This year’s Legacy might have come to an end but it’s just beginning for Ronnaporn Kanivichaporn. This is the dude (the shy one in the pink jacket on the right) who came into the competition as number one, being the first to present his drink and the rationale behind it on stage at the QO Hotel in Amsterdam, and ended it the same spot when it was announced that he was the winner of the Bacardí Legacy Cocktail Competition 2019.

And what a competitor. Put it this way: here’s someone who needs no help coming out of his shell in the personality department and luckily, his cocktail Pink Me Up, is equally fabulous. Why? With its use of fresh tomatoes, basil leaves and olive brine it cleverly takes rum into the brunch time category. Ker-ching! It also ticks every box required of a Legacy drink. First and foremost, it’s delicious, but it’s also original, replicable and destined to be a classic that people want to order again and again.

As has become our habit in the last six years that we’ve been privileged to attend the Bacardí Legacy Cocktail Competition global finals everywhere from Moscow to Mexico City, we had to chat with the winner on the day after the announcement. But before that, we thought we’d add a few words on why this comp has a special place in our hearts.

L is for Legacy. Durrr! Of course it is. The reason why thousands of bartenders from all around the world enter this particular competition is, it’s their opportunity to show that they’ve got what it takes to create a V.S.D. (aka a very special drink). Nothing outrageous mind. This comp doesn’t ask for a fancy-schmanzy, fur coat and no knickers concoction. A true Legacy drink has to be original, yet timeless, easy enough to be made in any bar anywhere in the world yet delicious enough to satisfy even the most picky of palates – something that can hold its own against a Mojito, Daiquiri or a Piña Colada. All that while using six ingredients, max. So no pressure then…

E is for Education. Not just the nuggets of info picked up from the workshops on day one. This year these took in an empowering welcome talk from Global Brand Ambassador and host with the absolute most, Mr Dickie Cullimore, followed by a year in the life of a Bacardí Legacy champ from 2018 winner, Eric Van Beek. Always on the agenda is an invaluable health and wellbeing session from director of Executive Fitness Foundation, Iain Bell, as well as two creative bartending talks (this year led by Max Venning and Rosey Mitchell from Bar Three in London). There was also an informative rum tasting followed by a rum blending masterclass with Bacardí Maestro de Ron, Juan Piñera and Global Master of Rums at Bacardí, David Cid.

Day one workshops

Those are the obvious education platforms but in truth, the bartenders who make it through to global final stage are always learning. Whether it’s getting the low-down on how to look after their bodies in one of Iain Bell’s exercise classes (from boxercise to Tai Chi) held each morning, to picking up tips from the judges, brand ambassadors and fellow competitors, it’s a week-long knowledge fest.

G is for Good Times. And boy, there are plenty of those to be had throughout Legacy week. Team Bacardi know how to party, so you’re guaranteed cool venues, themed pop-up bars hosted by previous competitors and very special guests, and always, but always fab DJs who know exactly how to get any party going. And no Legacy is complete without a sidesplittingly funny, no-holds barred cabaret performance from the force of nature that is Reuben Kaye. Trust us, there’s nothing or no one quite like him.

Rueben Kaye in da house

Other Gs of note: Global Recognition that comes for the overall winner, obvs but also we’ve also followed the Growth of so many of the finalists. As a result of their dedication, craft and showmanship some have gone on to open their own bars while others have secured coveted O-2 visas, awarded to ‘individuals of extraordinary talent’ to work in the US. And let’s not forget the Guests, each year new faces join the core faithfuls. Which leads us back to our first G: good times all round.

A is for Advocacy. Anyone who’s part of the week-long event will leave as a genuine advocate of the brand, its people and the competition. We know. We’ve seen it happen over the past six years.

C is for Community. Or more specifically, family. From the outside, the ‘f’ word sounds, how can we put this, contrived or even corny. But as the hundreds, probably thousands of people who have attended one of the 11 Bacardí Legacy globals will attest, family is at the centre of the entire competition. Enrique and/or Adolfo Comas, sixth generation Bacardi family members are present throughout the week and the highly anticipated ‘Family Dinner’ is their opportunity to welcome competitors and specially invited guests into the fold.

Family dinner time

Y is for Yummy Drinks. Always a given at this stage of the competition but this year may well have had the edge on the previous 10 years. We know. We were privileged to be judging the semi-finals. Which meant that we, along with Thanos Prunarus, founder and operator of Baba Au Rum, Athens; Yao Lu, co-owner/bartender Union Trading Company, Shanghai; Yael Vengroff, 2018 Spirited Awards American Bartender of the Year who heads up the bar program at The Spare Room, LA, and Ran Van Ongevalle, 2017 Bacardí Legacy Cocktail Competition champion, got to hear each of the presentations and taste all 43 drinks. Talk about a tough two days. You’d think that it would be harder for competitors to come up new, inspiring cocktails. Not a bit of it. We were treated to all manner of inventive drinks, each one carefully considered and proudly presented.

The final eight competitors

And now that we’ve given you the background, it’s over to this year’s winner: make way for Ronnaporn Kanivicaporn

Hey champ, congratulations on an fantastic presentation and an amazing drink. How are you feeling on the morning after an incredible night before?

It feels amazing, I don’t really know how to explain it but at the moment I still can’t believe that it’s happened. Honestly, my goal was to get to the top eight and I was very proud to have achieved that. Last night before the final presentation I was very nervous as it was a big opportunity and the reality of how close I was to winning began to sink in. I’d already achieved my goal by getting to the top eight but as important as coming away as the winner is the fact is I now have a new family.

When did you first have the idea for the Pink Me Up?

The original idea for the drink came about three years ago. I was working with my mentor Ueno San from Bar High Five in Tokyo and he used fresh tomato in a drink. I loved the taste – it totally changed my perception of tomatoes. I’d never considered them as fruits before but they’re like berries – if you use the right tomato it can be very interesting in cocktails. So that was the starting point for my Legacy cocktail. I knew I wanted to do something with tomatoes but I needed the right ingredients to make it work.

First I tried using chirashi sauce [a spicy sauce from Thailand], which meant I had a combination of sweet, spicy and salty. It tasted good but I was aware that it had flavours like garlic and spice that some people might not like. Then last year I hit on the idea of using olive brine instead of the spicy element and it brought everything together. The olive brine was the final touch.

Grand Final judge Julie Reiner said your presentation was so original and unique to you. For those who haven’t seen you in action, can you describe your style?

I’m both an introvert and extrovert but obviously, my extrovert side was on show for the competition! As for my bartending style, my cocktails are mostly twisted classics. I’m interested in playing with a combination of Thai ingredients to make new flavours.

What was it about Bacardí Legacy that appealed to you?

It’s a good match for me. These days there are lots of bartenders doing cool and clever things with new techniques and unusual ingredients. That’s not me. I’m pretty old school. I don’t like changing things too much. For me, the interesting part of bartending is finding the right combination of flavours to make a simple drink that appeals to everyone. That’s what drew me to Legacy.

Are you a fan of the Bloody Mary?

Tomatoes are not a familiar flavour for Thai people. We don’t drink canned tomatoes, or tomatoes from a carton come to that, we think of the tomato more as a vegetable so we prefer to drink fruit juice. Even when I make this drink in my bar, I have to explain that we use fresh tomato and it’s different to what people may have tasted before. Once they try it though, they love it.

As well as the drink, a big part of Bacardí Legacy is the promotional campaign. Tell us about some of your highlights.

I promoted my drink by doing a lot of travelling for guest shifts as well as various masterclasses but my strong point was social media. I’m lucky that I used to work as an actor and TV host and I have friends in the industry who I asked to help promote my drink. Together they have a total of 8 million followers. It wasn’t that easy though because we have very sensitive laws about promoting alcohol here in Thailand, so some of them couldn’t do as much as they would have liked but the fact that they were able to help was amazing. I also set up a Tinder account for my drink which was great fun. When people swiped left or right, they would see the recipe so they make it at home or come into my bar to meet Pink Me Up in person. It worked really well.

Who would you most like to see drinking and enjoying a Pink Me Up?

My mum. She’s the one who taught me how to drink. In a good way. She allowed me to taste wine and taught me how to appreciate spirits. She hasn’t tried my drink yet because she hasn’t had the time to come to the bar but I’m really looking forward to making one for her.

What are you most looking forward to in your year as Bacardí Legacy Cocktail Competition winner?

Travelling around the world, sharing my Legacy cocktail. I also want to change people’s perceptions about using tomatoes in drinks.

Try one, whether you’re a fan of Bloody Marys or not. We think you’ll be absolutely smitten.

The winning recipe

Pink Me Up

2 parts Bacardí Carta Blanca rum
3-4 pieces fresh tomato
5-7 basil leaves
1/2 part orgeat Syrup
1 part lemon juice
1 bar spoon olive brine

Method:
Muddle tomato and basil leaves. Add remaining ingredients and shake over ice. Pour into a chilled coupette glass and garnish with a green olive and basil leaf.

Congratulations to Matthew Wakeford representing United Arab Emirates and Nicole Fas from Puerto Rico, the two runners up and Chantelle Gabino, Canada; Matias Peredo, Chile; Filippos Tasoulas, Greece; Hiroyasu Okanuma, Japan and Chelsie Bailey, United Kingdom, who made up the final 8.

#bacardilegacy

Photography: Laura Knox (cocktails); Nikolay Zverkov (event); Ming Chao (grand final)

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