In the late 19th century, bats hung in the rafters of an old building and watched a shift in history. Up until then, rum (meaning “strong liquor”) was a rogue spirit; it was powerful and unrefined, leading to it also being called “killdevil” or “rattle-skull.” The inner workings of yeast had only recently been discovered, so people were using anything they could to kick start the fermentation process. One visionary in Cuba started to play with the basic ingredients of the process, including adding filters to remove impurities and adding some age in oak barrels. The bats watched as Facundo Bacardí and his brother José started to develop a copper and iron still. His work changed rum from a rough, sharp edged beast into a refined spirit that could be found on the most discriminating tables in the world. Being the consummate salesman, he used the vigilant bats as a symbol on his product. Illiteracy was rampant at that time, and the symbol on the bottle was more recognizable than the “Bacardí M.” that was written. Moreover, the bat was a nod to his heritage as well; they were a symbol of good fortune. This is the legacy that Bacardí left to the world.
Over 150 years later, Bacardí has a new Legacy: a yearly global competition, presented by the United States Bartenders Guild (USBG) that finds the best bartenders in the world and brings them to one place. Their goal is to create a cocktail that highlights the quality and breadth of the Bacardí portfolio, including Bacardí Carta Blanca rum, Bacardí Carta Oro rum or, for the first time this year, Bacardí Gran Reserva 8 Años rum (silver medal winner in the 2016 NY International Spirits Competition). Over the course of a year, bartenders from all over the world competed to earn one of the coveted thirty-eight finalist spaces available.
This contest went well beyond simple cocktails; these bartenders were exposed to an educational and cultural experience as they waited for the eight finalists to be announced in Berlin, Germany. They not only learned to develop amazing flavors, they learned how to promote their work. There were two participants from the United States, one from the east coast, and one from the west.
Darnell Holguin of New York brought a smooth blend of Bacardí Ocho, passion fruit condensed milk, and some spice to create It Was All A Dream. After working “eight jobs twenty days a week” for a while, Darnell’s nomadic ways ended when he found his place at Bathtub Gin. It was there that he was “discovered” by the city, earning a Top Ten Bartender of New York City nod by Time Out NY. His next big step in the industry, and the one where he really found his footing, was heading up the bar program at Fifty Restaurant. He was also a judge in this year’s NY International Spirits Competition. The cocktail he created was inspired by a breakfast drink his mother made him, called a Morir Soñando (“die dreaming’), which incorporates milk, orange juice, and sugar.
It Was All A Dream By Darnell Holguin
- 5 parts Bacardí Ocho
- 2 parts Orange Juice
- 5 parts Passion Fruit Condensed Milk*
- 3 parts Averna
- 25 parts Allspice Dram
- Mint Spring and orange wheel for garnish
*Combine 355ml passionfruit puree, 355ml of granulated sugar and 240ml evaporated milk
Method: Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously. Strain into a tin cup with crushed ice. Garnish with an orange wheel and a fresh mint sprig.
Emerging from the west was Ryan Wainwright and the Playa Fortuna which reached for traditional Caribbean flavors. The coconut, which was also a symbol of the power of Bacardí in Cuba, was one of the flavors that inspired him to name the cocktail after the popular Puerto Rican beach. This son of a two scientists, brought up in a strict Christian home, was heading to a career in photography before it was diverted. He ended up in Santa Cruz to be with his grandmother, and stayed to explore the world of spirits that was introduced to him there. He has been really into rum for a few years, exploring the complexity of the spirit and appreciating it’s flexibility. If you are looking for him in Los Angeles, you can find him working with the Bombet Hospitality Group or directing the bar program at Faith and Flower, which is part of Bombet.
Playa Fortuna By Ryan Wainwright
- 5 parts Bacardí Superior
- 75 parts Lime Juice
- 75 Coconut Cordial*
- 25 parts Falernum
- 4 drops Tartaric Acid**
- Edible flower for garnish
*Coconut Cordial: equal parts by weight coconut water and white sugar
**Tartaric Acid: 1 part cream of tartar and 5 parts water
Method: Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously. Strain into a Nick & Nora glass. Garnish with an edible flower.
In spite of their impressive entries into the competition, they were not one of the eight grand finalists selected for the competition. Those honors went to:
- Dave Kerr (Australia), The Viento
- Ran Van Ongevalle (Belgium), Clarita
- Grace Tsai (Taiwan), Apóstol
- Loreta Toska (Greece), Look for the Silver Lining
- Conor Myers (Ireland), Electric Avenue
- Kentaro Satoh (Japan), Mariel
- Darren Miley (New Zealand), Admiral’s Salute
- Hideyuki Saito (Thailand), La Blanca
Before the winner was crowned, Bacardí announced that they had hired a new Minister of Rum. After a nationwide search, Jillionaire of the musical group Major Lazer was given the position. Being a new minister has its perks; Bacardí revealed a new limited edition Major Lazer rum. This rum is a collaborative effort between the musical powerhouse and Bacardí. Major Lazer travelled to the distillery to blend their own signature rum, including light and dark rums which were aged three to four years in the tropics. It will be available in the United States this summer, and internationally in September.
Of those eight, there could be only one winner. That honor went to Clarita, the cocktail created by Ran Van Ongevalle of Belgium. Van Ongevalle, a son of a bartender, works at The Pharmacy and dug into “heritage, family, and tradition” to bring out the inspiration for his cocktail. “It feels like I am honoring my family with this win. What an amazing week we have all had together; winning the final now is difficult to take in,” he stated not long after raising the trophy. The two runners up were Grace Tsai of Taiwan and Kentaro Satoh of Japan.
- 2 parts Bacardí Gran Reserva 8 Años
- 1/3 part Amontillado sherry
- 1 Bar-spoon crème de cacao
- 2 Dashes absinthe
- 1 Dash saline solution
Method: Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass filled with ice. Stir, then strain into a coupette over a large ice cube. Garnish with three drops of olive oil.
Much like the hard work that Facundo Bacardí did to perfect his legacy in the 19th century, Van Ongevalle has just begun to cement his legacy in the bartending world. He will now embark on a yearlong journey to improve his skills and education as a bartender. Bacardí will provide customized experiences to help him along his chosen path, bringing him and his cocktails to bars around the world. He will just have to do it without the watchful eye of the bats.
Congratulations to all of this year’s competitors! Now the journey to Mexico City beings for the 2018 Bacardí Legacy Global Cocktail Competition.
All recipes and images courtesy of Bacardí.