BACARDÍ Legacy Global Cocktail Competition 2016 final eight, from l-r: Mitchell Kai Lum, Thailand; Andrew Bennett, Australia; Moe Aljaff, Norway; Lizaveta Molyavka, Belarus; Chia-An ‘Gn’ Chan, Thailand; Iain Griffiths, UK; Bar Shira, Israel; Choni Song, China

Cocktail competitions are a bit like Marmite; people are either huge fans or don’t see the point of them at all. They’re more about the brands the cynics say; bartenders are manipulated, and/or go on to become prima donnas; what a waste of money and time. But what some view as exploitation, others see as elevation; where cynics hear cash registers ringing in favour of the brands, others perceive as bartenders getting invaluable opportunities to kick their careers into shape on a global scale. The way we see it, it’s a win-win situation all round.

Take last year’s BACARDÍ Legacy Global Cocktail Competition for instance. Its winner Franck Dedieu is a poster boy as to why career bartenders want a piece of the global bartending competition action. “The bar we opened in Lyon wasn’t as successful as we wanted and I felt stuck,” he admits. So what did he do? He did what an increasing number of aspirational bartenders do when they want to prove they know what’s what; he pitted himself against the best in the world. Clever move. Not only did he win the French finals but went on to take the top prize in the globals as well.

To say his life has changed as a consequence is an understatement. “I wasn’t the loudest guy in the room perhaps, but BACARDÍ took care of that and helped me with my presentation and interview skills. I’ve travelled extensively – visiting five continents, which is just amazing. There’s also the learning that comes as part of the package. I’ve had the opportunity to listen to wonderful speakers, get to know some of my industry heroes, do guest shifts with legends like Steve Schneider, Ivy Mix and Fred Siggins – it’s been so inspiring and really helped me to grow as a man and a bartender. In June I’ll be moving to London to work on a project with fellow BACARDÍ Legacy finalist Chris Moore. It’s been an incredible year”.

Putting the competitors through their paces, the judges: Dale DeGroff (seated); Ian Burrell; Nadine Iacocca)

No disrespect to Franck but we doubt if all of this would have happened in less than a year if he’d remained working behind the bar six days a week in Lyon. Not that there would have been wrong if he’d chosen to do so, mind. Others like Jad Ballout who represented Lebanon on the global stage in World Class in 2013 and BACARDÍ Legacy last year used the experience to elevate the bar scene back home. “Before I was part of the two competitions, I didn’t know what was happening outside this country. That’s all changed. Now I know the key people in the industry, have access to their expertise and advice and just by talking to them has helped me to improve my ideas for the bar and my drinks. Being a finalist in competitions at this level has opened my eyes and my ears to the global scene.”

It’s successes like Franck’s and Jad’s that account for the 10,000 entries to this year’s BACARDÍ Legacy Cocktail Competition. Not all of them made it through to the big gig of course but even getting their submissions in is testament to just how big a draw these productions are. “I genuinely believe that anyone who enters, not just those who go on to become finalists, but everyone, will become much better bartenders by going through the process,” says Jacob Briars. Well, he would say that, he’s BACARDÍ Global Advocacy Director. But even we’ve seen how bartenders have grown in confidence and status as a result of the networks that open up to them by taking part: “My name has got bigger in the industry,” continues Jad. “I’ve done a lot for myself but now I want to bring more fame to the bar and put Lebanon on the global scene.”

Jacob Briars

Just when did cocktail competitions become such big business? “People forget that they’re nothing new, they’ve been around since at least the 1880s,” offers Briars. “Harry Johnson claims he kickstarted his career in 1869 when he won a competition where he beat all the best bartenders in America. There’s nothing external to corroborate that but it just goes to show that competitions were established enough in the 1870s and 1880s that even if he’s lying about it, for the lie to be thought to be true.”

Case rested. Let’s get on with the show…

San Francisco, 20-25 April, 2016

37 competitors from 36 countries (Cruise Ships bring the numbers up to 37 in case you’re wondering), each with a fantastic drink, an amazing story and untameable passion and drive. Over the past three months or so, they’ve worked like ninjas not only carrying out their day or more appropriately evening jobs, but digging deep to find the extra spark required to earn a coveted place in the eighth BACARDÍ Legacy Global Cocktail Competition.

But what does it take to be a winner? Obviously, there’s the creation of the drink… It should be something guests to the bar request not once, not twice but again and again – much like the Mojito, Daiquiri or Cuba Libre. That’s just one bit. It also has to be original, call on easily obtainable ingredients and be simple enough to be replicated in bars all around the world.

There’s another important part: the promotional campaign. This is where the bartenders have to show they know about the business of marketing. “It may seem like we’re making the bartenders do all of this work to sell BACARDÍ – that’s the outcome of it but the rationale is, like anything in life, you can only succeed through hard work,” Briars continues. “Look at people who have created great classic cocktails – they worked hard to make sure everyone knew about them. Dick Bradsell is a good example. He created great drinks then made sure people knew the recipes. He’d be on the phone to journalists: ‘I’ve got a new drink here; come and check the new cocktails I’m doing at Hakkasan.’ He worked those relationships, solidified those drinks. He taught every bartender how to make them. The idea of the promotional campaign is how do we teach bartenders the skills to make those drinks stick around.”

Iain Griffiths presents his Carta Switchel

Over the two semi-final days we saw 37 future legacy drinks – some long, others short, some using ingredients in familiar ways, others twisting it up to dramatic yet decidedly quaffable effect. Pineapple, Martini vermouth, honey and coconut in various forms made regular appearances, as did the more unusual addition of beer. Surprises came with well-judged, bold additions of flavours such as apple cider, cucumber juice, ginseng aperitif, dulce de leche and even popcorn. Taking risks certainly paid off with Ivy Mix, Ian Burrell, Martin Cate and Tom Walker the experts tasked with judging the first stage of the competition. Seven of the eight who made it through to the Grand Final had sought out something original to bring a certain va-va-va-voom to their drinks. Such as Lizaveta Molyavka (Belarus) who chose to add IPA beer, Campari, lemon juice and honey water to BACARDÍ Carta Blanca for her Anything Else cocktail; Choni Song (China) who opted for BACARDÍ Carta Oro, Bénédictine herbal liqueur, lime juice, Kamm & Sons ginseng liqueur and truffle honey in his Black Gold cocktail, and Andrew Bennett (Australia) who muddled popcorn then added Yellow Chartreuse, lemon juice, sugar syrup and BACARDÍ Carta Blanca to create The Seventh Art.

Julie Reiner judges the final eight cocktails

Like Lizaveta, Bar Shira (Israel) included beer in his BACARDÍ Carta Blanca-based drink El Camello Loco, with the addition of Martini Rosso, lime juice and simple syrup. Moe Aliaff (Norway) hit the sweet spot with his dessert style cocktail Carousel which saw dulce de leche, PX sherry, banana liqueur, lemon juice and a pinch of salt added to BACARDÍ Carta Ora, in contrast to Iain Griffiths (UK) who kept things light, fresh and complex with his Carta Switchel made by blending BACARDÍ Carta Blanca and BACARDÍ Carta Ora rums, fresh grapefruit, sugar syrup, Fernet Branca and apple cider.

Mitchell Kai Lum (Thailand) played it seemingly straight with his sunshine-in-a-glass cocktail The Haole, a guaranteed thirst-quencher made up of BACARDÍ Carta Blanca, bianco vermouth, pineapple syrup, lemon juice and ginger ale, while Chia-an ‘Gn’ Chan (USA) went for a tried-and-tested combo of coconut liqueur, pineapple juice and lime juice added to BACARDÍ Carta Blanca in his Venceremos, then threw a curve ball by introducing cucumber juice and a dash of sesame oil to the party.

Chan’s Asian-Cuban mash-up worked like a charm in the taste department with the Grand Final judging panel made up of Julie Reiner, Dale DeGroff, Franck Dedieu and Jose Sanchez Gavito. His marketing campaign was a hit with Enrique Comas, Nadine Iacocca and Jim Meehan, the promotional judges, too. “It was a tough competition but a unanimous decision,” said Dale DeGroff ahead of the announcement. Even his fellow competitors didn’t look surprised. To read Chan’s winning story, see here)

BACARDÍ Legacy Global Cocktail Competition 2016 winner, Chi-an Chan

Obviously it’s going to be one helluva year for Gn but it isn’t game over for any of the hopeful men and women who entered the competition. “Even if someone didn’t win their nationals or global finals, I would still look at their CV,” says Briars. “The fact they have taken the initiative to enter the competition and test themselves against the best with the mechanics of BACARDÍ Legacy, doing three months of work shows me they are disciplined, hungry and entrepreneurial – that they can stand up in front of people, communicate their drink and tell great stories. Those are the people I want,” he adds emphatically. “The bar is like being in the trenches, it’s a semi-military operation every single night so you need people who are prepared to dig in and be part of a team. You also need people who can communicate their drinks to their guests and give them great experiences. BACARDÍ Legacy hones those things”.

We look forward to seeing what happens to all 37 competitors in the next year.

The BACARDÍ Legacy Global Cocktail Competition 2016 in numbers

Who doesn’t love a good stat? Here are the numbers that counted in BACARDÍ Legacy Global Cocktail Competition 2016.

• 10,000 entries

• 37 national finals were held around the world, each culminating in 9 months of work from finalists

• Approx. 9,990 hours were spent by all National and Global finalists practising and perfecting their ‘Legacy’ cocktails ready for the competition.

• Laura Knox and Tom Woodward spent 56 studio hours spent making, styling and photographing the 37 Legacy cocktails for the final in San Francisco 

• Guests attended the final in San Francisco from 41 nations

• 17 individual events were  organised and delivered by LAB 5 over the 5 days

• 3 bars were shipped in from Sydney, Australia for the Semi- and Grand Final 

• Guests performed 36,150 posts, check-ins and other actions on the BLGCC app during final week.
The top phrases on the APP were:

– Final Ocho
– Good Luck
– USA
– Reuben Kay

• 26 different types of BACARDÍ original/classic cocktails were served to guests during the week

• 5,250 cocktails were served to guests through the week

• 2,800 fresh limes and 500 fresh lemons were manually squeezed for the guest’s cocktails

• 23,500 ice cubes were used during the week

• 300 bottles of BACARDÍ rum were served in cocktails for guests

• 150 bottles of BACARDÍ rum were used by competitors during the semi and grand final

With thanks to LAB 5 (Frances Young, Event Producer in London; Nicola Fenwick, Event Producer in Auckland; Michelle Ruddenklau, PR Manager, London; Frank Symons, Bombay & Martini Advocacy North Europe)

*What’s all the fuss about BACARDÍ Legacy? Part 1

For more details see BacardiLegacyGlobalCocktailCompetition 

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