This month we head to Amsterdam to catch up with Eric Van Beek. With very good reason. The ‘Dam is the location for the 11th Bacardi Legacy Global Cocktail Competition taking place from 10th to 15th May and Eric, born and bred in Amsterdam, just happens to be last year’s winner.
In addition to the coveted title, a super-cool trophy and the opportunity to travel the world working guest bartending shifts and attending global industry events, part of Eric’s prize for the creation of his extremely quaffable cocktail Carino, is being on the judging panel of the global finals. He’s in good company. Joining him in the most important seats in the house deciding who’ll be named Bacardi Legacy Global Cocktail Competition 2019 winner will be the legend that is Julie Reiner, along with Global Rum Ambassador Ian Burrell and Bacardí Maestro de Ron, Juan Piñera. But until the much anticipated name is announced, Eric is still our champ.
Here he talks about his basketball dreams, how to sustain a busy life on the road, his love for all things Japanese, the people who have inspired his drink-making philosophy and his plans for the future.
So Eric, what do you remember most clearly about your childhood and teenage years?
For a long time during my childhood I was chasing the dream of becoming a professional basketball player – I played basketball all the time. I even went to the United States to try and achieve my dream. Although, eventually I had to give up and move back to Amsterdam.
What song reminds you of this period in your life?
During these years I was constantly working out. I was like Sylvester Stallone in Rocky. I did everything to become the best athlete I could, and the song Gonna Fly Now (Theme from Rocky), by Bill Conti helped inspire and motivate me during this time.
What was your first bartending job and tell us about the song that sums up this time?
The song that most resonates with me and captures this time in my life is I Took a Pill in Ibiza, by Mike Posner. Not because of drugs or anything – far from it. It’s because my life at that point was completely upside down. It seemed as if everything happening to me was being influenced by things out of my control. I was kicked out of the USA after living there for seven years, so after being an athlete all my life, and living in the States, all of a sudden I was back in Amsterdam with nothing to my name, just the bags I held in my hands. I was completely lost and without a plan, until I got my first job at The INK hotel under the tutelage of Ollie Hampton. I must say that it was hospitality that helped me get myself together again. It’s truly been good to me.
What would you say are some of the key places and moments in your career?
Winning Bacardi Legacy in 2018 was one of the most important moments in my career; it was something I’d dreamt of achieving for a while. I was the underdog and it was something I’d been constantly working on. It was definitely a game changer in my life and career.
One of the places that had a huge impact on me was Japan. That’s for a number of reasons: firstly, because it’s such an incredible country. I found everything so fascinating: the culture, the level of respect people have for what they do, the poise of the bartenders, and the quality of the food – it was all such an eye opener for me.
Secondly, as part of my Legacy promotional campaign, I did my first guest shifts at Lost + Found Drinkery in Cyprus. Being behind the stick there and seeing all the faces, hearing the music, and feeling the rhythm of the bar was just magical. That place has an indescribable electricity in the air, one that I haven’t felt anywhere else. It’s one of my favourite bars in the world!
What song sums up this period in your life?
The Live Aid version of Radio Ga Ga, by Queen, really captures the feeling I had the moment I discovered I had won Bacardí Legacy. But it also sums up what has happened because of it: it’s enabled me to fulfil my dream of travelling around the world and experiencing so many great things.
Are there any people who have particularly inspired you?
Some of the people that have inspired me haven’t directly inspired me, if you know what I mean. I’d been watching bartenders like Remy Savage, Ran Van Ongevalle and GN Chang from a distance and I really admired what they were doing with drinks and consequently, learning from them from afar. The way they created drinks makes so much sense to me. I like their simplicity of execution, combined with a lot of prep work. However, the result is a very simple looking, yet dense drink. One that’s flavoursome and complex at the same time.
Another person that I learned a lot from is Dickie Cullimore, Global Brand Ambassador for Bacardi rums. He taught me a lot about travelling and how to sustain myself and keep my stamina and energy levels up while on the road. He also showed me how I should present myself to industry people, whether in a casual or business situation.
What song sums up this time in your life?
Blue Monday 88, by New Order. This party songs reminds me of many things: good times with industry people, people I have looked up to and been fortunate enough to work with, doing guest shifts all over the world, and the fact that I am lucky enough to get to do what I love.
What’s going on at the moment in your career and what song sums it up?
I’m changing some things in our bar at the moment. All I can say is that I want the song, Cuba Libre, by Parov Stelar to represent a night at our bar – one that starts slow and gradually becomes more vibrant and lively; a fun night filled with smiles, good music, good drinks. And I’d drink a Daiquiri while this song is playing… Or a Cuba Libre.
If you could only pick one spirit to take with you on your desert island what would it be?
Rum, without a doubt. (I am a pirate, after all!)
If you could only drink one cocktail on your desert island what would it be?
A Piña Colada
If you had to select one song to take on your desert island what would it be?
It would have to be Bamboleo, by The Gipsy Kings.
What would is the one luxury item you would take with you on your desert island?
A tooth brush!
Want more tunes from Eric? Check out his playlist here:
Visit Eric at Bar TwentySeven, Amsterdam.
Follow all the action from 12th May, including live feeds of the semis and grand final, plus interviews atfacebook.com/BacardiLegacyCocktailCompetition
Interview by Miles Watson