest (discard), basil.
"Magno means ‘great,’ but not in size; here we are talking about the greatness of actions and the passion and character great legacies are built upon. It is not only what you accomplish that makes something great but also the way it is done. Magno stands by the names of people who left a mark, today it stands side by side with BACARDÍ rum, a legacy worthy of being called Magno."
James Irvine – The Swillhouse Group, Sydney
– 50 ml BACARDÍ Reserva Ocho – 12.5 ml Creme de Bananes liqueur – 10 ml Noilly Prat – 10 ml Palo Cortado sherry – 3 drops of rosemary oil
Stir, strain and serve over ice.
Glass: Skyscraper coupette
Garnish: 3 drops of rosemary oil
"Bocado is a legacy for the industry that has given me so much. It pays homage to those, past, present and future, who live this legacy: the creators, innovators and trailblazers. Bocado is a legacy built for an industry, by an industry."
Harald Gröbl – Mark's New York Bar, St. Georgen im Attergau
– 45 ml BACARDÍ Reserva Ocho – 20 ml Creme de Cacao white – 20 ml MARTINI Riserva Speciale Rubino – 20 ml fresh lime juice – 3 drops absinthe – 3 drops saltwater (30% salt)
Garnish: Lime twist
"This Wayfarer cocktail should be my ticket to the world.My education as a bartender took a long time and it was difficult, but I never surrendered. I am ready now to show the world what I can do by creating this cocktail, which has given me the opportunity to fly for the first time in my life, and of course participate for the first time in this great international competition."
Didier Van den Broeck – Dogma, Antwerp
– 50 ml BACARDÍ Reserva Ocho – 10 ml MARTINI Riserva Speciale Rubino – 10 ml Amer Picon – 20 ml grenadine* – 20 ml orange juice – 10 ml lemon juice
"The Mr Dogma is like a great drink lost in time. It could have a recipe written on the back of a dusty old cocktail book over a century ago. This full bodied, bittersweet long drink with notes of red fruit & orange is our bar’s celebration of craft bartending and entrepreneurship; to be enjoyed in good company."
Ernesto Lara Elizondo – Riviera Bar, São Paulo
– 60 ml BACARDÍ Carta Blanca rum – 15 ml MARTINI Rosso vermouth – 15 ml MARTINI Bitter aperitif – 15 ml fresh lemon juice – 15 ml simple syrup
Garnish: Two fresh basil sprigs.
"In a world without borders, we are all immigrants. Today we see a lot of negative talk about immigration; El Imigrante showcases the great things that happen when two different cultures come together to celebrate diversity. By blending two different styles of cocktail culture from around the world to create something uniquely delicious, I bring life to the legacy of all immigrants."
Sabrina Mailhot – The Coldroom, Montreal
– 60 ml BACARDÍ Reserva Ocho – 30 ml orange juice – 15 ml fresh lime juice – 15 ml grenadine – 7.5 ml banana liqueur
Shake and fine strain.
Garnish: Lime wheel.
"Séquito is Spanish for ‘entourage’ – the group of people that surround us, or in this case, community and family. The drink is a homage to the community of bartenders I am now fortunate to call friends. After watching my mentors go through their ‘Legacy’ experience, I thought now was the perfect occasion to share my story and help my community grow to become part of the BACARDÍ family."
Juan Zambrano – W Lounge, Santiago de Chile
– 50 ml BACARDÍ Reserva Ocho – 120 ml aguapanela (piloncillo juice)* – 15 ml lemon juice – 3 dashes orange bitter
Garnish: Mint bouquet and lemon quarter.
"Papelon with lemon, or Aguapanela is a common drink in the Caribbean and in Venezuela. This was what I used to drink among my friends in La Guaira, the place where I grew up. Venezuela’s toughest gift was to force many of my childhood friends to leave the country searching for a better future, just like the Bacardí family when the Cuban Revolution forced them to leave their country with nothing. Pana Pana is an homage to my friends, to our culture and to our South American traditions."
Casper Huang – Lab Loft Group, Guangzhou
– 45 ml BACARDÍ Reserva Ocho – 30 ml pomegranate cordial – 10 drops fish sauce – ½ barspoon panden syrup – 2 drops celery bitters
Stir and strain.
Glass: Nick & Nora.
"The robin is a symbol of bravery, vitality and great renown, and is a bird that we associate with the bat, representing good fortune, health and family unity. I was inspired to create El Cóctel del Petirrojo (the cocktail of the robin) to reflect my tenacity and legacy and to salute El Ron del Murciélago (the rum of the bat) – BACARDÍ - and its untameable history."
"Asere - a Cuban expression meaning friendship, camaraderie, and bonding - is a cocktail that is powerful enough to convey all of these emotions. My cocktail reflects the essence of this industry and what it is to imbibe: the art of celebration. The cocktail seeks to highlight the wood-aged BACARDÍ ‘Ocho’ rum with an aroma of Oloroso sherry, bringing a hint of acidity from the balsamic vinegar and the aftertaste of fresh coffee."
The Royal Legacy
Shekhar Grover – Royal Caribbean Cruise Line
– 45 ml BACARDÍ Reserva Ocho – 30 ml MARTINI Rosso Vermouth – 30 ml MARTINI Bianco Vermouth, infused with dates – 2 dashes chocolate bitters – 2 dashes plum bitters
Stir and serve over ice.
Glass: Rocks glass.
Garnish: Medjool date.
"The Royal Legacy cocktail represents the legacy of a royal family. The tropical fruit base of BACARDÍ Reserva Ocho is complimented well with MARTINI Bianco Vermouth infused with dates. The cocktail enhances the blend of BACARDÍ Reserva Ocho and preserves its royalty of being one of the best rums the world has to offer."
Back in Black
Constantinos Kazelis – Lost and Found Drinkery, Nicosia
– 45 ml BACARDÍ Carta Blanca rum – 15 ml Amaro – 15 ml simple syrup – 10 ml lime juice – 1 dash aromatic bitters – Tonic water
Garnish: Lime zest.
"Back in Black is a drink that represents evolution through hard work; ‘out of limitations, creativity blossoms’ - this drink is designed to be diverse and easy to make. Inspired by the legendary Cuba Libre, Back in Black reflects my personal journey starting off as a prep guy and still evolving as a bartender chasing a dream."
Henri Halonen – Goldfish, Helsinki
– 50 ml BACARDÍ Reserva Ocho – 5 ml Pedro Ximenez sherry – 10 ml dry Fino sherry – 10 ml cinnamon syrup – 1 dash chocolate bitters
Stir and serve over ice.
Glass: Rocks glass.
Garnish: Orange twist.
"Herencia is Spanish for ‘tradition’ or ‘legacy’ and this cocktail represents who I am, where I have come from and where I am going. My childhood was very rough; I came from a poor family and ended up on the streets with the wrong crowd, going down the path of drugs and crime. After a long road, saying goodbye to the streets and my old lifestyle, I found salvation in bartending and began chasing my dream to become one of the best. Like my drink, life is a mix of bitter, sweet and a solid base that makes you the person you are. You are your legacy, wherever in the future you may stand. Bartending literally saved my life; that is what Herencia is all about."
Jimmy Cassar – Buddha Bar, Lyon
– 50 ml BACARDÍ Carta Oro rum – 10 ml vanilla syrup – 20 ml lime juice – ½ teaspoon truffle salt – Champagne
Shake, double strain, top with champagne.
Garnish: Lime twist (discard).
"To me, rum and champagne both represent celebration. In my cocktail I mix these with truffle salt to represent my city, Lyon, and vanilla to represent my roots in Madagascar. This cocktail is a tribute to my family, who in 1960 travelled to Europe looking for a better future."
Damien Guichard – Mr Susan, Berlin
– 50 ml BACARDÍ Carta Blanca rum – 22 ml Verjus – 5 ml orgeat syrup – 2 dashes pastis – 50 ml soda water
Stir, strain and top with soda.
Glass: Short flute or coupette.
Garnish: Grated nutmeg.
"Amandita is inspired by a light French aperitif called a Mauresque, which traditionally combines orgeat, pastis and tap water. It represents the art of sharing a moment during a meal, between the giver and the receiver."
Antonis Mantzaridis – Theory, Halandri
– 45 ml BACARDÍ Reserva Ocho – 25 ml MARTINI Riserva Speciale Ambrato – 7.5 ml MARTINI Riserva Speciale Bitter – 5 ml D.O.M. Benedictine – 4 dashes soy sauce
Glass: Double Old Fashioned.
Garnish: Lemon peel.
"Semilla is Spanish for ‘seed.’ A seed has one purpose only: to grow, to ‘become.’ In order to do this it must be dropped in dirt and covered in darkness, then struggle to reach the light. To achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes; to someone who doesn't understand growth this would seem like complete destruction. But the seeds that you plant today, become the harvest that you'll reap tomorrow. And that will be your legacy."
Akhilesh – Perch Wine & Coffee Bar, New Delhi
– 45 ml BACARDÍ Carta Blanca rum – 15 ml MARTINI Bianco vermouth – 10 ml Amaretto – 20 ml lemon juice – 1 bar spoon caster sugar – 3 slices (1cm) cucumber (seedless)
Garnish: Lemon twist.
"My cocktail Eternal Spirit is inspired by the people who never gave up, despite hard times and failures. Don Facundo was one of these people who persevered, eventually proving his mettle and leaving a legacy. Life is an opportunity; it is not just about who wins, but who overcomes their limitations, working until their best is better."
Hug from Mary
Tony Barry – CASK, Cork
– 45 ml BACARDÍ Reserva Ocho – 30 ml Irish Stout (Beamish) – 10 ml coffee liquer – 10 ml PX sherry – 4 dashes Xocolati Mole bitters
Shake and throw.
Glass: Nick and Nora.
Garnish: Fresh mint.
"'A hug from Mary' is a hospitality ritual among the bartenders of Cork. Mary is owner, bartender & host of the oldest family pub in Cork - The Castle Inn. The Castle has no television, Wi-Fi or phones; the only noise you can hear is chatting amongst friends. When you are served a cold drink by Mary it is the perfect welcome. I also grew up working in a family pub and understand the importance of tradition. My Hug from Mary cocktail reflects flavours found in any Irish bar, my bartending career, a salute to Irish bartenders and, of course, Mary!"
Back to Basics
Irene Benjamin – Zalame, Be'er Sheva
– 60 ml BACARDÍ Carta Blanca rum – 30 ml orange and red wine syrup* – 22.5 ml lime juice – 10 ml dry vermouth (preferably Noilly Prat) – 15 ml aquafaba – 2 dashes aromatic bitters
Shake and double strain.
Garnish: Orange peel.
"Back to Basics is all about the simple things in life, the things that make me happy and keep me motivated through hard and busy times. I tried to capture memories and the people that affected me and made me who I am today - my friends, family and my partner in life. One of the things that really motivates me is the desire to take care of our planet. I put a lot of sustainable thinking into my cocktail, I believe we can all take care of our planet by maximising our products and extending their lifetime. My agenda is to help to create a better world and a greener future."
Davide Mitacchione –Luau Tiki Bar, Bari
– 60 ml BACARDÍ Reserva Ocho – 25 ml lime juice – 15 ml sugar syrup – 2 drops Worcestershire sauce – 5-6 basil leaves – 50 ml MARTINI prosecco
Shake, double strain, top with prosecco.
"Adelante is not just a cocktail, it is a universal symbol of never giving up. It represents that moment that we have all experienced, when failure happens and you have to react and restart. You have to go on! This drink is inspired by the great Old Cuban cocktail, created at the beginning of the 2000s by Audrey Saunders in New York. It is a modern and sparkling vision of a classic Cuban drink, with an Italian touch."
Tales of 8 (Ocho)
Akira Abe – Sky Gallery Lounge Levita, The Prince Gallery Tokyo
– 50 ml BACARDÍ Reserva Ocho – 40 ml MARTINI Asti Spumante – 30 ml espresso – 15 ml muscovado syrup – 8 mint leaves
Shake, double strain and top with MARTINI Asti Spumante.
Glass: Brandy snifter.
Garnish: Coffee powder.
"This is a cocktail which connects the past, present and future. 8 (hachi / ocho) is a lucky number for Japanese people, meaning continuity, eternity and infinity and it features throughout Japanese history and culture. When written in Japanese characters, it spreads widely at the bottom, which is a sign of prosperity. Honouring the perseverance of seven generations of the Bacardí family through hardships and disasters to the current eighth generation, whilst embracing the meaning of 8 to the Japanese, Tales of 8 (Ocho) aims to celebrate this spirit of continuity, eternity, infinity and ultimate prosperity."
Ana Alicia Herrera – Pal Real, Guadalajara
– 60 ml BACARDÍ Carta Blanca rum – 5 ml lemon oleo saccharum – 5 ml Italian bitter aperitif – 5 ml MARTINI Extra Dry vermouth
Garnish: Hibiscus pickled onion.
"The inspiration comes from something I learnt in New Orleans when I first became a bartender. Devil Woman is s new twist on a classic Gibson Martini."
Eric van Beek – Bar TwentySeven, Amsterdam
– 50 ml BACARDÍ Reserva Ocho – 5 ml Yellow Chartreuse – 30 ml greek yoghurt – 20 ml vanilla syrup – 10 ml lemon juice
Shake, serve over large ice cube.
Garnish: Grated nutmeg.
"'Te tengo cariño’ is a term of love and endearment. It alludes to the love we have for our fellow man, that you are your brother or sister’s keeper. Love and support doesn’t always come from familiar faces, sometimes strangers can take you to higher places."
La Familia #2
James Millar – Mea Culpa, Auckland
– 40 ml BACARDÍ Carta Blanca rum – 10 ml dry vermouth – 10 ml Pomme Verte – 10 ml Umeshu Japanese plum wine – 5 ml absinthe (rinsed on the glass)
Garnish: Lemon cheek.
"La Familia #2 is inspired by the love of family and celebrates the BACARDÍ Legacy ‘La Gran Familia.’"
Carl Wiman – HIMKOK, Oslo
– 50 ml BACARDÍ Reserva Ocho – 7.5 ml Amarretto – 5 ml (1 barspoon) Branca Menta – 20 ml fresh lemon juice – 15 ml honey syrup
Shake & double strain.
Glass: Nick & Nora.
Garnish: Lemon zest.
"El Lingüista means ‘the linguist.’ This cocktail is inspired by how communication leads to understanding, and how this profoundly influences us as human beings. Studying language – our principle means of communication - is the first step on the path to change."
Rafael Silva – Bovino Steakhouse, Faro
– 50 ml BACARDÍ Carta Blanca rum – 20 ml coconut water syrup* – 20 ml lime juice – 1 barspoon coconut yoghurt – 3 dashes eucalyptus essence
Garnish: Eucalyptus essence and eucalyptus leaves.
"Equilibrium is a tribute to the resistance, determination, resilience & emotional equilibrium of Don Facundo - and also to my grandfather, who never gave up."
Sim Sze Wei – ATLAS Bar, Singapore
– 20 ml BACARDÍ Reserva Ocho – 20 ml BACARDÍ Carta Oro rum – 20 ml D.O.M. Benedictine – 20 ml lemon juice
Glass: Nick & Nora.
Garnish: Lemon peel twist.
"Golden Eight is inspired by the hardships and challenges along my journey as a bartender and the untameable spirit of BACARDÍ rum. I am pursuing my belief with passion and determination; innovating a new category of rum cocktail with no homemade ingredients."
Emmanuel Otero – Peyote San, Madrid
– 50 ml BACARDÍ Reserva Ocho – 20 ml lime juice – 20 ml pineapple juice – 5 ml banana syrup – 20 ml pineapple & clove syrup* – MARTINI prosecco
Shake, double strain, top with prosecco.
"1300 Millas is the distance between New York and La Habana and represents the distance between the cocktail epicentre and Cuba, the Bacardi homeland."
Carl Marcus Erlandson – Haymarket, Stockholm
– 45 ml BACARDÍ Carta Blanca rum – 15 ml Noilly Prat – 12.5 ml Creme de Cacao Blanc – 3 dashes Peychaud Bitters – 1 dash salt solution
Stir all ingredients except bitters. Strain over an ice block, gently dash with bitters to create a layer.
Glass: Rocks glass .
Garnish: Lemon zest (discard).
"Theobroma is my recipe for friendship; I have always seen BACARDÍ as a brand that brings people together. Theobroma is a Latin term originating from the famous Swedish botanist and doctor, Carl von Linné. In one of his travels he came across the cocoa tree and named it ‘Theobroma Cocoa,’ which means ‘food of the gods.’ Rum and chocolate – the essence of Theobroma - are two of the great things in life that friends enjoy together."
Kacper Dylak – Dante Bar, Zurich
– 45 ml BACARDÍ Reserva Ocho – 20 ml espresso coffee (Etno) – 10 ml vanilla brown sugar cane syrup – ½ bar spoon Crèma con Aceto Balsamico – Tonic water (Schweppes Premium)
Shake, top with tonic water.
Garnish: Orange zest.
"Las Raices is Spanish for ‘roots.’ I consider my roots to have been shaped not only by my parents in my home country of Poland, but also by my journey through life. I have lived in Spain, England, Poland and now Switzerland; these places, every new person I have met and each new skill I have learnt has shaped who I am now. Being deeply attached to your roots does not mean standing in one place. Each ingredient in this cocktail relates to something important to my still-evolving story and connects it with the ever-evolving history of BACARDÍ rum."
– 50 ml BACARDÍ Carta Blanca rum – 10 ml banana liqueur – 25 ml coconut water – 1 barspoon almond syrup – 1 barspoon dry sherry – 5 dashes Islay whisky
Glass: Rocks glass.
Garnish: Dried banana chip.
"Nostalgia is inspired by the tastes of my childhood and the memories that remain today. The bitter taste of medicine when we were sick, the taste of lollipops or our favourite fruits; these each evoke childhood memories and feelings from when they were first experienced. For me, my strongest memories are the delicious tastes from food and drink that would eventually pave the career I have today. Nostalgia awakens beautiful memories and inspires my creative and positive actions today. Nostalgia reminds me of the joyful moments of my childhood."
Marco Corallo– Hendricks at Four Seasons Resort, Dubai
– 50 ml BACARDÍ Reserva Ocho – 15 ml Italian Amaro – 20 ml black banana puree – 25 ml mango juice – 45 ml pineapple juice – 30 ml sweet & sour mix
Glass: Tiki mug.
Garnish: Pineapple leaves, lime shell.
"I love this industry, but our generation is now in danger of creating our own extinction and if we don’t act upon this, we will soon reach the point of no return. 45% of global food production is wasted, so Superhero can be made using sustainable products; black bananas, over ripe mango and sweet pineapple puree – steps we can all take to make an effort towards reducing food wastage. Superhero shares the revolutionary spirit of Emilio Bacardi, fighting for what is right and changing the world, one cocktail at a time."
Queen Street Cocktail
Leon Back – Panda and Sons, Edinburgh
– 50 ml BACARDÍ Carta Blanca rum – 20 ml MARTINI Riserva Speciale Ambrato – 20 ml fresh lemon juice – 20 ml simple syrup – 3 dashes celery bitters – 3 spritzes Islay whisky
Shake & double strain.
Glass: Nick & Nora
Garnish: Islay whisky, two spritzes on top of glass, one on side.
"The Queen Street Cocktail is, firstly, a tribute to the street where I work. This street in Edinburgh, which is world-renowned, is where many generations of industry greats have established themselves, enabling them to leave their mark within the industry. The Queen Street Cocktail also represents three principals that I went through to become the bartender that I am today: education, collaboration and innovation. Following these principles allowed me to grow as a bartender and they can be applied across all aspects of this industry."
Moe Isaza – Pammy’s, Boston
– 45 ml BACARDÍ Reserva Ocho – 15 ml coffee liqueur – 15 ml Amaro Montenegro – 15 ml pineapple juice – 1 lemon wedge (muddled)
Glass: Double Old Fashioned.
Garnish: Lemon peel.
"This cocktail is inspired by home, family and whatever the future may hold. Poderoso is the Spanish word for mighty and powerful; its definition is ‘having an abundance of ability.’ One succeeds by facing any challenge with the spirit of not giving up. The name is inspired by my brother, Will, as he is also in the hospitality industry and has surpassed my wildest dreams. He is the living example of my legacy."
French Scott Marshall – Five To One, Washington DC
– 45 ml BACARDÍ Reserva Ocho – 7.5 ml St Elizabeth Allspice Dram – 30 ml toasted coconut syrup – 20 ml lime juice
Shake, double strain.
Garnish: Lightly dusted cinnamon.
"My mother would always remind me of my island roots; we left St. Thomas and Coki Beach just before Hurricane Hugo. We settled in Washington, DC. - a new place in which to build new lives whilst holding on to our Island roots - like the Bacardí family, when they were forced out of Cuba and settled in Puerto Rico. Leaving the islands taught me a crucial early lesson for success in any aspect of life: you must draw strength from your roots, and never fear embracing new experiences and ways of thinking to overcome the unforeseen obstacles that lie ahead. That is what the Bacardí family has done for over 150 years and what Coki Beach means to me."
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The cocktail revolution
If Bacardi Legacy has travelled a long way over the past decade then so has the cocktail industry itself. Today, every bar worthy of the name will have at least half a dozen classic cocktails on its menu: Old Fashioned, Mojito, and so on. Most will have far more, including bespoke mixtures of their own creation. We’re not talking plush hotels or stylish speakeasies: chains such as Revolution and All Bar One can conjure up a perfectly drinkable Negroni.
Yet this ubiquity is a relatively recent phenomenon, one that can be traced back to 1980s’ New York and the reopening of a bar called Rainbow Room. The Rainbow Room had been a staple of post-prohibition New York, and restaurateur Joe Baum was keen to bottle the flavour of that heady era. Baum pointed his bartender, Dale DeGroff, in the direction of an old drinks book by a certain Jerry Thomas – and the quality cocktail was reborn.
In the intervening three decades the industry has boomed, and the cocktails have become increasingly ornate. (That cockatoo tears joke? It’s only just one.) Every major city has at least one specialist cocktail bar – and in London, San Fran and NYC, a speakeasy is practically Starbucks with sharper glassware. Bartenders are treated like chefs, bars such as Dead Rabbit, Milk & Honey, and Artesian are as feted as Noma or The Fat Duck.
But what actually makes a good cocktail? It sounds obvious but primarily what goes in it. DeGroff emulated Thomas by only using the finest ingredients in his drinks; now mandatory practice but revolutionary at the time.
“When it comes to creating the drink,” says Alex Kratena, “it all starts with the produce. Deep understanding of this will enable you to tackle the drink from a much more interesting perspective than if you just know a tiny bit.”
Kratena compares cocktail creation to speaking a language. “Language consists of lexicon and grammar. Lexicon is all the words, all the ingredients; grammar is the way of combining them together. The more words, ingredients, you know, and the better you understand how to combine them all, the more interesting language you can speak, the more exciting drinks you can create.”
What makes a great bartender is being motivated by the people sitting across from them.
Under Kratena, Artesian was voted the world’s best bar for four consecutive years. The man speaks fluent cocktail – as does Daniele Dalla Pola, owner of the Nu Lounge tiki bar in Bologna. Sporting long black hair, a piratical beard, and a Hawaiian shirt unbuttoned to the midriff, Dalla Polla is one of the more colourful figures at Legacy; he resembles Fidel Castro holidaying in the tropics.
“You need time,” he says of mixology. “You need to have patience. For everything. Like in the kitchen, you can’t make bolognese alla ragu in one hour: you need eight hours! If you want to make a risotto, you need 20 minutes: you can’t make it in five. You need time.”
As with so many crafts, the digital era opened up mixology to the masses; millions of YouTube tutorials, blogs, and online recipes ensure cocktail appreciation is broader than ever before but cocktail expertise has been diluted – a fact Dalla Polla bemoans.
“A lot of information is on the web. Everyone has a masterclass; people work for two, three years and then they’re opening a school to do masterclasses. They’re confusing people. You need to wait.”
Yet then there is the likes of Pamela Wiznitzer, forced behind the bar by the recession, self-educated via YouTube, and now creative director at Seamstress and president of the United States Bartenders’ Guild. Eloquent and assertive, she’s the type of woman you’d follow into battle, let alone a cocktail bar on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
For Wiznitzer, the ability to make a great cocktail doesn’t automatically make you a great bartender. First and foremost, you must love the customer. “The difference between a good bartender and a great bartender is the intention of why that person is there in the first place. If that person is there because they just love creating cocktails and shaking things, they’re never going to be a great bartender. What makes a great bartender is being motivated by the people sitting across from them.”
People don’t realise how complex the job really is... Bartending is not throwing a few things together.
So hospitality trumps everything? “It’s the most important part of what we do. I couldn’t care less if you even know how to make a Cosmo. If you can just make a vodka soda but you can hold a bar of people for hours, I’m going to hire you. You can teach anyone how to make a cocktail. You cannot teach them the authenticity of hospitality. That’s innate.”
Wiznitzer cites “living legend” Doug Quinn as the benchmark for great bartending: “He is the Jerry Thomas of our time.” In 2010, Quinn was the subject of a New York Times profile entitled, ‘At P. J. Clarke’s, the Bartender of Your Dreams’. The article opens: “My mother had eyes in the back of her head; Doug Quinn must have them in the palms of his hands. How else to explain the way he muddled mint for a mojito – and went on to make the rest of the cocktail – while glancing alternately at the door to see if anyone new was coming in, at the far end of the bar to see if anyone was telegraphing thirst, and at the guy in front of him, who was babbling anew about something or other? Not once did Mr. Quinn look down at the drink. It was like bartending in Braille.”
“He commanded that room effortlessly,” attests Wiznitzer, who spent hours watching Quinn at work. “He was the ultimate conductor of a neverending orchestra.”
It’s a lovely analogy; Kratena uses a similar one in our interview a day earlier. “A bartender shouldn’t be the star of the show: you’re more like a DJ, you’re creating the atmosphere, and you’re creating the vibe. You should be there but you’re not really visible.
“People don’t realise how complex the job really is. The set of skills required: from understanding of the finance, being able to cost a product, being able to forecast, being able to create recipes, doing all the health and safety hygiene, risk assessment, creating atmosphere, understanding how every person wants to be looked after. Bartending is not throwing a few things together.”
The Legacy Judges
Daniele Dalla Pola and Alex Kratana.
2017 champion Ran Van Ongevalle.
Judge Ivy Mix.
Retiring judge Jose Sanchez Gavito accepts his lifetime achievement award.
The final is held in the foundry of the Museo Numismático – a vast stone hall used to mint coins until 1992.
The judges confer.
Bacardi ambassador Dickie Cullimore looks on.
Dalla Pola leads the applause.
A standing ovation for one contestant.
Obviously there's an after-party.
Someone's having a good night. Well they did just get engaged...
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The 34 semifinalists of Bacardi Legacy represent 33 different nations (America has two) – yet all but three are male, and Ana Alicia Herrera is the only woman to make the final eight. This lack of female representation is more symptom than cause, the product of an industry that has always been a man’s world.
“The patriarchy is alive and well,” sighs Wiznitzer. “It’s going to be up to men to understand that there’s a platform, and they need to make room on that platform and make space to help promote women.
“That’s the only way we make changes: not just women doing the work but by men stepping up and doing the work as well. That’s what we’re missing in this industry; the men aren’t willing to step up and do that work.”
The women are most certainly stepping up. Speed Rack’s Twitter bio describes itself as “a cocktail competition for women, by women, to support women with the mission to find the county’s fastest female bartender and support breast cancer research.” Co-founded by Ivy Mix and Lynnette Marrero, Speed Rack donates $100,000 every year to breast cancer charities, as well as offering a vital platform for female mixologists to showcase their talents.
“In the past decade, the biggest contribution to our bartending world has been Speed Rack,” says Wiznitzer. “They’ve launched thousands of careers for people. They’ve given a platform to thousands of people who never had voices, never had opportunities, never had networks. They’ve done more to advance this industry than anyone else that I know.”
Ivy Mix has a backstory as exotic as you would hope for from someone named Ivy Mix. As a teenage bartender in Guatemala she smuggled mezcal from Oaxaca across the Mexican border to be drank in Café No Sé – the first mezcal bar to open outside of Mexico.
There wasn’t room for a woman in the image of what a mixologist was supposed to be
“Never got caught. One time when we were coming back our stupid van driver picked up four policemen hitchhiking, and we had an entire van full of illegal booze. He was like, ‘what can I do? I can’t not pick up policemen hitchhiking – it looks sketchy!’” She chuckles. “Never caught, but certainly some close calls!”
Despite being cooler than all of us, Mix still had to fight for her success. In 2008, she moved to New York and found a job as a cocktail waitress. “I was amazed at what you could do with spirits. I didn’t know anything about cocktails – I was like, woah, this is so fucking cool. I’m done being a cocktail waitress, I want to be behind there! And the answer I got was no: you can’t come back here. You’re not allowed here; you’re allowed there. That’s where you belong.”
By now the cocktail revolution started by Dale DeGroff in the Rainbow Room was sweeping America; every other bar was attempting to recreate the stylings of its prohibition predecessors. “Everyone was trying to be Jerry Thomas, basically,” says Mix. “The moustache; the mixologist. And there wasn’t room for a woman in that image of what a mixologist was supposed to be.
“Our industry is an extremely welcoming crew. I don’t think there’s anyone being actively, like, ‘no women!’ But I do think there was a thing: this is what I want my bar to look like so this is what it’s going to look like, and women will work on the floor. Women are going to be hostesses or cocktail waitresses, and the boys will be barbacks and bartenders.”
Since those early rejections, Mix has been awarded the American Bartender of the Year at the prestigious Tales of the Cocktail festival, and opened her own Brooklyn bar with the pioneering Julie Reiner. She may have triumphed in the personal battle but the wider war is a long way from won.
“The girl from Guadalajara, the Mexican finalist, works in a coffee shop. In a fucking coffee shop. Maybe she really wants to work there, but why isn’t she working in a great bar? What’s that all about?”
You don’t have to be a white guy to be a cocktail bartender. We are such an undiverse community
Yet Alicia Herrera occupies the peak of her industry; how to raise more women onto that peak? How to bring more young women behind the bar in the first place?
Pamela Wiznitzer has a manifesto: if the bartenders aren’t coming to the bars, then the bars must go to the bartenders. Go to the colleges; go to the youth centres; hell, go to the coffee houses. Encourage people to explore a talent that might otherwise be left unlocked.
“When there are career fairs at colleges and high schools, we don’t have a table that says, ‘Hey, have you considered bartending as a career?’ That’s just not happened.”
The cocktail industry, says Wiznitzer, cannot sit back and assume change will occur yet take no steps to effect this change. Slapping a vacancies sign in the window isn’t enough – you need to reach the people who wouldn’t think to apply, because they haven’t been encouraged to see mixology as a viable profession.
“That’s how we’re going to make more space. That’s how we’re going to get more women involved. That’s how we’re going to get more people from the LGBTQ community, and that’s how we’re going to diversify and get more people of colour involved. We’re never going to back these changes, and we’re never going to grow as an industry, if we don’t put in the work ourselves.”
It’s inspirational stuff, and it will take inspirational people to lead the way – not only women like Wiznitzer and Mix, but also their male counterparts. Mix is cautiously optimistic. “I think that it is changing, and I hope it changes more in other parts of the world. You don’t have to be a speakeasy to serve cocktails anymore – you can make really good cocktails in a coffee shop, apparently. You don’t have to be a white guy to be a cocktail bartender. We are such an undiverse community, it’s kinda sad, and I’m hoping that will change.”
On stage at Bacardi Legacy, the victorious bartender embraces their opponents and judges, clutches the trophy for the cameras while wearing the euphoric expression of someone suddenly transported into the best night of their life. (And probably the longest: nobody parties harder than a bartender.)
Not the Mexican favourite Alicia Herrera, nor the recently engaged Akira Abe. Our winner is the rhyming Dutchman Eric Van Beek and his lyrical celebration of Cariño – the values of love, family, community. “As individuals we stand alone, but together we can make the world a better place if we’re willing to fight.”
Who knows if Jerry Thomas would have agreed with this sentiment – he was, first and foremost, an entrepreneur.